Doctoral Public Affairs Education

Learn about NASPAA's PhD Pathways Initiative

Around 85 schools of public administration/public policy offer a doctorate: a Ph.D. or DPA (doctor of public administration).  These degrees are structured very similarly to other Ph.D. programs in the social sciences.

  • The first and second years of the degree program are devoted to courses in the key research skills emphasized by the program (usually research methods, theory, and applications to specific content areas).
  • Most Ph.D. programs then require students to take comprehensive examinations in one or more fields.
  • The remainder of the Ph.D. program is devoted to developing a proposal, conducting the necessary research, and writing a dissertation. The dissertation must be presented and defended publicly. It takes an average of five to six years to earn the degree (less if a student has already completed a master’s).

List of schools offering a doctoral degree

Compared with a professional Master’s degree (MPA/MPP), the students in a Ph.D. program generally will experience much closer contact with the faculty, smaller class sizes, and much more analytical material. Many of the students intend to seek academic careers upon graduation, but there are considerable job opportunities in government, consulting firms, advocacy organizations and think tanks for Ph.D. program graduates. There are certain career tracks outside of higher education that expect the persons in those positions to have earned the Ph.D.

Admissions for Ph.D. programs generally are much more competitive than for an MPA/MPP. Some Ph.D. programs receive 10 or more applications for every student they plan to admit. The most important qualification for admission is a record of academic excellence especially in subjects that relate directly to the research focus of the Ph.D. program.

Persons who are very analytically oriented and are interested in conducting in-depth research on issues may find a Ph.D. program to be better suited to their career goals than other alternatives.