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.

Program Overview

The PhD 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 (18 credits), coursework in a focused area of study (18 credits), and extensive research methods preparation (18 credits). 


For a complete list of courses and requirements

Comprehensive Examinations

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.


After successful completion of the comprehensive examination, HESA PhD students identify a dissertation topic with the assistance of their faculty advisor. Students prepare and present a proposal to their dissertation committee, then complete the dissertation study. HESA PhD students may choose a traditional dissertation format, or a multiple-article style dissertation. Once the study is complete, students meet with their dissertation committee for a pre-defense meeting and a defense. Although students may take up to five years to successfully defend the dissertation, it is strongly recommended that they finish as quickly as possible following the comprehensive exam. During the dissertation process, students must continue to be enrolled until their actual graduation. Consult the Graduate College manual for more information on enrollment.

Funding Information

There are several funding options for graduate students, including: assistantships, scholarships, fellowships, internships, personal funding, and student loans. There are a limited number of scholarships and fellowships available to students. Entering and current students might be eligible for university fellowships coordinated by the Graduate College. Consult with your advisor if you wish to be nominated for one of these fellowships. Students might also be eligible for nationally competitive fellowships. Iowa Testing Programs awards a limited number of full-ride fellowships - Special Graduate Assistantships - to students with outstanding academic credentials in the College of Education.

Students in the HESA PhD program obtain funding from a variety of sources, but primarily through Graduate Assistantships. Additionally, some HESA PhD students are full-time administrators in higher education.

Assistantships provide valuable experience, open new career paths, and help finance your graduate education. Students may have a cumulative total of a half-time (20 hours per week) assistantship. Positions vary from quarter-time (10 hours per week) to half-time (20 hours per week) and may be appointed on a semester, academic-year (9 months), or fiscal year (12 months) basis. Students with a half-time appointment should not seek additional assistantships. Current rates (salary and tuition and fee scholarships) for graduate assistantships that honor the COGS union collective bargaining agreement are linked on the Graduate Student Life page. These positions are typically held by PhD student

Accurate information about tuition and fee rates can be found on the Office of the Registrar Tuition and Fees page. Select the appropriate session and select the Graduate College. Then under “Filter by Curricular College,” select the College of Education. Assistantship rates (salary and tuition scholarships) for graduate assistantships that honor the COGS union collective bargaining agreement are available on the Office of the Dean's Finance page.

All contract-covered employees appointed at quarter-time or more will receive one hundred percent (100%) tuition scholarship each semester based upon the Board of Regents resident graduate student tuition rate for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS). All contract-covered employees appointed at quarter-time or more and assessed the College of Education tuition supplement will also receive a tuition scholarship for one hundred percent (100%) of the College of Education tuition supplement for fall and spring semesters.


The early action application deadline is Dec. 1; the regular decision application deadline is April 15 for admission the following fall. 

NOTE: The GRE requirement has been suspended for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle

  • 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)
  • The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) General test – verbal and quantitative - is optional.
  • 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.

  • Official transcripts from all post-secondary institutions
  • The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) General test – verbal and quantitative - is optional. Official GRE scores from Educational Testing Service (the University's institutional code is 6681), if you completed the test. 
  • 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.

Apply Now

Please review the required supplemental documents above before starting the general graduate application. To begin the application process, set up an account with an existing email address and password.

Contact Us


We're here to help.

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

We look forward to receiving your application!