Graduate Program Requirements

This page documents the official rules of the graduate program.Degree Requirements, Rules, And Regulations
(Effective July 1, 2000)
(updated March, 2011)

I. Admissions

Candidates are admitted to the department’s graduate program by application to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Course credit to satisfy departmental degree requirements is granted only for course work undertaken after admission to and enrollment in the graduate program.

II. Degree Programs

  • Master of Arts (M.A.)–Government
  • Master of Arts (M.A.)–Foreign Affairs
  • Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)–Government
  • Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)–Foreign Affairs

III. Joint Degree Programs 

  • Master of Arts/Doctor of Jurisprudence (M.A./J.D.)
  • Master of Arts/Master of Business Administration (M.A./M.B.A.)

IV. Degree Requirements

A. Number of Semesters

For the M.A. degrees, a minimum of two semesters of resident graduate study must be completed. For the Ph.D. degree, at least four semesters of graduate study are required. Graduate work done at other institutions will not be counted toward this or any requirement.

B. Number of Required Hours of Course Work

  • M.A. Government or Foreign Affairs: 24 hours of course credit plus 6 hours of non-topical research for a total of 30 hours.
  • Ph.D. Government or Foreign Affairs 54 of course credit plus 24 hours of non-topical research.
  • M.A./J.D. See the Director of Graduate Studies.
  • M.A./M.B.A. See the Director of Graduate Studies.

C. Courses

Only courses at the 5000-and-above level provide graduate credit. Courses in the 5000 series enroll both undergraduate and graduate students. Those in the 7000 series are almost exclusively for graduates; and those in the 8000 series are graduate seminars. Courses below the 5000 level taken to satisfy language requirements are not counted in the total M.A. or Ph.D. number of hours or in the grade point average tabulation. Students may count up to 6 hours of-credit for graduate courses taken in other departments of the graduate faculty, except language courses, towards course-hour requirements for each degree. In special circumstances, where doing so would substantially benefit a student, additional hours of transfer credit may be permitted on petition on the Director of Graduate Studies.

D. Grades

B- is the lowest grade for which credit is awarded. An average of at least B is required for completing the M.A. degree. The grading scale for graduate work is figured on a four point system. A+ = 4.0, A = 4.0, A- = 3.7, B+ = 3.3, B = 3.0, B- = 2.7

E. Progression into the Ph.D. Program

1. After completing the M.A. thesis, students must have each member of their committee complete a separate “Evaluation for Proceeding to the Ph.D. Program” (EPPP) forms.

2. The Admissions and Financial Aid committee shall meet thrice yearly, in early January, late May, and late August, to review these forms and students’ overall academic records to decide whether each student shall be permitted to continue.

3. Terminal M.A. students who decide they wish to continue toward the Ph.D. must include one additional recommendation letter from a full-time faculty member who is not on their M.A. thesis committee.

4. Students shall not be permitted to take more than nine hours of course credit after the 24 hours of M.A. course credit before completing their M.A. thesis and being evaluated as described above.

F. Research Methodology & Research Tools/Foreign Language

1. The Department views research methodology as an integral part of graduate studies. Students must develop necessary expertise in the methods appropriate for their master’s and doctoral level research. Therefore, M.A. and Ph.D. students must satisfy a Methodology requirement and a Research Tools/Foreign Language requirement.

2. The Methodology requirement may be satisfied by taking either PLAD 7090 (Research Methods in Political Science) or PLPT 5010 (The Nature of Political Inquiry). Students are to take one of these courses early in their career in the Department, and preferably during their first year.

3. The Research Tools/Foreign Language requirement may be satisfied by demonstrating proficiency in one foreign language OR completing PLAD 7100 (Political Research with Quantitative Methods). (Note that Ph.D. students who major in Political Theory must demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language.)

Proficiency in a foreign language is demonstrated by any one of the following:

  • passing a test administered by the appropriate language department at UVA;
  • presenting viva voce evidence to a person acknowledged by the department as capable of evaluating competence in the language;
  • achieving a grade of “B” in a 2020 level language course (a grade of B- is not acceptable).

Foreign students whose first language is not English may use their native language in order to fulfill this requirement.

4. Students may count PLAD 7090, PLAD 7100, and PLPT 5010 towards their Methodology and Research Tool/Foreign Language requirements and also toward their overall course credit requirements for the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees. Language courses taken in other departments at the University will count toward the Research Tool/Foreign Language requirement but NOT toward the overall course credit requirement for the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees.

G. Fields of Study and Comprehensive Examinations

The Department’s curriculum is based on five fields of study:

  • American Politics
  • Comparative Politics
  • International Relations
  • Political Theory
  • Political Methodology (minor only)

Students are required to complete the requirements for one major and one minor field from among the five fields of the Department.

The faculty in the respective fields will determine the requirements for majoring and minoring in their field; the current requirements are described below.

Most fields require a comprehensive examination as part of the major and/or minor. Comprehensive examinations are offered at least twice yearly, before the start of fall semester and at the conclusion of spring semester. In addition, exams are offered in December at the discretion of the individual fields. Students should contact the subfield coordinators early in the fall semester if they hope to schedule a December exam. When taking a comprehensive exam in a field, students shall designate whether it will represent the major or minor field of study.

1. American Politics 

Course requirements: The American politics faculty regularly offer a sequence of three core courses: American Political Development (PLAP 7000), American Political Institutions (PLAP 7010), and American Political Behavior (PLAP 7110). Students who major in American politics must take all three of these core courses. Students who minor in American politics must take two of the three core courses.

Effective for students entering Fall semester 2019, the American Politics requirements have been revised to the following:

a. There will be one core course required of Majors and Minors. This core course will be       offered every Fall term.

b. Majors will be required to take 2 courses in addition to the core course selected from the three areas—Behavior, APD, Institutions. These 2 courses will be selected from different areas.

c. Minors will be required to take 1 course in addition to the core course that is selected from the three areas.

d. Majors and Minors are advised that it is “prudent” that they take additional AP courses in the three areas to pass the comp.

Comprehensive exam: Students must pass a comprehensive exam as part of the major or minor. The American politics comprehensive exam consists of four parts. The Part I focuses on the general theories and methodologies of American politics and covers the three major subfields (American Political Development, National Institutions, and Political Behavior). Part II covers American Political Development, Part III covers National Institutions, and Part IV covers Political Behavior. Each part includes two questions, of which students may answer no more than one. Students taking the major exam have eight hours to answer three questions: one question from Part I and one question from each of two of the remaining Parts.  Students taking a minor exam have six hours to answer two questions: one question from Part I and one question from any of the remaining Parts.

The exam is semi-open book but pledged. Students may consult texts and articles, but may not access notes or the Internet during the exam. Students may not receive or give assistance to another student.

All Students will be evaluated according to the following criteria: 1) the extent to which they address the issues raised by the questions; 2) the breadth and depth of their knowledge of the relevant literature; and 3) their ability to analyze critically this literature.

2. Comparative Politics 

Course Requirements: There is no specific list of courses required or recommended for comparative politics students, though the prudent student will take at least the core seminar, PLCP 7000.

Comprehensive Examination: Students must pass a comprehensive exam as part of the major or minor. Students taking the major comprehensive exam must answer four questions from three sections: one from general theory, one from methodology, and two from applied theory. Students have six hours to answer the questions.Students taking the minor comprehensive exam must answer three questions: one from general theory, and either a) one from methodology and one from applied theory, or) two from applied theory. Students have four and one-half hours to answer the questions.

3. International Relations 

Course Requirements: There is no specific list of courses required or recommended for international relations students, though the prudent student will take at least the core seminar, PLIR 7000.

Comprehensive Examination: Students must pass a comprehensive exam as part of the major or minor. Students taking the major comprehensive exam must answer three questions, one from each of the three sections of the exam: general theory, applied theory, and foreign policy. Six hours to answer the questions. Students taking the minor exam must answer two questions, one from the general theory section and one from the other two sections. They will have four hours to answer these two questions.

The typical answer will run approximately 1,500 to 2,000 words.

4. Political Theory 

Major Requirements: There is no specific list of courses required or recommended for political theory majors though the prudent student will take at least the core seminar, PLPT 7000. Political theory majors are required to demonstrate competence in a foreign language, as described above in the “Research Methodology/Foreign Language” section, and to pass a major comprehensive examination.

The major comprehensive examination takes place over two days. Day one includes three questions covering the three main area of political theory: ancient & medieval, modern, and contemporary. Day two includes three questions in two fields of the student’s choosing. One should be from the three primary fields. The second can also be a primary field, but may also be a specialized field of the student’s choosing (such as American PT, Continental PT, Feminist PT, etc.) This field must be approved in advance by the political theory faculty.

Minor Requirements: Students wishing to minor in political theory must do the following:

  • Take PLPT 7000, the core political theory seminar (“Introduction to Political Theory”). It covers the existing chronological division—Ancient, Modern, and Contemporary Political Theory. This course will include a final exam.
  • Take two additional courses from among PLPT 5010 (“Foundations of Political Inquiry”) and the department’s 7000- and 8000-level PLPT courses. Other 5000-level PLPT courses may be substituted with the approval of the head of the political theory comprehensive examination committee. These two courses must have required term papers.
  • After completing the three courses, submit a portfolio of work in those courses (the 7000 final exam and the two research papers) for comprehensive evaluation by the political theory faculty. The faculty will review these materials and decide whether they are of sufficient quality to earn a Comprehensive Pass. If a student receives a Comprehensive Fail, he/she can revise and resubmit the portfolio of materials for a second evaluation.

5. Political Methodology

The department does not offer a major in political methodology. Students wishing to minor in political methodology must do the following:

  • Complete the department’s political methodology requirement by taking PLAD 7090, “Research Methods and Design in Political Science.”
  • Complete the department’s research tools requirement by taking PLAD 7100, “Political Research with Quantitative Methods.”
  • Complete the three-course quantitative methods sequence:
    • PLAD 8310: “Advanced Quantitative Applications in Political Science” (Linear Models)
    • PLAD 8320: “Advanced Topics in Multivariate Analysis” (Maximum Likelihood)
    • PLAD 8xxx: “Causal Inference.” (This course was offered as PLCP 5550, “Causal Inference in Comparative Politics” prior to 2013-14.)
  • Complete two elective courses drawn from quantitative methods, qualitative methods, and/or formal theory.  At least one of these two electives must be taken in qualitative methods or formal theory.
  • Submit and receive a passing grade on a qualifying research paper.   The qualifying paper will be the length and quality of a typical manuscript submitted to a major disciplinary journal and will demonstrate command of research design principles and the capacity to design and execute either an empirical or a theoretical research project.  The paper will complete one of the following three tasks: 1) demonstrate professional-level competence at causal inference by using advanced quantitative methods, qualitative methods, or both to make an original contribution to empirical research;  2) demonstrate mastery of the tools of non-cooperative game theory by developing a novel game theoretical model of an important political phenomenon, 3) demonstrate mastery of the principles of statistical inference by developing new estimation tools appropriate for political science data. Prior to beginning work on the qualifying paper, students must submit a short (2-3 page) research proposal to the co-chairs of the Methods Study Group. Only proposals accepted by the Methods co-chairs are eligible to become final qualifying papers.  Given time constraints, it is permissible and even advisable that qualifying papers be a refinement of a term paper previously or concurrently submitted for a substantively oriented graduate-level course offered by the Department. These papers will be evaluated by a committee designated by the self-study group co-chairs, including at least one of the two co-chairs.  Papers will constitute original research into important political phenomena; however, qualifying papers will be evaluated according to their methodological agility and validity.
6. General Comprehensive Examination Information

Students should expect comprehensive examinations to be quite different from course examinations. Success on comprehensive exams will require students to demonstrate mastery over relevant literatures as well as the ability to classify, compare, synthesize, and critique their pertinent insights. Examiners probe a student’s familiarity with key concepts, problems, and trends across entire fields; they are interested in evaluating a student’s analytical ability, knowledge of an area and its literature, and writing skills.

Comprehensive examinations are graded on the following scale: Distinction, Pass, Fail.

Students who fail a comprehensive examination may re-take that exam one time.  Students who fail an exam for a second time may not continue in the Ph.D. program.

Students must apply to take comprehensive exams approximately one month before the test date. For specific dates and forms, please see the Graduate Staff Assistant.

7. Candidacy Deadlines

Students are expected to complete all pre-dissertation requirements, including coursework, major and minor field requirements as described above, and defending a dissertation prospectus, prior to the start of their seventh semester of study.

Students are also required to write and submit at least one proposal for funding from an outside source by the end of their seventh semester in the program.

H. Thesis and Dissertation Requirements 

At this University, the independent research paper for the M.A. is known as the thesis and the more ambitious one for the Ph.D. is called a dissertation. In either case, a student will have the guidance of a primary and a secondary faculty supervisor (first and second readers). It is the student’s responsibility to take the initiative finding appropriate readers. When the student has at least a general notion about the thesis or dissertation, he/she should discuss specific topics with one or more faculty members whose interests are appropriate, and settle on a topic and a first reader; the student and first reader can then decide on whom to invite to serve as second reader.

The Ph.D. Dissertation Committee will consist of at least four faculty members, three of whom are faculty members of any rank from the Department. The chair (first reader) of the committee will be a full-time faculty member from the Department. The Fourth committee member will be a full-time faculty member from another Department in the University who will serve as the representative of the Graduate Faculty. Faculty from other Universities may serve as committee members with the prior approval of the Graduate School and the Director of Graduate Studies.

The Department recognizes that some dissertations may require committees whose composition may differ from these guidelines. Students seeking exceptions should obtain the support of their dissertation chair and then submit a written petition to the Director of Graduate Studies.

Note that the Graduate School’s Degree Requirements page has a series of useful links to requirements and checklists.

1. Masters Theses Prospectus and Schedule 

The student must prepare an appropriate M.A. thesis prospectus and defend it before both members of his/her committee by the end of the third semester in the program. The prospectus should include the tentative title, a statement of the scope and objectives of the inquiry, the questions to be answered or the hypotheses to be tested, indication of the major sources and methods to be employed, and preliminary outline and bibliography. A prospectus should not be a substantive introduction to the topic or a statement of anticipated conclusions. It should be a working plan, a statement of what a student wants to do, why it should be done, and how it will be carried out. When both readers have approved and signed the prospectus, the appropriate form should be submitted to the Graduate Office. Approval of the thesis by the two readers, indicated by their signatures on the title page, enables the Department to recommend that the M.A. be conferred.

Masters Theses must be completed by the end of students’ fourth semester in the program.

2. Dissertation Prospectus, Schedule, and Defense 

Once again, the prospectus should include the tentative title, a statement of the scope and objectives of the inquiry, the questions to be answered or hypotheses to be tested, indication of the major sources and methods to be employed, and a preliminary outline and bibliography. The prospectus for a dissertation cannot be accepted until after the student has satisfactorily completed all other departmental requirements (course, comprehensive examination, area of concentration, methodology/language). Students are, however, encouraged to undertake preliminary work on the prospectus at an earlier stage, so that it can be submitted promptly after completing other requirements. Students are cautioned not to begin sustained work on a thesis or dissertation until the prospectus has been approved.

The dissertation prospectus must be defended formally in front of the entire dissertation committee no later than end of the seventh semester (the fifth semester, for students entering the program with an M.A. from elsewhere). Successful defense of the dissertation prospectus marks the official transition to A.B.D. status.

The length of a thesis should be agreed upon in consultation with each student’s readers. MA. Theses may be derived from, and represent elaborations on, one or more seminar papers. If a thesis is a revised version of a seminar paper, the prospectus should include a description of the original paper and an indication of the nature and scope of the changes, and additions to be made.

Dissertations usually run 200-300 pages. However length cannot be standardized. The Ph.D. dissertation should deal with a more complicated problem, entailing more extensive research and analysis, and should be inspired by the ideal of making an original contribution to knowledge. Some students find it desirable to write dissertations that are closely related to their theses and that represent continuation of their thesis research. As the thesis and dissertation are the culmination of a graduate education, it is up to the student to decide on the strategy necessary in order to achieve the highest quality work.

Final approval of the dissertation is through an oral examination, the dissertation defense, before all members of the dissertation committee. Successful defense of the dissertation is normally the final requirement for the Ph.D. degree. It is the responsibility of the student to observe all of the instructions, procedures, and deadlines involved in the preparation and submission of theses and dissertations. Technical standards for dissertation formatting are available from the Graduate School’s Physical Standards for Theses and Dissertations page.

I. Time Limit 

All work for the Master’s degree must be completed within five years from the time of admission if the work is done wholly during the regular academic session and within seven years if the work is done wholly or in part in summer sessions. In special cases, upon approval of the Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, out-of-date work may be revalidated by examination. All requirements for the Ph.D. must be completed within seven years from the date of enrollment in the program. Again in special cases, upon approval of the Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, out-of-date work may be revalidated by examination.

J. Meeting Graduation Requirements during Summer School 

A student must be registered full time or as a Non-Resident in order to be eligible to graduate during the summer. All other requirements for a graduate degree must also be met, along with application for the conferral of a degree by the appropriate deadline.

K. Deadlines for Thesis/Dissertation and Degree Applications 

Deadlines for degree applications, submission of Title Pages, and submission of theses/dissertations are available on the Graduate School’s Handbook page.

L. Requesting Permission to Bypass the M.A. Degree

It is the general policy of the Department to require that all students earn the M.A., here or elsewhere, before attempting the Ph.D. In special cases, however, requests to bypass the M.A. may be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies and/or the Graduate Committee.

M. The Director of Graduate Studies

When in doubt, or when a rule does not seem to fit your case properly, the Director of Graduate Studies or the full Graduate Committee may waive a regulation when circumstances warrant. Requests for such waivers should be by petition and supported by the student’s academic advisor.

N. Fee Requirement 

For the M.A., a student is required to pay full tuition and fees for at least two semesters, or the equivalent.

V. Financial Aid

All financial aid applications must be submitted to the Office by the end of the Fall semester of each year. All Departmental financial aid (fellowships, research and teaching assistantships, and grading assistantships) is assigned once a year. Before a student can be eligible for other funding through the University Financial Aid Office, a letter stating what funds, if any, a student is receiving must be sent from the Graduate Office.

Financial Aid Forms (applications) are due in the Financial Aid Office in North Michie by March 31. Prospective students should apply for aid through the Financial Aid Office at the same time they submit their application to this department for admission.

VI. Advising 

The student’s designated academic advisor is his/her principal source of academic and administrative advice. If a student has a problem or needs advice, the student should first consult with that designated advisor. If further assistance on administrative questions is necessary, the students should then see the Director of Graduate Studies.

VII. Standards of Appropriate Conduct 

Students are required to behave appropriately and in conformity with University regulations at all Departmental and University functions. Students must bear in mind that in University affairs they represent the Department. Non-academic as well as academic regulations are spelled out in the Graduate Record.

VIII. Non-discrimination Policy 

The University does not discriminate in any of its programs, procedures, or practices against any person on the basis of age, citizenship, color, handicap, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or status as a disabled veteran or veteran of the Vietnam era. The University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action employer.

Where can I find the official academic requirements for the University?

The information contained on this website is for informational purposes only. The Undergraduate Record and Graduate Record represent the official repository for academic program requirements. These publications may be found at