Ph.D. Requirements

Sequence of study

The degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) is the university’s highest degree in Political Science. Study for the Ph.D. is full time only. Students who wish to earn the Ph.D. degree must have earned the M.Phil. degree at Columbia and must prepare, defend, and deposit a dissertation in accordance with the regulations of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (for more dissertation details, consult the Dissertation Office website).

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the Department of Political Science require the completion of all M.A. requirements within two years, M.Phil. requirements within four years, and Ph.D. requirements within seven years.

Students who do not complete all requirements for the doctoral degree by the end of the ninth year will no longer be considered to be GSAS Ph.D. degree candidates, and will be notified accordingly. The GSAS time to degree policy may read in full here.

GSAS policy handbook

All students should understand and follow the regulations of the university, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the Department of Political Science. Lack of knowledge about university, GSAS and/or department rules and policies does not excuse students who fail to comply with these regulations.

The GSAS policy handbook may be found here.

Students in a Ph.D. program in the Graduate School must maintain good academic standing in the degree program, good administrative standing in the Graduate School, and continued good progress toward the degree each semester.

Academic standing

Good academic standing for Ph.D. students includes but is not limited to:

  • Acquiring an adviser
  • Maintaining consistent contact with the Director of Graduate Studies and adviser or dissertation sponsor
  • Fulfilling the dissertation proposal requirement
  • Completing an annual dissertation progress report upon attaining the M.Phil. degree
  • Completing degree requirements and maintaining superior quality of work as determined by the department
  • Maintaining a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of at least 3.0*
  • Holding no more than one mark of Incomplete at any given time
  • Fulfilling pedagogical requirements and responsibilities as designated by the department and GSAS
  • Meeting other criteria specified by the department 

Students should direct questions about good academic standing to the Director of Graduate Studies.

*The cumulative GPA is derived from all courses in which a student has registered and received a grade, except when the student takes a course again after receiving an F. In such cases, the F received for the original iteration does not count toward the GPA.

Administrative standing

Students are expected to remain in compliance with all applicable administrative policies and procedures of the university, including those of the Columbia Libraries, University Apartment Housing, and the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards, as well as the regulations described in Essential Policies for the Columbia Community.

Failure to maintain good standing

Consequences for failing to maintain good academic standing, good administrative standing, or good academic progress may include academic or administrative warning, probation, suspension, or dismissal. 

Progress and time to the Ph.D. degree

University standards

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences adheres to federal regulations requiring that students receiving federal assistance make satisfactory academic progress in accordance with the standards set by the university.

Graduate school standards


The Graduate School considers progress to be minimally satisfactory when progress is such that a student completes all requirements for the M.A. degree en route to the Ph.D. within two academic years (four semesters) of registration, not including official leaves of absence or periods of parental accommodation.


To maintain satisfactory academic progress, all work for the M.Phil. degree must be completed within four academic years (eight semesters) of registration, not including official leaves of absence or periods of parental accommodation.

If, however, the student holds an appropriate master’s degree from Columbia or another institution and received two Residence Units of advanced standing, all M.Phil. degree requirements must be completed within three academic years (six semesters) of registration.


Students who entered a Ph.D. program in the Arts and Sciences in Fall 2011 or later are allowed nine years of continuous registration (not including official leaves of absence) to satisfy all requirements for the doctoral degree. After their seventh year of registration in a Ph.D. program, GSAS students in the Arts and Sciences are not eligible for housing or for funding from GSAS or the Arts and Sciences.

Department standards

The department faculty evaluates students annually, and the Director of Graduate Studies monitors student progress on an ongoing basis to ensure that students are progressing at a pace that will allow them to complete their degree within the time frame allowed by the graduate school and that all academic requirements are completed satisfactorily.

Satisfactory academic progress requires timely and satisfactory completion of all degree requirements including:

  • Courses
  • Language and research tool requirements
  • Comprehensive examinations
  • “Mini-APSA paper”
  • Dissertation proposal
  • Participation in the third-year Dissertation Seminar
  • Performance in required teaching or research apprenticeships

Permission to register each term is contingent on the faculty's judgment that progress in the degree program is satisfactory. A student who fails to maintain satisfactory progress may have his or her degree candidacy terminated. Other consequences may include disqualification for department travel grants, dissertation development grants, or other department benefits.

Doctoral students who have completed the requirements either:

for an appropriate M.A. degree conferred in another division of Columbia or by another regionally accredited institution (or the international equivalent)


for an appropriate professional degree taken at Columbia or elsewhere

may be granted, upon entrance to the Graduate School, two Residence Units toward the required total of six for the M.Phil. degree. 

Students must petition for transfer credit in their first semester of registration by submitting the Application for Transfer Credit and relevant materials to the Director of Graduate Studies.

The Director of Graduate Studies, in consultation with department faculty, determines whether the previously completed M.A. is appropriate for advanced standing in the program. The previous training must be equivalent to what is required of the department's M.A. recipients. The prior degree must meet Columbia department standards and contribute directly and substantially to the fulfillment of the requirements for the M.Phil. and Ph.D. degrees at Columbia.

Students who have been granted two Residence Units toward the total of six Residence Units are not eligible to receive an M.A. from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Registration at the Graduate School is a two-part process that consists of registering for individual courses and registering for a residence category at the university. All students must complete both parts of the registration process.

  • Students in all degree programs are required to register in each fall and spring semester until all degree requirements have been completed or until the time-to-degree limit has been reached.
  • Two Residence Units are required for the M.A. degree
  • Six Residence Units (including the two offered for the M.A.) are required for the M.Phil. degree.
  • After completing six Residence Units, Ph.D. candidates register for Extended Residence (“ER”) for any term in which they either register for a course or hold a university teaching or research appointment.
  • After completing six Residence Units, Ph.D. candidates register for Matriculation and Facilities ("M and F") for any term in which they are preparing the dissertation proposal, writing, or distributing the dissertation--and not taking courses or holding a teaching or research appointment.
  • Enrollment is the completion of the registration process and affords the full rights and privileges of student status.

GSAS students who register for M&F are not assessed the University Facilities Fee, which includes membership to the Dodge Fitness Center. GSAS will pay the Dodge access membership fee during the academic year (fall and spring semesters only) for doctoral students in Arts and Sciences programs who are registered for M&F and who are either receiving their dissertation fellowship or are otherwise eligible for GSAS funding through the multiyear funding package awarded upon admission.

More detail about residence categories can be found here on the GSAS website.

As part of an application for annual renewal of a multiyear GSAS fellowship, GSAS requires that students apply for at least one academic-year external award during years one through four of their GSAS fellowship years.

Students are required to submit to the Director of Graduate Studies evidence of at least one good-faith effort to obtain funding from a funding source external to the university. Students should consult with the DGS to determine what constitutes such an effort for a particular field and stage in the program.

In collaboration with the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy, the department organizes a workshop on applying for external funding each fall.

Ongoing support for proposal development is available from ISERP. Students who have identified an external funding opportunity should consult ISERP's guide for student proposal submissions.

M.A. requirements

A minimum of eight political science courses for a total of at least 30 points, including:

  • Two political science colloquia or seminars (8000- or 9000-level courses) or, with prior approval of the Director of Graduate Studies, a graduate political science course that requires the writing of a research paper
  • Three additional political science courses, normally, in one of the four subfields (American politics, comparative politics, international relations, and political theory)
  • Three additional political science courses, or courses in a related field with prior approval of the Director of Graduate Studies

In choosing courses to fulfill M.A. requirements, students should be aware of course distributions required for the M.Phil. degree detailed below. Some courses required for the M.Phil., such as field surveys or methods courses, may be offered as electives for the M.A.

All courses offered in fulfillment of sequential M.A. and M.Phil. degree requirements must be taken for Examination, “E,” credit. Students must maintain a minimum GPA of 3.5 in order to be eligible to take comprehensive exams.

Courses may be taken for Registration, “R,” credit only with permission of the instructor obtained at the beginning of the semester; however, courses taken for R credit do not fulfill any degree requirement towards the M.Phil.

Please click here for a detailed explanation of the GSAS grading system.

For the M.A. degree, students must demonstrate command of one research tool selected from the following list:

  • A reading knowledge of a foreign language, demonstrated by passing the proficiency exam offered by the relevant language department or by placing out of the fourth year on the placement exam offered in those departments that do not offer a proficiency exam (for example, the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures). Native speakers of a language other than English may offer their native language in satisfaction of this requirement
  • An approved two-course sequence in quantitative analysis with an average grade of B or better
  • An approved two-course sequence in formal modeling with an average grade of B or better
  • One course in qualitative methodology in combination with any one of the quantitative or formal modeling courses numbered 4710 or higher with an average grade of B or better
  • A comparable level of proficiency in a comparable research tool, approved in writing by the Director of Graduate Studies upon recommendation of the student’s adviser

Courses taken to fulfill the research tool requirement can count toward the eight courses required for the degree.

Two-course sequences for the research tool
Quantitative analysis
  • POLS GU4710 and GU4712 (Principles of Quantitative Political Research 1 and Principles of Quantitative Political Research 2)
  • POLS GU4710 and GU4720 (Principles of Quantitative Political Research 1 and Quantitative Methods 1: Applied Regression and Causal Inference)
  • POLS GU4710 and GU4730 (Principles of Quantitative Political Research 1 and Game Theory and Political Theory)
  • POLS GU4720 and GU4722 (Quantitative Methods 1: Applied Regression and Causal Inference and Quantitative Methods 2: Mathematical Foundations of Statistics and Causal Inference)
  • POLS GU4708 (Investigating Political Phenomena: Experimental Research) and any quantitative Political Science course numbered above 4710 
  • POLS GU4762 (Politics in the Lab) and any quantitative Political Science course numbered above 4710
  • POLS GU4762 and POLS GU4708 or POLS GU4724 (Politics in the Lab and either Investigating Political Phenomena: Experimental Research or Quantitative Methods 3: Experimental Methods)
  • POLS GU4764 (Design & Analysis of Sample Surveys) and any quantitative Political Science course numbered above 4710
  • POLS GU4724 (Quantitative Methods 3: Experimental Methods) and any quantitative Political Science course numbered above 4710

In addition, for students who took both GU4714 and GU4790 prior to Spring 2020:

POLS GU4714 and GU4790 (Quantitative Methods 1: Probability and Statistical Inference and Advanced Topics in Quantitative Research)

Formal modeling
  • POLS GU4730 and GU4732 (Game Theory and Political Theory and Research Topics in Game Theory)
  • POLS GU4730 (Game Theory and Political Theory) and ECON GR6492 (Games in the Lab)
  • POLS GU4700 and GU4730 (Mathematics and Statistics for Political Science and Game Theory and Political Theory)
Qualitative methodology

A qualitative methodology course may be combined with any quantitative or formal modeling course numbered 4710 or higher with an average grade of B or better.

  • POLS GU4702 (Methods of Inquiry and Research Design)
  • POLS GR4780 (Qualitative & Interpretative Methods in Political Science)
  • SOC GR6091 (Historical Method & Documentary Analysis)
  • Or an alternative approved by the Director of Graduate Studies
Foreign Language

Languages used to fulfill the requirement must be chosen in consultation with the adviser from among those that encompass a significant literature in political science, including Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish. Other languages necessary for the student’s research may, upon approval by the student’s adviser and the Director of Graduate Studies, be offered as a foreign language. English may not be offered as a foreign language.

M.Phil. requirements

In addition to the eight courses completed in fulfillment of M.A. requirements, at least four additional courses such that upon award of the M.Phil., the student will have completed:

  • Three of the department’s four field surveys (GR6101, 6210-11, GR6410-11, GR 6801)
  • Four of the department’s colloquia and seminars (8000- and 9000-level courses), at least two of which must involve the preparation of research papers
  • One course in quantitative analysis or formal modeling
  • At least two courses in each of two different subfields of political science, not including the three required field survey courses or the one course required in quantitative analysis or formal modeling
Field survey courses
  • POLS GR6101, Issues in Political Theory
  • POLS GR6210-11 Theories and Debates in American Politics I and II
  • POLS GR6410-11, Comparative Politics Survey I and II
  • POLS GR6801, Theories of International Relations

Majors in American politics and comparative politics must complete both semesters of the two-semester field surveys in those fields and two additional field surveys. American politics and comparative politics minors are strongly encouraged to take both semesters of those fields’ surveys. Students not majoring in American or comparative politics need take only one semester of those field surveys to fulfill the field survey requirement.

Additional courses have been designated to be approved in place of the third field survey in the field that is not the student’s major or minor field. The Director of Graduate Studies must be informed if the student will replace one of the field survey course requirements with one of these courses.

Substitutes for third field survey

Comparative Politics:
• Any 8000 level course in comparative politics

International Relations:
• GR8804: International Political Economy
• GU4895: War, Peace and Strategy

Political Theory:
• GU4134: Modern Political Thought

Courses for the quantitative analysis or formal modeling requirement
  • POLS GU4710 Principles of Quantitative Political Research 1
  • POLS GU4712  Principles of Quantitative Political Research 2
  • POLS GU4720 Quantitative Methods 1: Applied Regression and Causal Inference
  • POLS GU4724, Quantitative Methods 3: Experimental Methods
  • POLS GU4730 Game Theory and Political Theory
  • POLS GU4732, Research Topics in Game Theory
  • POLS GU4764 Design and Analysis of Sample Surveys
  • POLS GU4790 Advanced Topics in Quantitative Research: Models for Limited and Qualitative Dependent Variables
  • POLS GU4792 Advanced Topics in Quantitative Research: Models for Panel and Time-Series Cross-Section Data
  • STAT GU4330 Regression and Multilevel Models
  • STAT GR7110  Political Science Methodology
  • STAT GR7300  Research in Bayesian Statistics

Courses in other departments may be substituted for those of the Department of Political Science with the prior written approval of the Director of Graduate Studies.

All courses offered in fulfillment of sequential M.A. and M.Phil. degree requirements must be taken for Examination, “E,” credit. Students must maintain a minimum GPA of 3.5 in order to be eligible to take comprehensive exams.

Courses may be taken for Registration, “R,” credit only with permission of the instructor obtained at the beginning of the semester; however, courses taken for R credit do not fulfill any degree requirement towards the M.Phil.

Please click here for a detailed explanation of the GSAS grading system.

Command of a second research tool as defined in the M.A. requirements above.

Quantitative methods and formal modeling courses used to fulfill the research tool requirement simultaneously fulfill the one-course requirement in quantitative methods but cannot be counted toward the four-course requirement of those completing quantitative methods as a minor subfield.

Methods minors may use two courses from the same subfield outside of their major subfield to satisfy the research tool requirement. For example, a student could offer two courses in international relations in fulfillment of the tools requirement, as long as international relations is not the student’s major subfield.

As part of their professional development in the Ph.D. program, students must present a solo-authored research paper in the fall of their third year at the department student conference, referred to as “Mini-APSA.” This paper need not be written especially for this occasion, but can be or grow out of one completed for a course. Students will be graded pass or fail for the presentation and will receive comments from a faculty discussant. An unsatisfactory Mini-APSA paper may jeopardize a student’s academic standing and require the student to present at Mini-APSA the following year.

Timing of exams

Exams are offered in August and January. A candidate for the M.Phil. degree takes written and oral examinations in a major and a minor field in August before the third year in the program. With adviser and Director of Graduate Studies permission, students may take one or more exams in January of their second year with the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies and their academic adviser provided they meet all eligibility requirements listed below. Students are allowed two attempts to pass exams.

Content of exams

The four major subfields for examination are: American politics, comparative politics, international relations, and political theory. Students select a major and minor field from among these.

Students may also select pre-approved minors in economics, quantitative methods, law, or political economic theory. In addition, students may petition to pursue an individually designed special minor by following procedures outlined below. More information regarding special minors may be found here.

Eligibility for examination

In order to take comprehensive exams, students must

  • Be making satisfactory academic progress as defined in the “Introduction” section of this document
  • Have earned the M.A. (or received advanced standing in lieu of the M.A.)
  • Maintain a 3.5 GPA in Political Science courses
  • Carry no more than one mark of “IN” on his or her transcript.

Students who have been notified that their progress is not satisfactory and who have not met the requirement for gaining satisfactory academic standing prior to the exams will not be allowed to take them, and will be considered to have failed the exams one time.

Exam format

Written examinations are administered in an electronic classroom on a specified date for each field. Majors write two essays, are given a lunch break, and then write a third essay. Minors write two essays in the morning.

Each essay is graded by a faculty member who serves as “first reader” for that essay. In addition, a second reader is assigned to grade each exam in its entirety. Hence, each essay receives two grades, one from the “first” reader and one from the “second” reader, who reads the entire exam. Student names are not revealed to faculty graders, and faculty grader identities are not revealed to students.

Oral examinations are conducted by three faculty members. This orals committee recommends a final grade of distinction, pass, or fail for the entire exam, taking into consideration the student’s performance on both the written and oral components.

Exam results

If the orals committee gives a student a passing grade on the comprehensive exams, the presumption is that the student will continue to Ph.D. candidacy and the dissertation unless the Director of Graduate Studies has identified problems in the student's record that require a faculty discussion about the student’s ability to continue in the doctoral program. In such cases the faculty will determine whether the student shall receive a terminal M.Phil. (contingent on satisfaction of all M.Phil. requirements). In making this decision, the entirety of the student’s record and performance will be considered. This review includes grades, the quality of the student’s research papers, the quality of the Mini-APSA paper, and the performance on the comprehensive exams (students with weaker academic records will be helped by good performance on the exams).

A student who fails the comprehensive exam on the first attempt will be given written feedback from the orals committee regarding the reasons for the failure and the areas in which improvement is needed (students who pass may see the chair of the oral examining committee for comments). A student who fails an exam may be re-examined only once, in whichever field was failed. Re-examination must take place at the next examination date.

A student who fails the comprehensive exam a second time is not eligible to receive the M.Phil. Grievances regarding the outcome of comprehensive exams can be pursued according to the procedures laid out in GSAS rules, which may be found on the GSAS website.

As part of the academic requirements for conferral of the M.Phil. degree, all students in the thirty Arts and Sciences Ph.D. programs must fulfill a one-year GSAS teaching requirement that must be completed in their first four years of residence (three years for students admitted with advanced standing) or before receipt of the M.Phil. degree, whichever should come first. Students are usually appointed as teaching fellows while they fulfill the requirement. It is expected that students will fulfill the teaching requirement in consecutive semesters of an academic year; exceptions based on compelling academic or professional reasons must be approved by the Office of the Dean.

GSAS teaching fellows

Students who receive GSAS multiyear fellowships must typically teach for two more years as a condition of their fellowship support, as indicated in their official letter of admission from the dean of the Graduate School.

Political Science students should expect to serve as a teaching assistant in the undergraduate introductory course in their major field for at least one semester.

Please click here for details about TA assignments in the department.

Core preceptors

Students who are interested in broadening their teaching apprenticeships are eligible to teach as preceptors in the undergraduate Core Curriculum once they have received the M.Phil. Students may apply to be a preceptor only if they will have received the M.Phil. by the May prior to being appointed as a preceptor and if they will not be past their sixth year of registration during the first year of the preceptorship. Each fall, the department forwards to all graduate students the call for applications for preceptorships, which is issued by the Director of the Center for the Core Curriculum of Columbia College. Students apply directly to the Center for the Core Curriculum.

Related policies

Students may not hold instructional appointments after the seventh year of study.

Exceptions to the teaching requirement may be available to students who have teaching experience prior to enrolling in the Ph.D. program. Inquiries about exceptions should be made to the Director of Graduate Studies.

Students whose first language is not English are required to take the English Proficiency Test offered by the American Language Program before being allowed to teach.

Students in their third year of residence are required to successfully complete the department’s Dissertation Seminar, GR9901-9902. The seminar is designed for students in all fields working on any and all topics in political science. Students will have the opportunity to present draft dissertation proposals and draft dissertation chapters. Registration for a letter grade is recommended but not required. Participation by students in earlier years of residence is by permission of the instructor.

Ph.D. requirements

In order to maintain good academic standing, GSAS and the department require every student who has passed comprehensive exams to submit and defend a dissertation proposal by the end of the fourth year. The department strongly encourages all students to submit and defend the proposal by the end of the third year.

Proposal defenses are scheduled each semester. Deadlines for submitting proposals are announced at the beginning of each academic year by the Director of Graduate Studies.

Students defend proposals before a committee of four faculty members: two sponsors selected by the student, and two department faculty members outside the student’s dissertation subfield. Students may suggest up to four faculty members outside the subfield to serve on the committee Student suggestions will be accommodated to the extent that scheduling constraints allow.

The Graduate Coordinator will schedule a time and location for each defense, provide the proposal defense form to the committee chair, and forward the signed form to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Submission Procedure 

Proposals are submitted to the Graduate Program Coordinator by the announced deadline. Proposals submitted after the deadline will be scheduled for defense only after those submitted on time have been scheduled, and only as faculty schedules permit.

Proposals must include the following components:

  • Completed cover sheet
  • Abstract of no more than 500 words
  • Description of the research question(s) the dissertation will investigate, including relevant theory.
  • Reasons political scientists should be interested in the potential findings of the dissertation and the significance of the research for larger concerns of the discipline
  • Previous related research conducted (briefly)
  • Methodology (or methodologies) and evidence/data
  • Description of IRB/human subjects requirements, if applicable, and status of approval process
  • Hypotheses and how they will be examined with the evidence/data obtained
  • Discussion of any preliminary data collection or analysis
  • Any qualifications or limitation that may attend the results
  • Projected timeline for completing the dissertation
  • Table of contents and bibliography


The body of the proposal should be no longer than twelve double-spaced pages. References, table of contents, and bibliography are not included in the twelve-page limit. This is a firm celling. Proposals that exceed twelve pages will not be accepted by the Graduate Program Coordinator.


The DGS will assign to each proposal two readers drawn from among the faculty outside the dissertation’s primary subfield. Students may suggest outside readers on the proposal cover sheet. However, there is no guarantee that the suggested readers can be assigned.

Students will defend their proposals orally in a meeting with the two assigned readers and one or both sponsors.

Defense outcomes

After the oral defense, the chair of the defense committee will write an assessment of the proposal and will assign the proposal a grade of pass or fail. The assessment will be sent to the student, the DGS, and the dissertation sponsors.

Only students who have obtained the M.Phil. and successfully defended their dissertation proposals may take advantage of GSAS Dissertation Fellowships (two semesters without teaching obligations).

Department policy on co-authorship in dissertations

No more than one-third of the substantive material of a student’s Ph.D. dissertation may be co-authored (that is, one paper of a three paper dissertation, or one-third of the substantive chapters of a monograph dissertation).

  • No chapter or paper may be co-authored with a member of the Columbia political science department faculty, nor with any member of the student’s dissertation committee.
  • Co-authorship must have the consent of the dissertation sponsor(s). If multiple students co-author a chapter or paper, it may be included in each dissertation.
  • Any co-authored chapter or paper must be accompanied by a disclosure statement, which clearly notes the student’s contribution. This statement must be signed by all co-authors and forms part of the deposited dissertation.
  • Students should be aware that co-authored dissertation chapters/papers may be discounted or misattributed (to the other authors) by hiring committees. Co-authored work may be better reserved for publication outside the dissertation.

This policy is effective as of July 1, 2016. Exceptions to the co-authoring policy can be granted by the Director of Graduate Studies for any student whose dissertation proposal was approved prior to January 1, 2016. 

Students in their later years of study are strongly encouraged to present their work for feedback at one of the seminars organized by the department’s graduate students. Details about these seminars are available from the Director of Graduate Studies.

The dissertation defense is the final requirement for completing the Ph.D.

Once the faculty sponsor has approved a dissertation as ready for defense, he or she assembles a committee of examiners and asks the Graduate Program Coordinator to schedule the defense.

The student should complete the top portion only of the Application for the Dissertation Defense and forward it to the Graduate Program Coordinator. Only a department representative may forward the application for defense to the Dissertation Office.

The Graduate Program Coordinator schedules the defense in consultation with the dissertation sponsor and the student.

Usually, no more than seven years of candidacy for the Ph.D. degree from the time of initial registration in the department is allowed

See the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences policies and procedures for defense and permanent deposit of the dissertation on the GSAS website.