General Requirements

The Ph.D. program is designed for full-time residential students who are interested in scholarly careers as researchers and teachers. The Ph.D. program requires a minimum of 72 credits of coursework, four semesters of research apprenticeships, and nine (9) credit hours for the dissertation.

Students must have a completed Master of Public Administration, master’s in a related field, or equivalent graduate credits to enter the Ph.D. program. Students who have earned a master's degree from an accredited university may receive up to 36 credit hours towards the 72-credit-hour coursework requirement.

Complete degree requirements for the Ph.D. program are outlined in the Course Catalog.

Time to Complete

While it is impossible to specify the precise length of time needed to complete the Ph.D. program due to the many variables associated with completing the degree requirements, recent graduates have averaged 4.5 years to complete the Ph.D. program.

Such variables include, but are not limited to the following

  • Number of credits allowed for previous graduate study
  • Whether there are course deficiencies relative to the foundational requirements for the MPA degree
  • The number of credit hours completed during each academic term
  • The time required to prepare for the qualifying exam and to complete a dissertation

In general however, a student who receives credit for 36 hours completed prior to entry into the Ph.D. program and who has no prerequisite course deficiencies will complete all coursework requirements within two academic years.

The length of time necessary to complete the dissertation will vary but typically takes 1 to 2 years upon approval of the dissertation proposal.

Prerequisite Coursework Requirements

All students who enter the Ph.D. program must complete the equivalent of the prerequisite courses below, either before entering the program or during their studies. Students may also request a waiver from the Ph.D. Committee. All of these courses are required for the Maxwell MPA degree.

The prerequisite courses are:

  • PAI 712: Public Organizations and Management
  • PAI 721: Introduction to Statistics
  • PAI 722: Quantitative Analysis for Public Policy Analysis
  • PAI 723: Managerial Economics for Public Administrators
  • PAI 734: Public Budgeting
  • PAI 755: Public Administration and Democracy

In addition, all doctoral students are required to serve research apprenticeships during their residency for a minimum of four terms. Participation in the University's TA Training Program is also required just prior to the start of the initial fall semester.

Normal Course Load

In general, full-time status in a fall or spring semester is achieved by enrolling for nine credit hours of coursework (not including Dissertation) and serving a research/teaching apprenticeship.

Once the comprehensive qualifying examinations have been passed and a student formally enters Ph.D. candidacy status, the department will no longer require full-time status.

However, students who wish to be certified as full-time must provide evidence that they are making substantial progress on their dissertations and that they are not employed more than half-time (i.e. equivalent to a graduate assistantship).

For more information about criteria for full-time status, see Syracuse University publication, Academic rules and regulations.

See a Sample Schedule.


The comprehensive examination is administered in two segments.

Theory of Public Administration and Research Design/Methods

While the exact dates vary each year, the exam theory of public administration and research design/methods is taken after the completion of the first year of coursework. The exam is administered over several days in late May.

Fields of Specialization

Exams in the two fields of specialization are typically taken in the last two weeks of September after completion of second-year coursework.

For both comprehensive exams, all required coursework must be complete before you take the exam.

For more information about Examinations, please see the Ph.D. Handbook.


A dissertation must demonstrate a high level of scholarly and analytical ability and the candidate’s intimate familiarity with key aspects of knowledge pertaining to the research topic. The dissertation must be an original and valuable contribution to the understanding of public administration or public policy.

Students need nine dissertation credit hours. While there are no requirements for when these must be taken, enrolling for these credit hours during the first and second summer ensures that these credits are completed while covered by university support.

To see more information about dissertations, please see the Ph.D. Handbook.