Graduate Curriculum

Statue of Benjamin Franklin in front of College Hall University of Pennsylvania UPenn Annenberg School for Communication ASC

An Overview of the Curriculum 

The Annenberg Ph.D. program represents a five-year commitment. The classroom experience is structured around courses designed to help the student become an expert in a chosen research area.​​ 

  • Twenty classes are required; up to five of these may be transferred from a previous Master’s program with approval from the student’s academic advisor. (Please note that transferring three or more classes will reduce funding by one semester.)
  • All students are required to take a noncredit proseminar as well as introductory classes in research methods and statistics.
  • All Ph.D. students must take at least one separate class with each of at least five different members of the ASC standing faculty. The intent of this is to foster students’ knowledge of a diverse range of approaches to communication.

​​​​A typical course plan for a student entering ASC without a Master’s degree includes these components:

  • Seven semesters of courses, typically three courses per semester
  • Three required classes: Proseminar, research methods, and statistics
  • A Qualifications Evaluation (see below) at the end of semester 4
  • A dissertation proposal defense in semester 8
  • Dissertation research in semesters 8 through 10
  • Dissertation defense and graduation at the end of semester 10

Annenberg offers more than a dozen graduate courses each semester, drawn from a master list of over 60 courses covering a wide range of topics related to communication and media. These courses are taught by our standing faculty, as well as visiting faculty from around the globe. In consultation with their faculty advisors, students may supplement their Annenberg classes with those from any of Penn’s 12 graduate and professional schools.  

Beyond the Classroom

Work in the classroom is just part of what makes learning at Annenberg a rich experience.  As they move through the program, students extend the knowledge they gain through their class experiences via:

  • Research and teaching fellowships
  • Meetings as part of research teams in the School’s centers and working groups
  • Attendance at School and University conferences, lunch talks, and professional development workshops
  • Casual interactions with standing, adjunct, and visiting faculty
  • Activities organized by the Annenberg Graduate Student Council

Program Milestones

  • Qualifications Evaluation (QE) is a review conducted to ensure doctoral students have the requisite skills, creativity, initiative, and plans to successfully complete their degree, including their dissertation. The QE must be completed at the end of the semester during which the student accumulates 12 classes (at least eight of which must be acquired at Penn) toward the degree, but no earlier than the end of the first year.
  • Comprehensive Exams In order to advance to candidacy, become eligible to defend the dissertation proposal and to receive a dissertation research fellowship (DRF), students must successfully pass a comprehensive examination.  These exam cover theory, methods and research in the student’s field of expertise. Students may take comprehensive examinations during any semester after they have passed the Qualifications Evaluation.  All comprehensive exams will be taken no later than in a student’s last semester in which coursework is completed or the beginning of the following semester.  
  • Dissertation Proposal and Oral Defense Before becoming eligible for a dissertation research fellowship and beginning work on the dissertation, the student must submit and defend a proposal for dissertation research to his or her Dissertation Committee.  The proposal is a full statement of the research problem, including its theoretical rationale and methodology.  The student will defend the proposal at an oral exam with the Dissertation Committee.