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The Political Science Ph.D.

The Vanderbilt Ph.D. program in political science ranks among the top programs of its kind, both overall and by subfield (American Politics, Comparative Politics, with International Relations on the rise).

Our faculty and students study many varied subjects using a diverse slate of methodologies. Vanderbilt’s political science department is known for its deep expertise in several areas of excellence that cross subfield boundaries, including bureaucracies, political violence and conflict, the politics of gender, democracy in middle-to-low-income countries, mass political behavior, survey methodology, and formal theory.

Our graduate program offers intensive training in three fields of political science: American Politics, Comparative Politics, and International Relations. We admit between eight and twelve doctoral students per year and prepare them for successful careers in academia, government, international organizations, or research-centered jobs.

While we admit a small percentage of applicants for our program, we aim to bring the most diverse, talented, and innovative students in the world to Nashville to study political science. As a student in our program, you are joining a supportive intellectual and social community.

Some of the key benefits of Vanderbilt’s political science Ph.D. program are:

  • A top-ranked faculty with deep expertise in substantive political science and the methodologies needed to answer important questions about our political world
  • Access to research-supporting resources like the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, the Latin American Public Opinion Project Lab, the Research on Conflict and Collective Action Lab, and the Research on Individuals, Politics, and Society Lab
  • A nearly 1:1 student: faculty ratio, allowing for close mentoring and support
  • A rigorous program of coursework and research milestones that pair deep substantive knowledge with cutting-edge methodological and data science skills
  • Membership in a community of smart, hardworking, and supportive doctoral candidates who prioritize collaboration and discovery
  • Residence in Nashville, a fast-growing mid-size city with a high quality of life and wide array of entertainment and recreational offerings

Statement on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Like Vanderbilt University, the Department of Political Science defines diversity broadly to include experiences, perspectives, backgrounds, and identities. We believe such diversity among our faculty and students enhances the intellectual experience and achievements of this academic community. As such, we are committed to principles of equal opportunity and affirmative action, and we encourage individuals from diverse, under-represented, and traditionally excluded populations to apply to our program.

Our graduate program seeks to:

  1. Continually strengthen the climate for current students and faculty from traditionally excluded groups and foster a welcoming and vibrant community of scholars.
  2. Recruit more graduate students from underrepresented and traditionally excluded groups to the department and discipline.
  3. Give all students and faculty the tools to succeed and support one another in a diverse discipline.

Applying to the Program

The application deadline for the Ph.D. program is December 15 for the coming fall semester. We welcome applicants from all institutions, backgrounds, and experiences with a passion for research in political science. The application fee is $95.00.

When you apply, you are applying to the program as a whole and the faculty decides together who would be the best fit. Individual faculty members do not review and accept individual doctoral students they want to advise. There is no need to secure a faculty mentor ahead of your application.

Please direct all Ph.D. admission inquiries to Director of Graduate Studies, Sharece Thrower.

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Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree in any major and show evidence of a passion for research in political science. The most successful applicants demonstrate mathematical or statistical proficiency and experience in original research. There is no minimum score for the GRE, TOEFL, or minimum required GPA. It is optional for applicants to submit their GRE scores. Strong letters of recommendation (generally from faculty members) are essential. Finally, but most importantly, we look for a fit between the student's intellectual interests and our faculty's scholarly expertise.

The Graduate Studies Committee reviews all aspects of an applicant's file. We try to get a sense of an applicant’s many facets, skills, and experiences across the different materials:

  • Statement of purpose (see details below)
  • Official transcripts from each college or university attended
  • 3-5 letters of recommendation speaking to academic abilities
  • Writing sample of 15-25 pages (preferably a paper from a course that illustrates the candidate's ability to write and to conduct research)
  • Unofficial or official GRE scores are optional
  • Students from non-English-speaking countries should also submit a recent TOEFL score; students graduating with a degree from a four-year English-speaking institution are exempt from this requirement.

Successful applicants should use the personal statement to clearly articulate their interest in pursuing a doctorate in political science and their research objectives. There are no required elements, but some questions that can help guide the statement include:

  • What questions or puzzles in political science fascinate you?
  • What approaches do you think will help you answer those puzzles?
  • Why do you want to earn a Ph.D., and why in political science?
  • How have your studies and experiences prepared you for a challenging Ph.D. program?
  • Why do you think the Vanderbilt program and its faculty are the best place for you to study your questions of interest and develop needed skills?

We hold a recruitment visit in March for all applicants who receive offers of admission to the program. Visits consist of meals with current graduate students and faculty, group meetings to learn about program requirements and benefits, and one-on-one meetings with those faculty members and students you are most likely to work with.

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