The Department of Political Science offers Ph.D. level courses in six fields:

  1. American Politics
  2. Public Policy
  3. Comparative Politics
  4. International Politics
  5. Political Theory
  6. Empirical Theory and Methodology

Requirements for the Ph.D. in Political Science fall into four major categories: course work, qualifying paper defense, comprehensive examination, and doctoral dissertation.

Course Work

Students must complete a minimum of 42 credit hours with a “B” average or better. Of these 42 hours, 39 must be at the 7000 level or higher. Only six hours of independent study can be counted towards the credit requirement. Also, a minimum of 35 hours must be taken within the Political Science Department (footnote). During their first semester in residence, students are required to take two introductory courses: PSCI 7075: Scope and Methods and PSCI 7085: Introduction to Political Data Analysis.

Funded students must complete a minimum of nine graded credit hours per semester for their first five semesters or until they have passed comprehensive exams. Courses taken as pass/fail do not count as graded credit. As a condition of funding, all students appointed as teaching assistants are also required to enroll in PSCI 7008: Teaching Political Science during the first year.

Students should select their fields and courses keeping in mind that they must pass comprehensive exams in the major and minor fields that they choose. Students must take additional coursework with the consideration that they will fulfill all requirements needed to complete the program. Students are required to take at least three courses outside of their major and minor fields. (Students have option of constructing a thematic or cross-area concentration, with a created title, out of these three courses). All courses taken outside the department must be in agreement of the student’s advisor and Director of Graduate Studies. It should be noted that courses cannot double count to fulfill requirements in the separate fields.

If a student chooses Empirical Theory and Methodology as a minor field, then the student must take at least three additional courses beyond 7085.


Students must receive a B- or above as a grade requirement for all courses in the program. According to the Graduate School, grades of B- or above are only accepted towards Ph.D. Candidacy.

Required coursework to complete the Ph.D.:

  • 42 credit hours of coursework
    • Must include courses PSCI 7075, PSCI 7085, and PSCI 7008
    • A minimum of 35 credit hours in Political Science
    • 39 credit hours must be 7000 level and above
    • A minimum of three seminars in each of the major and minor fields
      • If a field offers a core seminar, it is required
    • A minimum of three courses outside of the major and minor field
    • No courses can be taken as “no credit”
    • Courses taken as pass/fail do not count as credit towards degree
  • 30 credit hours of dissertation work
  • Research competence: two method courses beyond PSCI 7085 or language requirement

Public Policy

Graduate students whose first field is public policy will be required to take a total of seven courses including the core seminar, PSCI 7126: Introduction to Public Policy, and one of these two seminars: PSCI 7206: Public Policy and the Governance of Natural Resources or PSCI 7151: American Subnational Politics and Government. Students must take two elective courses that focus on a substantive policy area such as environment, health, education, development, etc. All courses taken outside of the department will require the approval of the student’s advisor as well as the graduate director prior to registration. 

PSCI courses in other department subfields could also qualify to be counted as a policy elective. If a course is identified as relevant for the student’s public policy training they may request that the course be counted. The graduate director, in consultation with the student’s advisor, will determine whether such a request is approved. 

Public policy students are also required to take PSCI 7095: Advanced Political Data Analysis and two other advanced methods courses, one of which may be taken outside of the department. 

Students who declare public policy as a second field are required to take the core seminar, PSCI 7126: Introduction to Public Policy, and one of these two seminars: PSCI 7206: Public Policy and the Governance of Natural Resources or PSCI 7151: American Subnational Politics and Government. Second field public policy students are required to take two advanced methods courses beyond PSCI 7085 Introduction to Political Science Data Analysis, which may include PSCI 7095: Advanced Political Data Analysis. One or both advanced methods courses may be taken outside of the department with the approval of the student’s advisor as well as the graduate director prior to registration.

Research Competency

Students must acquire a “research competence” through their coursework or demonstrate that they have acquired it elsewhere. Research competence is demonstrated through either the completion of at least two methodology courses beyond PSCI 7085: Introduction to Data Analysis with a “B” average or better, or through the completion of a 5th semester college-level foreign language course with a “B” average or better (footnote). Students must complete this research competency requirement by their seventh semester in residence. If required for dissertation work, a student’s prospectus committee may set higher standards for research competence.

As is often the case, competence in a foreign language requires intensive study. Students can satisfy the foreign language through courses taken over the summer both at the University of Colorado and at intensive summer language programs at other institutions. More specifically, competence in a foreign language can be demonstrated by the GSFLT (Graduate School Foreign Language Test) or a standardized examination recognized by language departments at the University of Colorado (CU). The most common placement exam at CU is the Continuing Student Language Placement exam offered by CU's Orientation Office free of charge. This test allows continuing students to take language placement tests in ONLY Chinese, French, German, Russian or Spanish. Students may also provide a college transcript that indicates what language courses have been completed, which the Director of Graduate Studies will review and assess if the student has met the requirements.

Transferring Credit from Outside Institution

The Department of Political Science will consider up to 9 credits maximum to transfer from outside CU Boulder that count as part of Ph.D. Graduate Program requirements. Students interested in transferring credits from a previous degree or outside institution must consult with the Graduate Program Assistant to review whether or not the course(s) would fulfill program credit requirements. An official transcript, syllabus, and supporting documentation of each course wishing to be transferred must be provided for review. From there, the course(s) will be further reviewed by faculty in the field(s) most applicable to assess rigor, equivalency, and eligibility of the transfer. Final approval will be determined by Director of Graduate Studies. Other rules and restrictions apply. For more information, please consult with the Graduate Program Assistant.

The Department offers a Master of Arts in Political Science (Plan II: non-thesis with final exam) for students enrolled in the Ph.D. program. This degree will be awarded following completion of 30 hours of course work including the core course work requirements for the Ph.D. degree, the teaching seminar, and successful defense of the Qualifying Research Paper.

Specifically, the Plan II degree requirements include:

Required Course work to complete the MA (30 hours):

  • PSCI 7008 Teaching Political Science
  • PSCI 7075 Introduction to Professional Political Science
  • PSCI 7085 Introduction to Data Analysis
  • A minimum of three courses each are required in each of the major and minor fields
    • If a field offers a core seminar, it is required

Qualifying Paper

With the assistance of their advisor, students select a qualifying paper committee of three faculty members (at least two from the Political Science Department). All Ph.D. students must submit a qualifying research paper to their qualifying paper committee by April 1 of their fourth semester in residence. This paper must be defended in an oral examination by the end of that semester. The qualifying paper committee will write a report which will include a recommendation to the Graduate Committee to 1) admit the candidate into the Ph.D. program, 2) award a terminal M.A. (footnote), or 3) fail the student.

The primary purpose of the qualifying paper is to demonstrate the student’s ability to independently identify an important question in political science and to bring relevant theory and evidence to bear in evaluating that topic. The genesis of the ideas in this paper may come from a variety of sources. For example, students may rework a seminar paper, condense and elaborate prior M.A. work undertaken at C.U. or elsewhere, or start an entirely new project.

Students in the Ph.D. program earn a M.A. in Political Science after the completion of a successful qualifying paper and defense at the end of the second year in the program. The department does not accept applications for a terminal M.A. in political science.

The award of a terminal M.A. will be contingent on the completion of course work into the fourth semester.

Comprehensive Examinations

Students must take rigorous comprehensive examinations by the end of their 6th semester in residence (footnote). The student’s major and minor field are to be the subject of the Ph.D. comprehensive examination. The exams have both written and oral components and are designed to demonstrate intellectual maturity and creativity, a command of the literatures relevant to the chosen fields of study, and an ability to articulate and defend a position on the important controversies in those literatures. The comprehensive examinations serve to demonstrate that the student has acquired the skills and knowledge necessary to function as an independent scholar in the field of Political Science generally, and in their chosen subfield of specialization. We expect not only broad knowledge, but also a critical understanding of the literatures and the ability to apply that understanding to the central, enduring questions of politics and government.

Comprehensive examinations will be administered in-house. The exams are “closed book” with no outside materials allowed. Comprehensive examinations are administered once each semester and the written portions are usually held during the last week of the break before the semester begins. The oral portions are held during the first two weeks of the semester. Oral examinations are scheduled individually. The written portion of the major field lasts two days and the minor field lasts one day. The oral component lasts one to two hours for each field.

The written examinations are constructed by faculty members within each designated field. The structure of the exam will be established for the entire academic year by the examination committee and approved by the Director of Graduate Studies. It is the general practice that students have some range of choice in the questions they answer; that range, however, is at the discretion of the examination committee.

The Director of Graduate Studies will select the examination committees for each field. The oral part of the comprehensive examination is conducted by the same committee that graded the written examination. A final grade of pass or fail in each field is determined by the majority vote of the examination committee. Each committee has three members, so a student must receive a vote of “satisfactory” from at least two members of the committee to pass that field’s examination. Students must pass examinations in both their major and minor fields to be admitted to Ph.D. candidacy and proceed in the Ph.D. program. Failing a field involves retaking both the written and oral examination at the next administration of the exam. According to Graduate School policy, students are allowed only one retake attempt. If a student fails the exam, the committee provides a written explanation to the student.

Comprehensive exams may be scheduled earlier for those students who have entered the program with a M.A upon approval. Students, with the support of their advisor, may also petition (in writing) the Graduate Committee for a one-time postponement of the examinations. Petitions must be filed and reviewed by the Graduate Committee two months in advance of scheduled exam date.

Prospectus Defense

Once students have successfully completed their comprehensive examinations, they should be involved in consultations with their advisor regarding the formation of a dissertation prospectus committee. The dissertation prospectus committee (which often becomes the dissertation committee) is comprised of at least three faculty members (two of which must be from the Political Science Department). This committee guides the student through the writing of a dissertation prospectus: a written document laying out the intended course of doctoral dissertation research.

Students who pass both the major and minor field comprehensive exams in their first attempt must successfully defend the dissertation prospectus through an oral examination within 9 months of being notified of the passage of their comprehensive exams. Students who fail one or both of their comprehensive exams must successfully defend the dissertation prospectus through an oral examination within 11 months of completing the first attempt of their comprehensive exams. The specifics of the dissertation prospectus vary from student to student and are worked out between the student and their advisor with these deadlines in mind. Approval of selected committee members and date of dissertation prospectus defense must be confirmed with the Director of Graduate Studies and Graduate Program Assistant.

Doctoral Dissertation

A completed dissertation is defended orally before a committee comprised of at least five faculty members, three of which must be in the Political Science department. A fourth member must be from outside the Political Science Department and a Graduate faculty member at the University of Colorado (i.e., a qualified faculty member from another department at CU). The fifth member can be to the student’s choosing, and thus could be a faculty member in any discipline from outside CU. Committees that deviate from these guidelines must receive special approval. The written dissertation must conform to the style guidelines of the Graduate School. The oral examination will be open to the public. More than one dissenting vote by the examining committee will constitute disqualification of the candidate. Only one re-examination is permitted.

Timely completion of the dissertation is an important part of the consideration to provide financial support. The department’s rule denies funding for students who have received this support for ten semesters, unless there is sufficient funding available to fund students for longer periods. The department takes into account this factor as well as other criteria for funding timely and adequate academic progress in allocating the limited funds for financial support. Two other important requirements at the doctoral dissertation stage are the following:

  • Students must enroll for at least 30 hours of doctoral dissertation credit with no more than 10 credits in any one semester.
  • Students must be continuously enrolled in at least three (part-time status) or five (full- time status) dissertation hours each fall and spring semester after passing the comprehensive exams. Students who fail to enroll continuously at this stage can only re-enroll and finish their Ph.D. after (1) applying for admissions and being accepted again into the program and (2) retaking and passing comprehensive examinations. Students who leave and re-enter must take comprehensive exams on the prevailing schedule and under prevailing rules within their first three semesters of re-entry.

Other Requirements

A number of other important requirements bear mentioning:

  • Students must be able to use the English language with precision and distinction.
  • Students must remain in good standing. A GPA of at least 3.0 (“B” average) is required; students falling below may be suspended by the graduate school. Students are also expected to make satisfactory progress toward their degree in each semester or face suspension. Timely and successful completion of course work, comprehensive examinations, prospectus defense, and dissertation defense as specified in various parts of this document is indicative of satisfactory academic progress.
  • Ph.D. candidates must have successfully defended their dissertation in order to “walk,” be hooded by advisor, and participate in the commencement ceremonies the semester in which the ceremony is to take place.

Funded Students

Departmental funding includes a position as a Teaching Assistant (TA) or a Graduate Part-Time Instructor (GPTI) and departmentally awarded fellowships.

Teaching Assistants (TA): Graduate appointees who supervise and lead quiz sections, discussion sections, recitations or laboratory sections, serve as class assistants, or perform comparable activities. Students must be enrolled full-time, as a regular degree- seeking graduate student. Each TA must be under the guidance of a particular professor(s) designated by the department chair or his/her delegate. TAs are not placed in overall charge of courses.

Graduate Part-Time Instructors (GPTI): In addition to having a master’s degree, to be eligible for a GPTI position, students must have successfully passed both their first and second field of the comprehensive exam and be admitted to Ph.D. candidacy. GPTI positions are not guaranteed to the student once they have passed the comprehensive examination. GPTIs generally are given full responsibility for an undergraduate class. The activities may include preparing the course syllabus, instructing their class, holding office hours, determining of grades, etc. GPTIs must be enrolled as a full-time, regularly enrolled, degree-seeking graduate student.

Funded students must complete a minimum of nine graded credit hours per semester for their first five semesters or until they have passed comprehensive exams. Continued funding is dependent on satisfactory progress toward a degree, meeting required deadlines, and performance in assigned duties. All students will have their progress reviewed by the entire faculty during the spring semester (see below). The department will make a recommendation to either renew funding, place students on probationary (or provisional) funding, suspend funding for one semester, or revoke funding. The revocation of funding will be exercised only for reasons pertaining to unsatisfactory progress of the students, such as not meeting qualifying paper and prospectus defense deadlines. These reasons will be made known to the student.

Non-funded Students

Students who enter the program without funding have the opportunity to win funding if they show scholarly promise and achievement. Their files as well as their record at Colorado (e.g., GPA, reports from faculty) will be considered during the yearly admissions process. Non-funded students will either be 1) awarded funding, 2) not awarded funding but will be eligible for temporary funding, or 3) denied funding. The Graduate Committee will rank those in categories 1 and 2 so that when funds become available there is a queue.

Temporary Funding

Non-funded students who received temporary funding are still in principle “non-funded” and must go through the above process to become “funded.”

Maximum Length of Funding

Satisfactory progress will result in the maximum of 10 semesters of departmental funding. Under exceptional circumstances students may request and receive funding beyond the 10- semester limit. Departmental funding includes assistantships (TA and GPTI assignments) and departmentally awarded fellowships. Departmental money does not include such things as outside grants and fellowships or funding provided by faculty research grants and fellowships.

Yearly Review

Every year the entire faculty will meet and review the progress of all students. Advisors as well as those faculty teaching first year students will make a short report on progress and an evaluation of whether the student is on track.

Students may have their funding revoked for any of the following reasons:

  • Unsatisfactory performance in seminars
  • One or more incomplete grades past one semester
  • Failure to meet the qualifying paper deadline
  • Unsatisfactory defense of the qualifying paper
  • Failure to meet the comprehensive exam deadline
  • Unsatisfactory defense of the comprehensive exams
  • Failure to meet the dissertation proposal deadline

Conference Travel

Between ten and fifteen papers are normally presented by department students at national and regional conferences each year. The Director of Graduate Studies has been able to help defray costs of travel to Political Science conferences for those graduate students presenting professional papers. Funding for conference travel and presentations is also available from the Graduate School and from United Government of Graduate Students (UGGS).

Political Science Graduate Research Grant

The Graduate Program of the Department of Political Science annually awards small grants to current graduate students to fund research activities that enhance training and research. Students can use these funds for off-site training programs and workshops (such as ICPSR, EITM, and CQRM), fieldwork, language courses, data collection, or other relevant research activities. The Graduate Program expects to grant awards each year pending availability of University Fellowship Funds. Awards are granted through a competitive process in which the Graduate Program Committee chooses which proposals are to be funded.

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Program Dimensions Time Frames Details Progress Markers
Credit Hours Continual for duration of enrollment

42 credit coursework

  • 35 credits in Political Science
  • 39 credits at 7000 level or above
  • Maximum 6 credits
    Independent Study allowed

30 dissertation credits

Maintain a "B" average or better
Concentration(s) Continual for duration of enrollment

Choose 2 fields: Major and Minor.
Complete a minimum of 3 seminars in each field.

Courses Continual for duration of enrollment

Required courses:

  • PSCI 7075 - Scope/Methods
  • PSCI 7085 - Introduction to Data Analysis
  • PSCI 7008 - Teaching PSCI
    At least 3 courses each in Major & Minor fields
    At least 3 courses outside of Major & Minor fields

Research Expertise:

Methodology or Language

Continual for duration of enrollment

Complete at least two advanced methodology courses beyond PSCI 7085. Note: If Empirical Theory and Methodology is chosen as the Minor field, take at least three additional courses beyond PSCI 7085.

Language competence in lieu of methodology: demonstrated proficiency equivalent to 5th semester college level course.

Maintain a "B" average or better
April 1st of 4th semester Written paper and oral defense Committee of 3 faculty establish whether successful.
Comprehensive Exams January of 6th semester

Written and oral examinations

Major field: 2 day written exam

Minor field: 1 day written exam

Two committees comprised of 3 faculty each establish whether successful by field.
Dissertation Prospectus Within 9 months of  the passage of the comprehensive exam.  Determined on an individual basis by candidate and committee Committee comprised of at least 3 faculty including at least 2 from PSCI
Dissertation Defense   Determined on an individual basis by candidate and committee

Committee comprised of at least 5 faculty