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Program Information

The master of arts program in Policy, Organization, and Leadership Studies draws upon an integrated knowledge base, the expertise of renowned faculty, and practical experiences to equip students for education leadership.

Three students in front of CERAS


Students complete 45 units within three consecutive quarters, 27 units of which are within the Graduate School of Education. In addition, students complete a field project that addresses a specific educational challenge. The small cohort, freedom to pursue interests, support of the POLS seminar, and mentorship of a faculty advisor make the learning experience personal.  

Curriculum and coursework

POLS gives students a high degree of freedom to shape their course of study in accordance with their goals and interests. POLS students typically take courses in other Stanford schools and departments, including business, law, public policy, engineering and design, economics, history, fine arts, philosophy, psychology, and sociology. 

All POLS students must take 27 units in the GSE, including the following requirements:

  • One research methods course (at least 3 credits). Examples include qualitative or quantitative research design, statistics, survey design, econometrics, and data analysis. 
  • One policy course (at least 3 credits). Examples of courses include Education Policy in the U.S., Global Education Policy and Organization, and Research and Policy on Postsecondary Access.
  • One organization course (at least 3 credits). Examples of courses include Leadership and Administration in Higher Education, Leading Change in Schools, and Resource Allocation in Schools.
  • Three quarters of POLS seminar (at least 9 credits inclusive of field project work).

Field project

The field project is a cornerstone of the POLS learning experience. It provides each student the opportunity to gain experience in a specialized setting and apply theory and methods to real-world problems. Student field project work is supported within the POLS seminar.

Field project 

Students spend approximately 150 hours over two quarters working on their field project. This work includes (but is not limited to) work with a school, district office or university, an ed-tech startup, a research group, an education consultancy, a policy institute, or a philanthropic organization. Students can choose among pre-arranged sites or negotiate their own. 


The field project culminates in a “deliverable,” which can be a research report, policy paper, business plan, curriculum, or other output that successfully demonstrates student accomplishment while providing the site host with valuable insight. Students present their work in the spring.

Recent field projects

3 Lessons Schools Can Learn From Startups

Hannah Chia

Working with Entangled.Group was a true privilege and eye-opening experience. “3 Lessons Schools Can Learn From Startups” captures my reflections on this experience and the other two documents are...

Reducing Digital Inequities in Higher Education

Kate Berkley and Shadman Uddin

In recent years, American universities have implemented an array of innovative strategies to enhance the academic success of students, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds. Yet first...

SWAG: Where Practice Meets Research

Joshua Jordan

As a research intern with the Students with Amazing Goals (SWAG) Research Team at the John Gardner Center, I was privileged to complete three deliverables: a literature review exploring successful...

For more detail on coursework and fieldwork, visit the Student Handbook.

Students at an auditorium listening and working on computer

Leadership conversations

Throughout the program year students have the opportunity to engage in conversations with leaders from a variety of domains including schools and districts, state and federal government, and the public and private sectors. Students facilitate these intimate gatherings and have the opportunity to pose questions and consider aspects of leadership from different perspectives.

Joint MA in education and public policy

POLS students who wish to further their analytical and policy analysis skills may apply to a two-year joint degree program to earn a master’s in education at the GSE and a master’s in public policy in the School of Humanities and Sciences. Students attracted to this joint degree have a wide variety of interests, including education policy, management, technology, and teaching and learning.

The overlapping curriculum allows students to complete the two degrees (MA/MPP) in two years rather than the three years the programs would take if pursued independently. Students spend their first year taking public policy core courses and education electives, and completing the POLS field project. Students typically devote the second year to intensive education study and the completion of the MPP practicum.

Learn more about the joint MA/MPP program

Student Voices

Hear from our students about why they chose to study education policy and leadership at Stanford GSE, what their learning journey has been like, and what advice they would give to future POLS students.

See more Student Voices

What you need to know

Admission requirements

To learn more about requirements for admission, please visit the Application Requirements page.

Financing your education

To learn more about the cost of the program and options for financial support, please visit Financing Your Master’s Degree on the admissions website.

Contact admissions

For admissions webinars and to connect with the admission office, see our  Connect and Visit page.

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