Curriculum & Requirements

The Princeton School of Public and International Affairs offers a multidisciplinary liberal arts major for students who are interested in public service and becoming leaders in the world of public and international affairs. Students will acquire the tools, understanding, and habits of mind necessary to pursue policy problems of their choosing. The major is largely self-designed but with the structure and guidance needed for an education that is both broad and deep.

Please be sure to select the program requirements based on your graduating class year. 

Classes of 2026+ Program Requirements

The curriculum consists of a wide range of courses offered through the School and through our partner departments that are relevant to the study of policymaking, policy analysis, and policy evaluation. Students take courses in economics, sociology or psychology and politics or history. An introductory public policy course is required along with an ethics course and a course on power & identity. Students enroll in policy seminars in the junior year and write a policy thesis in the senior year. To aid in students' independent work, a research design workshop is also required.

Majors are required to take statistics and must be able to use the basics of single-variable calculus in order to take economics courses and some advanced elective options. Students who are concerned about their preparation should consider taking a course that provides instruction in single-variable calculus. In addition, the Undergraduate Program requires that students engage in some extra-curricular cross-cultural experience (which may include study abroad), or policy-relevant field experience (overseas or domestic).

By the end of fall junior year, students will have to select their area of intellectual depth: i.e. disciplinary depth or thematic depth (designated by SPIA).

Students must complete four prerequisites from a list of pre-approved courses prior to the fall term of their junior year. All courses taken to meet these prerequisites must be taken on a graded basis. Freshman seminars may not be used to fulfill prerequisites. Students must earn a grade of C or higher in all courses counting towards prerequisites.

The following courses may be used to satisfy the prerequisites:

  1. Statistics
    • SPI 200: Statistics for Social Science
    • ECO 202: Statistics and Data Analysis for Economics
    • ORF 245 Fundamentals of Statistics
    • POL 345: Introduction to Quantitative Social Science
       
  2. Microeconomics
    • ECO 100: Introduction to Microeconomics OR AP score of 5 on Microeconomics
       
  3. Sociology or Psychology
    • Please find a list of eligible courses here.
       
  4. Politics or History
    • Please find a list of eligible courses here.

All courses taken to meet prerequisites must be completed before September of the junior year with a grade of C or higher. A summer course or a course taken abroad may count to satisfy a department prerequisite if the course has been approved by the relevant department and by either OIP or one's residential college dean or assistant dean for transfer credit. All requests to use a transfer course to satisfy a department prerequisite must be approved in advance by the SPIA Director of Undergraduate Studies.

A course taken at Princeton and used as a prerequisite may also be used to meet either a department core requirement (if it is on the list of core requirements) or as a departmental elective (if it is on the electives list).

Students should review the list of core requirements for their specific class year.
Prior to graduation, students must complete the core course requirements listed below. Students are encouraged to take SPI 298 in the sophomore year, and must complete the course no later than the fall of the junior year. All courses used to meet these requirements must be taken at Princeton on a graded basis.

  • SPI 298: Intro Public Policy (Fall only; sophomores and juniors)
  • SPI 299: Research Design Workshop (Fall only; juniors only; non-credit bearing)
  • SPI 300: Research Seminar (Spring only; juniors only)
  • SPI 301: Policy Task Force (Fall and Spring; juniors only)
  • One course in Power & Identity
    • Please find a list of eligible courses here.
  • One Ethics course
    • SPI 365: Tech Ethics
    • SPI 368: The Ethical Policy Maker
    • SPI 370: Ethics and Public Policy
    • POL 307: The Just Society
    • POL 313: Global Justice
    • CHV 310/PHI 385: Practical Ethics
    • PHI 309/CHV 309: Political Philosophy
    • EGR/ENT/REL 219: Professional Responsibility & Ethics: Succeeding Without Selling Your Soul
  • One Intermediate Economics course
    N.B. Students who wish to take ECO 300, 301, 310, or 311 are responsible for completing additional prerequisites on their own.
    • SPI 304: Microeconomics for Public Policy (formerly listed as SPI 300)
    • ECO 300: Microeconomic Theory
    • ECO 301: Macroeconomics
    • ECO 310: Microeconomic Theory: A Mathematical Approach
    • ECO 311: Macroeconomics: A Mathematical Approach

Students must complete six electives according to the following guidelines.

  • Disciplinary Breadth (3 courses): Take one course from each of three SPIA-related departments not already covered by the intellectual depth requirement, noted below (ECO is excluded because it is already a required prerequisite and Core course). Prerequisites and core courses may double count; ECO courses may not.
    By graduation, we strongly encourage students to have taken courses in departments where they have not yet taken a course (for example in a natural science, if they are focusing on the social sciences).
     
  • Intellectual Depth (3 courses): Disciplinary OR Thematic Depth
    • Disciplinary Depth: Take three courses in one SPIA-affiliated department – e.g., ECO, EEB, HIS, POL, PSY, SOC
    • Thematic Depth: Take three courses that address a given theme. Courses are drawn from SPIA-affiliated departments or SPIA-approved courses.
      Thematic areas might include:
      1. Governance, Law, and Citizenship
      2. Development, Poverty, and Inequality
      3. Health and Wellbeing
      4. Environment and Energy
      5. Race and Ethnicity
      6. Violence, Conflict, and Human Rights
      7. Globalization and International Relations
      8. Independent: Students may propose an alternative thematic pathway in consultation with their advisor.

A list of eligible elective courses available for Spring 2023 are available here.

Regional Focus: Students should also pursue regional focus across their SPIA coursework. Thus, across the SPIA prerequisites, core, and electives, students must take at least two courses that focus substantively on a particular continent.

Among the six (6) electives, a student may take only three electives from one department. For the concentration as a whole, a student may not take more than 5 courses from one department.

Up to three elective courses may be taken in semester-long study abroad programs.

To satisfy the junior independent work (“JP”) requirement each student must complete a year-long paper in connection with a non-credit bearing fall Research Design Workshop (SPI 299) and a credit-bearing spring Research Seminar (SPI 300).

To aid in the writing and preparation of the year-long JP, the non-credit bearing fall Research Design Workshop will introduce students to research design: How does one define an important and researchable question? How does one deploy systematic concepts and evaluate competing hypotheses/arguments? How does one evaluate the plausibility, ethics, and relative success of alternative policy solutions? The course will focus on research design rather than specific methods. 

In the spring Research Seminar course, a faculty member supervises a small group of students engaged in research on a specific topic in public and international affairs. Faculty will introduce students to the existing state of knowledge and available evidence for research within a well-defined topic that is timely and important in the area of public policy. Supported by the separate coursework required in the Research Seminar, students will complete their year-long junior paper.

To satisfy the senior independent work, each student must complete a senior thesis that clearly articulates a research question about a significant public policy issue and draws conclusions that contribute to the debate on that issue.

The school's senior comprehensive examination is an oral defense of the senior thesis that also tests the student's ability to integrate the senior thesis with coursework.

Any concentrator may study abroad in one of the department's overseas programs in the first or second semester of junior year. Recent international programs include Pembroke College at Cambridge University and the University of Cape Town in South Africa. At each site, students enroll in coursework at the host university and take a Policy Task Force directed by a faculty member at the host institution.

Prior to the second semester of senior year, each student must have completed an approved cross-cultural or field experience. The requirement may be satisfied in a number of ways, including but not limited to semester study abroad, summer study abroad, summer language study abroad, policy-relevant summer jobs abroad, ROTC training, senior thesis research in the field, extended service in an underserved community, or an internship involving public policy work in a nonprofit, government, or international agency such as the United Nations, the World Bank, the US Congress, or a state or federal agency.

Summer study, language study, or thesis research must be done for at least four weeks to qualify. Students must engage in an internship, job, or community service project for at least six consecutive weeks, and at a minimum of 40 hours per week or a total of 240 cumulative hours to qualify. Eligible community service work must involve policy work that will enhance one's learning and understanding of public service.

Cross-cultural or field experience gained during the freshman or sophomore year or as a participant in the Bridge Year Program may count toward this requirement. To meet this requirement, all past or proposed work must be approved by the undergraduate program.

All students must record with the Undergraduate Program Office the completion of this requirement. Please complete and electronically submit the form available on our website.

The program provides funding during summer, fall and winter break for travel and living expenses related to senior thesis research in public policy. The school also provides funding to students in the department who participate in public policy internships over the summer. For additional information, consult the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs Undergraduate Program website.

Classes of 2023, 2024 and 2025 Program Requirements

The curriculum consists of a wide range of courses offered through the School and through our partner departments that are relevant to the study of policymaking, policy analysis, and policy evaluation. Students take courses in at least four disciplines, including economics, history, politics, psychology, sociology, and science for public policy. One course in ethics is also required. Students enroll in policy seminars in their junior year and write a policy thesis in their senior year.

Majors are required to take statistics and must be able to use the basics of single-variable calculus in order to take economics courses and some of the courses in science policy. Students who are concerned about their preparation should consider taking a course that provides instruction in single-variable calculus. Students are also required to complete one foreign language course beyond the University requirement. In addition, the department requires that students either study abroad or engage in some other cross-cultural experience or policy-relevant field experience (foreign or domestic).

When students declare the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs as their major in the spring of their sophomore year, they are required to describe their primary policy interests and how their plans for coursework are related to those interests. In particular, students will be asked to select among a list of policy areas designated by SPIA or, in the event their interests do not match one of the designated areas, to describe their own area of interests and the coursework that would accompany it. Students will also be asked to describe how they have or plan to meet departmental requirements for additional language study and for cross-cultural or field experience. Each student will then be assigned a faculty course advisor appropriate to their interests and program of study.  

All courses taken to meet these prerequisites must be taken on a graded basis (no P/D/F option). Students must receive a grade of C or higher in all courses used to meet the prerequisites. *As an exception, students may count courses taken P/D/F, in Spring 2020 only, toward their prerequisites.

AP courses or freshman seminars may not be used to fulfill prerequisites. One course may not be used to fulfill more than one prerequisite.

A course taken at Princeton and used as a prerequisite can also be used to meet either a SPIA core requirement (if it is on the list of core requirements) or as a SPIA elective (if it is on the electives list).

A summer course or a course taken abroad might meet the prerequisite requirement, but only if approved by the School's Undergraduate Program Office.

Prior to the beginning of the junior year, the following prerequisites must be completed:

Statistics (One Course Required)

  • SPI 200: Statistics for Social Science
  • ECO 302: Econometrics
  • ECO 312: Econometrics: A Mathematical Approach
  • POL 345: Introduction to Quantitative Social Science
  • POL 346: Applied Quantitative Analysis

AP Statistics does not fulfill this prerequisite.

Microeconomics (One Course Required)

  • ECO 100: Introduction to Microeconomics
  • ECO 300: Microeconomic Theory
  • ECO 310: Microeconomic Theory: A Mathematical Approach
  • SPI 304: Microeconomics for Public Policy

AP Microeconomics does not fulfill this prerequisite.

History (One Course Required)

  • One course with an HIS listing
  • A cross-listed course with an HIS designation

Courses in the HA distribution area do not qualify unless they are designated HIS. For example, courses in NES or SOC that are in the HA distribution area do not fulfill this requirement unless they are cross-listed with HIS.

Politics, Sociology, or Psychology (One Course Required)

  • One course with a POL, SOC, or PSY listing
  • A cross-listed course with a POL, SOC, or PSY listing
  • A course taken to meet the statistics requirement cannot be used to meet this requirement.

Prior to graduation, students concentrating in the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs must complete the following core courses. All courses used to meet these requirements must be taken at Princeton on a graded basis (no P/D/F). *As an exception, students are allowed to P/D/F core courses taken in Spring 2020. Courses taken to meet elective requirements cannot be used to fulfill core requirements.

One Course in Microeconomics

  • SPI 304: Microeconomics for Public Policy
  • ECO 300: Microeconomic Theory 
  • ECO 310: Microeconomic Theory: A Mathematical Approach 

One Course in Politics

  • POL 220/SPI 310: American Politics 
  • POL 230/SPI 325: Introduction to Comparative Politics
  • POL 240/SPI 312: International Relations
  • POL 351/SPI 311: Politics in Developing Countries 

One Course in Sociology or Psychology

  • SPI 331/SOC 312/AAS 317/POL 343: Race and Public Policy 
  • SPI 340/PSY 321: The Psychology of Decision-Making and Judgment 
  • SPI 345/PSY 384/AAS 384: Prejudice: Its Causes, Consequences, and Cures

One Course in Science Policy

  • CEE 344/ENV 344: Water, Engineering, and Civilization 
  • SPI 350/ENV 350: The Environment: Science and Public Policy
  • SPI 353/MAE 353: Science and Global Security 
  • ENV 304/SPI 455: Disease, Ecology, Economics, and Policy
  • GHP 350/SPI 380/ ANT 380: Critical Perspectives in Global Health Policy 
  • GHP 351/SPI 381: Epidemiology: An Ecological and Evolutionary Perspective 

One Course in Ethics

  • SPI 365: Tech Ethics 
  • SPI 368: The Ethical Policy Maker
  • SPI 370/POL 308: Ethics and Public Policy
  • REL 394/CHV 394: Environmental Ethics and Modern Religious Thought 
  • REL 261/CHV 261: Christian Ethics and Modern Society
  • POL 307/CHV 307: The Just Society
  • EGR/ENT/REL 219 Professional Responsibility & Ethics: Succeeding Without Selling Your Soul

Each student must complete four electives on a graded basis from a list issued by the School.

List of Electives Offered Spring 2023

  • No more than three electives can be courses listed or cross-listed by the same department.
  • Courses used by students to meet prerequisites or core requirements will not count against this limit.
  • Methodology courses that are on the electives list and all courses offered by the School also will be exempt — meaning that you can take more than three SPI courses as electives.
  • Cross-listings on SPI courses such as SPI 315/POL 393 or SPI 466/HIS 467 will count toward the limit for the other departments. Up to three elective courses can be taken in the School's semester-long study abroad programs.
  • Electives taken at Princeton University must be taken on a graded basis.
  • Summer courses may not be used as electives.

To satisfy their Junior Independent Work requirement (“JP”), each student must complete one Policy Task Force and one Policy Research Seminar in their junior year. The Policy Research Seminar includes a methods laboratory and also counts as one of the 31 A.B. courses.

In the Policy Task Forces, small groups of juniors work together with a faculty director, one or two seniors and often a graduate student, to propose solutions to current problems in public and international affairs. Each junior conducts research on a topic that relates to the larger policy question that is the focus of the Task Force. The principal collective product is a final report with policy recommendations, drafted after debates among the entire group.

In the Policy Research Seminars, a faculty member supervises a small group of students similarly engaged in research on a specific topic in public and international affairs. Students also participate in a methods lab designed to teach them methods for quantitative and qualitative research. An important aim of all the elements of the research seminar is to prepare students for their senior thesis work. Each student must complete a senior thesis that clearly articulates a research question about a significant public policy issue and draws conclusions that contribute to the debate on that issue.

The Princeton School of Public and International Affairs senior comprehensive examination is an oral defense of the senior thesis that also tests the student’s ability to integrate the senior thesis with coursework.

Any concentrator may study abroad in one of the departments overseas programs in their first or second semester of their junior year. For Spring 2023, SPIA will be hosting policy task forces at the University of Cambridge, Pembroke College and the University of Cape Town. At each site, students enroll in coursework at the host university and take a department task force that is taken in place of a task force in Princeton.

Students majoring in the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs must complete at least one foreign language course beyond the current University requirement. This can be done:

  • By taking an additional course (200 or 300 level) in the language used to meet the University requirement. (Note, where upper-level courses are not available, e.g., ASL or Swahili, students will have to take a course at least at the 102 level in another language.) Either a language course or a subject matter course taught in the foreign language will count, or
  • By taking a course at least at the 102 level in a language other than the one used to fulfill the University foreign language requirement.

Courses used to meet this requirement may be taken at Princeton University or elsewhere; all courses must be taken on a graded basis.

All students must record with the Undergraduate Program Office the completion of the language requirement. Please complete and electronically submit the form available on our website.

Students who are bilingual must first contact the department to initiate the process for certifying their SPIA language credentials. Note, the certification process is handled by the Princeton Center for Language Studies (PCLS) and may take a couple weeks to complete.

Prior to the second semester of the senior year, each student must complete an approved cross-cultural or field experience. The requirement can be satisfied in a number of ways, including but not limited to semester study abroad, summer study abroad, summer language study abroad, policy-relevant summer jobs abroad, ROTC training, senior thesis research in the field, extended service in an underserved community, or an internship involving public policy work in a nonprofit, government, or international agency such as the United Nations, the World Bank, the US Congress, or a state or federal agency.

Summer study, language study, or thesis research must be done for at least four weeks to qualify. Students must engage in an internship, job, or community service project for at least six consecutive weeks, and at a minimum of 40 hours per week or a total of 240 cumulative hours to qualify. Eligible community service work must involve policy work that will enhance one's learning and understanding of public service.

Cross-cultural or field experience gained during the freshman or sophomore year or as a participant in the Bridge Year Program may count toward this requirement. To meet this requirement, all past or proposed work must be approved by the undergraduate program.

All students must record with the Undergraduate Program Office the completion of this requirement. Please complete and electronically submit the form available on our website.

The program provides funding during summer, fall and winter break for travel and living expenses related to senior thesis research in public policy. The school also provides funding to students in the department who participate in public policy internships over the summer. For additional information, consult the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs Undergraduate Program website.