Skip Navigation
search: People | Departments | Penn State | Web
Penn State mark
Penn State mark

University Bulletin

Graduate Degree Programs

DOCTORAL DEGREES

The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), an academic degree, and the Doctor of Education (D.Ed.) and Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A.), both professional degrees, are conferred by the University. Recognized as different in purpose, the three doctoral programs consequently have different requirements in certain respects.

 

ADMISSION

A student who has been admitted to the Graduate School and has been accepted by the department or committee in charge of a major program in which the doctorate is offered may begin working toward a doctoral degree. However, the student has no official status as a doctoral student and no assurance of acceptance as a doctoral candidate until the candidacy examination has been passed. This examination is administered by the major department or graduate program and is given early in the student's program.

It is the policy of Graduate Council not to encourage applicants to work for a second doctoral degree. (See Policy on Second Doctorates). However, the President, on recommendation of the dean of the Graduate School, will welcome, as guests, holders of earned doctoral degrees who may be visiting the University for purposes of noncredit study. Guest privileges apply to persons holding the degree from Penn State or other accredited colleges and universities. Guests may attend seminars and courses and, if space and facilities are available, carry on research. There will be no charge except for laboratory expenses. Arrangements must be made in advance with the dean of the Graduate School.

GENERAL REQUIREMENTS

No specified number of courses completed or credits earned will assure attainment of the doctorate. The general requirements are based upon a period of residence, the writing of a satisfactory dissertation accepted by the doctoral committee and the Graduate School (Ph.D./D.Ed.), and the passing of a comprehensive examination and either a final oral examination (Ph.D./D.Ed.) or a final performance (D.M.A.). A doctoral program consists of such a combination of course seminars and individual study and research/scholarship as meets the minimum requirements of Graduate Council and is approved by the doctoral committee for each individual student.

A master's degree is not a prerequisite for the doctorate in some major programs. However, the first year of graduate study leading to the Ph.D. may be substantially the same as that provided for the M.A. or M.S. degree. Similarly, the first year of the D.Ed. program may be essentially the same as that provided for the M.Ed. degree, and the first year of the D.M.A. program may be essentially the same as that provided for the M.Mus. degree.

SATISFACTORY SCHOLARSHIP

A graduate student who fails to maintain satisfactory scholarship or to make acceptable progress in a degree program may be dropped from the University. One or more failing grades or a cumulative grade-point average below 3.00 for any semester or session or combination of semesters and/or sessions may be considered as evidence of failure to maintain satisfactory scholarship. Action may be initiated by the department or committee in charge of the graduate major or by the chair of the student’s doctoral committee. The procedures to be followed in such action are found in Appendix III of this Bulletin.

GRADE-POINT AVERAGE

A minimum grade-point average of 3.00 for work done at the University is required for admission to the candidacy examination, the comprehensive examination, and the final oral examination/final performance, and for graduation.

TIME LIMITATION

A doctoral student is required to complete the program, including acceptance of the doctoral dissertation or the passing of the final performance, within eight years after the date of successful completion of the candidacy examination. Individual programs may set shorter time limits. Extensions may be granted by the director of Graduate Enrollment Services in appropriate circumstances.

TRANSFER CREDIT

A maximum of 30 credits from a completed master's degree earned from an institution that does not grant the doctorate in the student's major program may be accepted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a D.Ed. degree at Penn State with no intervening time limitation. The master’s degree must have been earned at a regionally accredited U.S. institution or a recognized degree-granting international institution in the country in which it operates. Thirty (30) such credits are awarded for only one master's degree.

A maximum of 30 credits from a completed master's degree earned at a regionally accredited U.S. institution or a recognized degree-granting international institution in the country in which it operates may be accepted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a D.M.A. degree at Penn State with no intervening time limitation. Thirty (30) such credits are awarded for only one master's degree. All D.M.A. students must complete a minimum of 60 credits at Penn State.  

A maximum of two full academic years of work (60 credits) beyond the baccalaureate earned at a regionally accredited U.S. institution, or a recognized degree-granting international institution in the country in which it operates, that grants the doctorate in the candidate's major program may be accepted by the Graduate School to apply toward D.Ed. degree requirements.

Because there is no Graduate Council minimum total-credit requirement for a Ph.D. degree at Penn State, 30 credits are not accepted towards Ph.D. requirements for a completed master's degree.

A maximum of 10 credits of high-quality graduate work may be transferred toward any doctoral degree at Penn State. Refer to the Transfer Courses section of this Bulletin for more information.

Subject to the approval of the adviser and the head of the major department or program chair, a student may register for research to be done away from the campus that offers the doctoral degree program.

CANDIDACY EXAMINATION

Every student who wishes to pursue a doctorate must take a candidacy examination administered by the Graduate Faculty in the graduate major program. The purpose of the candidacy examination should be to assess whether the student is capable of conducting doctoral research/scholarship based on evidence of critical thinking or other measures that the Graduate Faculty of the program view as important to a successful doctoral student. It should be taken early in the student’s program (see degree-specific guidelines below). The nature of the examination varies with the program and may be the master’s examination, if applicable and so prescribed by the program. The decision to admit or not to admit a student to candidacy must be made by the graduate faculty or a designated committee of graduate faculty in the program. All graduate students are required to have a minimum grade-point average of 3.00 for work done at the University and may not have deferred or missing grades at the time the candidacy examination is given.

The graduate student must be in good academic standing and must be registered as a full-time or part-time graduate degree student for the semester (excluding summer session) in which the candidacy examination is taken.

If the student is seeking dual candidacy in an approved dual-title graduate degree program, the dual-title field must be integrated into the candidacy examination of the student’s major program (i.e., a single candidacy examination is administered, which incorporates both the graduate major field and the dual-title field). For the Ph.D. student, the examination may be given after at least 18 credits have been earned in graduate courses beyond the baccalaureate. The examination must be taken within three semesters (excluding summer sessions) of entry into the doctoral program.

For the D.Ed. student, the examination should be given when the student has earned a total of at least 30 credits toward the graduate degree, including the master’s program and graduate work done elsewhere. A student transferring from another graduate school with 30 or more credits earned toward a graduate degree must take the candidacy examination prior to earning more than 25 credits toward the graduate degree at Penn State.

For the D.M.A. student, the examination should be given when the student has completed two semesters in residence.

The results of all candidacy examinations, regardless of the outcome, must be reported to Graduate Enrollment Services via the Candidacy Reporting Form immediately following the examination.

ADVISERS AND DOCTORAL COMMITTEES

Following admittance to a graduate degree program, the student should confer with the head of that major program concerning procedures and the appointment of an academic adviser. Consultation or arrangement of the details of the student's semester-by-semester schedule is the function of the academic adviser. The academic adviser may be a member of the doctoral committee, or may be another member of the Graduate Faculty designated by the program head or chair of the major program for this specific duty. The academic adviser may be different than the major adviser who supervises the culminating experience (dissertation/final performance; i.e., dissertation/performance adviser).

Doctoral Committee

General guidance of a doctoral candidate is the responsibility of a doctoral committee consisting of four or more active members of the Graduate Faculty, which includes at least two faculty members in the major field. The dissertation/performance adviser must be a member of the doctoral committee. The dissertation/performance adviser usually serves as chair, but this is not required. If the candidate is also pursuing a dual-title field of study, a co-chair representing the dual-title field must be appointed. In most cases, the same individual (e.g., dissertation/performance adviser) is a member of the Graduate Faculty in both the major and dual-title fields, and in such cases may serve as sole chair.

At least one regular member of the doctoral committee must represent a field outside the candidate’s major field of study in order to provide a broader range of disciplinary perspectives and expertise. This committee member is referred to as the “Outside Field Member.” In cases where the candidate is also pursuing a dual-title field of study, the dual-title representative to the committee may serve as the Outside Field Member.

Additionally, in order to avoid potential conflicts of interest, the primary appointment of at least one regular member of the doctoral committee must be in an administrative unit that is outside the unit in which the dissertation/performance adviser's primary appointment is held (i.e., the adviser's administrative home; in the case of tenure-line faculty, this is the individual's tenure home). This committee member is referred to as the “Outside Unit Member.” In the case of co-advisers, the Outside Unit Member must be from outside the administrative home(s) of both co-advisers. In some cases, an individual may have a primary appointment outside the administrative home of the student’s dissertation/performance adviser and also represent a field outside the student’s major field of study; in such cases, the same individual may serve as both the Outside Field Member and the Outside Unit Member.

If the candidate has a minor, that field must be represented on the committee by a “Minor Field Member.” (For additional information related to minors for D.Ed. students, see "Major Program and Minor Field" under "D.Ed.—Additional Specific Requirements" in this Bulletin.)

The doctoral committee is appointed by the director of Graduate Enrollment Services, upon recommendation of the head of the major program, soon after the student is admitted to candidacy. The dean of the Graduate School may, on occasion, appoint one or more members of the committee in addition to those recommended by the head of the program.

A person who is not a member of the Graduate Faculty (and may not be affiliated with Penn State) who is otherwise qualified and has particular expertise in the candidate's research area may be added as a “Special Member,” upon recommendation by the head of the program and approval of the director of Graduate Enrollment Services). A Special Member is expected to participate fully in the functions of the doctoral committee. If the Special Member is asked only to read and approve the doctoral dissertation or to evaluate the final performance, that person is designated a Special Signatory. Occasionally, Special Signatories may be drawn from within the Penn State faculty in particular situations.

Graduate Faculty officially appointed by the Graduate School to a doctoral committee who then leave Penn State may maintain that committee appointment for up to one year if the student's graduate program and the dean of the Graduate School, through the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services, approve the request for this exception. A retired or emeritus faculty member may serve as a doctoral committee chair if, and only if, he/she was officially appointed and began chairing the committee prior to retirement and has the continuing approval of the program head and the dean of the Graduate School, through the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services. Requests must be sent by the program head to the director of Graduate Enrollment Services. Otherwise, the committee must be revised to either remove the faculty member from the committee or change the individual's appointment to a Special Member.

The membership of doctoral committees should be reviewed periodically by the chair or head of the program to ensure that all members continue to qualify for service on the committee in their designated roles. For example, if type of appointments, employment at the University, etc., have changed since initial appointment to the committee, changes to the committee membership may be necessary. If changes are warranted, they must be made as soon as possible to prevent future problems that may delay academic progress for the student (e.g., ability to conduct the comprehensive examination or final oral examination/final performance).

The graduate program head/chair also must review periodically the Graduate Faculty listing for his/her program on the Graduate School's website to ensure that those listings are accurate.

Chair

The chair or at least one co-chair must be a member of the graduate faculty of the doctoral program in which the candidate is enrolled. A retired or emeritus faculty member may chair a doctoral committee if he/she was officially appointed and began chairing the committee prior to retirement and has the approvals noted above. The primary duties of the chair are to: (1) maintain the academic standards of the doctoral program, Graduate Council, and the Graduate School and assure that all procedures are carried out fairly, (2) ensure that the comprehensive examination and final oral examination/final performance are conducted in a timely fashion, (3) arrange and conduct all meetings, and (4) ensure that requirements set forth by the committee are implemented in the final version of the dissertation (Ph.D./D.Ed.)/final performance (D.M.A.).

Responsibilities of Doctoral Committees

The doctoral committee is responsible for approving the broad outline of the student’s program and should review the program as soon as possible after the student’s admission to candidacy. Moreover, continuing communication among the student, the committee chair, the dissertation/performance adviser, and the members of the committee is strongly recommended, to preclude misunderstandings and to develop a collegial relationship between the candidate and the committee.

COMPETENCIES

ENGLISH COMPETENCE

Candidates for all doctoral degrees are required to demonstrate high-level competence in the use of the English language, including reading, writing, and speaking, as part of the language and communication requirements for the doctorate. Graduate programs are expected to establish mechanisms for assessing and improving competence of both domestic and international students. Assessments should include pieces of original writing. Programs and advisers should identify any deficiencies before or at the candidacy examination and direct students into appropriate remedial activities. Competence must be formally attested by the program before the doctoral candidate’s comprehensive examination is scheduled. (Note: Passage of the minimal TOEFL or IELTS requirement does not demonstrate the level of competence expected of a doctoral degree candidate and for conferral of a doctorate from Penn State.)

COMMUNICATION AND FOREIGN LANGUAGE COMPETENCE

Although no Graduate Council requirement for communication and foreign language competence exists, doctoral programs may have program-specific communication and/or foreign language requirements that provide an important benefit to students and are appropriate to the field. 

In addition to demonstrating competence in English as described above, each candidate for a doctoral degree is required to meet any communication and foreign language requirements set forth by the respective doctoral degree program. The candidate should ascertain specific communication and foreign language requirements, if any, by contacting the head of the graduate program, whose name appears in the program description under Graduate Programs.

 

DOCTORAL EXAMINATION REQUIREMENTS

(Comprehensive Examinations [all doctoral degrees]; Final Oral Examinations [Ph.D./D.Ed.]/Final Performances [D.M.A.])

The doctoral examinations (the comprehensive examination and the final oral examination/final performance) are administered/overseen and evaluated by the entire doctoral committee.

All candidates are required to have a minimum grade-point average of 3.00 for work done at the University at the time a doctoral examination is given, and may not have deferred or missing grades.

The graduate student must be in good academic standing and must be registered as a full-time or part-time graduate degree student for the semester in which the doctoral examination is taken.

The program head will notify Graduate Enrollment Services, providing two weeks' notice, when the candidate is ready to schedule the comprehensive examination or the final oral examination/final performance. Doctoral examinations are scheduled and announced officially by the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services upon recommendation of the program head, and must not be held without official notification from the Graduate School. Two weeks' notice is required by the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services for scheduling any doctoral examination.

It is expected that doctoral examinations will take place at the campus location of the graduate center offering the program, and the graduate student must be physically present at any doctoral examination.

  • Ph.D./D.Ed.: The dissertation adviser, as well as the chair of the doctoral committee (if not the same individual as the dissertation adviser), along with additional members of the committee to total a minimum of three, also must be physically present at the comprehensive/final examinations. (Thus, for a five-person committee, two members could participate via distance.) Requests for exceptions to allow participation of any committee member via distance must accompany the Examination Request Form, and must be submitted to the director of Graduate Enrollment Services for approval at least two weeks prior to the date of the examination. Of those approved to participate via distance, no more than one member may participate via telephone; any or all of those approved to participate via distance may participate via interactive videoconferencing. Special arrangements, i.e., requirements for meeting participation via distance, must be communicated to the student and all doctoral committee members well in advance of the examination.
  • D.M.A.: All committee members must be physically present at the oral comprehensive examination and the final performance; the examination and the performance will be scheduled at a time when all members agree to be present.

If a committee member is unable to participate in any of the doctoral examinations and this results in not enough members serving on the committee (i.e., four or more active members of the Graduate Faculty), another Penn State graduate faculty member will need to be appointed officially to the doctoral committee to replace the absent member in order to constitute a legitimate doctoral committee. A revised committee appointment form must be submitted to Graduate Enrollment Services, removing the individual as a regular committee member and requesting the replacement committee member. These changes and approvals must occur before the actual examination takes place (ad hoc substitutes are not permitted).

A favorable vote of at least two-thirds of the members of the committee is required for passing a comprehensive or final oral examination or a final performance. If a candidate fails an examination/performance, it is the responsibility of the doctoral committee to determine whether the student will be granted a second opportunity to take the examination or to perform. Regardless of the outcome and of the committee’s decision about whether to grant a second opportunity, the program head must report the results of each scheduled examination/performance immediately to Graduate Enrollment Services.

COMPREHENSIVE EXAMINATION

When a candidate for a doctoral degree has substantially completed all course work, a comprehensive examination is given (for the D.M.A., all required recitals except the final performance [i.e., two solo recitals, two chamber music recitals, and a lecture-recital with pre-approved monograph] also must have been completed successfully prior to the scheduling of the comprehensive examination). The examination is intended to evaluate the candidate’s mastery of the major, and if appropriate, the minor field and whether the candidate is prepared to embark upon his/her dissertation research (Ph.D./D.Ed.) or preparation for the final performance (D.M.A.).

Official requests to add a minor to a doctoral candidate's academic record must be submitted to Graduate Enrollment Services prior to establishment of the doctoral committee and prior to scheduling of the comprehensive examination. More information regarding minors may be found as noted below.

As noted above, doctoral candidates must have satisfied the English competence and any program-specific communication and foreign language requirement before scheduling the comprehensive examination.

(Note: Some programs require students to pass various “area” examinations, “cumulative” examinations, or other similar examinations, or require presentation of a dissertation proposal, prior to the comprehensive examination. These are matters of graduate program policy, distinct from the general policies of Graduate Council described here.)

The format for the comprehensive examination may be entirely oral, or it may have both a written and an oral component.

When a period of more than six years has elapsed between the passing of the comprehensive examination and the completion of the program, the student is required to pass a second comprehensive examination before the final oral examination or final performance will be scheduled.

FINAL ORAL EXAMINATION (Ph.D./D.Ed.)/FINAL PERFORMANCE (D.M.A.)

The doctoral candidate who has satisfied all other requirements for the degree will be scheduled by the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services, on the recommendation of the head of the graduate program, to take a final oral examination (Ph.D./D.Ed.)/give a final performance (D.M.A.). Two weeks' notice is required by the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services for scheduling this final benchmark. Typically, the final oral examination/final performance may not be scheduled until at least three months have elapsed since the comprehensive examination was passed, although the director of Graduate Enrollment Services may grant a waiver in appropriate cases.

Final Oral Examination (Ph.D./D.Ed.)—Both the dissertation adviser/committee chair and the student are responsible for ensuring the completion of a draft of the dissertation and for adequate consultation with members of the doctoral committee well in advance of the final oral examination. Major revisions of the dissertation should be completed before this examination.

It is the responsibility of the doctoral candidate and committee chair/dissertation adviser to provide a copy of the dissertation to each member of the doctoral committee at least two weeks before the date of the scheduled examination. The dissertation should be complete and in its final draft, with correct and polished content and style, appropriate notes, bibliography, tables, etc., at the time it is distributed to the committee members. If a committee member finds that the final draft is not correct and polished with respect to content and style, it is his/her responsibility to notify the committee chair/dissertation adviser at least one week in advance of the final oral examination date. The committee member should indicate his/her concerns regarding the draft and may recommend consideration of postponement of the examination to the committee chair/dissertation adviser. The chair/adviser, in consultation with committee members, is responsible for notifying the student and assessing whether the student can make the necessary revisions to the final draft before the examination date. If it is determined that revisions cannot be made in time, the final oral examination must be postponed.

The final examination of the doctoral candidate is an oral examination administered and evaluated by the entire doctoral committee. It consists of an oral presentation of the dissertation by the candidate and a period of questions and responses. These will relate in large part to the dissertation, but may cover the candidate's entire program of study, because a major purpose of the examination is also to assess the general scholarly attainments of the candidate. The portion of the examination in which the dissertation is presented is open to the University community and the public; therefore, it is expected that the examination will take place at the campus location of the academic unit offering the program.

If a committee member is unable to participate in the final oral examination, the member may sign as a special signatory. A revised committee appointment form will need to be submitted to Graduate Enrollment Services, removing the individual as a regular committee member and if it is desired to designate that individual as a special signatory, a memo from the program head must accompany the revised committee form, requesting that the committee member be moved to a special signatory. As noted above, if there are then not enough members serving on the committee (i.e., four or more active members of the Graduate Faculty), another Penn State graduate faculty member will need to be appointed officially to the doctoral committee to replace the absent member in order to constitute a legitimate doctoral committee. These changes and approvals must occur before the actual examination takes place (ad hoc substitutes are not permitted).

The committee examines the dissertation and administers the final oral examination, and once any final revisions have been made and the dissertation is deemed acceptable, committee members sign the doctoral signatory page.

Final Performance (D.M.A.)—The culminating experience of the D.M.A. degree is a public final performance (solo recital) that will be discussed and evaluated by the doctoral committee.

The student who approaches the final recital will have passed the comprehensive examination, as well as all previous required recitals (as described above, under “Comprehensive Examination”). The repertoire for the final performance will be decided by the student in consultation with the performance adviser and other faculty members in the major area, after which the student will prepare the final performance independently, without weekly coaching. The performance adviser may request a pre-hearing of the recital material before the doctoral committee members from the major area; the results of this pre-hearing are intended to be advisory and will not necessarily affect the scheduled final performance. The student's full doctoral committee will attend the public recital (i.e., the final performance) at University Park and evaluate it; as part of the evaluation, the doctoral committee will discuss the final performance with the student in private.

If a committee member is unable to attend the final performance in person, resulting in not enough members serving on the committee (i.e., four or more active members of the Graduate Faculty), another Penn State graduate faculty member will need to be appointed officially to the doctoral committee as noted above to replace the absent member in order to constitute a legitimate doctoral committee. A revised committee appointment form must be submitted to Graduate Enrollment Services, removing the individual as a regular committee member and requesting the replacement committee member. These changes and approvals must occur before the actual performance takes place (ad hoc substitutes are not permitted). Exceptions to accommodate unexpected last-minute situations that may prevent a committee member’s attendance in person but that may allow for the committee member to participate at a distance (e.g., by interactive videoconferencing) may be granted but must be requested and approved through Graduate Enrollment Services before the actual performance takes place.

DISSERTATION ACCEPTANCE

Completion of the requirements of a Ph.D. or D.Ed. degree program entails acceptance of the dissertation, as indicated by the signatures of at least two-thirds of the doctoral committee, as well as the head of the graduate program, on the doctoral signatory page, and by its acceptance as meeting the editorial standards of the Graduate School, so that it constitutes a suitable archival document for inclusion in the University Libraries. Thus, it is to be noted that passage of the final oral examination is necessary but not sufficient for award of the degree; the dissertation must be accepted as the ultimate step for the Ph.D. or the D.Ed. and is to be made available to the public through inclusion in the University Libraries.

 

Update: Spring 2014