PhD in Public Policy Curriculum

The PhD in Public Policy degree program at George Mason University's Schar School of Policy and Government requires a minimum of 82 credit hours of course work and supervised research beyond the bachelor’s degree. A minimum of 52 hours of course work must be taken in degree status with the Schar School, excluding any required prerequisites. Part-time and full-time enrollment options are available, along with evening classes, ensuring students can pursue professional growth experiences and career opportunities outside of the classroom.


Stage One – Core Skills

Prerequisites: Methodological and Substantive Foundations (if deemed necessary) (3 courses)

POGO 511 – Statistical Methods in Policy Analysis
Introduces fundamental statistical analysis for analyzing policy, government and other social science data. Focuses on problem definition, problem solving, and how to communicate results to general audience under conditions of uncertainty in public sector. Provides the core foundation for advanced graduate work in data analytics using contemporary statistical software packages.

PUBP 720 – Managerial Economics and Policy Analysis
Introduces microeconomics theory and its application in analyzing public policy issues. Provides capability to understand economic literature and theories. 

PUBP 730 – US National Policy Systems and Theory
Explores the United States constitutional system of government, including the principal governmental and non-governmental institutions shaping American public policy. Investigates the national policy making process and the interplay between politics and policy.
Core Courses: Completion of all core courses with a grade of B or better is required unless exempted (4 courses)

PUBP 800 – Culture and Public Policy
Comparative analysis of the role of culture in shaping policy environments and outcomes. Introduces analytical methods for studying culture, including measurement of social and cultural change, surveys, and field studies. Presents major findings and research issues regarding the role of culture in democracy, ethnic and gender relations, economic growth and other policy issues. Focuses on differences among national and regional cultures, and their policy implications. 

PUBP 801 – Research Design for Public Policy
Provides an introduction to the theory and practice of research in public policy. Gives students an understanding of issues in the philosophy of science and different approaches to social science research. Provides broad overviews of quantitative and qualitative methodologies, with a major emphasis on research design, including conceptualization, the role of theory, hypothesis generation, inference and bias.

PUBP 804 – Multivariate Statistical Analysis in Public Policy
Explores multivariate techniques of contingency table analysis, reliability and validity assessment, factor analysis and scaling, multivariate regression and path analysis, analysis of variance and covariance, and other selected multivariate techniques. Emphasizes applying these techniques to real policy data using sophisticated statistical packages.

PUBP 805 – Foundations of Social Science for Public Policy
Grounds doctoral students in core concepts of political science and economics through critical analysis of classic sources, old and new. Topics may include theory of the state, state-market relations, democratic governance, markets and economic institutions, and other relevant frameworks for public policy research. 

Qualifying Exam taken upon completion of all core courses.

*Students whose final paper in PUBP 801 is not deemed acceptable must schedule PUBP 709 in the next semester.

Stage Two – Policy Fields and Skills

  1. Elective courses (3 courses)
  2. Advanced Methods (1 course)

Stage Three – Research Foundations

  1. Concentration/Field of Study (3 courses)
  2. Advanced Methods (1 course)
  3. Field Statement
  4. Field Exam

Concentration Requirements:

  • By end of their third semester, full time students (fourth semester for part-time) must choose a chair for their Field Committee.
  • By the start of their fourth semester, full time students (fifth semester for part-time) must submit to the chair of their Field Committee a plan for their Field of Study. The Field of Study Plan (max. 1000 words) will describe a Concentration or a proposed research area, including citations relevant to current research in that Field. The Plan must identify three substantive courses and at least one advanced methods course that the student intends to take that will serve as a foundation for the Field. The Plan must be approved by both the student’s Field Committee Chair and the Director of the PhD program.
  • The three substantive courses must include at least one 800 level course offered in the Schar School (excluding core and advanced methods courses). The other two courses may include any courses from the Schar School at the 700 level or above (excluding those 700 level courses listed as not eligible for PhD field credit), and no more than one substantive graduate course from outside the Schar School.
  • The advanced methods course must be chosen from the approved list for the Schar School PhD program, or approved in writing by the Field Committee Chair and Director of the PhD program.
  • Where appropriate courses are not available from the Schar School, students may petition the Director of the PhD program for substitute courses to count for their Field of Study Plan.
  • Courses in the Field of Study Plan are intended to be taken concurrently with work on the Field Statement and Field Exam. Students may not present a dissertation proposal for approval until they have passed the Field Exam.

Stage Four – Dissertation

  1. Dissertation Proposal (PUBP 998 – Research/Proposal for Dissertation)
  2. Proposal Oral Defense
  3. Dissertation (PUBP 999 – Dissertation, 12 credits 998+999)
  4. Dissertation Oral Defense

Official program requirements are published in the annual PhD Student/Faculty Handbook issued to new students during orientation.

Advanced Quantitative Methods Classes

PUBP 705 – Advanced Statistical Methods in Policy Analysis

PUBP 754 - Geographic Information Systems and Spatial Analysis for Public Policy
Introduces GIS including analytical tools to manipulate and study spatial data. Run mainly as a laboratory, with extensive hands-on experience. Focuses on public policy applications. 

PUBP 791 – Advanced Field Research for Policy: Theory and Method
Teaches how to analyze the framing of policy questions and examine culture and organization at group, organizational, inter-organizational, and societal levels. Covers case study research, open-ended interviewing, participant-observation, social network analysis, and historical and archival research. 

PUBP 792 – Advanced Economic Analysis for Policy Research
Builds analytical skills in economic analysis for policy research for students with competence in elementary calculus. Reviews mathematical techniques and covers consumer theory, demand estimation and forecasting, production theory, cost-benefit analysis, technological change and productivity analysis, growth theory, market structure and competition, game theory, capital budgeting, and public sector's role in the economy. 

PUBP 793 – Large-Scale Database Construction and Management for Policy Research
Explores data resources for macro-comparative policy research, and how to use these to inform decision making and evaluate policy performance. Emphasizes how social science data is generated, coded, and managed; and methods for successful presentation of evidence in support of policy recommendations.

PhD in Public Policy Program Description and Admissions Information

University Catalog Course Descriptions (PUBP)
Graduates’ Dissertations