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Doctoral Programs

Doctor of Philosophy in Education

The complex challenges facing 21st-century education require researchers who can collect and analyze information from multiple academic disciplines — economics, biology, psychology, the arts, history, and more — and translate those findings into transformative ideas for education policy reform and practice.

The Ph.D. in Education is an interdisciplinary doctoral program offered jointly by the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. As a Ph.D. candidate, you will enjoy unrestricted access to collaborate with scholars across all Harvard graduate schools on original interdisciplinary research. In the process, you will help forge new fields of inquiry that will impact the way we teach and learn.

Research-Based Doctoral Degrees at the Harvard Graduate School of Education

In the fall of 2014, HGSE transitioned from conferring a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) to conferring a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Education. The Ph.D. in Education, a joint degree offered in collaboration with Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, replaced the Ed.D. to better signal the research emphasis that has characterized the program since its inception in 1921, and to strengthen ties with academic departments across Harvard University.

Graduates of the Ed.D. and Ph.D. in Education programs receive equally rigorous scholarly training. The requirements for both degrees include coursework that develops both knowledge that reflects the interdisciplinary nature of education and expertise in the range of quantitative and qualitative methods needed to conduct high-quality research. Guided by the goal of having a transformative impact on education research, policy, and practice, our graduates focus their independent research in various domains, including human development, learning and teaching, policy analysis and evaluation, institutions and society, and instructional practice. Graduates of both programs have and will assume roles as university faculty, researchers, senior-level education leaders, and policymakers.

Program Highlights

Big Ideas 
As a Ph.D. candidate, you will choose from three concentrations that address some of the most significant questions in education: How do we learn? What is the role of education and schools in society? How do we develop the most effective education policies and programs? Once you choose a concentration, you will embark on an interdisciplinary research project that draws on faculty expertise and resources from across all Harvard graduate schools.

Unlimited Access
Harvard is an intellectual powerhouse in fields as varied as education, business, law, public policy, psychology, medicine, neuroscience, religious studies, and more. The Ph.D. in Education formalizes the scholarly relationships across schools and gives you full access to some of the most creative and influential thinkers in the world.

Informed By Policy and Practice  
The questions you will explore in the Ph.D. Program have critical relevance in the field of education. Your research will benefit greatly from the extraordinary relationships HGSE has forged with leading policymakers and educators on the front lines of policy and practice, from an individual classroom teacher in Boston to the minister of education of a large African nation.


The Ph.D. in Education requires five years of full-time study to complete. You will choose your individual coursework and design your original research in close consultation with your HGSE faculty adviser and dissertation committee. The Ph.D. curriculum includes the following requirements and milestones:


During the first two years of the Ph.D., you will take a minimum of 16 courses, including:

Doctoral Colloquia

The doctoral colloquia runs the full length of the program. Students in years one and two are required to attend. The colloquia meets weekly and features presentations of work-in-progress and completed work by Harvard faculty, faculty and researchers from outside Harvard, and Harvard doctoral students. Ph.D. students present twice in the colloquia over the course of their career.

Research Apprenticeship

The research apprenticeship also runs the full length of the Ph.D. Program. It is designed to provide ongoing training and mentoring to develop students’ research skills.

Comprehensive Exams

The comprehensive exams are comprised of the Written Exam, which tests students on both general and concentration-specific knowledge, and the Oral Exam, designed to test students’ command of their chosen field of study and their ability to design, develop, and implement an original research project.


Your final two years in the Ph.D. Program will focus on writing your dissertation based on original research. The dissertation process consists of three parts: the dissertation proposal, the writing of the dissertation, and an oral defense before the members of your dissertation committee.


The most remarkable thing about the Ph.D. in Education is open access to faculty from all Harvard graduate and professional schools, including the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Harvard Kennedy School, the Harvard Law School, Harvard Medical School, and the Harvard School of Public Health.

Your primary faculty adviser will come from HGSE, but you can collaborate with faculty members from every Harvard school and invite them to join your dissertation committee. View Ph.D. faculty.


Ph.D. students affiliate with one of three concentrations, each representing a fundamental field of inquiry that addresses critical questions in education reform.

Culture, Institutions, and Society (CIS)

In CIS, you will examine the broader cultural, institutional, organizational, and social contexts relevant to education across the lifespan.  What is the value and purpose of education? How do cultural, institutional, and social factors shape educational processes and outcomes? How effective are social movements and community action in education reform? How do we measure stratification and institutional inequality? In CIS, your work will be informed by theories and methods from sociology, history, political science, organizational behavior and management, philosophy, and anthropology. You can examine contexts as diverse as classrooms, families, neighborhoods, schools, colleges and universities, religious institutions, nonprofits, government agencies, and more.

Education Policy and Program Evaluation (EPPE)

In EPPE, you will research the design, implementation, and evaluation of education policy affecting early childhood, K-12, and postsecondary education in the U.S. and internationally. You will evaluate and assess individual programs and policies related to critical issues like access to education, teacher effectiveness, school finance, testing and accountability systems, school choice, financial aid, college enrollment and persistence, and more. Your work will be informed by theories and methods from economics, political science, public policy, and sociology, history, philosophy, and statistics. This concentration shares some themes with CIS, but your work with EPPE will focus on public policy and large-scale reforms.

Human Development, Learning and Teaching (HDLT)

In HDLT, you will work to advance the role of scientific research in education policy, reform, and practice. New discoveries in the science of learning and development — the integration of biological, cognitive, and social processes; the relationships between technology and learning; or the factors that influence individual variations in learning — are transforming the practice of teaching and learning in both formal and informal settings. Whether studying behavioral, cognitive, or social-emotional development in children or the design of learning technologies to maximize understanding, you will gain a strong background in human development, the science of learning, and sociocultural factors that explain variation in learning and developmental pathways. Your research will be informed by theories and methods from psychology, cognitive science, sociology and linguistics, philosophy, the biological sciences and mathematics, and organizational behavior.

Ph.D. Concentrations and Examples (78 KB pdf)


If you are passionate about improving education through groundbreaking interdisciplinary research, we encourage you to apply. Our admissions process is highly selective, but it’s also personalized, comprehensive, and holistic. We are looking for individuals with exceptional academic credentials, demonstrated leadership potential, diverse life and work experiences, and a powerful desire to make a positive impact in the world. Prior academic study in education is not required.

To learn more about the application process, visit Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Admissions for a complete list of application requirements and deadlines.

How to Apply to the Ph.D. in Education

Financial Support

Harvard provides full financial support for Ph.D. students for all five years of the program. Learn more about financial aid for prospective students.


For general inquiries about the benefits of the Ph.D. in Education and the admissions process, please contact Margaret Okada-Scheck and Youlim Yai at or 617-495-3414.

Graduate Dissertations

Please note: The graduate dissertations listed here are those of our Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) graduates. The Ed.D. and Ph.D. in Education are the research doctoral degree programs at HGSE. The Ed.D. Program enrolled its last class in fall 2013 and the Ph.D. Program enrolled its first class in fall 2014. Dissertations from November 2014 onward are publicly available in the Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard (DASH), the online repository for Harvard scholarship.​