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Welcome! The University of Vermont's Ph.D. program in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies is a multidisciplinary program that seeks to examine complex educational and social problems through the integration of multiple theoretical, methodological, and disciplinary lenses.

This is intended as a full-time program preparing candidates to attain a high level of scholarly competence and to develop the capacity to contribute knowledge to their field. We develop scholars who can analyze and inform the development of educational systems and public policies that will positively impact the lives of our children and youth, and address broad societal issues.

The degree will serve students who wish to pursue research/teaching careers in universities and/or research and policy positions in government agencies, think tanks, non-governmental organizations, and other public and private sector organizations.

Goals of the program include but are not limited to the following:

  • Preparing professional researchers, scholars, and faculty competent in conducting and sharing research;
  • Focusing on research training that uses advanced quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-method approaches to add to theoretical knowledge;
  • Emphasizing publication of research findings to enhance knowledge in education and social services;
  • Developing areas of interdisciplinary specialization.

Prospective Students

The application requirements include official GRE general test scores taken within the last 5 years, official transcripts of all undergraduate and graduate study, a statement of purpose, a writing sample, and three letters of reference that can speak to academic excellence and the potential for undertaking doctoral study. The deadline for applications is January 15, 2024.

Expected Applicant Qualifications:

  • Master’s degree or undergraduate work in a related field such as educational leadership, educational studies, higher education, public administration, counseling, social work, or curriculum and instruction characterized by a distinguished academic record.
  • Demonstrated commitment in letters of application and references to social change and justice with experience in inquiry at a level that will predict successful research and college teaching.
  • GRE general test scores taken within the last 5 years.
  • Research interests compatible with those of CESS faculty.
  • Strong inquiry and writing skills.



The course work and experiences for each student's program are organized around four major themes, which provide the framework of the program:

  • critical theoretical perspectives
  • organizational theory, change, and leadership
  • policy studies and political processes
  • process of inquiry/applied research and utilization of knowledge


The concentration areas reflect the discipline-based expertise areas that students develop:

  • educational leadership and policy studies
  • curriculum and instructional leadership
  • higher education leadership
  • social policy

Schedule of Coursework

The program requires:

  • A minimum of 75 semester credit hours comprised of:
    • Coursework is divided into 21 core credits, 18 research credits, and 15 focus area electives.
    • 21 additional credits of dissertation research

The Cohort (Year 1 & 2)

  • During the first two years, students participate in the learning community known as the cohort, comprised of both research and core coursework.
  • The content of these courses includes critical perspectives and theory, emerging views of leadership, organizational development and change, and policy and politics.

Program of Study

  • In the first year, students consult their advisor start to think about a concentration focus, and to start to develop an individually designed plan of study.
  • In the second or third year, students should start to think about forming a program committee of three faculty members from CESS whose expertise can support their research interests.

Comprehensive Exam

The comprehensive exam is both oral and written. The individualized exam is prepared in consultation with the student’s program committee with the goal of producing a draft publication during or after the final semester of completing coursework requirements (not including the dissertation writing seminar). The draft paper is to be presented at a CESS Research Colloquium either in the spring or fall semester but before the student can defend their dissertation proposal.

Dissertation Requirement

Journal Article format with a focus on original research illustrating mastery of competing theories with the goal of informing knowledge (per Graduate College guidelines). This format requires that the candidate will complete 3 journal articles with the goal of manuscript submissions for publication in a refereed journal.

Program Elements

Primary Career Intention

  • Research and teaching positions in higher education, and research positions in state and national government agencies, and public and private research organizations or centers.

Purpose and Emphasis

  • Preparation of professional researchers, scholars, and faculty competent in conducting and sharing research.
  • Focus on research training that uses advanced quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-method approaches to add to theoretical-practical and knowledge.

Time Commitment

  • Full-time study (4-5 years)

Type of Candidate Preparation

  • In-depth understandings of systems change, leadership, and policy in order to conduct high quality research.
  • Candidates will be mentored in conducting independent research, presenting papers at professional conferences, and submitting their work for publication.

Dissertation Expectations

  • Journal Article format with a focus on original research illustrating mastery of competing theories with the goal of informing knowledge (per Graduate College guidelines). This format requires that the candidate will complete 3 journal articles with the goal of submission for publication in a refereed journal.

Knowledge Assessment

  • Written and oral assessments provide evidence of understanding of the theoretical and conceptual knowledge in the field and of competence in conducting research to acquire new knowledge with the goal of publication, dissemination, and utilization.

Research Methods

  • Courses develop competencies in research design, analysis, synthesis, and dissemination.
  • Research questions are theory-driven.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the difference between the PhD and EdD in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies?

The PhD in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies is a research degree aimed at producing researchers who wish to hold faculty positions in higher education institutions or research positions in such organizations as research centers, ‘think tanks’ or in government agencies. The EdD in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies degree is targeted at outstanding working leaders who wish to use research and scholarly inquiry to further develop their leadership skills in order to create positive change in practice.

How do I know if the PhD degree in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies is right for me?

The PhD in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies is a degree aimed at individuals with outstanding potential for academic research, writing, and teaching. Students who want to pursue the PhD generally enjoy reading academic scholarship and are interested in pursuing rigorous research questions of scholarly significance and are willing to engage in a wide variety of research methodologies (such as quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-methods research) in order to engage with pressing contemporary research questions.

Can I meet with someone to discuss if the program is right for me?

As an interested student, please review the program website to see if the program goals and content match your own interests. In addition, we also suggest you review the research interests of faculty who currently advise in the program to see if there might be a match between your own interests and a given faculty member’s research. You are free to contact faculty members whose research aligns with your own to see if there might be a good match. Please bear in mind faculty calendars get quite busy and their time may be limited.

What is required for the application?

We require all official transcripts from undergraduate and graduate studies, three letters of reference, official GRE scores, a writing sample, and a statement of purpose. Applications are processed through the Graduate College. For more information, please email

When is the application deadline?

Applications are accepted only once per year, and the deadline is January 15th, 2024. Applicants will be notified of the decision by April 15th.

Is there a time limit on GRE scores?

Yes, the Graduate College requires that GRE scores have to be taken within that last five years.

Who do I contact if I have questions about the application process?

All questions regarding the status of your application should be directed to the Graduate College Admissions Office, 330 Waterman Building, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont 05405-0160 or telephone (802) 656-2699 or via E-mail at

What should I select for a writing sample?

The writing sample should be a piece of academic writing that highlights your analytic or critical academic writing skills. Generally this writing sample is a research paper you may have written for a class or research project that you worked on as an undergraduate or graduate student.  The sample should be no more than 10-15 pages in length.

What should I include in my statement of purpose?

The statement of purpose provides you with an opportunity to explain your research interests and your professional and personal reasons for wanting to pursue a PhD degree.  You should explain your specific reasons for wanting to pursue a PhD in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at UVM and specifically what about our program attracted you. If you have funding to support full-time study, please explain this in your statement of purpose.

What do you look for in letters of reference?

We look for letters from individuals that can speak to your academic potential for undertaking doctoral study.  These letters generally are written by faculty with whom you may have taken a class or with whom you may have worked on thesis or research project (these should not be professional letters of reference).

Do I need a Master’s degree to apply?

We prefer that students have a Master’s degree.

Can I transfer graduate credits from another school or graduate program into the PhD program?

Only after a student has been accepted for admission into the PhD will the program consider whether graduate credits from another school or program may be transferred into the program. Student may transfer up to six (6) credits with approval of their advisor and the Doctoral Steering Committe. Courses must be recent and related to the overall goals of the program and the student’s research and professional goals and meet the transfer criteria of the Graduate College. There is no guaranteed that a request to transfer in courses will be approved.

How long does it take to complete the program?

The expectation is that students attend on a full-time basis completing their core courses, and electives within two and a half to three years. The dissertation process from proposal writing through the dissertation defense differs for each student depending on the research design and time commitments. Most students complete the entire program, including the dissertation, within four years.

How many years do I have to complete the program?

The maximum number of years to complete the PhD is seven years (any coursework transferred in can not be older that five years at the time of program completion). 

What are the tuition and fees?

Information on graduate tuition and fees may be found on the Student Financial Services web page.

What types of funding are available to support my studies?

The program has a limited number of graduate assistantships available. These will be awarded during the admissions process. Generally students work 20 hours a week on a combination of research and/or teaching. These assistantships generally cover up to 12 credit hours per semester and provide a stipend.

What are the program coursework requirements?

The program requires 75 credits for graduation.

When are the courses offered?

Currently the core courses are offered in the evenings once per week. Other graduate courses are offered at various times during the day or evening.

Does this program offer on-line courses?

Most courses are delivered in a hybrid format, with a mix of online and in-person classes.