Financial Education for Securities, Banking, & Insurance Professionals.

PhD In Financial and Retirement Planning

The new 2016 PhD Cohort application
deadline is now July 14, 2016.

Doctoral Program Mission Statement

The PhD program’s mission is to produce individuals who will expand the Body of Knowledge in financial and retirement planning, foster best practices, and cultivate ethical behavior through thought leadership and applied research.

Program Distinctions

As the college of choice among financial services professionals, The American College is well-positioned to offer the PhD in Financial and Retirement Planning. The only doctoral program that awards a degree with an emphasis on retirement planning, the PhD in Financial and Retirement Planning provides a comprehensive curriculum that is both relevant and timely.

Leveraging its unique position as an industry insider, The American College bridges the gap between the worlds of academia and practice through its "Centers of Excellence". Major stakeholders in financial services such as New York Life, State Farm, and Penn Mutual have a vital connection to the College via the Centers. This important synergy helps ensure that the basic and applied research of the College is informed by real industry challenges.

Student Learning Objectives

After completing the doctoral program, graduates should be able to:

  1. Use theory to interpret and evaluate major trends, issues and opportunities in financial and retirement planning while considering the implications for investments; taxation; and insurance
  2. Create and expand knowledge within the financial services industry through rigorous research and scholarship
  3. Apply quantitative and statistical reasoning and analysis to explain and predict relationships among economic phenomena and other variables related to financial planning
  4. Identify and address ethical issues in the financial and retirement planning industry
  5. Practice the norms of scholarly inquiry and peer-review

To help ensure the achievement of stated learning objectives, student progress toward developing critical knowledge, skill, and attitudinal indicators will be assessed at key milestones throughout the doctoral program.

Post-Doctoral Employment Options

Graduates of the doctoral program may pursue a variety of career options in financial planning:

  • researcher
  • consultant
  • college faculty
  • industry scholar
  • administrator in higher education

Financial Support
Program of Study
  • Program Overview

    The PhD in Financial and Retirement Planning is a part-time program that is delivered primarily online and enhanced with three (3) residencies that require travel to Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. The minimum number of credits required to earn the PhD is 66 and includes courses in master’s-level and advanced financial planning, research methods, and quantitative measurement. Actual credit requirements are determined on a case by case basis.

    Students take the sequence of courses in cohorts of 10 to 20 students. The courses are delivered via live/synchronous webinars, asynchronous learning activities such as discussion forums, and on-campus instruction during residencies. The American College uses Blackboard as its course management system and Adobe Connect for web-conferencing.

    All three residencies are one-week and occur near the beginning, middle, and end of the Program of Study. In addition, PhD Candidates may be required to defend their final dissertation on the Bryn Mawr campus.

    Course materials typically consist of the syllabus, textbooks, and required articles that can be accessed through links on Blackboard. Textbooks will be shipped approximately six weeks prior to the start of a course. Students are responsible to print hard copies of course documents as needed.

    After successfully completing all required courses, student readiness for the dissertation phase is evaluated through a comprehensive exam that is administered several weeks after course completion.

    Once students pass the comprehensive exam, students will begin the dissertation process upon approval of the research proposal. The remainder of the doctoral program encompasses the execution, presentation, and defense of faculty-approved independent research.

  • Application Process

    The following documents are required for application to the PhD in Financial and Retirement Planning program.

    • Completed application form
    • Academic transcripts for highest degree earned from a regionally accredited college or university
    • Current resume
    • Statement of Intent
    • 3 Letters of Reference
    • Official scores within 5 years of application from one of the following options: Graduate Record Examination (GRE) Revised General Test1 or Business Critical Thinking Skills Test (BCTST) – Numeracy2
    • Application fee $375 (non-refundable)
    • Compliance with statement to disclose all criminal and professional violations

    *Note Faculty Admissions Committee will only review completed application packets.

    1 The GRE, which measures verbal, quantitative, and analytic reasoning skills, may be used for graduate or business schools. The GRE revised General Test allows test-takers to skip questions within a section, go back and change answers and determine which scores to send to admissions offices.

    2 The Business Critical Thinking Skills Test (BCTST) is designed to evaluate the critical thinking skills of MBA students, undergraduate business students and working professionals. Items require no business knowledge but are set in familiar business related contexts.

    Application Download

    PhD Program Application Download »

  • Financial Aid

    The American College of Financial Services does not accept Title IV funding. Prospective students should inquire with the PhD program regarding availability of scholarships and fellowships. Financial support may also be available in the form of private loans and tuition reimbursement from employers.

    The Sy Sternberg and Fred Sievert Doctoral Fellowship


    The Sternberg-Sievert Doctoral Fellowship was created to provide financial support to an individual who has both the desire and demonstrated potential to pursue a career in retirement planning research in an academic or industry setting. Funding for the Fellowship is provided by industry trailblazers Sy Sternberg and Fred Sievert who both dedicated years of service to New York Life as Chairman of the Board/CEO and President of the company, respectively.


    The Sternberg-Sievert Fellowship includes tuition and fees for the PhD in Financial and Retirement Planning as well as an annual $30,000 stipend for living expenses. The Fellow must be able to work at least 20 hours per week on The American College campus while pursuing the doctorate online. Primary responsibilities of the Fellow include assisting faculty with research projects and providing support to The College’s Centers of Excellence which include the New York Life Center for Retirement Income. In addition, the Sternberg-Sievert Fellow may be required to represent the Fellowship program at donor events and when media opportunities arise.


    Applicants must be newly admitted to the doctoral program and be able to demonstrate financial need.

    A master’s degree in finance, economics, consumer science, actuarial science, or related discipline from a regionally accredited institution is required. Residence within commuting distance of The American College’s Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania campus is highly preferred but not required.

    A demonstrated ability to read and interpret scholarly material is required; the capacity to write for scholarly publications is highly desirable; a background in data collection, data analysis, and/or experience using statistical software packages such as SAS or R is highly preferred.

    Applicants must have a professional appearance and be able to demonstrate fluency in both speaking and writing in the English language.


    Tuition funding and stipend will be renewed annually for up to four years from starting the doctoral program and is contingent on annual satisfactory academic standing and job performance reviews as the Sy Sternberg and Fred Sievert Doctoral Fellow.

    To Apply:

    Indicate your interest in being considered for the Fellowship on the doctoral program application form and write a formal letter to the Doctoral Fellowship Committee that explains your interest in becoming the Sy Sternberg and Fred Sievert Doctoral Fellow. Your letter should include a discussion of the specific qualifications that you believe will maximize your effectiveness as the Sternberg-Sievert Doctoral Fellow. Add the letter to your application packet.

  • Program of Study

    Financial Services Mastery

    Financial Services Mastery is defined as (twelve) 12 graduate-level credits in the following areas:

    • General Financial Planning
    • Insurance Planning
    • Investment Planning
    • Income Tax Planning
    • Retirement Planning
    • Estate Planning

    Pre-Doctoral Foundation

    In addition to the financial planning mastery requirement, two pre-doctoral courses in secondary research (GS 1398) and statistics (GS 1198) should be completed before beginning advanced courses in the program. The purpose of these courses is to provide incoming students with the necessary foundation for advanced study.

    Advanced Course Requirement

    After completing the doctoral foundation courses, students will form one cohort and begin the advanced courses with the first on-campus residency in the program. This residency takes place on the Bryn Mawr campus and is one week in duration. In addition to an orientation to the PhD program, students will begin the first two advanced courses during the residency.

    Students are required to take all twelve advanced courses before taking the comprehensive exam. These courses are divided into the major areas of financial planning, research methods, and quantitative measurement. Transferred credits cannot be substituted for any of these courses.

    PhD Program of Study

    Course Name
    Course #
    Financial Planning Mastery (3 credits per course)
    Survey of Financial Planning
    GS 898

    This course will introduce students to the process, procedures and study of personal financial planning. Topics covered in this course include credit management, education planning and understanding time value of money techniques. The ethical obligations of financial service professionals are also examined by approaching financial planning from multiple compensation models. This course reviews the legal and regulatory framework of insurance agents, broker/dealers and financial advisers engaged in the financial planning process.

    Financial Statements & Business Valuation Analysis
    GS 803

    The first part of this course teaches students the “language of business” — accounting. It deals with understanding and analyzing financial statements to evaluate the financial stability and performance of a company. The second part of this course provides students with knowledge of the fundamentals of equity valuation. Course grades are determined by the performance on an Examination on Demand® (EOD). Students are strongly encouraged to complete this course prior to taking either GS 811 (Security Analysis and Portfolio Management) or GS 819 (Mutual Funds).

    Security Analysis and Portfolio Management
    GS 811

    Studies two decision processes: setting the optimal asset-allocation mix (using modern portfolio theory) and analyzing and selecting securities within the asset class. While focusing primarily on the first, briefly reviews security analysis models, capital markets and historic risk/return aspects. Presents theory/practice of identifying optimal allocation of wealth among various asset classes. Presents techniques for quantifying expected risk and return for individual asset classes and portfolios; evaluating portfolio performance; portfolio distribution; applying the dividend discount model; and using options, futures and other investments.

    Qualified Retirement Plans
    GS 814

    Course covers qualified defined-contribution and defined-benefits plans, as well as similar arrangements, such as SEPs, SIMPLEs, 457 plans and 403(b) plans. Planning issues are emphasized, with a particular focus on the use of plans in small, closely held businesses. The course includes discussion of the more sophisticated strategies for the small business including ESOPs, 401(k) plans, age-weighted and cross-tested plans and fully insured 412(i) plans, as well as a detailed discussion of life insurance as a qualified plan investment and the tax treatment of retirement plan distributions. The course culminates with the analysis of a comprehensive case study.

    Personal Tax Planning
    GS 817

    Introduces current tax laws, new cases, revenue rulings and regulations for income tax planning. Presents strategies and techniques for tax reductions, including the laws governing income allocation, tax shelters, income shifting and deduction recognition and timing.

    Executive Compensation
    GS 842

    Covers executive compensation plans, emphasizing owner-employees of closely held businesses. Focuses on design of cash and bonus compensation, stock options and other forms of compensation with restricted property; life insurance, including split-dollar plans and other death benefits; nonqualified deferred compensation; health and disability plans; and various fringe benefits. Covers plan installation, financing and administration, as well as ERISA, tax, including sections 280G and 409A and other legal and accounting compliance issues. The course culminates with the analysis of a comprehensive case study.

    Pre-Doctoral Foundation Courses (3 credits per course)
    Foundations of Knowledge and Research
    GS 1398

    This course explores the nature of knowledge; how we obtain it and what justifies our belief in its credibility. Given the PhD’s emphasis on empirical research, this course helps students move beyond personal experience to determine the standards of evidence that should be used to critically analyze and evaluate the validity of truth claims.

    Foundations of Quantitative Analysis
    GS 1198

    This is course designed for three purposes. The first is to provide students with a review of basic mathematical terminology and process. The second is to highlight the relevance of statistical analysis in the fields of financial and retirement planning. The third is to introduce the student to the concepts of descriptive statistics and basic probability. This includes the concepts of inference and its importance in thinking about data, and the distinction between discrete and interval variables. To facilitate calculations in class, students are expected to bring a calculator to the class.

    Advanced Courses (3 credits per course)
    Seminar in Financial Planning
    DP 1000

    This course examines the major issues and seminal articles in the field of financial planning. Literature from numerous domains of financial planning will be reviewed including retirement, tax, investments, risk management and insurance. The course provides an introduction to reading and processing financial planning journal articles.

    Seminar in Ethics
    DP 1300

    The financial planning professional faces a series of unique ethical challenges during the course of their practice. Many factors, including; heightened regulatory scrutiny, economic pressures and an aging population, have increased the need for ethical behavior and consumer demand for practitioners who adhere to the highest ethical principles. In this seminar, students will study models of ethical decision-making and apply these models to ethical challenges they face in their daily business practice. Student will also investigate the regulatory framework that governs the financial services industry and explore how changes in regulation will impact their practice.

    Applied Statistics *prerequisite
    DP 1200

    This course covers statistical methods for researchers. No particular background will be supposed, but some experience with probability and statistics will make things easier. The focus will be on choosing appropriate methods and on implementing the methods in a statistical software package (SAS), but some attention will be paid to interpreting and writing up results. Comparison of samples, correlation analysis, and regression analysis will be covered for categorical, continuous, and multivariate data. The course will focus on the practical use of statistics in understanding and producing research as well as its utility in applied contexts. The course will touch on assumptions violations and treatment as they apply specifically to multivariate regression analysis.

    Research Methods I *prerequisite
    DP 1400

    This course covers the methodologies involved in doctoral level research. Covered will be the outline of the research process, including data collection, summary and analysis and interpretation; as well as assessing the limitations of the completed research. The course will also cover the necessary pieces of a research report. Prerequisite: DP 1200 Applied Statistics.

    Seminar in Accum. & Distr. of Financial Assets
    DP 1100

    The first part of this course is a broad survey of the investments literature. It emphasizes topics that are relevant to household financial decision-making and portfolio management. The second part of this course examines the literature on strategies used to decumulate a household’s investment portfolio over the retirement period.

    Seminar in Aging
    DP 1600

    This course addresses many issues faced when financial services professionals work with an older population. Topics include, what does the older population look like today, what is successful aging, and what are the physical and psychological changes that older people face. The course also addresses some of the challenges this group faces including a loss of financial capacity, the need for help with tasks of daily living, and proper health insurance coverage. Another important focus is happiness in retirement, including topics affecting life satisfaction such as work in retirement, and living arrangements. A final theme is working with advisors, focusing on the role of the financial advisor and communicating with clients.

    Applied Econometrics *prerequisite
    DP 1500

    This course begins with a review of the linear regression model, its assumptions, and how to perform sound empirical tests when those assumptions are violated. Students will also learn nonlinear models. Instrumental variables and dummy variables will also be discussed. As an applied course in econometrics, this course will involve considerable use of statistical software. Prerequisites: DP 1200 Applied Statistics and DP 1400 Research Methods I.

    Seminar in Behavioral Finance
    DP 2000

    Behavioral finance explores how deviations from the classic model of rationality impact decision making processes and outcomes. Researchers in behavioral finance challenge the assumption that human decision makers are self-interested, utility maximizers with unlimited cognitive resources and demonstrate that decision-making is impacted by various biases and heuristics. In this seminar, we will examine behavioral finance literature and apply its conclusions with special attention to the practice of financial planning. Prerequisite: DP 1100 Seminar in Accumulation&Distribution of Financial Assets.

    Research Methods II *prerequisite DP 1400
    DP 2100

    This course is intended for students to write their first draft of Introduction and Literature Review supporting their dissertation. Students will also discuss peers literature reviews. Prerequisite: DP 1400 Research Methods I.

    Seminar in Pensions & Employee Benefits
    DP 1700

    Examines the advantages and disadvantages of sophisticated techniques for improving income in retirement through qualified charitable split-interest arrangements, life insurance and nonqualified deferred compensation. Specific topics include charitable unitrusts, annuity trusts, and gift annuities; evaluating the viability of life settlement agreements including best industry practices. Also covers supplemental retirement income through such nonqualified plans as severance pay, golden parachutes, stock options, and restricted stock plans and ESOPs.

    Sem. in Public Policy in Financial & Ret. Planning
    DP 1800

    This course will cover the need for development of sound, creative policies to address the common need for economic security, financial planning, health care, and quality of life.

    Seminar in Doctoral Research
    DP 2198

    Special challenges in conducting original research are explored with an emphasis on writing the dissertation proposal. Students will have the opportunity to learn from fellow researchers while gaining invaluable feedback on the direction of their topic’s conceptual framework and research design strategy.

    Comprehensive Qualifying Exam for Candidacy (0 credits)
    Comprehensive Exam
    DP 2200

    Doctoral Dissertation (totals 12 credits)
    Dissertation - Part I: Proposal & Planning
    DP 2300

    Dissertation - Part II: Defense & Delivery of Doc.
    DP 2400

Contact Us

Phone: 800-421-0654
Email: Send us an email
Hours: M-F 8AM - 5PM EST

Major Changes

✔ Increased number of transfer credits toward the PhD from 6 to 12 graduate credits

✔ Expanded list of credit-transfer topics from 3 to 10 CFP Board-approved topic areas

✔ Added Business Critical Thinking Skills Test (BCTST) alternative to GRE/GMAT

Tuition & Fees

Doctoral-level courses: $3,350 per course - twelve (12) courses in addition to the comprehensive exam and dissertation*
*The doctoral dissertation is worth the equivalent of four (4) additional doctoral-level courses

Master's-level courses: $1,600 per course - includes pre-doctoral courses and financial planning courses
(Prior graduate courses resulting in a “B-“or above will be considered for credit-transfer toward fulfillment of these requirements.

Application Fee: $375

Tuition includes cost of textbooks and access to all other course materials.

 The PhD program is
funded through
the generosity of