With its nationally known faculty, the Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA) doctoral program is one of the country’s major doctoral-granting programs in the field of higher education and student affairs.

HESA reflects a movement in the study and practice of postsecondary education to integrate academic experiences with the co-curricular learning experiences of students, and to study the outcomes of both. HESA students themselves are engaged in myriad co-curricular experiences, from co-teaching alongside faculty to conducting research as part of a scholarly team, from serving on institutional committees and task forces to advising policy organizations. The doctoral curriculum allows HESA students to tailor their education and includes a substantive core, rigorous research methods, and a concentration area. 

Program Requirements

The doctoral program prepares individuals to be leaders in student affairs and academic administration, graduate faculty at research universities, leaders in conducting research about college students and higher education, policy analysts in postsecondary institutions and public or private agencies, and teachers and academic leaders at two-year and four-year colleges. The HESA program integrates academic experience with the cocurricular learning experiences of students and studies the outcomes of both.

The Ph.D. in educational policy and leadership studies with a higher education and student affairs subprogram includes a blend of coursework core to the foundations of the field, coursework in a focused area of study, and extensive research methods preparation. For a complete list of courses and requirements, please visit the General Catalog:

Program Requirements

Dissertation Research

Upon completing the HESA PhD curriculum, students will undergo a comprehensive examination. The HESA PhD comprehensive exam process consists of students satisfactorily completing one individualized essay that addresses a specific question formulated by the student and approved by the HESA faculty, and making an oral presentation of the written essay to an examination committee. In the semester preceding the exam, students prepare a question prompt. Students will have their exam evaluated by a committee following the submission of their written response. Subsequently students will present their scholarly essays orally to their examination committee for discussion and feedback. Students must have completed all required core and specialization courses prior to their examination. Comprehensive exams are not administered in the summer.

A dissertation is a required part of the doctoral program at the University of Iowa. HESA PhD students identify a dissertation topic with the assistance of their faculty advisor. Although students may take up to five years to successfully defend the dissertation, it is strongly recommended that you finish as quickly as possible following your comprehensive exam. Although coursework is completed, students must continue to be registered until the semester of their actual graduation. Consult the Graduate College manual for more information.

A HESA PhD student should work with a faculty advisor to construct examining committees to include faculty members with varying, but related, areas of expertise. The comprehensive and final examinations are conducted by committees of no fewer than five members of the Graduate Faculty appointed by the dean upon recommendation of the major department or program.

The constellation of the committee must include:

  1. At least four of the faculty members must be members of the University of Iowa tenure-track faculty.
  2. At least two of the faculty members are from the major department (defined as faculty members who hold any appointment in the major department or program), and are members of the University of Iowa tenure-track faculty.
  3. At least one of the faculty members is from outside the major department on a thesis committee. This committee member can be an appointee if four tenure-track faculty are serving on the committee. A comprehensive exam committee would only need an outside member if a student is writing on a question from that area.

Departments and programs may request the dean's permission to replace one of the five members of the Graduate Faculty by a recognized scholar of professorial rank from another academic institution. This request must demonstrate that the external scholar brings expertise or experience not available among University of Iowa faculty.

**The policies of the Graduate College and College of Education will take precedence over program policies.

Application & Admission

Early Action: December 1, 2020  
For those applicants that submit materials by December 1, they will have their materials reviewed and receive a decision by the end of January.

Regular Decision: April 15, 2021
Individuals may submit applications until April 15. Decisions will be made on a rolling basis.

Both Early Action and Regular Decision applicants will be equally likely to be considered for funding and/or assistantships for which they are eligible.”

Admission Requirements

  • A bachelor’s degree from a Regionally Accredited American College or University, or an equivalent degree from another country as determined by the Office of Admissions.
  • Minimum GPA of 3.0 (in both undergraduate and graduate work)
  • Graduate Record Exam (GRE) General test – verbal and quantitative. NOTE: The GRE requirement has been suspended for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle only. Please note that the GRE is not required for graduate assistantships, teaching assistantships, or research assistantships within the College of Education, nor is it required for Graduate College fellowships. The GRE is a requirement for Special Graduate Assistantships (SGAs) offered through the Iowa Measurement and Research Foundation.
  • Evidence of significant leadership or work experience, writing ability, and fit with the program
  • English Proficiency Requirements (international students)
  • Most students admitted to the HESA Ph.D. program hold a previously earned master's or equivalent degree

These are general criteria; the admissions committee considers each applicant's entire portfolio. Applicants will not be considered until they have submitted a complete application packet.


Questions about the HESA Ph.D. program can be directed to epls-hesa@uiowa.edu.

We look forward to receiving your application!

  • Official transcripts from all post-secondary institutions
  • NOTE: The GRE requirement has been suspended for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle only. Official GRE scores from Educational Testing Service (the University's institutional code is 6681)
  • A statement of purpose (1-3 pages) that includes your professional and/or research interests, whether you plan to enroll full- or part-time, and how your goals and experiences are consistent with the HESA program's mission and values.
  • Resume or Curriculum Vitae
  • Three letters of recommendation. At least one letter should be from a professor or instructor.*

* You will be asked to give the contact information of your recommenders, including their email, on your Admissions Profile. The recommender will then get an email with instructions on how to upload the recommendation letter and/or form.

Start Your Application

Please review the required supplemental documents above before starting the general graduate application. There is a $60 application fee for students residing in the United States. There is a $100 application fee for international applicants. To begin the general graduate application process, set up an account with an existing email address and password here:

Start Your Application

After you submit your application, we'll send you a HawkID and password to review the status of your application online using our MyUI

Employment Opportunities
  • Leaders in student affairs and academic administration
  • Graduate faculty at research universities
  • Leaders in conducting research about college students and higher education
  • Policy analysts in postsecondary institutions and public or private agencies
  • Teachers and academic leaders at two-year and four-year colleges
Application Questions