Current Students


Education Policy and Leadership (EPL) is a new program providing doctoral training to motivated students interested in career areas pertaining to educational policy, educational leadership, and higher education. Our goal is to engage civically minded students, to prepare them for fulfilling careers and to encourage their leadership in the education arena. Our graduates go on to a broad range of careers including research, faculty, and administrators of educational organizations or other organizations that pertain to education. The EPL PhD is replacing three separate PhD degree programs that were offered in educational leadership, educational theory and policy, and higher education.

PhD information

Credit Requirements

The EPL doctoral program requirements include required courses (proseminar, qualitative and quantitative methods, research design, and EPL theory and policy classes, plus a focused area of study.) The plan of study and any additional coursework will be determined in consult with the student’s academic adviser.  In some instances, relevant coursework from another university may be considered as substitution for required coursework. Depending on the nature of the courses, up to 9 credits may be taken in 400-level courses.

Credit Transfer: 

Students cannot receive credit for courses that have been used to complete a previous degree program. Students can, however, petition to waive requirements. Requests for consideration of exemption from required doctoral courses should be submitted to the advisor and will be reviewed by the faculty member teaching the required course.


EPL is a carefully and efficiently designed program.  Therefore, in most instances students will be required to take all credits within the program and exceptions will be made on a case-by-case basis with a maximum of six non-degree credits from another program. 


Requests for academic or professional credit transfers may be submitted after the completion of the first semester of coursework and until the time of filing of the candidacy portfolio at which time the faculty as a group will review the request and make a decision.  For students who enroll with extensive qualifications (already having completed much doctoral coursework elsewhere), advisors can petition the EPL faculty for modification of the typical procedure for advancement to doctoral candidacy, and faculty will decide these on a case-by-case basis with a maximum of 6 credits. 

In addition, the following conditions must be met:


Graduate credits (a maximum of 6) may be transferred from another university if the following stipulations are met:

  1. Courses to be transferred must have been taken within the five years prior to first registering in EPL;
  2. Grades in courses to be transferred must be of at least a B quality (no pass/fail grades);

  3. Courses must be relevant to the student’s program of study in EPL.


Note: Students cannot receive course credit for courses that have been credited to complete a previous degree program; they can, however, petition to wave out of requirements.


A minimum of 42 credits is required to complete the EPL PhD. Students will be required to complete common core coursework (12 credits), areas of emphasis coursework (9 credits), methodological coursework (12 credits), and elective coursework (9 credits).


  • Required Coursework (12 credits). Completion of required common core courses designed specifically for EPL PhD students. The required core classes are:


      EPL 501: Proseminar in Education Policy and Leadership

      EPL 502: Education Policy and Politics

      EPL 503: Equity and Diversity in Education Policy and Leadership

     EPL 504: Research Design in Education Policy and Leadership


  • Area of Emphasis Coursework (9 credits). In consultation with their advisor, students will select 9 credits of coursework relating to one of three areas of emphasis: Educational Leadership, Educational Theory and Policy, and Higher Education. Students will work with their advisors to identify the courses that can best advance their knowledge in their selected area.


  • Methodological Coursework (12 credits). In consultation with their advisor,  students will select 12 credits of methodological coursework, with a least (a) one quantitative course (e.g., STAT 500 or EDPSY 406) and (b) one qualitative course (e.g., EDLDR/EDTHP/HIED 586). Additional courses will allow students to build further depth in methodological areas of specific interest. Students will work with their advisors to identify methods courses that best fulfill these objectives.


  • Elective Coursework (9 credits). In consultation with their advisor, students will select 9 credits of additional coursework that will prepare them for the doctoral research and post-graduate endeavors. These credits allow students to tailor their program to their specific needs. Students will work with their advisors to identify the courses that would be most helpful.


We recommend that full-time EPL PhD students consider the timeline below for completing the required coursework:




Year 1 



  • EPL 501: Proseminar in Education Policy and Leadership
  • EPL 502: Education Policy and Politics
  • Quantitative or Qualitative methods course
  • EPL 503: Equity and Diversity in Education Policy and Leadership
  • EPL 504: Research Design in Education Policy and Leadership
  • EDLDR, EDTHP or HIED elective

Year 2



  • Quantitative or qualitative methods course
  • EDLDR, EDTHP, or HIED elective
  • EDLDR, EDTHP or HIED elective
  • Methods Course
  • Methods Course
  • Elective (EPS or elsewhere)
Year 3
  • Proposal course (currently offered in HIED)
  • Elective (in EPS or elsewhere)




Students cannot double-count a course such that an individual course counts toward the requirements for more than one category (e.g., methodological course and EDLDR/EDTHP/HIED elective). In addition, students cannot waive any of the core courses.


For PhD candidates, over some twelve-month period during the interval between admission to the PhD program and completion of the PhD program, the candidate must spend at least two semesters (summer sessions are not included) as a registered full-time student engaged in academic work at the University Park campus. Full-time Penn State employees must be certified by the department as devoting half-time or more to graduate studies and/or thesis research to meet the residency requirement. EPL 601 cannot be used to meet the full-time residence requirement.

Applying to the Graduate School

Complete the Admission Application to The Graduate School.

Education Policy and Leadership is committed to reviewing potential students holistically.  We encourage applications from all who are interested in graduate study with us.  As part of The Graduate School application, you will be asked to upload/supply the following documents/information: 

  • Three letters of recommendation: You will be asked to submit the name and email addresses of three referents that are best qualified to assess your ability to succeed in graduate school. The referents will be sent an email message directing them to the appropriate site to upload their letter of recommendation. You will be notified via email when a reference letter is submitted, but you will not be able to view the letter.
  • Current resume or curriculum vitae
  • Statement of purpose (In approximately two single-spaced pages please explain why you are applying to EPL. In writing your statement, you might consider some of the following questions: What background experiences led to your decision to apply to our program and what is it about EPL that most interests you? What types of career goals or plans do you currently have?)
  • Writing sample (For example, an honors paper, undergraduate course paper, Master's thesis, or a review of an article or report published in a recent professional journal which deals with a contemporary educational issue related to your academic interests)
  • A copy of official transcripts/documents from all post-secondary institutions of higher education attended must be uploaded to your graduate application. International applicants must upload university records in the language of instruction (and copies of an official English translation if English is not the language of instruction).
  • Official TOEFL score report, if required.

Applicants recommended for admission by EPL will be notified via the online graduate admission system. Once a student accepts a program recommendation for admission, the Graduate School will request official/original transcripts/documents that must be sent from the originating institutions in the official language of the institution(s) attended (and if the language of instruction is not English, an official English translation must also be sent). The Graduate School will review and confirm all official documents before finalizing the offer of admission.

Qualifying Examination. The qualifying exam will align with GCAC-604. Once the student has completed the 12 credits of common core coursework and met the requirements outlined in GCAC-604, the student will take the qualifying examination. The semester before taking the qualifying exam, students should complete the “Request for Qualifying Exam” form (Appendix A) and submit it to the EPL Program Assistant. Within this examination, the student will write a paper in response to a prompt that is developed by a committee of three EPL faculty members (the student’s advisor and two other EPL faculty members). Students’ committees, each consisting of three faculty members, will evaluate the students’ work, and the program will undertake measures to ensure that the evaluation criteria are equally applied across all examinations as outlined in GCAC-604. The examination calls for the student to apply knowledge from their coursework to a particular scholarly area. If a student is unsuccessful, the student will be allowed to repeat this examination once. The second examination must be held within one year of the first examination. Students who do not pass after the second administration of the qualifying exam will end doctoral studies in EPL at the completion of the semester in which the second exam results are received. Once a student passes the qualifying exam, they may be advanced to candidacy.

More information about the Qualifying Exam can he found in the handbook, from the program assistant or your advisor.


After advancement to candidacy, a student’s academic progress will be monitored by a doctoral committee consisting of four or more active members of Penn State’s Graduate Faculty. Committee members will evaluate the candidate’s comprehensive examinations and supervise and approve the thesis.

One person must be designated as chair (usually the student’s current academic advisor) and is largely responsible for administrative details of the student’s matriculation. Any EPL faculty with an appointment from the Graduate Faculty may serve as chair and is usually the thesis advisor. A Professor Emeritus or Emerita may serve on the committee but may not be designated as chair.

The committee must include at least two full-time members from the EPL faculty (i.e., not EPL-affiliate faculty). At least one member of the committee must represent a field outside the student’s major field of study. This committee member is referred to as the “Outside Field Member.” In cases where the student is also pursuing a dual-title field of study, the dual-title representative to the committee may serve as the Outside Field Member. Additionally, one member of the doctoral committee must be in an administrative unit that is outside the unit in which the dissertation adviser’s primary appointment is held. This committee member is referred to as the “Outside Unit Member.” If the candidate has declared a minor area of study, that field must be represented on the committee.

Once designated, the committee must be officially appointed by the dean of The Graduate School. The EPL staff assistant will provide the Doctoral Committee Appointment Signature Form to the student; it is the student’s responsibility to obtain each committee member’s signature on the form to indicate his or her willingness to serve on the student’s committee. After completing the form, the student should return it to the EPL staff assistant to be processed.

Special Member

A person who is not affiliated with Penn State but who has a particular expertise in the candidate’s research area may be added as a fifth, “special” member of the doctoral committee. A special member is expected to participate fully on the doctoral committee, including attending all committee functions. In order to add the special member, the committee chair must submit a written request, including justification for the addition of the special member, to the dean of The Graduate School. The request must be accompanied by the appointee’s résumé or vita, which the student must obtain from the prospective special member.

Committee Changes

Any changes to the committee after it is officially appointed must be submitted to Graduate Enrollment Services on a new Doctoral Committee Appointment Signature Form. It is the student’s responsibility to inform committee members and the EPL staff assistant of changes in committee membership and to obtain the new members’ signatures on the new form.

Research Protections

To ensure compliance with applicable federal and state laws, certain University activities require review and approval by appointed institutional review committees. Projects involving human subjects, vertebrate animals, and/or biohazards must obtain review and approval through the Office for Research Protections (ORP) before the project is initiated. This approval is mandatory; failure to comply with this policy may result in retraction of the graduate degree.

The comprehensive exam aligns with GCAC-606. The timing of the exam will also meet the other parameters outlined in GCAC-606. Students should plan to defend their dissertation proposal (comprehensive exam) the academic year following their advancement to candidacy. The student must be registered as a full-time or part-time student for the semester in which the comprehensive examination is taken. The comprehensive examination consists of the written dissertation proposal (Part 1) and the oral proposal defense (Part 2). The comprehensive examination will be administered by the PhD committee.

Part 1: A student’s dissertation chair guides the student on the form and organization of the dissertation proposal. Prior to the examination, the student will work with the dissertation advisor to develop a document that proposes a research project. The proposal usually includes: 1) a statement of the problem or research question, 2) a focused literature review, 3) a study design, and 4) a plan of analysis, including a methods section and, if appropriate, an explication of the study’s conceptual/theoretical framework. Typically, students should expect to produce several drafts before the chair decides that the student can move to the proposal defense stage. 

With the approval of the chair, the student contacts all committee members to schedule a meeting to review the proposal. At least three weeks prior to the defense date, the student notifies the Program Staff Assistant of the agreed-upon date using Appendix C, “Request for Comprehensive Examination.” The student should share the proposal via email with committee members two weeks prior to the comprehensive examination. 


Part 2: The second part of the EPL comprehensive examination consists of a 90-minute to two-hour dissertation proposal defense (oral comprehensive examination). Typically, soon after the start of the exam, the committee will confer about the proposal without the student for about 15 minutes. The student then is called back in, and then usually gives a brief presentation. The committee may have questions both during and after the presentation.


More information about the Qualifying Exam can he found in the handbook, from the program assistant, or your advisor.

The final oral examination (dissertation defense) provides an opportunity for the student to make a formal presentation of his/her completed thesis research. Typically, soon after the start of the exam, the committee will confer about the proposal without the student for about 15 minutes. The student then is called back in, and then usually gives a brief presentation. The committee may have questions both during and after the presentation. The exam will be scheduled only after the thesis has been approved by the chair, read by all members of the doctoral committee, and revised by the candidate to incorporate the major revisions suggested by committee members.


The final oral examination may be held fully in-person, fully remote, or hybrid with some individuals participating in-person while others participate remotely. Student preference for delivery mode should be strongly considered, but the student and adviser must agree on the mode. If the student and adviser cannot agree on the mode, the Graduate Program Head will make the final decision. Either the student or adviser can appeal the decision of the Graduate Program Head to the college or school administrator for graduate education (associate dean or equivalent).  

More information about the Qualifying Exam can he found in the handbook, from the program assistant, or your advisor.

Intent to Graduate

It is the student’s responsibility to activate his/her intent to graduate on LionPath.   Deadlines are listed on the Grad School calendar, Students who do not complete graduation requirements by the deadline must re-activate their intent to graduate for the next semester; this does NOT happen automatically.

Commencement Ceremony

Penn State holds commencement exercises for graduate students three times each year:  at the end of the fall and spring semesters and at the end of the summer session. Students are expected to attend commencement exercises; diplomas for students who do not attend will be mailed to the student’s home address or LionPath diploma mailing address approximately three weeks after commencement.

Commencement Attire

Students are responsible for obtaining appropriate commencement attire (doctoral hood and gown), which may be purchased at the Penn State Bookstore. Orders for the doctoral hood and gown should be placed as early as possible during the semester of graduation. Doctoral hoods and gowns may be available to rent as well.


Comparative and International Education Dual Title


Transdisciplinary Research on Environment and Society


Joint Law degree



Typically, it takes 4 years (full-time) to complete the doctoral program.

Limited funding is available on a competitive basis.

Students start in the fall semester which begins in August. 

Applications are due December 1st.


Yes. The Education Policy and Leadership program has 2 dual-titles that can be combined with the major.

CIED: The CIED program trains scholars who advance our basic knowledge about schooling and education around the globe. The CIED program is designed to create opportunities for a range of people—administrators and policy makers in social welfare, health education, and development; school leaders; and scholars of education. After your first semester in your major program, applications can be submitted to include the dual-title in your degree. Applications must be submitted prior to your qualifying examination.


TREES: Students electing the dual-title intercollege program in TREES through participating majors may earn a degree with dual-title at both the Ph.D. and M.S./M.A. levels. Thus, the degree awarded would be a Ph.D. in (graduate program name) and Transdisciplinary Research on Environment and Society or M.S./M.A. in (graduate program name) and Transdisciplinary Research on Environment and Society.


Joint Law degree:  

Penn State Law (PSL) and Education Policy & Leadership (EPL) Program offer a joint degree program leading to a Juris Doctor (J.D.); and a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Education Policy & Leadership.

Requirements listed here are in addition to requirements listed in GCAC-211 Joint Degree Programs.

(Admission requirements): Applicants to the joint degree program must apply and be admitted first to Penn State Law, and subsequently to the Education Policy & Leadership graduate program. Admissions requirements and applications for admission for Penn State Law are listed in the J.D. Admissions section of the Penn State Law website. When applying to the Education Policy & Leadership graduate program, applicants must include two letters of recommendation from Penn State Law faculty members and a career statement. Applicants to the joint degree program may submit LSAT scores instead of GRE scores. Students must be admitted to the program prior to taking the first course they intend to count towards the graduate degree.




CIED-Dual title minor: The CIED minor can be applied for AFTER a students first semester and prior to completing the comprehensive examination.


Demography: A Ph.D. minor in Demography is available for doctoral students in graduate programs other than the dual-title participating programs who find it advantageous to include demographic content, methods, and policy analysis in their program of study. The student's Ph.D. committee must approve the choice of this minor, and one member of the Ph.D. committee must be from the Demography Graduate Faculty.   

See more here:


Education Policy Studies Centers

Find our more

Ready to apply

If you have read the Graduate School and program requirements and are ready to apply, you may proceed to the application at

Learn more about applications