Social Science PhD Admissions

HSS welcomes applications from students who are interested in working full time toward a doctor of philosophy degree.

All qualified applicants will be considered for admission to HSS's PhD program in the social sciences, which includes the fields of economics and political science, among others. Admission to this program is highly competitive. The program is deliberately small and selective, with the admissions committee looking for students who demonstrate a commitment to scholarship, a willingness to work hard—as evidenced by letters of recommendation or other achievements—and expressed interests that align with those of the HSS faculty.

General Qualifications

Caltech requires that PhD applicants in any field be able to clearly and forcefully express themselves in written and spoken English.

Modern approaches to social science require the ability think abstractly and quantitatively. As such, applicants must be skilled in formal reasoning. Although HSS does not require that an applicant's undergraduate degree be in any of the social sciences, the admissions committee expects every applicant to demonstrate a commitment to social science research. To be prepared to succeed in the social science PhD program, students should have a solid undergraduate background in mathematics, including at least:
  • two years of calculus, at the level of Apostol's Calculus, volumes 1 and 2; and  
  • linear algebra, at the level of Apostol's Calculus, volume 2.

It also is highly recommended that applicants complete an introductory course in mathematical statistics and real analysis before entering the HSS programs.

Caltech requires applicants whose first or native language is not English to take a test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) as part of the application procedure. As of summer 2020, HSS will no longer accept or consider Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores from applicants to its PhD programs for Fall 2021 matriculation.

Application Deadlines

To be considered for admission, a complete application, including all supporting material (including TOEFL scores), must be submitted to Caltech no later than December 15. Applicants are encouraged to submit their applications online through the Graduate Studies Office website.

If you have questions about the application process, please contact the Option Manager.

Financial Aid

Caltech offers competitive stipends in the form of fellowships and research and teaching assistantships, which are designed to cover tuition and living expenses. Students in good standing generally receive financial support for a maximum of five years. Funding for the summer quarters is not guaranteed, however it may be provided based on the availability of such funding and on an individual student's performance. As a matter of educational policy, graduate students are expected to act as graduate teaching assistants at some point in their career.

Due to the full-time and research-intensive nature of the PhD programs in HSS, many students are also supported with research assistantships. Graduate students in all programs are also encouraged to apply for external fellowships.