Requirements listed here are in addition to requirements stated in the DEGREE REQUIREMENTS section of the Graduate Bulletin.

A Ph.D. student must first successfully complete the prerequisite courses specified by the program to make up for deficiencies, if any exist. After these are completed, a student must take a minimum of 42 credits: 

  • five 3-credit foundation courses
  • four 3-credit research methods courses
  • five 3-credit specialization area courses

All doctoral students must pass a candidacy examination, a comprehensive written and oral examination, and a final oral examination (the dissertation defense). To earn the Ph.D. degree, doctoral students must also write a dissertation that is accepted by the doctoral committee and the Graduate School.

Prerequisite courses and provisional admission

Applicants who do not have the necessary background, but otherwise meet the criteria for admission may be admitted provisionally and must make up any deficiencies in graduate courses in public administration noted in the letter of acceptance. Students who must make up deficiencies are considered to be provisionally admitted into the program.

Provisionally admitted students are required to take one or both of the following prerequisite courses:

  • PADM 500 Public Organization and Management
  • PADM 507 Introduction to Public Policy Analysis

In consultation with the program faculty members, the coordinator of the Ph.D. program makes the decisions on which prerequisite courses each student should be required to take.

A student may remain in this temporary classification for a period of no longer than two semesters following admission. Upon successful completion of the prerequisite courses noted in the letter (with at least a 3.5 grade-point average), the student will be removed from provisional status and be regularly enrolled. The provisional status must be removed before a student takes his/her candidacy exam.

Foundations of public administration

All the students in the program will be required to take the following foundational courses before they are eligible to take the candidacy examination: 

  • PADM 570. Scope and Methods (3 credits)
  • PADM 571. Seminar in Organizational Theory (3 credits)
  • PADM 572. Research and Theory in Public Budgeting and Finance (3 credits)
  • PADM 573. Research and Theory in Public Policy and Governance (3 credits)
  • PADM 574. Research and Theory in Public and Nonprofit Management (3 credits)

Specialization areas

In consultation with the student’s adviser and doctoral committee, each doctoral student will develop a public administration specialization that consists of five 3-credit courses. A students may select one of the specialization areas in the following list, or, together with his/her committee, tailor a specialization based on the student’s interests and the availability of the courses in the School of Public Affairs and other graduate programs at Penn State.

  • Public and nonprofit management
  • Organizations and human resource management
  • Public budgeting and finance
  • Public policy analysis
  • State and local government administration
  • Criminal justice
  • Health administration
  • Homeland security

Research methods courses

Students are required to take four 3-credit research methods courses. The following two research methods courses are required for all Public Administration Ph.D. students:

  • PADM 503. Research Methods (3 credits) 
  • PADM 575. Advanced Research Design (3 credits)

Students also will select two in-depth 3-credit research methods courses on the basis of their research interests (quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods), suitability of the courses in preparing students for their dissertation studies, and the availability of the courses.

Students may find suitable courses in the Ph.D. program in Public Administration or other graduate programs at Penn State. These two in-depth methods courses should be approved in advance by the student’s doctoral committee. A student’s committee may also allow him/her to take in-depth methods courses that are offered by other universities or research institutions, if the equivalent courses cannot be found within Penn State, if the equivalency of these courses to 3-credit graduate-level courses offered at Penn State can be verified by Graduate Enrollment Services, and if the costs of taking these courses can be covered by the student or another arrangement can be made to cover the costs.

Candidacy examination

Only students who complete the required courses in the Foundations of Public Administration successfully, with a minimum 3.5 GPA, may take the candidacy examination. The candidacy examination will cover topics about the intellectual history and enduring questions in the field. Many of these subjects are covered in the required foundational doctoral courses; they include such topics as public administration and democratic theory, public organizations and management, and constitutional and legal foundations. The exam is written and graded by the Public Administration graduate faculty.

Comprehensive Examination

Upon successful completion of the specialization courses and research methods courses, with a minimum 3.5 GPA, a doctoral candidate takes a comprehensive written and oral examination. Comprehensive examinations are administered by the student’s doctoral committee. In comprehensive examinations students are tested about the contents of their specialization areas and they will be required to propose a research design on a relevant topic.


After passing the comprehensive examination, a student must work with his or her adviser and doctoral committee to develop a full dissertation proposal within three months of the exam. Once the doctoral committee approves the full proposal, dissertation research can begin. Students will be required to conduct their dissertation research and write and defend their dissertations in accordance with Graduate Council policy and as agreed on by their doctoral committees.

Grade Point Average and Time Limit

Full-time students are expected to finish the program in four to five years. Graduate Council policy requires that a student must complete the program within eight years after passing the candidacy examination. The Ph.D. Program in Public Administration requires that students have at least a 3.50 grade-point average in order to graduate.

Public Administration Course List.

This page is not a part of the official Penn State University Bulletin.