Political Science

University of California, Berkeley

About the Program

The Charles and Louise Travers Department of Political Science at UC Berkeley welcomes students interested in pursuing graduate study and research leading to the Ph.D. in political science.  Graduate students may specialize in one of six principal subfields:  American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, Political Theory, Models and Politics, and Methodology.  In addition, the Department’s faculty and graduate students work with over twenty interdisciplinary research institutes and centers around campus.

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Admission to the University

Applying for Graduate Admission

Thank you for considering UC Berkeley for graduate study! UC Berkeley offers more than 120 graduate programs representing the breadth and depth of interdisciplinary scholarship. The Graduate Division hosts a complete list of graduate academic programs, departments, degrees offered, and application deadlines can be found on the Graduate Division website.

Prospective students must submit an online application to be considered for admission, in addition to any supplemental materials specific to the program for which they are applying. The online application and steps to take to apply can be found on the Graduate Division website.

Admission Requirements

The minimum graduate admission requirements are:

  1. A bachelor’s degree or recognized equivalent from an accredited institution;

  2. A satisfactory scholastic average, usually a minimum grade-point average (GPA) of 3.0 (B) on a 4.0 scale; and

  3. Enough undergraduate training to do graduate work in your chosen field.

For a list of requirements to complete your graduate application, please see the Graduate Division’s Admissions Requirements page. It is also important to check with the program or department of interest, as they may have additional requirements specific to their program of study and degree. Department contact information can be found here.

Where to apply?

Visit the Berkeley Graduate Division application page.

Doctoral Degree Requirements

Normative Time Requirements

The Political Science department at UC Berkeley admits students for the doctoral degree only. The PhD program has two major phases: (1) coursework and examinations, and (2) dissertation research and writing. The two phases typically take approximately five or six years (three years to candidacy and two or three for dissertation research and writing).

Time to Advancement


Courses Required
POL SCI Electives (12 units may be upper division) per specialized study list, includes:40 Units
Preparation in 3 of 12 subfields

The coursework and examination phase requires 40 units (typically 10 classes) of graduate-level coursework and competence in three of eleven subfields. Subfield competence is demonstrated through coursework and written exams offered each semester. A Preliminary Field Examination is typically taken in the student’s second or third year of the program. All students must pass one exam in one of the following subfields: American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, Methodology, Models and Politics, or Political Theory. All students must also demonstrate competency in two additional subfields, by taking a minimum of three to four courses in two of the following areas: American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, Political Theory, Methodology, Models and Politics, Area Studies, Political Behavior, Political Economy, Public Policy & Organization, Race & Ethnic Politics, and Interdisciplinary Studies in Political Thought. Other appropriate subfields may be designated by the department. Students must achieve a combined GPA of 3.5 in these courses.

The particular sequence of courses that a student takes in preparation for the comprehensive field exam is not prescribed. Rather, the faculty assist students with a selection of courses that best meet their intellectual and academic interests. There are no formal foreign language or statistics requirements although many students will find that their program of study and dissertation research will require the engagement of particular foreign language or methodology coursework.

When the coursework and preliminary examination requirements have been met, the student prepares a prospectus for dissertation research. The student convenes a committee known as the Qualifying Examination Committee, consisting of four faculty members. The Qualifying Examination Committee advises on the prospectus and examines the student on specific research plans. UC Berkeley is highly committed to interdisciplinary scholarly engagement and the student may elect to include faculty members from another department or unit at UC Berkeley on both their Qualifying Examination Committee and Dissertation Committee. Engagement with members of the faculty from other departments should begin during the coursework stage so that the advice and input of the outside member are represented in the prospectus.

When sufficient preparation for the proposed research has been demonstrated to the Qualifying Examination Committee, the student is advanced to doctoral candidacy. It is expected (and for most funding packages, required) that the student advance to doctoral candidacy by the end of their third year.

Dissertation Research and Writing

Doctoral candidacy initiates the second phase of the program during which the student normally devotes full attention to the research and writing of the dissertation. The student's Dissertation Committee is typically comprised of the members from the Qualifying Examination Committee although there are sometimes changes in committee membership as the research evolves. The doctorate is awarded when the student submits a satisfactory dissertation to the dissertation committee.  There is no formal dissertation defense at Berkeley. A reasonable estimate of the research and writing phase of the program is approximately two to three years although students whose dissertations require more extensive research may take longer to earn their degree.

General Curriculum Guidelines

First Year

Students are required to complete 24 units of coursework in their first year of study. At least 12 of these units must be in political science graduate courses; the remainder may be in graduate or upper division undergraduate courses in other departments. The first year is designed to allow the student the opportunity to engage in foreign language study, area specialization, and to meet and study with faculty from other departments who may become members of the qualifying exam or dissertation committees. All students are reviewed at the end of the first year of study on their overall academic performance. This overall evaluation will include GPA and successful completion of all 24 required units. In exceptional cases, a student may decide not to continue in the PhD program or may be asked to leave after the first year; in this event, students may either be awarded an MA degree (if they complete the requirements for the degree, see next item) or will leave the program without an MA degree.

Second Year

During the second year, students must complete an advanced topical research essay, the second year paper.  The student will narrow their interests, continue to explore ideas for a dissertation topic, and identify potential advisers. Coursework continues as students begin preparing for both preliminary field exams and writing their dissertation prospectus. Additionally, students in their second year usually serve as a graduate student instructor (GSI), a 20 hour per week position.  

Third Year

During the third year, most students continue to teach as GSIs and complete their coursework in addition to taking their field exams. Political Science graduate students must show competency in three subfield specialties to be eligible to sit for the oral prospectus defense (known formally as the Qualifying Exam). Students must pass a written Preliminary Field Examination in one subfield and “course out” of two other subfields by taking a prescribed set of courses in each.

Students may sit for their Preliminary Field Examination as early as the beginning of their second year, and if necessary, as late as winter of their third year. Field exams are offered at the beginning of the fall and spring semesters. All students are expected to have completed one field exam, “coursed out” out of two additional fields, and written & defended their dissertation prospectus (pass their qualifying exam) by the end of the third year. It is highly recommended (and essential to most funding packages) that students advance to doctoral candidacy by the end of their third year. The third year is also when students should begin to apply for extramural fellowships to support their dissertation research.

Fourth Year

Beginning in the third year and continuing into the fourth, students should be collecting much of the information and data necessary for their dissertation. Many students spend one or both semesters of their fourth year conducting research, many going abroad to do field work.

Fifth Year

Like the fourth year, the fifth year is variable according to an individual's research schedule. Often this is a good year to use the Dean’s Completion Fellowship while focusing on writing the dissertation. This is also the time, if research is complete and writing has begun, to apply for finishing fellowships and extramural dissertation awards. Ideally, if students plan to enter the job market during the fifth year, they should have most of their dissertation completed by then. 

Sixth Year and Beyond

Students are normally expected to finish by their sixth year. In the sixth year, students continue to work on completing and revising the dissertation and enter the job market. This is also a time students apply for post-doctoral fellowships. To fund the final year(s), some students teach as adjunct faculty at the many colleges and universities in the area, and some find research assistantships.


American Politics

Subfield Coordinator: David Broockman

The study of American politics at Berkeley brings together faculty and graduate students who seek to tackle the most important questions confronting the field using diverse methodological approaches.

Among other topics, the faculty’s research agenda encompasses the quality and meaning of representation in contemporary American politics, the political implications of rising economic inequality, the politics of immigration and of minority group representation, the meaning of American national identity, the sources and implications of party polarization, the development of American bureaucratic government and of the American welfare state, and the balance of power among Congress, the Presidency, and the Courts. Our program strives to train students to have a diverse methodological toolkit, including quantitative, historical/developmental, game-theoretic, behavioral, and institutional approaches.

The department supports several workshops and colloquia that foster this diverse intellectual community, including the American Politics Research Workshop, the Positive Political Theory seminar series, the Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration Colloquium, the American Political Development working group, and the Quantitative Methods Workshop. These research units also provide funding for graduate student research projects and for faculty-student collaboration. Faculty work closely with students to help each student carve out a research agenda that fits his or her interests, while addressing a substantively important problem.

Comparative Politics

Subfield Coordinator: Scott Straus

Berkeley has a longstanding tradition of distinction in comparative politics. Members of the department’s comparative politics faculty are widely recognized as national and international leaders, and the department’s strengths have grown in recent years.

The coverage of substantive themes, methodological approaches, and geographic expertise is extremely broad. Comparative political economy, political regimes and regime change, political parties and organizations, and social mobilization are the subject of great interest among faculty and graduate students. Some comparative faculty and graduate students rely largely upon formal theory in their work. Some are highly proficient in quantitative methods, while others use case studies and qualitative methods. Many faculty and graduate students use multi-method approaches. The faculty emphasizes rigor of method—whether applied in formal, statistical, or qualitative work. All graduate students in comparative politics are expected to achieve proficiency in all methods prevalent in the field.

The faculty and graduate student populations are diverse; no single theoretical orientation or methodology enjoys status as orthodoxy. Generally speaking, Berkeley comparativists pursue “big” questions that have broad implications for political life and public policy as well as social science. Such questions include when and why Chinese peasants resist unjust authority; how transformations in the global economy are reshaping the welfare state in advanced industrialized countries; how economic structures and resource flows mold state and market institutions; why economic liberalization has proved difficult in Japan and how it may yet come about; why democracy is failing in Russia while working in Indonesia; why opposition forces succeed in forging electoral alliances in some African polities but not others; how party systems influence the provision of public goods across the Indian states; and how labor organizations are responding to transformations in economic policy in Latin America.

International Relations

Subfield Coordinator: Vinod Aggarwal

International Relations at Berkeley focuses on the study of contemporary and historical problems in world politics. Our faculty and graduate students work on an eclectic set of substantive issues that frequently cross over between international relations theory, security studies, and international political economy.

Current research interests pursued by our group include the causes and consequences of peace and war, the political economy of trade and finance, American foreign and national security policy, emerging issues in security, geopolitical order and change, the impact of technology and geography on world politics, the role of ideas and identities shaping international affairs, the link between business and politics, and the interaction between religion and global politics. In addition to resources in the Political Science Department, our work is reflected and supported by various centers across campus: the Institute for International Studies (IIS), the Berkeley Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Study Center (BASC), the Berkeley Roundtable on the International Economy (BRIE), the Religion, Politics and Globalization Program (RPGP), Evidence in Governance and Politics (EGAP) and others. In addition, the journal Business and Politics is edited by one of our faculty members.

Our methodologies are equally eclectic, ranging from socio-historical analysis to quantitative empirics and formal modeling. Much of our research is interdisciplinary, drawing from fields as disparate as economics, psychology, ecology, theology, or history. We take theory seriously but not to the exclusion of interesting and important global problems. Our overarching goal is to contribute to an understanding of how international politics is organized and how it functions around substantive issues that matter to political actors and human beings.

Methodology & Formal Theory

Subfield Coordinator: Thad Dunning

The Berkeley program in empirical methodology and formal theory offers rigorous training that is carefully integrated with major substantive agendas in political science.

The program builds centrally on innovative faculty research, which encompasses new methods for causal inference and program evaluation, as well as statistical computing and survey analysis. The work on surveys has included path-breaking contributions to developing and refining experiments embedded in surveys and computer-assisted telephone interviewing; and innovations in measuring issue orientations and in multi-level modeling of political behavior. In formal theory, faculty have contributed to opening new lines of inquiry into strategic interactions where formal institutions are weak, and to modeling information and incentives in organiza­tions—as they affect both the dynamics of institutions within the United States and those in authoritarian and democratizing regimes. Faculty in both tradi­tions play a promi­nent role in developing empirical tests of formal theory, based on both laboratory experiments and obser­va­tional data. The faculty has also done influential work on qua­litative meth­odology, compa­rative-historical methods, and linking qualitative methods with both quantitative tools and with formal analysis.

The methods/formal faculty make important institutional contributions on the Berkeley campus. They convene the Positive Political Theory Seminar, which draws together a national consti­tuency of leading modelers for its biweekly meetings. They have led the campus Survey Research Center and helped to sustain its innovative research on survey methodo­logy; and they were central to launching the Berkeley’s NSF/IGERT training program in Politics, Economics, Psychology, and Public Policy (PEPPP). Berkeley’s Institute of Govern­mental Studies, as well as the Survey Research Center, are important venues for convening scholars and graduate students, and they provide support for graduate students pursuing methodological and formal training.

Faculty members also play leading roles in the national political science profession. Their contri­butions have included serving as Chair of the Board of the American National Elections Studies (ANES); providing crucial leadership in launching the NSF program on the Empirical Implications of Theoretical Models (EITM); co-editing the new Oxford Handbook of Political Methodology; serving as President of the Political Methodology Society; and founding APSA’s Organized Section for Qualitative and Multi-Method Research. The political science department maintains close ties with the national Institute for Qualitative/Multi-Method Research, and many graduate students attend the institute. Three of the methods/formal faculty are Fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Political Theory & Philosophy

Subfield Coordinator: Daniel Lee

Berkeley’s department offers a full range of courses in political theory, including classical, modern, and contemporary political philosophy (both European and American).

In the history of political thought, faculty have particular strengths in ancient moral and political thought, renaissance and early modern political thought, Enlightenment social and political thought, and nineteenth and twentieth century Marxism, British and Continental theory, and critical theory. In contemporary political theory, their areas of expertise include liberal and democratic thought, sovereignty and multiculturalism, and postfoundational approaches to subjectivity and social inquiry.

The core curriculum for graduate study in the department involves those courses recommended in preparation for the qualifying exam in the history of political thought (such courses include POL SCI 212A POL SCI 212B, POL SCI 212C, POL SCI 213, and POL SCI 214); and courses of special relevance to the qualifying exam in contemporary political theory (including POL SCI 215A, POL SCI 215B, and POL SCI 216). The history of political thought exam has two parts. Part I queries students about the nature of the history of Western political thought as a field of knowledge, and/or about debates focused on particular periods or problems. Part II of the exam asks students to respond to questions about particular theorists or texts in each of three major time periods (ancient and medieval; early modern; modern). The contemporary political thought exam approaches twentieth and twenty-first-century political theory from three angles: subfields of theory, theorists and approaches, and topics.

The research, writing, and pedagogical interests of faculty within political theory are impressively varied. Greater details about the work and interests of each faculty member may be found on their faculty web pages.

Models & Politics

Subfield Coordinator: Sean Gailmard

Formal models are used in political science as abstract representations of political institutions and choices in order to focus attention on key logic and causal mechanisms in a political process. Good modeling requires fluency in technical fields such as game theory and social choice theory, as well as the substantive knowledge to craft an appropriate and insightful model for a specific application.

The Models & Politics subfield, instituted by the faculty in 2007, connects advanced training in formal modeling techniques (also commonly referred to as formal theory, positive political theory, or political economy) with innovative substantive research in political science. It is designed for students who plan to make significant use of formal modeling in their own research in American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, or Political Theory. This subfield is appropriate for students who wish to use formal models to structure and inform their empirical research, as well as those who wish to become pure modelers.

Political Behavior

Subfield Coordinator: Gabriel Lenz

Political behavior at UC Berkeley serves as a bridge between political science on the one side and political psychology and political sociology on the other. Its focus is on the social and psychological processes by which individuals (and groups) engage in political life. Although the actual studies of these matters may occur within a particular geographical or institutional context and data are most often drawn from the American experience, the purpose is to generalize to a class of political phenomena or behavior beyond specific countries or specific institutions. Attention is also paid to problems of survey design and analysis, the development of scales, indices, and other measurement devices, questionnaire construction, interviewing, sampling, and other elements of systematic research that aim to yield data susceptible to statistical analysis. Among the substantive topics covered in the field are: public opinion; political leadership; political participation and protest and personality and politics.

Political Economy

Subfield Coordinator: Steven Vogel

The political economy group in the department defines the substantive scope of the subfield broadly, including the role of the state in the economy, the politics of economic policy, the political and social institutions that underpin markets, formal models of governance, patterns of international trade and investment, international organizations, and the history of political economic thought. Scholars in this area employ a wide range of methodological tools, including ethnographic fieldwork, archival research, case studies, quantitative analysis, and formal modeling.

The department regularly offers courses in American political economy, comparative political economy, international political economy, and the political economy of development, and our partner departments add courses on the history of political economic thought and political economics, among other topics. Scholars in the department are involved in various ways in a project to re-imagine interdisciplinary inquiry in political economy. Some PhD students choose to join the Designated Emphasis in Political Economy, a Ph.D. “minor” that brings together students interested in political economy from a wide range of departments across campus. Some participate in the Network for a New Political Economy (N2PE) that connects faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates across disciplinary lines to engage in discussions of some of the most pressing issues of our day. Berkeley boasts a large number of research units touching on political economy, such as the Berkeley Center for Economics and Politics (BCEP), the Law, Economics, and Politics Center (LEAP), the Center on the Politics of Development (CPD), and the Othering & Belonging Institute (OBI).
Public Policy & Organization

Subfield Coordinator: Christopher Ansell

Public policy studies explore political responses to specific public problems, like environmental degradation, poverty, or disease. Faculty in this subfield are interested in the political dynamics of policy-making and policy implementation, including such topics as agenda-setting, regulatory decision-making, and federalism. Since public problems often ignore jurisdictions, a policy-oriented approach to political science is often concerned about the interplay between different levels of government (local, regional, national, and international). The Public Policy & Organization subfield, therefore, draws on and contributes to scholarship in urban politics, American politics, comparative politics, and international relations.

Policy outcomes are typically mediated by organizations that mobilize stakeholders, make authoritative decisions, administer programs, and enforce laws. These organizations range from complex government bureaucracies to professional associations and social movement organizations. The organizational and inter-organizational aspects of policy-making and policy implementation are a particular concern of this subfield. Important debates in this field often focus on understanding how specific institutional arrangements are created to govern policy arenas and on whether these institutions produce effective, efficient, and equitable governance.

Sophisticated explanations of policy-making and implementation call for specific analytical tools and intellectual frameworks. This subfield draws on theories of policy-making and implementation, governance, public administration, public law, institutionalism, and organization theory as a framework of analysis.


Subfield Coordinator: To be determined

This subfield is concerned with major theories and empirical approaches the study of race and ethnicity as political identities. Drawing from works across the social sciences, we will explore a range of topics with implications for politics in the United States and countries around the world. These topics include: how identity should be conceptualized and measured; why some forms of identity are activated, mobilized, and contested; how identities are represented politically; how racial and ethnic identities intersect with other salient identities; how social diversity and civil society are interrelated; what factors affect the integration of immigrants; and which varieties of democracy enable the flourishing of plural identities. The subfield focuses on the United States and the other parts of the world, including Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Because the study of race and ethnicity intersects with all major subfields of political science, our goal is to provide students with a fundamental understanding of the current state of knowledge as well as the intellectual resources needed to undertake their own original research.


Subfield Coordinator: To be determined

This course-out field option enables students of political thought to deepen their competence in political theory through work outside of the core theory curriculum, including supplemental disciplines in the social sciences and humanities.  Students satisfy this requirement by taking at least three (3) graduate-level courses (for a letter grade), which may be offered by Political Science or other departments, such as Philosophy, History, Classics, Jurisprudence and Social Policy, Rhetoric, Sociology or Comparative Literature. 


Political Science

Contact Information

Department of Political Science

210 Social Sciences Building

Phone: 510-642-6323

Fax: 510-642-9515

Visit Department Website

Department Chair

Scott Straus, PhD

221 Social Science Building


Director of Graduate Affairs

Gabriel Lenz

742 Social Science Building


Graduate Student Advisor

Erin Blanton

Phone: 510-642-6467


Graduate Student Advisor

Katie Jo Johnson

Phone: 510-643-4408


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