Graduate Program in Political Science

Dr. Avdan teaching

The Department of Political Science offers M.A. and Ph.D. programs for students seeking teaching, research, and public service careers involving the study and practice of politics and government. Fields of study available are American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Politics, Public Policy and Political Theory.

What's Special?

Our Faculty

The political science faculty enjoy national and international reputations for their research and have won numerous teaching and advising awards. Scholarly output is the primary reason that a recent ranking of doctoral programs in Political Science places KU's doctoral program in the top third in the nation.

Our Individualized & Stimulating Atmosphere

Our medium size allows faculty to teach seminars on a variety of topics with individualized mentoring in and out of the classroom. Graduate students work closely with faculty on research and themselves publish independent papers and win fellowships and awards. This productivity is complemented by a diverse group of students, many coming from around the world.  In addition, by the time of graduation most of our graduate students will teach their own classes.  We believe teaching is important part of a graduate education and serves our students well in an increasingly competitive job market.  And our unique Thompson Summer Scholarship Research Program offers students the opportunity to engage in a genuine collaborative research project with selected faculty.  Working with faculty on a variety of research topics, students maximize their potential by earning a competitive stipend and sharpening their research skills across the summer months.  The program has generated many conference papers and publications as well.  Our Department therefore offers unparalleled access to our faculty and valuable opportunities in both research and teaching.

Our Campus & Community Connections

We have extensive connections with the broader KU and Lawrence community: KU is an exciting place to be for the study of politics. Graduate students in our program have access to the nationally-recognized centers for African Studies, East Asian Studies, Latin American Studies, Russian, East European, & Eurasian Studies, Environmental Studies, Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, the Institute for Policy & Social Research, and the Dole Institute of Politics. Put your stereotypes about the Wizard of Oz aside; Lawrence is a wonderful place to live, with an interesting political history, and a lively arts and cultural scene.

M.A. Degree Requirements

The Master of Arts program is a 30 credit hour coursework only M.A. degree with no required thesis or exam. The program may be completed entirely online. There are 12 credit hours for required courses and 18 credit hours for electives. All courses must be at the 500 level or above. At least 50% of the coursework counted toward the degree must be 700 level or above.

Core Courses

POLS 705Research Design for Political Science3 credit hours
POLS 810American Politics3 credit hours
POLS 850Introduction to Comparative Politics3 credit hours
POLS 870International Relations3 credit hours


18 elective credit hours are required. Electives must be chosen in consultation with a faculty advisor.

Directed readings courses in excess of 5 hours cannot be counted toward the 30 hours required for the degree. With prior written approval, candidates may count up to 6 graduate hours taken outside the department (either at KU or via transfer credit from another regionally accredited institution) toward the 30 hours required for the degree. 

A digital portfolio will be required to complete the degree.

PhD Degree Requirements

Please refer to the graduate student handbook for detailed course requirements, procedures for examinations and defenses, and resources for degree completion.

Course Requirements (48 Credit Hours)

Students must complete coursework in two major subfields, one minor subfield, and research methods.

Major Subfields

The major subfields must be drawn from the four subfields listed below (American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, and Public Policy). Before their first attempt at the written preliminary examination in any subfield, all doctoral students must complete at least four graduate level courses courses in that field, three of which are at the 700 level or above. Enrollment in directed research covering a particular subfield may be substituted for one of the four courses/seminars. Students should consult their faculty advisor to plan a schedule of courses in each of their major subfields to provide adequate preparation for the written preliminary examination.

The specific course requirements in each of the major subfields below apply to students admitted in Fall 2020 or later. Students admitted prior to Fall 2020 should consult with their faculty advisor to determine the most appropriate course selection in each of their major subfields. 

American Politics

  • POLS 810 American Politics (3)
  • three elective courses selected in consultation with faculty advisor

Comparative Politics

  • POLS 850 Introduction to Comparative Politics (3)
  • POLS 851 Comparative Institutions and Government (3)
  • POLS 957 Comparative Political Behavior (3)
  • one elective course selected in consultation with faculty advisor

International Relations

  • POLS 870 International Relations (3)
  • POLS 972 Theories of International Conflict (3)
  • POLS 973 International Political Economy (3)
  • one elective course selected in consultation with faculty advisor

Public Policy

  • POLS 720 The Scope of Public Policy (3)
  • POLS 820 Policy Formulation and Adoption (3)
  • two elective courses selected in consultation with faculty advisor

Minor Subfield

The minor subfield may be another of the major subfields, a related field from an outside department, or an interdisciplinary program. If the choice is not an additional major subfield, the student must obtain written approval of their faculty advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies. Students must complete at least four graduate level courses in the minor subfield, three of which are at the 700 level or above. Enrollment in directed research covering a particular subfield may be substituted for one of the four courses. Students should select courses for their minor subfield in consultation with their faculty advisor. Courses for the minor subfield may not be applied to another examination field.

Research Skills & Responsible Scholarship

Doctoral students must complete the three courses listed below to meet the Research Skills & Responsible Scholarship requirement. 

Research Methods

  • POLS 705 Research Design for Political Science (3)
  • POLS 706 Research Methods I (3)
  • POLS 707 Research Methods II (3)

Additionally, doctoral students must supplement this coursework with one of the following options, to be approved at any time prior to registering for written preliminary examinations:

  • An additional research methods course selected in consultation with their faculty advisor
  • Proficiency in a foreign language approved by the student's faculty advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies as demonstrated by one of the following options
    • Two semesters of a single foreign language completed no more than five years prior to the time of approval
    • Native speaker of a foriegn language

Preliminary Examinations

After completing all coursework in research methods and both major subfields (subfield coursework must all have a grade of B or better), students must complete written preliminary examinations in both of their major subfields. The preliminary examinations take place at the beginning of each semester and consist of questions related to the student's major subfields. More information about preliminary examinations.

Oral Comprehensive Examination

After passing preliminary examinations in both major subfields, students must complete an oral comprehensive examination in the same semester. The oral comprehensive examination covers the entire field of Political Science, with an emphasis in the student's two major subfields of study. 


All doctoral students must complete and defend a dissertation showing the planning, conduct, and results of original research and scholarship.  

Degree Completion Timeline

Most students are expected to complete the Political Science MA/PhD program in four years. All students should consult with their faculty advisor to ensure they're on a completion timeline appropriate for their research.

Non Degree Seeking

If you completed a bachelor’s degree with a demonstrated academic competence in political science or a related discipline and wish to take an upcoming graduate-level course in the Department of Political Science ad hoc, you may apply as a non-degree seeking (NDS) student. Please note undergraduate prerequisite course completion is typically necessary to succeed in graduate-level coursework. Not all courses in our department are open to NDS students; please contact our graduate academic advisor before applying to inquire about your eligibility to enroll in specific courses. Any applicant seeking to be admitted as a non-degree seeking student must submit an application. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis.

See also admission information.

Former Grad Student Reflections