An individualized doctoral program and an apprenticeship that prepares you for advanced empirical education policy research.

The goal of the Education Policy doctoral program is to produce the next generation of education policy scholars and researchers by providing students with deep content knowledge, disciplinary grounding, and training in the use of rigorous, cutting-edge methods. We study early childhood education, K-12, and beyond, in the United States and around the world. Our program has a proven record of preparing students for a variety of research careers, such as professors at top tier-universities and policy researchers at premier research firms, non-profit research organizations, and government agencies.

What Sets Us Apart

#3 Penn GSE Programs in Education Policy have been highly ranked by U.S. News & World Report for over a decade
4 Full funding for up to 4 years
  Penn proudly houses the IES Predoctoral Training Program, a multi-year opportunity for current Ph.D. students offering both financial and skill-building support

About the Program

The Education Policy Ph.D. program equips graduates with the knowledge and methodological tools to use, understand, and conduct research on the pressing educational issues of the day. Your program of study will be matched to your specific interests in education policy on the local, state, national, or international levels. 

Application deadline
Closed for Fall 2024. The application for Fall 2025 will be available September 1, 2024.
Entry term(s)
Course requirements
16 courses (12 chosen from required competency areas and 4 electives)
Typical course load

Fall: 4 courses; Spring: 4 courses

Research apprenticeship20 hours per week

Culminating experienceComprehensive examination and doctoral dissertation 

  • Full-Time

At the heart of the Education Policy Ph.D. program is the research apprenticeship. You will be paired with Education Policy faculty members whose research interests align with your own, and work alongside them in the research process. You will learn to design, conduct, and communicate the results of empirical research, including presenting papers at scholarly conferences and submitting articles to scholarly journals for publication.

In addition to an individualized program of study, our students are required to write a significant qualifying paper and complete a dissertation on an issue in education. 

Transfer Courses

Course units of graduate coursework taken prior to matriculation into the Ph.D. degree program, if approved by both your faculty advisor and the Education Policy Chair, may be substituted for one or more of the above required courses. However, students are still required to complete 16 course units while at Penn GSE.

Program Length

Our Ph.D. program is designed to be completed in four years—two years of full-time coursework and two years to complete exams and dissertation. The University’s maximum time limit for completion is ten years after matriculation.

Preliminary Examination/Doctoral Dissertation

At the end of the coursework, students complete a preliminary examination (also known as the qualifying paper or comprehensive examination) covering relevant areas of education policy. Successful passage bestows doctoral candidacy, at which point students appoint a dissertation committee, orally defend their dissertation proposal, and write and defend their dissertation.


Our program offers a balance of flexibility and rigor. We want our students to be able to tailor their courses to their own interests and expertise while ensuring that they develop methodological and content-area expertise. One of the strengths of our program is that students can take courses in nationally ranked departments across the University of Pennsylvania. Many of our students take courses at the Wharton School, the School of Social Policy and Practice, and in departments including Sociology and Political Science. Advisors work closely with students to design their course of study.

For information on courses and requirements, visit the Education Policy Ph.D. program in the University Catalog.

Our Faculty

The Education Policy faculty study everything from big data in early childhood education to assessment evaluation to the teacher workforce. In addition to the standing faculty in Education Policy, our program is enriched by the scholarship of faculty members from the Literacy, Culture, and International Education, Human Development and Quantitative Methods, and Teaching, Learning, and Leadership divisions. 

Penn GSE Faculty Sade Bonilla
Assistant Professor
Ph.D., Stanford University
Penn GSE Faculty A. Brooks Bowden
Associate Professor
Ph.D., Columbia University
Penn GSE Faculty Michael A. Gottfried
Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania
Penn GSE Faculty Rand Quinn
Associate Professor
Ph.D., Stanford University
Penn GSE Faculty Jonathan A. Supovitz
Ed.D., Harvard University
Penn GSE Faculty Ericka S. Weathers
Assistant Professor
Ph.D., Stanford University

Affiliated Faculty

Sigal Ben-Porath
MRMJJ Presidential Professor
Ph.D., Tel Aviv University

Wendy Chan
Assistant Professor
Ph.D., Northwestern University

Dennis P. Culhane
Professor, Penn Social Policy & Practice
Ph.D., Boston College

John MacDonald
Professor of Criminology and Sociology, Penn Arts & Sciences
Ph.D., University of Maryland

Laura W. Perna
Vice Provost for Faculty
Ph.D., University of Michigan

Daniel A. Wagner
UNESCO Chair in Learning and Literacy
Ph.D., University of Michigan

Sharon Wolf
Associate Professor
Ph.D., New York University

Jonathan Zimmerman
Judy and Howard Berkowitz Professor in Education
Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University

Wendy Castillo, Education Policy, Ph.D., 2018

"I went to Penn GSE because I wanted to understand the education research that drove policy changes, and I wanted to make that research applicable to teachers."

Wendy Castillo

Education Policy Ph.D., 2018

Our Graduates

Our graduates are equipped with the knowledge and methodological tools to use, understand, and conduct research on the pressing educational issues of the day. We have a proven record of preparing students for a variety of research careers, such as professors at top-tier universities and policy researchers at premier research firms, nonprofit research organizations, and government agencies. Some alumni have also gone on to lead schools, districts, and other organizations.

Alumni Careers

Recent Job Placements

  • Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Assistant Professor, St. Louis University
  • Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park
  • Postdoctoral Scholar, University of Pennsylvania
  • Postdoctoral Scholar, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Lecturer, Princeton University
  • Senior Analyst, Abt Associates
  • Research Associate, MDRC
  • Analyst, Congressional Research Office

Admissions & Financial Aid

Please visit our Admissions and Financial Aid pages for specific information on the application requirements, as well as information on tuition, fees, financial aid, scholarships, and fellowships.

Contact Information

Contact us if you have any questions about the program.

Office of Admissions and
Financial Aid

Graduate School of Education
University of Pennsylvania
3700 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
(215) 898-6415

Program Contact

Nakia Gard
Program Manager
(215) 573-8075

Noel Lipki
Program Coordinator
(215) 746-2923

Please view information from our Admissions and Financial Aid Office for specific information on the cost of this program.

All Ph.D. students are guaranteed a full scholarship for their first four years of study, as well as a stipend and student health insurance. Penn GSE is committed to making your graduate education affordable, and we offer generous scholarships, fellowships, and assistantships.

A student listens to a point during class discussion.

Our Students

Our doctoral students engage in research alongside Education Policy throughout the course of their degree. Learn more about our students and their research.

View Doctoral Student Profiles