Ph.D. Program: Theory, Organization, and Policy Concentration

    Program Overview

    Over the past three decades, political leaders have increasingly recognized the critical importance of education to economic, political, social, and cultural improvement. Their decisions have implications for the well-being of families, communities, and the United States’ place in the world. Yet decision makers often pursue educational goals without a clear understanding of their own philosophical assumptions, the needs for change, the possible results of change, or the social forces that affect actions that legislatures and governments take. The concentration in Theory, Organization, and Policy within the Ph.D. Program at the GSE prepares scholars who can help find answers to these questions and, in the process, inform policymakers, educators, and the public about the progress and challenges of education.

    Ph.D. students will work closely with a faculty advisor throughout the course of the program who will act as a mentor, and who are likely to be actively conducting their own research in areas such as organizational leadership and policy, international and comparative education, or the social science and humanities disciplines of education. While enrolled in the program, students will only specialize in one area of study but will be exposed to others, and learn to develop stronger educational analyses and research designs. Graduates of the program will exit prepared for research in higher education, policy organizations, governmental, and nongovernmental organizations concerned with education. 

     For more information about this program:

    Program Details

    Application Deadline

    Dec 1

    Entry Term(s)


    Program Level


    Program Type






  • What You’ll Learn

    Students enrolled in the Ph.D. in Education Program can expect to exit with the ability to think critically about a wide range of the central theories on learning, conduct high-quality original research, communicate and share research effectively, and teach at the university level. Through completion of courses required for the concentration, students will develop a deep understanding and expertise in their chosen specialization. Each course in the Ph.D. Program and Theory, Organization, and Policy concentration should result in some type of deliverable, such as a research paper or literature review. The exact nature of the research that the student will engage with is to be decided with the advisor or other faculty member serving as the course instructor. Completion of the program will require the student to complete a dissertation, including a proposal that describes research questions and the methods used to study them. Then the student carries out the investigation to explore those questions and later presents their findings.

    Learning Goals for Ph.D. in Education Students

    Our core mission in the Ph.D. in Education Program is to produce scholars who can and will use research to contribute to understanding and improving education. Listed below are six broad areas that students in the Ph.D. in Education Program should develop through their coursework, research, and participation in the GSE and broader scholarly community. Methods for evaluating progress with respect to these goals are described under each goal.

    1. Broad Theories. Students will understand and think critically about a wide range of the central theories on learning. These include what types of environments support learning; what the goals of education are and should be; how policy and social structures influence learning opportunities; how education can support goals related to social justice; and how the role of education continues to evolve in our society. In particular, students should be aware of the different disciplines upon which these theories draw, understand that these disciplinary lenses fundamentally influence how education and educational research is perceived, and be able to use these theories and lenses to interpret and synthesize bodies of research.
      • Assessment: Evaluation will be based on performance in core coursework (pro-seminars or other core course program specifications) and on successful completion of the breadth question as part of the qualifying examination.
    2. Knowledge and Understanding. Students will develop deep understanding and expertise in a particular domain. They should have a broad and deep knowledge of the literature in the field and an understanding and appreciation of the range of research methods that have been used to advance the field.
      • Assessment: Evaluation will be based on performance in courses within the student’s area of specialization, performance on two independent research studies (Pre-thesis I and II), successful completion of the qualifying examination, and successful completion of the dissertation proposal and thesis.
    3. Conducting Original Research. Students will actively engage in research from the beginning of their program. As they gain experience and autonomy, they should gain an understanding and ability to design and carry out research employing appropriate research methods.
      • Assessment: Evaluation will be based on performance in the two independent research courses (Pre-thesis I and II), their dissertation proposal, and a review of other research efforts described in annual progress reports.
    4. Communicating and Disseminating Research. Students will successfully communicate and disseminate their research. They should present their work in the GSE (brown bags, learning sciences lunch & learn series, research poster sessions) as well as at regional, national and international conferences. They should publish their work in scholarly outlets as well as report their research, if appropriate, in ways that will be valuable to practitioners and policymakers. They should also successfully communicate their dissertation research.
      • Assessment: Evaluation will be based on the number of student presentations within the GSE (brown bags, learning sciences lunch & learn series, poster session, other talks) as well as talks and publications. Authorship (senior or secondary) will also be monitored. These data will be available in the annual student progress reports.
    5. Teaching. Students will develop expertise in teaching university-level courses. This is considered to be an especially important goal because it is expected that many graduates will obtain employment at academic institutions where teaching will be part of their responsibilities. All students are expected to be observed by a faculty member as well as to complete a teaching portfolio.
      • Assessment: Evaluation will be based on an annual survey of courses taught by students as well as a report of the number of students who have met their teaching requirement and completed their observations and teaching portfolios.
    6. Service. Students will participate in their respective scholarly and professional communities, including service within the GSE as well as service to professional organizations, including scholarly reviews, serving on committees, etc.
      • Assessment: Evaluation will be based on annual review of student progress reports.

    For more information about the courses in this program, please visit the course catalog and online schedule of classes.

  • Program Requirements
    • 72 Graduate Course Credits
      •       6 Credits – Proseminars
      •     12 Credits – Methodology Requirement Courses
      •       6 Credits – Cognate Courses
      •       6 Credits – Pre-Thesis Research (Independent Study Courses)
      •     18 Credits – Concentration Courses
      •     24 Credits – Dissertation Research
    • Qualifying Exam
      • After completing 24 credits of coursework, including 12 toward completion of the Ph.D. in Education requirements, students may take the qualifying exam. This open-book essay exam will assess the student’s knowledge of the subject area, capacity to conduct research, and competence in a specific area of research. The qualifying exam must be passed before the student completes their fourth year in the program.
    • Dissertation 
      • Each candidate for the doctorate pursues, under faculty direction, an original investigation of a problem or problems in a field of concentration and presents the results of the investigation in a dissertation. This doctoral work is completed in 24 credits of coursework. Students are expected to complete a proposal that describes research questions and the methods used to study them. Then the student carries out the investigation to explore those questions.

    The Ph.D. in Education requires students to complete 48 credits of graduate level coursework and 24 credits of dissertation research. Students will take pre-thesis courses designed to enhance their ability to conduct scholarly research, and can expect to receive support from their faculty advisor and other Ph.D. in Education faculty as appropriate. Prior to enrollment in the pre-thesis courses, students may be required to submit a Pre-thesis Research Form in the program’s learning management tool, Sakai. As part of the Theory, Organization, and Policy concentration, students must also earn six of the 18 required concentration course credits through completion of classes outside the faculty advisor’s specialty. 

  • Faculty
  • Careers and Outcomes

    Graduates of the Ph.D. in Education Program are expected to influence educational practice in the United States and abroad through original research efforts, thereby contributing to the advancement of knowledge in education, discovering exemplary educational practices, and contributing to local and national educational policy. GSE graduates most commonly go on to conduct research in higher education, policy organizations, governmental, and nongovernmental organizations concerned with education. 

  • Admissions Requirements
    • A personal statement that describes why you are interested in studying education at Rutgers. We are especially interested in knowing what your research interests are and with which faculty members you would like to work.
    • Academic Writing sample or Current Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores*
    • 3 Letters of Recommendation
    • Official Undergraduate Transcripts
    • Official Graduate Transcripts (if applicable)
    • Curriculum Vitae/Resume (optional)

    *Any test scores submitted must be less than 5 years old as of the application deadline

    For more information on this program’s admissions requirements, visit the Office of the Graduate and Professional Admissions website.

  • How to Apply
    1. Collect the materials required for admission
    2. Submit your application online at
    3. Submit supporting materials online or by mail to the Graduate Admissions Office:

    Office of Graduate and Professional Admissions
    Rutgers. The State University of New Jersey
    56 Bevier Rd, ASB Annex I
    Piscataway, NJ 08854, U.S.A.

    Download the complete guide on how to apply for the Ph.D. Program with Concentration in Theory, Organization, and Policy at the Rutgers University Graduate School of Education.

  • Tuition & Financial Assistance


    For tuition and fees information please visit the tuition landing page.

    Financial Aid:

    While students are encouraged to apply for federal student aid using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), there are a number of other merit- and need-based support options, including loans and college work-study programs within and external to Rutgers. For more information, please visit the Office of Financial Aid website.

    Scholarships, Fellowships & Assistantships:

    Generous GSE alumni, friends, and community members have established and continue to donate to more than one dozen fellowships and scholarships to help deserving students reach their goals. These awards are granted on the basis of academic achievement and or financial need. While these awards are competitive, interested students are encouraged to apply for consideration and submit the required materials. Students must also submit a FAFSA application to be eligible.  

    To review all current awards and learn more about the donors that established them, please click here.

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