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In Financial and Retirement Planning

Don’t just consume knowledge, create it

About our doctoral program

At the core of our PhD program is a mission: “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.”

The American College of Financial Services is well positioned to fulfill this mission. Our program is 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 designed to produce graduates who will shape the future of financial and retirement planning through industry engagement based on empirical evidence.

Who should apply for a PhD at The College?

The PhD in Financial and Retirement Planning is the only degree of its kind. Its comprehensive curriculum will prepare successful financial practitioners to move beyond consuming existing knowledge to creating new knowledge in financial and retirement planning.

The PhD program is an appropriate next step for

  • Teaching faculty
  • Actuaries
  • Bankers
  • Financial planners
  • Insurance agents
  • Economists
  • Home office executives
  • Underwriters
  • Financial analysts 


The PhD program is funded through the generosity of New York Life.



The PhD in Financial and Retirement Planning is a part-time program that is delivered primarily online and enhanced with three residencies that require travel to Bryn Mawr, Pa.

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.

Program of Study and Credit Requirements

Financial Services Mastery | 12-credit minimum
Pre-Doctoral Foundation | 6 credits
Advanced Courses | 36 credits
Comprehensive Exam | zero credits
Dissertation Research | 12 credits
PhD in Financial and Retirement Planning | 66-credit minimum

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 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.

Doctoral-level courses: $3,550 per course

  • Twelve courses in addition to the comprehensive exam and dissertation*
  • The doctoral dissertation is worth the equivalent of four additional doctoral-level courses.

Master's-level courses: $1,750 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: $395

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

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
  • Three letters of reference
  • Official scores within five years of application from either the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) Revised General Test1 or Business Critical Thinking Skills Test (BCTST) – Numeracy2
  • Application fee $395 (non-refundable)
  • Compliance with statement to disclose all criminal and professional violations

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

1The 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. 

2The 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.

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 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 12 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.

Financial Planning Master (three credits per course)

GS 898 Survey of Financial Planning
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.

GS 803 Financial Statements & Business Valuation Analysis
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).

GS 811 Security Analysis and Portfolio Management
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.

GS 814 Qualified Retirement Plans
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.

GS 817 Personal Tax Planning
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.

GS 815 Advanced Estate Planning
GS 815 is an advanced gift and estate planning course which presents an overview of basic gift, estate and generation-skipping transfer tax law and tax computation processes. GS 815 also discusses the ownership and taxation of transfers of property during lifetime and at death in addition to marital, charitable giving, and life insurance planning. Family business entity planning and buy-sell agreements are also addressed in the course

Pre-doctoral Foundation Courses (three credits per course)​

GS 1398 Foundations of Knowledge and Research
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.

GS 1198 Foundations of Quantitative Analysis
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 (three credits per course)​

DP 1000 Financial Planning
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.

DP 1300 Ethics
A financial planning professional faces a series of unique ethical challenges during the course of his or her 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.

DP 1200 Applied Statistics
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.

DP 1400 Research Methods I
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.

DP 1100 Accum. & Distr. of Financial Assets
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.

DP 1600 Aging
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.

DP 1500 Applied Econometrics
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.

DP 2000 Behavioral Finance
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.

DP 2100 Research Methods II
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.

DP 1700 Pensions & Employee Benefits
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.

DP 1800 Public Policy in Financial & Ret. Planning
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.

DP 2198 Doctoral Research
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 (zero credits)

DP 2200 Comprehensive Exam

Doctoral Dissertation (totals 12 credits)

DP 2300 Dissertation - Part I: Proposal & Planning | Six credits

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

When will the doctoral program begin?
One student cohort will begin advanced courses in the doctoral program each fall. Prior to this official cohort start, new students are required to take two Doctoral Foundation (DF) courses. Course schedules vary.

Does the fact that I hold an MSFS from The American College of Financial Services guarantee my acceptance?
No. Every application will be reviewed with due diligence. Doctoral program acceptance is selective and based on a combination of criteria such as academic preparation, professional experience, and aptitude for critical thinking. As an MSFS graduate, you should also keep in mind that a growing number of doctoral program applicants are external to The College.

Must I give up my practice, i.e., will this be a full-time academic program?
The PhD in Financial and Retirement Planning does not require students to give up their practice. However, doctoral students should anticipate studying for a minimum of two hours homework for every hour of class time per week. For example, a weekly doctoral seminar worth three credits requires students to spend an additional six hours of independent study each week. Moreover, the doctoral program includes three (3) one-week residencies that require travel to The College’s campus in Bryn Mawr, Pa. Therefore, it is important for prospective students to evaluate the time commitment that they can realistically devote to the program. Ideally, doctoral students will possess the effective study strategies to be able to manage work and family while pursuing the PhD degree.

How long is each residency?
Doctoral students begin two (2) courses over a five (5)-day period of intensive study Study materials will be provided in advance. All three (3) residencies will be taught at The College’s campus in Bryn Mawr, Pa. In all cases, it will be the student’s responsibility to arrange and coordinate his or her transportation and living arrangements while attending the residencies. Breakfast, lunch, and snacks will be provided by The College.

Must I hold a master’s degree to apply for admission into the PhD in Financial Services and Retirement Planning Doctoral Program?
No. Doctoral program applicants are not required to have a master’s degree. However, upon acceptance into the program, students who do not have at least twelve (12) graduate credits in the Financial Services Mastery will be required to complete this core requirement prior to the pre-doctoral foundation courses. In addition, applicants who have not studied at the graduate level may be required to take the Revised Graduate Record Examination (GRE) as part of the application process.

Is there a GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test) or GRE (Graduate Record Exam) requirement?
No. Applicants may take the Business Critical Thinking Skills Test- Numeracy (BCTST-N) in lieu of the GMAT. The BCTST-N is designed to evaluate the critical thinking skills of MBA students and working professionals. The test is general in nature and does not require study or knowledge of specific formulas or mathematical equations as test items are presented in familiar business-related contexts. The text takes about 50 minutes to complete and may be taken at an applicant’s home or office. Applicants must make arrangements with the Doctoral Program Coordinator prior to taking the BCTST-N. A nominal administrate fee is required in order to take the test.

Program of Study Component Credit Requirement Approximate Costs

Financial Services Mastery - 12 credit minimum - $6,400

Pre-doctoral Foundation - six credits - $3,200

Advanced Seminars - 36 credits - $40,200

Comprehensive Exam - zero credits

Dissertation Research - 12 credits - $13,400

PhD in Financial and Retirement Planning - 66 credit minimum - $63,200

*Tuition does not include travel and logding expenses associated with required residencies. However, course materials are included in tuition costs.

Will I be able to pay for this program after completing courses?
No. Payment for individual courses must be made six (6) weeks prior to the beginning of each course. This payment schedule ensures that books and materials are shipped in enough time to allow for adequate preparation. Students will not be allowed to enroll in a class without prior payment.

Will scholarships be available through The College for this doctoral program?
In some cases, companies assist employees, completely or in part, with tuition expenses. On occasion, scholarships and fellowships may be available to qualified applicants. As presently envisioned, however, students are expected to pay for the program with their own resources.

See the student handbook and policies page for comprehensive details on academic policies, refund policies, learning policies, and more.