The Doctor of Philosophy, an academic degree; the Doctor of Education and Doctor of Musical Arts, both professional degrees, are conferred by the University. Recognized as different in purpose, the three programs consequently have different requirements in certain respects.
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 the Graduate School 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 Park campus 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 should be made in advance with the dean of the Graduate School.
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 acceptance by the doctoral committee and the Graduate School, and the passing of a comprehensive and a final oral examination. A doctoral program consists of such a combination of course seminars and individual study and research as meets the minimum requirements of the Graduate School 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.
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 in this bulletin.
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, and for graduation.
A doctoral student is required to complete the program, including acceptance of the doctoral thesis, within eight years from 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.
A maximum of 30 credits beyond the baccalaureate at a regionally accredited school not granting the doctorate in the student's major program may be accepted by the Graduate School in partial fulfillment of the requirement for a D.Ed. degree at Penn State. A maximum of two full academic years of work (60 credits) beyond the baccalaureate at a regionally accredited graduate school that grants the doctorate in the candidate's major program may be accepted here to apply toward D.Ed. degree requirements. A completed master's degree may be transferred to a D.Ed. program with no intervening time limitation. Because there is no total-credit requirement for the Ph.D. degree program, advanced standing is not awarded for a master's degree. Advanced standing is awarded for only one master's degree.
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 University Park campus.
Academic work to be so transferred must meet the following criteria:
Credits earned toward a previously completed postbaccalaureate professional degree program (law, medicine, etc.) are not transferrable. However, up to 10 credits can be transferred from a professional degree program if the degree has not been conferred. All transfer credit must be substantiated by the former institution as having at least B quality whatever grading system is in place (e.g., this includes P/F grading).
Following admittance to a 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. This person may be a member of the doctoral committee or someone else designated by the head of the major program for this specific duty. The academic adviser may be different from the dissertation 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 adviser must be a member of the doctoral committee. The dissertation 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 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 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 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 Graduate School dean through the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services, upon recommendation of the head of the major program, soon after the student is admitted to candidacy. The dean 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 dean of the Graduate School (via the Office 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, 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 Graduate School dean, 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 Graduate School dean, through the Office 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 periodically reviewed by the 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 should 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 or final examinations).
The graduate program head must also periodically review the Graduate Faculty listing for his/her program on both the Graduate School's website and the graduate program's listing in this Bulletin 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 specific 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 continuing approval of the head of the graduate program. The primary duties of the chair are to: (1) maintain the academic standards of the doctoral program and the Graduate School and assure that all procedures are carried out fairly, (2) ensure that the comprehensive and final examinations 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.
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 research supervisor, and the members of the committee is strongly recommended, to preclude misunderstandings and to develop a collegial relation between the candidate and the committee.
Doctoral Examination--The (entire) committee will prepare and administer the examination, and evaluate the candidate’s performance on the examination. If a committee member is unable to attend the final oral defense, the member may sign as a special signatory. A revised committee appointment form will need to be sent to the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services, 114 Kern Graduate Building, removing the faculty member as a regular committee member and if it is desired to designate that individual as a special signatory, a memo must accompany the revised committee form, requesting that the faculty member be moved to a special signatory. 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 faculty member will need to replace that member to constitute a legitimate doctoral committee. (Substitutes are not permitted.) These changes and approvals shall occur before the actual examination takes place. The department or program head will notify the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services, providing two weeks' notice, when the candidate is ready to schedule the comprehensive and the final oral examinations and will report the results of these examinations to that office.
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 (3), must be physically present at the final oral examination. The graduate student must also be physically present at the exam. (Thus for a five-person committee, two could participate via distance.) No more than one member may participate via telephone; a second member could participate via interactive videoconferencing. The examination request and a request for exceptions must be submitted to the director of Graduate Enrollment Services for approval at least two weeks prior to the date of the exam. Special arrangements, i.e., requirements for meeting participation via distance, must be communicated to the student and the doctoral committee members well in advance of the examination.
A favorable vote of at least two-thirds of the members of the committee is required for passing a comprehensive or a final oral examination. If a candidate fails an examination, it is the responsibility of the doctoral committee to determine whether another examination may be taken.
The committee examines the dissertation, administers the final oral examination, and signs the approval page of the dissertation. At least two-thirds of the committee must approve the dissertation.
A candidate for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy is 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 Ph.D. 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 comprehensive examination is scheduled. (International students should note that passage of the minimal TOEFL or IELTS requirement does not demonstrate the level of competence expected of a Ph.D. from Penn State.)
In addition to demonstrating competence in English as described above, each candidate for the Ph.D. must meet communication and foreign language requirements that have been established within the major program. The candidate should ascertain specific language requirements by contacting the professor in charge of the program, whose name appears with the program description under Graduate Programs, Faculty, and Courses.
Candidates for the Doctor of Education degree may be required to demonstrate competence in foreign languages.
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 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. The nature of the examination varies with the program and may be the master’s examination if so prescribed by the program and understood by the student. 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 at the time the candidacy 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 (excluding summer session) in which the candidacy examination is taken.
If the student is seeking dual candidacy in an approved dual-title program, the dual-title field must be integrated into the student's candidacy examination. The results of all candidacy examinations, pass or fail, must be reported to Graduate Enrollment Services via the Candidacy Reporting Form.
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 (summer sessions do not count) 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.
When a candidate for the Ph.D., D.Ed., or D.M.A. degree has substantially completed all course work, a comprehensive examination is given. The examination is intended to evaluate the candidate’s mastery of the major, and if appropriate, the minor field. Official requests to add a minor to a doctoral candidate's academic record must be submitted to Graduate Enrollment Services prior to establishing the doctoral committee and prior to scheduling the comprehensive examination. For more information regarding minors, please see the following web pages.
---For Ph.D. candidates:
---For D.Ed. candidates:
---For general information regarding minors:
(Note: Some programs require students to pass various “area” examinations, “cumulative” examinations, and the like, or require presentation of a thesis proposal, prior to the comprehensive. These are matters of departmental or program policy, distinct from the general policies of Graduate Council described here.)
A candidate for the Ph.D. must have satisfied the English competence and the communication and foreign language requirement before taking the comprehensive examination.
All candidates are required to have a minimum grade-point average of 3.00 for work done at the University at the time the comprehensive 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 comprehensive examination is taken.
The examination is scheduled and announced officially by the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services upon recommendation of the department or program head, and must not be held without the official paperwork from the Graduate School. It is expected that the examination will take place at the campus location of the graduate center offering the program. Two weeks' notice is required by the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services for scheduling this examination, which may be open to the University community and the public at the department's discretion. It is given and evaluated by the entire doctoral committee. The format for the comprehensive examination may be entirely oral, or it may have both a written and an oral component. A favorable vote of at least two-thirds of the members of the committee is required for passing. In case of failure, it is the responsibility of the doctoral committee to determine whether the candidate may take another examination. The results are reported to the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services.
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 (3), must be physically present at the comprehensive examination. The graduate student must also be physically present at the exam. (Thus for a five-person committee, two could participate via distance.) No more than one member may participate via telephone; a second member could participate via interactive videoconferencing. The examination request and a request for exceptions must be submitted to the director of Graduate Enrollment Services for approval at least two weeks prior to the date of the exam. Special arrangements, i.e., requirements for meeting participation via distance, must be communicated to the student and the doctoral committee members well in advance of the examination.
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 will be scheduled.
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 program, to take a final examination. Two weeks' notice is required by the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services for scheduling this examination. Typically, the final oral examination may not be scheduled until at least three months have elapsed after the comprehensive examination was passed, although the director of Graduate Enrollment Services may grant a waiver in appropriate cases. It is the responsibility of the doctoral candidate and chair 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.
Both the dissertation adviser and the student are responsible for ensuring the completion of a draft of the dissertation and for adequate consultation with members of the dissertation committee well in advance of the oral examination. Major revisions to the dissertation should be completed before this examination. The dissertation should be in its final draft, with appropriate notes, bibliography, tables, etc., at the time of the oral examination; both the content and style should be correct and polished by the time this final draft of the dissertation is in the hands of the committee.
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.
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 (3), must be physically present at the final oral examination. The graduate student must also be physically present at the exam. (Thus for a five-person committee, two could participate via distance.) No more than one member may participate via telephone; a second member could participate via interactive videoconferencing. Requests for exceptions 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 exam. Special arrangements, i.e., requirements for meeting participation via distance, must be communicated to the student and the doctoral committee members well in advance of the examination.
All candidates are required to have a minimum grade-point average of 3.00 for work done at the University at the time the 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 final oral examination is taken.
A favorable vote of at least two-thirds of the members of the committee is required for passing. The results of the examination are reported to the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services. If a candidate fails, it is the responsibility of the doctoral committee to determine whether another examination may be taken.
Completion of the requirements of a doctoral degree program entails acceptance of the dissertation, as indicated by the signatures of at least two-thirds of the doctoral committee, including the dissertation adviser, committee chair, and the program chair or department head on its approval 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.