PhD in Political Science

Admissions Tests and Prerequisites

Applicants must take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Tests. Applicants should hold either a bachelor’s or master’s degree in political science or the equivalent. See, admissions procedures section, for GRE and TOEFL minimum scores.

In addition to acquiring the skills necessary for their dissertation research (statistical, foreign language, math, etc.), candidates for a doctorate in Political Science must meet certain general requirements. These are:

  • to complete a specified number of courses with the distribution requirements specified below;
  • to take the Methodology sequence (PO 840 Qualitative Methods and PO 841 Quantitative Methods, or equivalent in the Math and Sociology Departments);
  • to pass the PhD qualifying examinations;
  • to gain approval of a dissertation proposal; and
  • to write and defend a dissertation.

The sections that follow clarify what is involved in each of these requirements and provide a schedule for their completion.

Course Requirements

Sixteen semester courses (64 credits) at the graduate level for post-bachelor’s PhD candidates and a minimum of eight such courses (32 credits) for post-master’s PhD candidates. Selection of these courses must be with the advance approval of the major professor and the Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Political Science.

Graduate students may receive Political Science credit for statistics courses up to a limit of eight credits if it is important to their area of specialization. This decision will be made in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies.

Credit will only be given for courses in which a grade of B– or better is received.

Students must be registered during any semester in which degree requirements are completed. Degree requirements include coursework, qualifying examinations, fulfillment of the language requirement, proposal defense, and dissertation defense. Continuing Student fees must be paid for the semester even if the student is not registered for classes. The Continuing Student fee for the 2012/2013 year is $2,650 per semester.

Post-bachelor’s Candidates

Sixteen semester courses at the graduate level are required. Up to four courses may be taken outside the Political Science department. Graduate students are required to develop:

  1. a minimum level of competence in three of the five fields by taking three of the core courses (GRS PO 711, 741, 751, 771, 791)
  2. a high level of competence in one major and one minor field
  3. a mastery of one subfield within the major field in which dissertation work is planned
  4. Methodology—All students enrolled in the PhD program must fulfill a Methodology requirement. This consists of two courses, GRS PO 840 Qualitative Methods and PO 841 Quantitative Methods (or an equivalent course in another department or university). Students should take these in their first or second semester in the PhD program. The second and third requirements are normally fulfilled through courses, seminars, and directed studies, as well as through independent reading by the student. In addition, students are encouraged to take courses offered in related disciplines such as economics, philosophy, psychology, sociology, and history. Such course selections vary according to the student’s overall program and must be planned in consultation with the student’s advisory committee.

Post-master’s Candidates

Eight to 12 semester courses are required. The exact number depends on how closely the student’s prior work parallels the courses required for a PhD in political science. Students who come to Boston University to undertake the post-master’s PhD program or who have transferred credit from other graduate institutions are expected to take at least three of the core courses (GRS PO 711, 741, 751, 771, 791). Students may request that a comparable course or courses transferred from other institutions serve to satisfy the requirement of one or more of these core courses.

Your training as a graduate student is based upon the successful completion of your coursework, and the writing and successful defense of a dissertation that is an original contribution to knowledge. You are also required to complete a practical internship requirement that will give you experience appropriate to your future career plans. You should develop a plan for meeting the requirement with your advisor and submit it for approval to the Director of Graduate Studies. The plan should be submitted at the same time that you submit your dissertation proposal for approval. Before you defend your dissertation, you must produce a report to be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies that explains how you met this requirement, for example, by teaching at BU or elsewhere, working as a project assistant, or co-authoring a paper submitted to a refereed journal. There is no general language requirement for the PhD. However, all students must achieve competence in any foreign language necessary for their research prior to defending their PhD proposal.

Qualifying Examinations

After completing coursework (normally two years of full-time study for post-BA candidates), qualifying examinations are given in the major field, subfield, and minor field. Examinations take three days, one day for each of the three areas. These written examinations may be followed by a joint oral examination by the three examining professors, at their discretion. After passing the qualifying examinations and fulfilling the language requirement, students proceed to their dissertation work.

Post-Qualifier Master’s Degree

Any student who has successfully completed all requirements for the 16-course PhD except the dissertation (coursework, one language and/or skill, and qualifying examinations) may request that a master’s degree be granted. This degree is in no sense terminal, but is simply to document work accomplished prior to the completion of the dissertation.



Within nine months of completing qualifying examinations, a PhD candidate must submit and defend a dissertation proposal. The defense committee consists of three faculty members, and must include the faculty members who have been designated as the first, second, and third readers of the dissertation. For further information see the Course Requirements for the PhD section, above.


A completed dissertation must be submitted for defense no more than five years after the completion of the qualifying examinations. Before scheduling a defense of the dissertation, the student must submit an abstract of no more than 350 words that describes the dissertation’s thesis, methods, and general content. Because abstracts will be the principal means through which other scholars first make contact with the dissertation, it is important that the abstract provide as much information as possible about the dissertation and present it in a fashion that is understandable to readers who may not be familiar with the approach or the focus of the dissertation. A completed dissertation must be submitted for defense no more than five semesters after the completion of the qualifying examinations. The defense committee is composed of five faculty members, including the three faculty who approved the proposal, a fourth reader, and a chair. For further information see the Course Requirements for the PhD section, above.