Why study public affairs and administration?

The doctoral program in the KU School of Public Affairs and Administration provides advanced graduate education in theory and research to prepare students for academic and research careers in public administration and urban planning, as well as professional careers in advanced practice of public administration. Students in the program typically gain teaching experience, research experience on faculty research projects, and commonly co-author articles with members of the faculty.

For additional doctoral program data, please view the doctoral program profiles on the Graduate Studies website (click on "Public Affairs and Administration" under "College of Liberal Arts and Sciences").

Admission to Graduate Studies

An applicant seeking to pursue graduate study in the College may be admitted as either a degree-seeking or non-degree seeking student. Policies and procedures of Graduate Studies govern the process of Graduate admission. These may be found in the Graduate Studies section of the online catalog.

Please consult the Departments & Programs section of the online catalog for information regarding program-specific admissions criteria and requirements. Special admissions requirements pertain to Interdisciplinary Studies degrees, which may be found in the Graduate Studies section of the online catalog.

PhD Admission

Please visit our website for complete admissions information.

Admission is based on the applicant’s undergraduate and/or graduate academic record, standardized test scores, references from professors, and relevant professional experience. All applicants must have completed a bachelor’s degree and an M.P.A. or equivalent degree. Students without an M.P.A. or equivalent degree must complete several KU core M.P.A. requirements as part of their doctoral studies.

A completed application must include

  • Online Graduate Studies application.
  • Graduate Record Examination results — verbal, quantitative, and analytical;
  • 2-page statement of goals and research interests including evidence of research aptitude and interest;
  • 3 letters of recommendation, preferably from faculty members who can comment on the applicant’s potential for doctoral study;
  • A writing sample that reflects the applicant's interest in and ability to conduct research;
  • A current resume; and
  • 1 official transcript from each college or university attended.

Non-native speakers of English must meet English proficiency requirements as described here. Immigration requirements and a financial statement are available from the Office of International Student and Scholar Services. All materials must be received before the application can be considered.

For fall admission and financial aid, the application file must be completed by January 15. Applicants who do not meet this deadline are unlikely to be considered for financial aid, even though applications may be considered throughout the year.

Ph.D. Degree Requirements

The PhD requires a minimum of 75 credit hours, including 66 credit hours of courses and 9 or more hours of dissertation credit.  Students may count up to 30 hours of credit earned toward an MPA degree, or equivalent, toward the required 66 hours.  Students who enter the doctoral program without having earned an MPA or its equivalent must complete all MPA core courses in SPAA or the comparable 900-level doctoral courses, except they may choose to take either PUAD 835 State and Local Public Finance or PUAD 837 Budgeting and Resource Allocation.  ​

The requirements for the Ph.D. are based on formal course work and independent study in several fields:

  • Foundations of public administration
  • Specialization field within public administration
  • Cognate field
  • Methods sequence

Foundations of Public Administration

4 of the 5 courses listed below are required of all doctoral students.

PUAD 930Research Seminar in Public Administration and Democracy3
PUAD 931Research Seminar in Public Management3
PUAD 932Seminar in the Intellectual History of Public Administration3
PUAD 943Constitutional Foundations of Public Administration3
or PUAD 949 Law, Courts, and Public Policy

Substitutions require the approval of the coordinator of doctoral studies.

Public Administration Specialization

In consultation with the coordinator of doctoral studies, each student must develop and declare a public administration specialization of at least 3 courses, which may be satisfied in part by credit for directed readings. Common specializations include public management and organization theory, budgeting and finance, human resources management, public policy analysis and evaluation, public values and ethics, public law and administration, and urban policy/politics. Other areas of specialization may be created in consultation with faculty.

Cognate Fields

The Ph.D. degree requires a cognate field in addition to the public administration specialization. The cognate field is a subfield similar to a "minor" and courses typically are taken outside the School. Examples include economics, political science, education, or a policy specialization (e.g., environmental policy or transportation policy.) The cognate field’s sequence of 3 courses requires the approval of the coordinator of doctoral studies and does not require a comprehensive examination.


The doctorate emphasizes the development of research skills. It requires PUAD 934 Research Methods in Public Administration, with the prerequisite PUAD 836 or its equivalent, and PUAD 935 Advanced Quantitative Methods for Public Administration PUAD 935 Advanced Quantitative Methods for Public AdministrationPUAD 935 Advanced Quantitative Methods for Public AdministrationPUAD 935 Advanced Quantitative Methods for Public AdministrationPUAD 935 Advanced Quantitative Methods for Public Administration. Students also are encouraged to take PUAD 937 Qualitative Methods in Public Administration. Substitutions require the approval of the coordinator of doctoral studies. The methods requirement satisfies the Office of Graduate Studies' Research Skills and Responsible Scholarship requirement. These requirements are the minimum, and students are encouraged to develop advanced skills in research methods and analysis.

Examinations and Dissertation

After the completion of the required coursework, the student must pass two Written Comprehensive Examinations: one in the area of Foundations of Public Administration, and the other in the student's Specialization. If the student receives a grade of unsatisfactory on either Written Comprehensive Examination, the Examination may be repeated once at which time the student will be required to retake the entire Examination. Under no circumstances may the student seek to fulfill the requirement to pass a Written Comprehensive Examination in a specialization area other than the area in which he or she failed to pass the Examination on the first attempt. Failure to pass either Written Comprehensive Examination within two attempts shall constitute failure to satisfy a requirement for the PhD degree, and shall result in dismissal from the program.

After passing both written exams, to become a PhD candidate the student must then pass a Comprehensive Oral Examination that includes a defense of the dissertation research proposal.

After passing the Comprehensive Oral Examination, the doctoral candidate must write a dissertation and must pass a final oral defense of the dissertation in order to receive the PhD degree.