Program of Study

The program of study includes coursework, a preliminary qualifying examination, two comprehensive field examinations, a third-year research paper, regular participation in the NYU Wagner Research Colloquium throughout the degree, and a dissertation based on independent and original research defended before a faculty committee.

Faculty Advisor

Incoming students will be assigned a Faculty Advisor based on their academic interest and preparation. The Faculty Advisor serves as the student's guide in selecting coursework and fields, and will help the student identify a committee for the dissertation stage.


Students are required to complete the following:

  • PHD-GP 5902, Research Methods
  • PADM-GP.2172 Advanced Empirical Methods for Policy Analysis
  • PHD-GP 5905, NYU Wagner Qualitative Research Methods
  • PHD-GP 5910, PHD-GP 5911 NYU Wagner Research Colloquium
  • Coursework modules from a choice of research methodologies and theoretical frameworks leading to the third-year paper

In addition, students choose other courses based on their interests and academic background. Students are required to consult with their Faculty Advisor regarding course selection. Seventy-two (72) credits are required for the doctoral degree with a G.P.A. of 3.3/B+ or better average. At a minimum, 32 credits of coursework must be completed at NYU Wagner and/or other graduate divisions of NYU. Of these 32 points, at least 16 must be other than the Core or introductory level courses. In most cases, students may transfer up to a maximum of 40 points of relevant coursework from their masters programs. Note that the courses to be applied to the Ph.D. must be approved by the Doctoral Program Director.

While students only take the Research Colloquium for credit for two semesters, regular attendance and participation is expected throughout the degree.

Preliminary Qualifying Examination (PQE)

The PQE is scheduled in the spring semester and must be taken during the first year of matriculation.

Only students in good academic standing may take this exam. The PQE may be taken twice; failure on the second attempt will result in termination from the doctoral program. Students who do not successfully pass the PQE on their first attempt will not be allowed to register for additional coursework until they pass a re-take exam during the summer after their first year.

For information about the design of the PQE click here.

Fields of Study

Students choose two fields of study and must pass a Comprehensive Exam for each field at the end of the second year of study.

  • A core doctoral field (Management, Public Finance and Financial Management, or Public Policy)
  • Another established field or a customized field. For this field students have three options:  
    1. Choose another core field
    2. Choose one of the existing specialty fields: Education Policy, Health Policy, International Development or Urban Policy
    3. Develop a customized field (subject to approval by the Wagner School Doctoral Board)

Fields of study are defined by a coherent body of knowledge: concepts and theories, research, and professional literature. A field is more than just a cluster of courses. However, coursework does contribute to identifying theoretical and substantive bases of a field. Further, fields are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they tend to overlap, even though each field represents a distinctive set of intellectual concerns expressed in theories, topics, approaches and research emphases.

The customized field option is available under special circumstances and upon consultation with the student's advisor. Click here to read more about fields of study. 

Comprehensive Examinations

Comprehensive Examinations are the second and final set of exam requirements for the Ph.D. degree. In these examinations, students are expected to demonstrate their capacity to analyze and assess critically the major concepts, theories and research in each of their chosen fields and their ability to present these perspectives in a well-documented, cogent, clear and logical manner.

  • Both comprehensive exams must be taken in the spring of the 2nd year of study.
  • The comprehensive exams may not be waived.
  • Students who do not pass on their first try must retake the failed exam before the beginning of the third year of study.
  • Except under unusual circumstances, students who fail any of the fields twice will be terminated from the doctoral program.

To read more about the design of the comprehensive exams, click here.


A dissertation is the result of a scholarly investigation on a topic or problem conducted independently by the candidate under the general guidance of a faculty committee and chaired by a primary advisor. The committee plays a key role in guiding the candidate's proposal, research, and writing. To facilitate the advisory process, the candidate selects his/her faculty committee on the basis of common intellectual interest on the dissertation topic. Two additional external readers are added later in the process, in consultation with the Doctoral Program Director, to participate in the defense. Ultimately, what constitutes a dissertation is the result of an agreement between the student, the chair, and the committee members.

For more information about dissertation guidelines, click here.

Foreign Language Requirement

All Ph.D. students are required to demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language under the presumption that there are relevant knowledge contributions in languages other than English. In some cases students might conduct research in an international context and employ other languages during the research and writing phases of their dissertation work. Proficiency can be demonstrated by passing an approved examination given by the Wagner School or the Graduate School of Arts and Science, or having completed a full or final intermediate level one-year college course in a foreign language with a grade of "B" or higher within two years of matriculation in the doctoral program. In lieu of the language requirement, students may complete an approved advanced statistics course (above and beyond the required courses) with a grade of "B" or higher. This option must be approved by the Doctoral Program Director.