Political Science

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The principal goal of the Stanford Ph.D. program in political science is the training of scholars.  Most students who receive doctorates in the program do research and teach at colleges or universities.  We offer courses and research opportunities in a wide variety of fields in the discipline, including American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, Political Theory, and Political Methodology.  The program is built around small seminars that analyze critically the literature of a field or focus on a research problem. These courses prepare students for the Ph.D. comprehensive exam requirement within a two-year period and for work on the doctoral dissertation.

Programs of study leading to the Ph.D. degree are designed by the student, in consultation with advisers and the Director of Graduate Studies, to serve his or her particular interests as well as to achieve the general department requirements. A student is recommended to the University Committee on Graduate Studies to receive the Ph.D. degree in Political Science when the following program of study has been completed:

  1. Statement of Purpose: By the beginning of the fourth quarter in residence, each graduate student submits a statement of purpose to the student's adviser. This statement indicates the student's proposed major fields of study, the courses taken and those planned to be taken to cover those fields, the student's plan for meeting language and/or skill requirements, plans for scheduling of comprehensive examinations and/or research papers, and, where possible, dissertation ideas or plans. This statement is discussed with, and must be approved by, the student's adviser. In the Autumn Quarter following completion of their first year, students are reviewed at a regular meeting of the department faculty. The main purposes of this review are, in order of importance: to advise and assist the student to realize his or her educational goals; to provide an opportunity for clarifying goals and for identifying ways to achieve them; and to facilitate assessment of progress toward the degree.
  2. Two Major Fields: The candidate for the Ph.D. degree must demonstrate proficiency in two major fields: American politics, comparative politics, international relations, methodology, and political theory. Students demonstrate proficiency by fulfilling, depending on the field, combinations of the following: written qualifying examinations, research papers, or course work. Each field offers a series of three or four courses designed to familiarize students with the literature of that field. In addition, a field may require that students take one or more elective courses covering a specific aspect of the field. All courses that a student uses to fulfill a major field requirement must be taken for a letter grade of 'B' or better.
  3. Third Minor Field: The candidate for the Ph.D. degree must also complete a third minor field. The third field requirement is usually satisfied by taking two courses for at least three units each from among courses approved by the field convener. All courses used to fulfill the third minor field requirement must be taken for a letter grade of 'B' or better. The third field cannot be satisfied by courses taken as a requirement for a major field. A third field in political theory requires two courses in addition to the five units necessary to fulfill the political theory program requirement (see item 4). A third concentration in methodology requires 10 units in addition to the 10 units necessary to fulfill the quantitative methods program requirement (see item 5).
  4. Political Theory Requirement: Every Ph.D. candidate must complete at least one quarter of graduate-level instruction in political theory. All courses used to fulfill the political theory requirement must be taken for a letter grade of 'B' or better.
  5. Quantitative Methods Requirement Every Ph.D. candidate must take POLISCI 450A Political Methodology I: Regression and POLISCI 450B Political Methodology II: Causal Inference in order to fulfill the quantitative methods requirement. Credit for equivalent classes is at the discretion of the political methodology field convener. All courses used to fulfill the quantitative methods requirement must be taken for a letter grade of 'B' or better.
  6. Competence in a Language and/or Skill: The Ph.D. candidate is required to demonstrate competence in a language and/or skill that is likely to be relevant to the dissertation research. The level of competence needed for completion of the research is determined by the student's adviser. Previous instruction can be counted towards this requirement only if approved by the Director of Graduate Studies.
  7. Comprehensive Exams: Students must take the comprehensive exams in two major fields by the end of their second year in the program. Students are expected to have passed these examinations by the end of their second year.
  8. Second-year Research Paper: Prior to being advanced to candidacy, each student must produce a research paper (field paper) demonstrating the capacity to produce research at a level expected of students preparing to write a high quality Ph.D. dissertation. The second-year research paper is given considerable weight as the faculty consider an application for candidacy. Students are advised to begin work on their second-year research papers in the summer between their first and second years in the program, and to submit a first draft to their advisers sometime in the Autumn Quarter of their second year. Second-year research papers are considered incomplete until approved by the two faculty readers. Students are expected to have submitted an approved field paper by the end of their second year.
  9. Advancement to candidacy: In accordance with University guidelines, Ph.D. students are expected to advance to candidacy by the end of their sixth quarter in the program (i.e., by the end of their Spring Quarter in their second year in the program). It is the department’s practice that all students in their sixth quarter be considered for candidacy at a special meeting of the faculty (typically in Week 10 of Spring Quarter). All the requirements for advancing to candidacy listed below must be completed by this meeting. Should a student not be advanced to candidacy by the end of the sixth quarter, the student is at risk of being dismissed from the Ph.D. program. To be eligible for advancement to candidacy, students must complete the requirements listed below.
    1. two major fields
    2. a third minor field
    3. the political theory requirement
    4. the quantitative methods requirement
    5. the second-year research paper
    6. Advancement to candidacy is not automatic upon completion of these requirements. Advancement to candidacy is an expression by the faculty of their confidence that the student can successfully complete the Ph.D. program, and in particular, complete a doctoral dissertation that is an original contribution to scholarship that exemplifies the highest standard of the discipline.

  10. Dissertation Prospectus: During the third year, a formal dissertation prospectus must be submitted to and approved by the student's dissertation adviser and the Director of Graduate Studies. The dissertation prospectus must be approved by the end of the third year. Students must also make a dissertation prospectus presentation in the third year.
  11. TA Requirement: A candidate for the Ph.D. in Political Science is required to serve as a teaching assistant (TA) in the department for a minimum of three quarters. Many students need to TA for up to five quarters as part of their funding package.
  12. Oral Examination: The candidate must pass the University oral examination on the area of the dissertation at a time, after the passing of the written comprehensive examinations, suggested by the candidate's dissertation committee.
  13. Dissertation: The candidate must complete a dissertation satisfactory to the dissertation reading committee.
  14. Adequate Progress In addition to the specific program requirements listed above, at each stage of the Ph.D. program, the department has the following minimum standards for adequate academic progress:
    • Except in rare circumstances, no more than two of the following on the transcript at any given time: incomplete ('I'); grade not reported ('GNR'); not passed or no credit ('NP' or NC'); or withdraw ('W').
    • Adequate grades in all courses taken each term ('B-' and below are regarded as inadequate).
    • Graduate students in the first year must enroll for at least 15 units and must pass at least 8 units per term by the end of the term.  Graduate students in years 2, 3 and 4 must register for at least 8 units and must pass at least 6 units by the end of each term.
    • Advance to candidacy by close of sixth quarter (i.e., for most students, the end of their second academic year in the Ph.D. program);
    • Dissertation prospectus presentation made and approval of dissertation prospectus on file by the end of the third year.
    • Dissertation reading committee formed by end of the fourth year.
    • Advance to TGR status by end of the fourth year.
    • Substantial progress toward completion of the dissertation in fourth and fifth years.


  1. Stanford online application including statement of purpose.
  2. At least three letters of recommendation
  3. Two official transcripts from each institution you attended for at least one year
  4. GRE and TOEFL scores reported directly to Stanford (code 4704) - Learn more about these test requirements
  5. Recent scholarly or critical paper (20-35 pages, double-spaced). Applicants may submit two or three shorter samples if they do not have a long one.
  6. CV/resume (optional but recommended)
  7. Application fee of $125


Department Funding

The Department intends that all graduate students (both domestic and international) should have adequate support to enable them to complete their studies while enrolled full-time.  The standard financial package offered to admitted students covers the full cost of tuition and an additional amount for living expenses during the academic year. The latter amount comes in the form of a stipend during the first year and a combination of teaching and research assistantships during years 2-5.  The Department also provides students with annual funds for professional development, health insurance fees, and a living stipend for the first two summers. The Department provides five years of support for Ph.D. students who are making sufficient progress towards degree.  Current information regarding tuition, fees, and living expenses.

Additional Sources of Funding

Students in all stages of the program are encouraged to apply for funding from outsides sources. In addition to the fellowship and grant opportunities administered by the School of Humanities and Sciences, there are numerous awards offered by area studies programs within Stanford, private foundations, and the federal government. Such awards can provide important funding for students to undertake fieldwork or language study, or to complete dissertation writing after departmental funding is no longer available.

Awards range from one-time grants of a few thousand dollars to multi-year fellowships that provide tuition and stipend. In cases where a student in years 1-5 wins such a comprehensive award (such as the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship), the Department may “top-up” the award with funds already allocated to that student, thereby providing the student with even more funding. Regardless of the size of the award, fellowships and grants are always notable additions to one’s CV. Students interested in applying for outside awards should discuss their plans with the Graduate Administrator.

Within Stanford

  • Stanford Humanities Dissertation Fellowships
  • O'Bie Shultz Dissertation Completion Grant
  • Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law
  • School of Humanities and Sciences Funding Opportunities


  • American Association of University Women, American Dissertation Fellowship
  • Andrew W. Mellon Foundation/ACLS Early Career Fellowships
  • Ford Foundation Diversity Fellowships
  • Morris Abrams Award in International Relations
  • National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program
  • National Science Foundation (NSF) Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant
  • Phi Beta Kappa Northern California Association
  • Social Science Research Council (SSRC) Abe Fellowship
  • Social Science Research Council-Mellon Mays Predoctoral Research Grants
  • Social Science Research Council International Dissertation Research Fellowship (IDRF)
  • Smith Richardson Foundation
  • U.S. Institute of Peace Peace Scholar Dissertation Fellowship
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