Graduate Degree Requirements

The Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago is committed to training students in political science. Our aim is to help students develop their intellectual interests while grounding them in the various approaches and methodologies that currently characterize the discipline. The Department’s requirements, which mix research papers with courses and exams, are intended to achieve these goals.  

Students with questions about program requirements and milestones should contact Michelle Cerullo ( Political Science Student Affairs Administrator. Students may also contact Brett Baker (, Associate Dean of Students in the Social Sciences, and Amanda Young (, Director, Graduate Student Affairs in UChicagoGRAD. 

Students must complete sixteen (16) courses for quality grades by the end of the 6th quarter (end of the second year).  

Twelve (12) of 16 courses must be courses taught by Department faculty, which includes visiting and associate members. Up to two (2) reading and thesis supervision courses can count toward the 16 required courses.  

  • In the first year, students should plan on completing a total of nine (9) courses for quality grades.  
  • In the second year, students will complete their secondary field coursework, as well as the remainder of their 16 required courses.  
  • PLSC 50000 Dissertation Proposal Seminar (offered in the Winter Quarter) is required of third year students and does not count as one of the 16 required courses. 

The Department strongly recommends all graduate students acquire the skill set necessary for successful progress as producers of research within the first two years of coursework. Students are expected to collaborate with their advisors the skill set they will need, and together agree on a program of study.  

Quantitatively-oriented graduate students will complete courses on matrix algebra, linear models, and causal identification. Students who pursue political theory and qualitative research will have varied skill sets that may entail language training, ethnography training, interpretive methods, archival research, or other methodological courses. 

Students who have prior graduate work may use as many as five graduate courses completed at other universities to count towards fulfillment of the department’s course requirement. Students seeking this reduction in the number of required courses should petition in writing to the DGS. Graduate courses previously completed within our department will count on a one-to-one basis towards the fulfilment of the department’s course requirement.  

The Department offers comprehensive exams in six subfields: 

  • Political Theory 
  • American Politics 
  • Comparative Politics 
  • International Relations 
  • Quantitative Methods 
  • Formal Theory 

Students are required to pass a comprehensive exam in the main subfield by the beginning of the third year. Course prerequisites for comprehensive exams include one of the following:   

  • a field seminar, offered no less than once every other year  
  • a course sequence offered over two years 

All subfields provide the materials students should master in order to be considered certified in that area. Each subfield decides the nature and grading of the exam. A student who fails an exam is entitled to one re-test, but failure to pass an exam after two attempts may be grounds for not allowing a student to continue in the program. 

The Department offers exams during the month of September each year. Re-takes are scheduled for December. Some students—such as those entering the program with prior graduate work in political science or who complete the necessary prerequisites for an exam in their first year of study—may take the exam after the first year. All other students will take the exam at the beginning of the third year.   

Students are required to meet a course distribution requirement for the secondary subfield by the end of the second year, as well as the remainder of their 16 required courses. Criteria for meeting the requirement can be found on the secondary subfield requirements page.   

Students are required to complete an MA paper. At the beginning of year two, students will select a primary advisor for their MA paper. Two faculty members must agree to serve as advisors for the MA thesis. The designated first advisor must be a Department member.  

This advisor works closely with the student to plan the scope of the project.  Working with the primary advisor, the student will select a secondary advisor by the start of Winter Quarter. The maximum length of the MA paper is 8,000 words (including footnotes). The final draft of the MA paper is due no later than May 15 of the second year.  The two advisors must submit their evaluation and approval of the MA thesis by the end of Spring Quarter.  

The MA paper gives students the experience of independent research at a manageable scale, before developing a full-fledged dissertation topic. This allows an opportunity to launch dissertation research, or to test the viability of a topic that might lead to a dissertation.  

The paper can help students gain a sense of how the germ of an idea becomes an article-length piece of writing.   

Students are encouraged to begin thinking about their MA thesis in the context of their courses, and to consider seminar papers as bases for an MA paper. Students also may choose to enroll in PLSC 40100 Thesis Preparation with their main thesis advisor. Students may take up to two units of Thesis Preparation to count toward the sixteen required courses.  

Students may not use an MA thesis written elsewhere as a substitute for the MA paper here. The only exception is that MA papers written at the University of Chicago, where one of the faculty advisors is in the Department. These are acceptable, if so certified by a second advisor from the Department.  The final MA paper must meet regular Department requirements and standards.  Many students find that substantial work is required to have a prior MA paper meet Department standards; therefore, it is often easier to pick a new topic. 

Students may receive the MA degree after at least one year of residence, the completion of nine courses for quality grades, and the completion of a satisfactory MA paper. Students may apply for the degree through the UChicago portal by the end of the first week of the quarter in which they wish to receive the degree. 

Every student will be required to complete four Mentored Teaching Experiences (MTEs) as part of their graduation requirements. An MTE includes all teaching experiences at the University of Chicago, such as acting as a TA or as an instructor of record. Students are not allowed to teach additional classes outside of these Mentored Teaching experiences. Most students will complete their MTE requirements by TAing for four different classes. If a student wishes to TA for a class outside the Department of Political Science (e.g. in the Core), or if a student wants to TA a second time for the same class, they must obtain permission from the DGS before committing to that TA position. 

If given the opportunity prior to completing three MTEs, and if the student wishes, co-teaching a course, serving as a BA preceptor, or acting as an instructor of record can be counted as two MTEs. Otherwise, all teaching experiences will be counted as one MTE. 

Students who have completed their MTE requirements, and are ABD in good standing in the program, are eligible to apply for teaching a course as instructor of record, such as via a prize lectureship (i.e. Grodzins). This will count as two additional MTEs, for a total of 6 MTEs. This is an option available to students who wish to expand their teaching portfolio, and is not a requirement. 

We will allow for a grace period of up to three academic quarters for the MA thesis, the Comp Exam, and the Prospectus Defense as long as the request is clearly communicated to the DGS and the Student Affairs Administrator in consultation with the student’s advisor. However, if at the end of the agreed upon time or if the request for a benchmark extension is not made, and the student has still not completed the benchmark, the student will receive a letter from the DGS and the Chair of the department with clear deadlines for completion. The consequences for missing the first of those deadlines on the letter will be that the student will be placed on academic probation. If the student misses a second deadline, the program will initiate the process of dismissal from the program.

For any questions about milestones and other academic requirements, please feel free to reach out to Paul Poast or Michelle Cerullo ( at any time. You may also reach out to the Dean of Students office or UChicagoGRAD who are always excellent resources.

Students should consult at least three members of the faculty who will constitute a dissertation committee, the primary of which will be the Dissertation Chair. Three of the members must be University faculty, and two, including the Chair, must be members of the Department. 

Dissertation Proposal  

Students should develop a dissertation proposal that outlines the research question, significance, argument, hypotheses, and methodology of the dissertation. Proposals should also include a timeline for dissertation completion.  

All students are expected to take PLSC 50000, The Dissertation Proposal Seminar, during the Winter Quarter of the third year. This weekly seminar is devoted to the presentation and collective discussion of several drafts of each student's dissertation proposal.  

Upon completion of a proposal, the student will schedule a proposal hearing in conjunction with the dissertation committee. When the committee approves the dissertation proposal, and the student has completed all of the other requirements, the student is formally admitted to candidacy (ABD status). Students must hold the proposal hearing by the end of Autumn Quarter of the fourth year. 

Oral Defense 

When the dissertation has received final approval from the committee, the candidate arranges for a formal defense and submits an abstract of the dissertation to the Department. The defense will be led by the Dissertation Chair, publicly announced, and open to any who wish to attend, at candidate discretion. Each defense includes a candidate presentation and a question-and-answer period led by the committee. Presentations should be approximately 30 minutes in length, and the questioning period should not exceed 2 hours. Immediately after the examination, the committee will inform the candidate whether they have passed. 

PhD Degree 

Candidates will need to apply for convocation by the end of the first week of the quarter in which they wish to receive the PhD degree. Students must submit the final version of the dissertation according to the requirements of the University's Dissertation Office and by its published deadlines. It is essential that the student contact the Dissertation Office early on for instructions on preparing the final version. 

First year students will be matched with a faculty advisor. They will also meet with the Director of Graduate Studies (“DGS”) in the Spring Quarter for their First Year Review.  

At the beginning of the second year, students will select a faculty member to serve as their MA advisor. Upon completion of the MA project, the student will network with faculty to select the most appropriate dissertation advisors. Faculty advisors can vary between the MA and PhD committees.  

The faculty will meet in Winter Quarter to assess the progress of second and third year students. For third year students, the assessment will determine if they have met all academic requirements in good standing. If students fail to meet academic requirements, additional guidance will be provided in writing by the Director of Graduate Studies.   

The department’s Graduate Affairs Committee, composed of the DGS and a faculty member from each subfield, will review fifth year students in June. They will approve the requests from dissertation committees for a 7th year of enrollment, if needed. 

Under exceptional circumstances, students in year seven may apply for an eighth year of funding. Prior to application, all interested students must meet with the DGS. Applications must be submitted by December 15 and will be evaluated by the Graduate Affairs Committee. Applications must include the following materials:  

  1. A month-by-month timeline with deliverables for the dissertation, signed-off by all of the student’s committee members 
  2. A letter of support from the dissertation chair 
  3. A cover letter by the student justifying the additional funding  

Applications may be submitted before September 15 if required for visa renewal purposes. Only applications completed by the above dates can be considered. 

The Department will administratively withdraw students who have not completed their PhD after 7 years. In order to graduate past year 7, students must demonstrate current knowledge of the discipline. In each case of this kind, the Chair of the Department will determine what constitutes the appropriate demonstration of current knowledge. By the choice of the Chair, such a demonstration will consist of successfully re-taking a comprehensive exam, a successful oral exam, or the certification of the student's dissertation committee.