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Fletcher PhD students move through three program phases on their way from admission to graduation. They start with classes, arranged within a structured curriculum that still allows significant flexibility in course selection. When their class requirements are complete, students take comprehensive exams, and then move on as PhD candidates to research and write a dissertation.

Coursework Phase

Reflecting the multidisciplinary nature of the curriculum at The Fletcher School, PhD students create a program that reflects focus through a primary field of study, chosen from one of the six fields listed below, and a secondary field of study, selected from any of the Fletcher fields. They take four classes in each field of study, selecting from the full range of courses offered at Fletcher. The two fields of study later become the basis for comprehensive exams.

The primary PhD fields of study are:

Though the fields of study are the main building blocks of the PhD curriculum, students round out their program with additional courses in Comparative Politics, International Relations Theory, Econometrics, and Research Design and Methodology. In addition, students fulfill the PhD breadth requirement, taking at least two courses in two of the three Fletcher divisions, and at least one course from the remaining division.

Fletcher provides many opportunities for students to supplement their education with coursework and research at our partner universities. Students may cross-register for up to a quarter of their classes at another graduate school at Tufts University or at Harvard University.

Students who have received their master's degree at another institution generally pursue twelve courses at Fletcher, with limited opportunities to have prior coursework applied to their degree. Those who possess a MALD generally pursue an additional four courses, for a total of twenty courses for the two degrees.

Comprehensive Examination Phase

Students demonstrate mastery of their subjects through comprehensive examinations, composed of a written exam in each of the two fields of study and an oral exam that integrates the material from the two areas. Students generally sit for their comprehensive examinations within a year of completing their coursework.

Dissertation phase

Once they have passed their comprehensive exams and achieved PhD candidacy, students move on to propose, research, and write a dissertation. The completed dissertation should bear evidence of independent research and should constitute a substantial contribution to the subject. When the dissertation is complete, PhD candidates participate in a public oral defense of the dissertation, which covers the specific subject and general field of the dissertation.

Additional Graduation Requirements

In addition to the steps detailed above, to graduate students in the PhD program:

  • Demonstrate proficiency in a second language.
  • Submit a master's thesis for evaluation by a Fletcher faculty member. This could be a master's thesis written prior to enrollment at Fletcher, or a thesis written during the first year at Fletcher.

Length of Time Required to Receive the PhD

Once they have completed their coursework, PhD students generally take about five years to complete the degree, but the exact time varies according to the scope of each candidate's research, the amount of time devoted to PhD studies, and the time needed to write the dissertation.