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PhD Admissions

FAQs - Applying to the PhD Program

COVID-19: Important Note for Admitted Graduate Students

Because the COVID-19 pandemic has severely disrupted the lives of students around the world, the Sanford School of Public Policy is adopting the following approach in considering applicants to its graduate and professional programs so that we take into account the effects of the disruption.

Many institutions have adopted Pass/No Pass grading policies for the Spring 2020 semester. Duke will not penalize applicants whose transcripts show Pass/No Pass or other similar grading options from Spring 2020, regardless of whether it was the individual student or the institution that chose a particular option.

UPDATE for 2021-2022 Application Cycle: GRE Scores are required for the 2021-2022 application cycle.

When examining academic records such as transcripts, Sanford will focus primarily on an applicant’s performance before and after Spring 2020 rather than during this time of unprecedented disruption. Sanford’s review of academic records focuses on whether applicants pursued a rigorous curriculum that was relevant to their graduate or professional school plans. More than ever, we are interested in the potential of our graduate students to make significant, real world policy contributions, which is often not reflected in grades, and certainly not in one semester’s achievements. Accordingly, Sanford takes a holistic approach in evaluating applicants, one that examines a combination of many factors. Academic records are only one of these factors and are considered alongside letters of recommendation, personal accomplishments, personal statements, and test scores, among others.

For questions or clarification, please contact the PhD program director: Subhrendu Pattanayak


Q: What is the Sanford School looking for in applicants to the PhD in Public Policy Program?

A.  We seek applicants who demonstrate academic excellence, and we welcome applicants from diverse academic, cultural and professional backgrounds. Applicants who possess practical work and/ or research experience are encouraged.

Q: Do I need to have a master’s degree?

A. No, a master’s degree is not required for admission to the PhD program.

Q. What is the application deadline?

A. The priority deadline for beginning the program in the fall is Dec. 1 for applicants wishing to be considered for departmental or institutional awards for the fall semester. To ensure that your application receives full consideration, submit all materials (test scores, recommendation letters, transcripts, etc.) by the Dec. 1 deadline.

Q. How do I apply?

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    Special Admissions Programs and Fellowships

    MD/PhD Program

    Our PhD program is also open to students pursuing joint degrees in medicine, through Duke’ s Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP). This highly competitive program seeks to train leaders in academic medicine, who will combine clinical and research careers. Successful applicants receive funding to pay for both their medical school and PhD training. Interested applicants need to apply to both programs – the PhD program and the MSTP program. Information on how to do this is included in this link . For any questions you have after reviewing the materials, you can contact Professor Peter Ubel, M.D.

    Ph.D. Fellowship in Media and Philanthropy

    The Center for Strategic Philanthropy and Civil Society and the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy in the Sanford School of Public Policy are providing support for a pre-doctoral fellowship in the Ph.D. program of the Sanford School of Public Policy. This position is designed to further research and inform practice on questions at the intersection of the media, philanthropy, and democracy in the United States.

    There has long been a dearth of research and writing on the media’s coverage of foundations, nonprofits, and individual donors – and in particular their impact on society, policy, and democracy. Likewise, there is virtually no thoughtful research and writing on how mainstream and new media discourse might best explore the role, successes, and shortcomings of the philanthropic enterprise.

    In a separate but related development, journalists and struggling media enterprises are increasingly turning to private donors to provide an alternative business model for news gathering and analysis. The pre-doctoral Duke fellowships are aimed at producing a new generation of scholars who conduct original research on any of these questions and to translate the findings for media practitioners, policymakers, and scholars.

    Flexible term position: 1 to 3 years.

A. Applicants to the PhD Program in Public Policy will be applying to the Duke Graduate School using its electronic application. Please review the Duke Graduate School Admissions Website for detailed instructions on all application requirements..

Students may also apply for our new joint degrees. See more information on our joint degrees.

Q. Are there any additional items required by the Public Policy PhD program?

A. Yes. In addition to completing the Graduate School requirements, applicants must also:

  • Designate a disciplinary concentration in the electronic application. In the drop-down menu section of the electronic application, after selecting “Public Policy Studies – PhD” in the “Proposed Department/Program and Highest Degree Sought,” the next section of the application is “Intended Special Field.” The Public Policy PhD special fields are the disciplinary concentrations: economics, political science, psychology or sociology. You must indicate one of these four concentrations on your application.
  • Submit a resume (not to exceed two printed pages), which should be uploaded to the online electronic application with your “Statement of Purpose and Educational Objectives.”
  • Submit a writing sample of no more than 20 pages, demonstrating academic or professional research, which should be uploaded to the online electronic application under “additional documents.”  For more information on how to submit the writing sample, visit the application instructions on the Graduate School website.

Q. What should I talk about in my statement of purpose?

A. We carefully review each applicant’s essay. Please utilize this essay to discuss your goals in pursuing the PhD in Public Policy at Duke University. We are interested in your academic and professional experience, your intended course of study (including a disciplinary concentration and policy area focus) and your longer-term career objectives.

Q. Do you provide funding for students?

A. Yes. Please see our section on financial aid for funding and fellowship opportunities.

Q. What are typical test scores and GPAs for admitted students.

A. Please see the Graduate School's admission statistics for Public Policy candidates for more information on scores, career outcomes and other data.

Q. Should I come visit?

Most applicants wait until admission decisions are made before visiting our campus. Learn more about our location.

Q. Do you conduct personal interviews?

A. Personal Interviews are conducted in February for a select group of students as part of the admissions process.

Q. May I apply for both the Master in Public Policy Program and the PhD Program at the same time?

A. No, you may only apply to one of the programs.

Q: Who can I contact if I have questions about the application process?

A. Please contact the Public Policy PhD Program Coordinator with any questions.

Q: Who can I contact if I have questions about professors with whom I am interested in studying?

A. Visit Find an Expert to learn about faculty areas of expertise. You can find out more about individual faculty members by visiting their webpages. Each faculty member’s email address is listed; feel free to contact individuals whose research aligns with your interests.

Q. Who should I contact with questions about the curriculum, requirements or other matters?

A. You may find answers in the Sanford PhD Student Handbook. If not, please contact the Public Policy PhD Program Coordinator with any questions.