Admissions and Financial Aid

PhD in Social Policy

Application Requirements

Application Form

In addition to the other supporting credentials, all applicants must complete and submit an application form.

The preferred method is to submit your application electronically. Applicants should have the following information close at hand when completing the application:

  • Names and e-mail addresses of recommenders.
  • Names of undergraduate and graduate institutions and dates of attendance.
  • GRE, TOEFL, Duolingo, and IELTS scores, percentiles and dates taken (if applicable).
  • Personal statement and a curriculum vitae or resumé saved on the computer on which applicant is working.

Application Fee

The Application Fee is US $55.00. This fee is waived for applicants from developing nations and current or returned Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, City Year, and other service organization volunteers. Please contact if you are unsure if you are required to pay the application fee.

Statement of Purpose

Evaluating applicants for the PhD Program involves an assessment of the applicants’ skills and the program’s ability to serve their interests. Therefore, the key element of the application is the statement of purpose.

The statement of purpose should be focused and succinct, no more than four pages long (double-spaced). Applicants should describe work and educational experiences that have influenced their interests, social concerns, and career goals. The statement should focus on how doctoral study will help them meet their goals and their connection to a substantive area of policy.

Applicants should also indicate if they are interested in being considered for a particular federal training grant or named fellowship (see Financial Aid). Applicants may also include any information they deem relevant to their potential as a graduate student. Upon your admission, faculty and staff will use the statement of purpose to assess your candidacy for various Heller funding and federal training grant opportunities and to assign advisors.

The statement of purpose must be submitted electronically when you complete the application.  Documents should be saved on your computer and uploaded in PDF format. This is preferable for the admissions committee.  If you are unable to upload documents in PDF format, you may also use .doc, .docx, and .rtf. Other file types will be unreadable. Please do not email us or mail to us a copy of your uploaded documents. Doing so will delay the processing of your application.


A bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution in the United States or a comparable degree from a foreign academic institution is required. 

In order to apply, you should list and upload transcripts for post-secondary institutions (undergraduate and graduate) if: 

  • You earned or will earn a degree at that institution OR
  • You attended that institution for one year or more AND the courses and/or credits from that institution do not appear on another transcript you are uploading. You do not need to upload transcripts for courses and/or credits if the grades are listed on another institution's transcript that you are uploading (e.g., study abroad coursework credits that transferred to your bachelor's transcript, credits taken at one institution that were transferred to another university from which you earned your degree, etc). 

Transcripts should show the name of each course and the grade received, as well as the year/term in which it was taken. We accept unofficial transcripts at the time of application. Many institutions allow students and alumni to access their grade report online; these reports are sufficient for application file review. 

Please note that transcripts must be in English or be accompanied by an English translation; international applicants whose transcripts are not in English must have transcripts translated by a certified translation agency. 

Please do not mail paper official transcripts to us until you have been offered admission and you have accepted that offer, or we have specifically requested themThe Heller School reserves the right to require official paper transcripts at any time during the admissions process, and rescind any offer of admission made if discrepancies between unofficial and official transcript(s) are found.

If you have been admitted, and you have accepted that offer of admission, we will require official transcripts from all institutions that issued a degree, or that you attended longer than one year (unless the credits and/or courses from an institution appear on another transcript you are providing). Official transcripts must:

  • Be issued directly by the institution. If sent via electronic database or via email, this means they must be emailed directly to from the institution. If sent via mail, this means they must be mailed directly from the institution to Heller Admissions, 415 South Street MS 035, Waltham, MA 02453. If released to the student to be delivered to Heller Admissions, they must be received by Heller Admissions in a sealed envelope, unopened by the student. 
  • Include one or more of the following features: the registrar's signature, the registrar's seal, an institutional watermark, and/or be printed on official institutional paper. 


We realize that it can be difficult for international students to obtain more than one official copy of their university transcript. We can accept certified true copies of your transcripts. A certified true copy is one which is certified as an exact replica of the original by either school officials or legal authorities such as embassies or a notary public.

Letters of Recommendation

Applicants to the program must submit three letters of recommendation. One should be a professional assessment from a supervisor at the institution at which you are employed or were recently employed. The second letter should be an academic assessment from a former professor or advisor. However, you are not required to submit an academic letter if you last attended university five or more years ago. The third letter can be either professional or academic.

  • We request that letters of recommendation be submitted online directly from the recommender. You will be asked for email addresses of your recommenders as you complete the online application. Your recommenders will each automatically receive an email from us with a personalized link as well as instructions to upload a letter directly into our system online.
  • Please note: It is the responsibility of all applicants to contact their recommenders after beginning the application to ensure that recommenders have adequate time to submit their letters prior to the deadline.
  • When entering your recommender's information, you should enter your recommender's institutional or corporate email address. Your recommender will be asked to provide their letter of recommendation on institutional letterhead. Submissions from anonymous email addresses (Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo) that are not on institutional letterhead may be subject to additional review.

Resume/Curriculum Vitae

Applicants should submit a professional resume or curriculum vitae outlining all work and educational experiences, including any volunteer activities, detailing particularly those relevant to their proposed field of study; any academic and non-academic honors or prizes awarded; and publications and research projects with which the applicant has been associated.

The resume or CV must be submitted electronically when you complete the application.  Documents should be saved on your computer and uploaded in PDF format. This is preferable for the admissions committee.  If you are unable to upload documents in PDF format, you may also use .doc, .docx, and .rtf. Other file types will be unreadable. Please do not email us or mail to us a copy of your uploaded documents. Doing so will delay the processing of your application.

Writing Sample

The ability to communicate effectively is essential for the successful completion of the PhD Program. To assist the Admissions Committee in its assessment, please submit an academic writing sample. The sample will be used to evaluate an applicant's analytic skills, writing style, and ability to deal with complex material. 

Please limit your writing samples to no more than 20 pages in length (ideally 10-15 pages). Size 10-12 font is preferred, either double spaced or single-spaced with a space between paragraphs. The writing sample length guidelines apply only to the paper itself, not the bibliography and appendix. It is acceptable if those sections push the writing sample slightly over the recommended length.

Examples of materials that might be submitted include a paper written for a course, a paper published in a professional journal, or a paper specifically prepared for the Heller application. Because we want an accurate representation of your current writing ability, we recommend that papers written for a course be written in the past two years, and papers published in a professional journal be written in the past three years. If you prepare a paper specifically for the application, you are free to build upon papers that you have written in the past. We don't accept jointly authored work unless the paper was published AND you are the LEAD author. If you are not the lead author, you should synthesize the parts of the paper that you were responsible for into one paper and submit that, or choose another piece. We also do not accept theses over twenty pages; if you would like to submit portions of your thesis, please choose the most relevant sections and limit the sample to twenty pages. 

The writing sample must be submitted electronically when you complete the application.  Documents should be saved on your computer and uploaded in PDF format. This is preferable for the admissions committee.  If you are unable to upload documents in PDF format, you may also use .doc, .docx, and .rtf. Other file types will be unreadable. Please do not email us or mail to us a copy of your uploaded documents. Doing so will delay the processing of your application.

Standardized Test Scores

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the PhD program is extending its GRE test-optional policy for the Fall 2022 application cycle. 

Applicants who have already taken either the Graduate Record Exam - GRE can still submit their scores.  Applicants should request the test scores to be sent directly to the Heller School by the appropriate code when taking the test. The code for the GRE is 3097.

The various admissions committees do not set specific standards for GRE test results. We cannot accept any test score older than five years.

International students must still submit TOEFL, IELTS, or Duolingo English Test results unless they qualify for an English Proficiency Waiver.

Proof of English Proficiency

International applicants whose native language is not English or who have not completed a degree program in the United States must demonstrate English language proficiency by submitting results from the Test of English as a Foreign Language exam (TOEFL), the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), or the Duolingo English Test.

We do not set a minimum required score for either test, but rather, our admissions committees take a holistic approach to reviewing applications and considers every part of the application carefully. That being said, the majority of our successful applicants tend to have a score of at least 94 on the TOEFL, a 7.0 on the IELTS,  or a 115 on the Duolingo English Test. Learn more about our English Proficiency requirement here.

You may submit a copy of your unofficial test taker score report to hasten the review of your application, but an official report sent directly from ETS, IELTS or Duolingo must be received to finalize any offer of admission.

TOEFL, IELTS, or Duolingo scores are valid for up to two years. Your official test score must be valid at the time your application is submitted. If your test score will expire prior to the start of the program, you must submit your official test score prior to its expiration date.


Official TOEFL scores must be sent directly through ETS to our institution code 3097 at the time that you apply. The Heller School only considers TOEFL scores from a single test date, not MyBest™ scores.


Official IELTS scores must be sent electronically by the IELTS test center. No paper Test Report Forms will be accepted. An institutional code is NOT required. Please contact the test center directly where you took the IELTS test and request that your official test scores be sent electronically using the IELTS system to 'Brandeis University The Heller School'. All IELTS test centers worldwide are able to send scores electronically to our institution.


Official Duolingo English Test scores must be sent electronically through the Duolingo Portal. Once you receive certified test results, you can log into your account, click on the “Send Results” button next to your test results, and select which institutions you would like to receive your results. You can select as many institutions as you like and add more institutions later. An institutional code is NOT required. 

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact one of the Heller Admissions officers at We look forward to working with you.