How to Apply

Graduate Program Admission

Applications for admission are welcomed from candidates for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy as well as for the two-year Master of Arts (MA) degree.

Applicants are considered without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, political affiliation, sex, age, or physical handicaps. Competition for admission is very strong and admissions decisions are made by a committee of the Department, in consultation with the Graduate School, on merit and promise and with a view to diversity of interests and backgrounds.

Application Process


Deadlines are for receipt of application and supporting documents that includes transcripts, letters of recommendation, GRE scores, English language scores, and writing sample. Incomplete applications will not be considered until all supporting documents are received. Late applications will not be processed until all on-time applications have been handled.

PhD Applicants – We only offer a fall start for the PhD program, with a target class size of 8-12 students. Applications must be submitted online NO LATER than December 20th of the calendar year prior to admission.

MA Applicants – Students have the opportunity to start the MA program in the fall or the spring. The fall class target size is 7-10 students, and the spring class target size is 2-3 students. Applications for fall admission must be submitted online NO LATER than February 16th of the calendar year of admission. Applications for spring admission must be submitted online NO LATER than October 1st of the calendar year prior to admission.

Submission Requirements

  • Duke does not accept applications for transfer into the PhD or MA programs from other programs.
  • Applicants must offer verbal, quantitative and writing aptitude scores on the GRE.
  • Ordinarily, applicants will have earned the BA or BS degree with at least 12 undergraduate semester hours in political science.
  • Three letters of recommendation and an undergraduate transcript are required.
  • English language proficiency test scores (if English is not your first language)
  • A writing sample of 10-20 pages is requested.
  • Application fee is $90.

To complete your online application, go to Duke Graduate School Application Instructions.

Writing Samples

While the Graduate School does not require a writing sample, the Political Science Department finds them very helpful. We strongly encourage students to submit a 10-20 page double-spaced writing sample. This is generally a seminar paper written for a political science class. If you have been out of school and have written/co-written and/or published/co-published an article, you may submit that article, too.

The writing sample should go directly to the Graduate School with all other supporting documents. You can upload the sample as part of your online application.

English Language Proficiency Tests

The Duke Graduate School requires that any applicant whose native language is not English submit scores from either the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the academic modules of International English Language Testing System (IELTS).

To be eligible for a TOEFL/IELTS waiver, you must have studied full-time for two years or more at a college or university where the sole language of instruction is English and in a country where English is the primary spoken language. The two years of study must be completed prior to application submission. The waiver request should be sent to NOTE: Either TOEFL or IELTS are accepted, but IELTS is preferred.

For more information see English Language Proficiency Scores.

Important Things to Know and Remember

DEADLINES – December 20 for the PhD and February 16 for the MA (October 1 for spring MA admission).

ORIENTATION – Our orientation begins in mid-August, two weeks before classes begin. It is mandatory for all new students to attend the Orientation Session.

FUNDING – Our program is primarily a doctoral program. To that end:

  • All students to whom we offer admission as PhD students are considered for financial assistance. Departmental funding includes tuition, fees, and a stipend.
  • The department does not fund, fully or in part, students pursuing the terminal MA degree.

SUBFIELDS – On the application, after entering Political Science as the “Proposed Department,” you will be offered a menu of subfields in the "Special Field" area. There are six subfields within political science:

  1. Normative Political Theory & Philosophy
  2. Political Behavior and Identities
  3. Political Institutions
  4. Political Economy
  5. Political Methodology
  6. Security, Peace & Conflict

On your application, please enter the subfield that best describes your area of interest.


  • If you are a current undergraduate, your letters of recommendation should come from faculty members, especially political science faculty.
  • If you are not a current undergraduate, not only do we want letters of recommendation from faculty who know you, we also want a letter from your current employer, if applicable.

GPA/GRE – Successful applicants generally have a GPA of 3.5 or above, but are expected to have a minimum of 3.2. Performing well on the GRE is important for a competitive application. We do not have minimum thresholds for the GRE scores.

The code number for Duke University Graduate School is 5156. Because you are applying for admission to the Graduate School at Duke University, you do not need a department code.

QUALIFICATIONS – No one factor determines whether an applicant is admitted or not. It is our practice to review all of the information included in admissions files before reaching a final decision.

  1. Our Admissions Committee screens each application for several factors:
  • Does the applicant's academic background indicate the applicant's ability to successfully complete the PhD degree? (type/number/grade of courses taken as undergraduate, and where applicable, as master's student)
  • Does the applicant's statement of purpose indicate the applicant's ability and desire to successfully complete the PhD degree? (background/field of interest/goals and/or ideas/theories/literature)
  • Do the applicant's letters of recommendation indicate that the applicant has an outstanding aptitude, knowledge and record of performance?
  • Is the applicant's writing sample of the highest quality?
  • Is there a faculty match?
  • Do the applicant's test scores indicate strong analytical, quantitative and writing abilities?
  • If the primary language of the applicant is not English, does the applicant demonstrate sufficient English language proficiency?
  1. Our Admissions Committee also looks at the needs of the Department (e.g. how many students in a given subfield is desirable) and ranks the applicants accordingly. We typically receive more than 350 applications to our PhD program but can only matriculate 8-12 students a year which means we must regretfully refuse admission to a large number of otherwise qualified applicants.
For more information about Duke’s graduate studies policies, procedures, and requirements or FAQs about admission, go to the Duke Graduate School website.