Frequently Asked Questions

Who should pursue a Ph.D.?

The Ph.D. degree is a research degree for individuals who wish to pursue a career in academic scholarship. It is designed to develop in-depth knowledge of the scientific literature in a field of study in business. It is a required qualification for most full time faculty positions at a university.

Doctoral studies require critical thinking skills, fluency in reading and writing, capacity for self-study, initiative, and a full time commitment to serious study and research that typically span 5 years. Individuals with an intellectual curiosity about what lies behind the phenomena of business will find the Ph.D. is a rewarding experience.


How long does it take to earn a Ph.D.?

Typically 5 years. The first 2 years are devoted to course work focusing on various theories and empirical studies in a field, and research methodology courses in statistics, econometrics and advanced quantitative techniques. After courses, students typically spend 3 years conducting research with the goal of making significant contributions to the scientific literature and writing the doctoral thesis. The degree can be completed in less than three years after courses, but students will find that it takes that much time to build a portfolio of research that is attractive in the academic job market.

In extenuating circumstances the time to complete all degree requirements may be extended to a maximum of 7 years total.


How do doctoral courses differ from MBA or other specialized Masters courses?

In general, Masters level courses in business are managerial and application-oriented. The MBA is broad-based covering the major fields of business. Specialized Masters offer more depth and less breadth, but the emphasis is on the applied aspects of a discipline. Pedagogy highlights applied theory, best practices and managerial decision-making (e.g., via cases).

Ph.D. studies focus on theory, testing theoretical relationships, and advancing knowledge. Courses are based on the published theoretical and empirical literatures, and advanced texts in research methodology. The Ph.D. is an individualized program of learning in a narrow field of business. For example, within the field of Marketing students may specialize in consumer behavior, quantitative modeling, marketing strategy, channels of distribution, and so on. Students work closely with faculty to design their study plans and research program. Seminars are discussion-oriented and require extensive reading and class participation.

In short, MBA courses focus on the “how” of managing business organizations and resources, whereas doctoral studies are about the “why” of business phenomena and advancing our understanding as phenomena change. Over time the scholarly literature informs the practice of management, but there is often a gap in time, and a big gap in methods.


Do I need to have an MBA to pursue a Ph.D. in business?

Doctoral studies require intellectual maturity and initiative. Hence, while a Masters degree in business or any other field is not required for admission, it is very unlikely a student will be successful without one.

Many of the business disciplines draw on theory and research from the social sciences such as economics, psychology, sociology and mathematics. Students from all academic backgrounds can find a suitable fit in a doctoral program in business. But it is important to discuss this with the lead professor in your field of interest.

In the event an outstanding student without a graduate or business degree is admitted, the admitting department may require the student to take certain MBA level courses in addition to those required for the Ph.D.


Can I get course credit for previous graduate studies?

In general, no. As described previously, Masters level courses in most disciplines differ greatly in their orientation and skill-sets from doctoral level courses. Further, tuition for doctoral studies at GWSB is fixed at a very nominal level and is not based on the number of courses taken. There is no monetary benefit to the student from course credits. However if the student has recently completed graduate study in technical fields such as statistics, econometrics, or mathematics, he/she may be given course credit at the discretion of the Associate Dean.


Can I work and study part time?

Doctoral studies require a full time commitment of time and intellectual energy. Consequently GWSB does not admit part-time students in its Ph.D. programs. Full time students may not work more than 10 hours a week. Our aim is to admit only students who are fully funded by GW fellowships or academic scholarships from outside. See Tuition and Financial Planning for details.


Financial support?

A limited number of fellowships paying full tuition, health insurance and an annual stipend of $30,000, are offered to highly qualified students committed to full time study in the doctoral program. Conditions apply. See Tuition and Financial Planning for details.


What kind of quantitative skills are required?

Doctoral studies place a heavy emphasis on quantitative and analytical methods. This is necessary to understand the empirical literature in the field, to conduct research publishable in top journals, and create a viable resume for academic placement. It is possible to make up for lack of previous preparation during the doctoral program itself, but if you felt you simply did not have the aptitude for quant in your basic statistics courses, the Ph.D. in business may not be for you. Please discuss with your lead professor.


How does the research process work?

Research and scholarship are the important products of the doctoral process. Students are quickly introduced to research with a summer research paper required in the summer between years one and two. It is expected this paper will be developed and published in a top journal over the course of the program. Departments have different time lines and procedures for this. Typically each student is assigned to a faculty advisory group that oversees the design and conduct of the summer research paper.

Starting in the third year students may take up additional research projects with faculty members in areas of mutual interest. Areas of mutual interest emerge through doctoral seminars taught by the faculty. It is becoming common to see resumes of doctoral graduates boasting a number of published or under-review articles. At times the dissertation itself comprises a number of “essays” drawn from the various research projects the student initiates.

The principal research product is of course the Ph.D. dissertation. After passing the comprehensive exam, each student requests a professor with expertise in her/his area of interest to be the dissertation chair or advocate. The chair is the principal person who guides and directs the student’s dissertation research. The student and chair select the other members of the dissertation committee who contribute to the development of theory and methodology of the research. Dissertation proposals and theses are “defended” before appropriate committees. It is expected research problems are literature driven with the potential to make an original contribution, and research designs, data and analytical methods provide a legitimate test of the hypotheses and meet conventional publications standards at leading journals.


How do I decide if a Ph. D. is something I should pursue?

This is, of course, a very personal decision. You might ask yourself the following questions: Are you interested in a career teaching and researching at a school of business at a university? Are you willing to commit five years to a rigorous education in theory and advanced quantitative methods? Do you have a critical mind coupled with intellectual curiosity?

If you answer yes to most of the above you should talk to someone who has a Ph.D. and holds a faculty position in a business school, or to a senior doctoral student. He/she can guide you about the nature of the Ph.D. experience, the different business fields and prospects in them.
If your interest deepens, access the leading journals in the fields of your interest and read a number of articles. Ask yourself if this is the kind of work you find challenging and rewarding.

Finally, if you can, visit the Ph.D. granting universities you are interested in and talk to professors, current students or recent graduates in the field of your choice about their experiences.


Who should I talk to at GW about the academic programs?

The key person to discuss your interest in a Ph.D. at GWSB is the doctoral lead professor in the area of your interest. Based on your interests and questions, the lead professor can guide you to talk with or visit other faculty in the department.


I am an international applicant. Who can I talk to at GW about visa requirements and assistance?

Detailed information for international applicants is available through GW’s International Services Office. Questions may also be directed to the doctoral office staff at


What is GWSB’s policy for transferring from a doctoral program at another university?

Doctoral studies are customized for students based on the specific research expertise and interests of GWSB faculty. Transferring from another program is not realistic unless a student is accompanying a professor who is moving to the GWSB faculty. Some exceptions may be made for outstanding students moving to Washington, DC, from a another city due to family reasons such as spouse’s job.

Note: In all cases the student must be in good standing in her/his current program (which must be a highly regarded program), have an excellent performance record, and come highly recommended. Financial support is generally not available for transferring students.