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Students are registered full-time, which is the equivalent of four courses each semester, and they complete 16 courses to receive their PhD degree. At least 11 courses must be at the doctoral level, and a minimum of five taught at Harvard Kennedy School
The curriculum requires students to complete core requirements and an Oral General Examination, and participate in PhD research seminars. All public policy coursework and qualifying exams should be completed within the first two years.
By the end of their third year, students submit and defend a dissertation prospectus after which they research, write, and prepare to defend their dissertation. Typically, students wrap up researching and writing their dissertation within three years after their Oral General Examination.
Students usually complete their degree requirements within five years, and are awarded their degree after they submit and defend their dissertation successfully.
Students will need to demonstrate PhD-level proficiency in theory, methods, and a primary and secondary field of interest. The general requirements include distribution requirements in five fields within these areas, with courses and exams listed below:
Primary field of interest
Students enroll in the required PhD-level field courses that are related to their primary field of interest. Some examples of primary fields include:
Students discuss their field requirement study plans with their faculty advisors during their first and second years, after which they submit their plans to the Doctoral Program Office. Students select two among the above fields as their primary and secondary fields of interest. The primary field is a student's area of specialization; the secondary field may be a disciplinary or methodological area where a student has completed two or more PhD-level courses.
The 60- to 90-minute Oral General Examination tests whether students have mastered their primary and secondary fields of interest. The exam determines whether students have achieved sufficient understanding of their fields to be considered experts, and have grounding in the literature that will help them write a successful dissertation.
More broadly, the exam assesses students' academic aptitude and training as well as their prospects for having successful careers after graduating from the program.
Enrolling in PhD-level courses that broaden and deepen students' knowledge of their special field of interest helps to develop a strong foundation for their future research. Given that most HKS courses and seminars are targeted to practitioners more so than scholars and typically do not serve as PhD-level courses, at least part of students' special fieldwork will be carried out at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences or at other Harvard graduate schools.
At the beginning of each academic year, students submit their study plan, including the syllabi for their proposed courses in their special field of interest, to the Doctoral Program Office for approval. They can choose from a number of concentrations in different fields, among which include the three pre-approved primary fields:
Students present their research prospectus by the end of their third year, after which they generally finish researching and writing their dissertations within two years. They can prepare their dissertations either as a single work with multiple chapters, or as a collection of three essays that are linked substantively but can be published independently. Once students defend their dissertation successfully in a forum that is open to the public, they will be awarded their doctoral degrees by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
See a complete list of dissertations written by PPOL candidates from 1973 to 2016 in the Public Policy Dissertations Archive.