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University Bulletin
Graduate Degree Programs


The degree of Doctor of Philosophy is conferred in recognition of high attainment and productive scholarship in some special field of learning as evidenced by:

  1. The satisfactory completion of a prescribed period of study and investigation;
  2. The preparation and formal acceptance of a dissertation involving independent research;
  3. The successful passing of examinations covering both the special subject and the general field of learning of which this subject forms a part.

Residence Requirements--There is no required minimum number of credits or semesters of study, but over some twelve-month period during the interval between admission to the Ph.D. program and completion of the Ph.D. program, the candidate must spend at least two semesters (summer sessions are not included) as a registered full-time student engaged in academic work at the University Park campus, the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, or Penn State Harrisburg. Full-time University employees must be certified by the department as devoting half-time or more to graduate studies and/or thesis research to meet the degree requirements. Students should note that 601 cannot be used to meet the full-time residence requirement. (See Credit Loads and Academic Status.)

Continuous Registration--It is expected that all graduate students will be properly registered at a credit level appropriate to their degree of activity. (See Registration.) After a Ph.D. candidate has passed the comprehensive examination, the student must register continuously for each fall and spring semester until the final oral examination is passed. (Students who are in residence during summers must also register for summer sessions if they are using University facilities and/or faculty resources, except for Graduate Lecturers/Researchers, who are not required to enroll for any credits unless they are first-semester graduate students, or are required to be enrolled by their graduate program.)

Post-comprehensive Ph.D. students can maintain registration by registering for credits in the usual way, or by registering for noncredit 601 or 611, depending upon whether they are devoting full time or part time to thesis preparation. Students may take 601 plus up to 3 additional credits of course work for audit by paying only the dissertation fee. Students wishing to take up to 3 additional credits of course work for credit, i.e., 590, 602, etc., with 601 may do so by paying the dissertation fee and an additional flat fee. Enrolling for either 3 credits for audit or credit will be the maximum a student may take with SUBJ 601 without special approval by the Graduate School. NOTE: Registration for additional credits above this will incur an additional charge at the appropriate tuition per-credit rate (in state or out of state). Students wishing to take more than 3 additional credits of course work must register for 600 or 611 (i.e., not for 601, which is full-time thesis preparation).

Note that the least expensive way for a student to maintain full-time status while working on research and thesis preparation is to register for 601. This clearly is the procedure of choice for international students who need to maintain status as full-time students for visa purposes.

If a Ph.D. student will not be in residence for an extended period for compelling reasons, the director of Graduate Enrollment Services will consider a petition for a waiver of the continuous registration requirement. The petition must come from the doctoral committee chair and carry the endorsement of the department or program chair.

Minor Field--A Ph.D. candidate is not required by the Graduate Council to have a minor field of study. However, a department or a committee in charge of a major field may require a candidate to offer work in a minor field, or a student may elect such a program with the permission of the doctoral committee.

A doctoral minor consists of no fewer than 15 graduate credits of integrated or articulated work in one field related to, but different from, that of the major. Programs should consider that a doctoral minor should represent curriculum and study that reflect graduate-level concepts and scholarship, with a preponderance of courses at the 500-level, however, at a minimum, 6 credits must be at the 500-level. A minor may be taken in one of the approved graduate degree programs offered at Penn State, or in a formal graduate minor program that has been approved by the Graduate Council, such as those listed in this Bulletin on the following web page: The minor field chosen must have the approval of the departments or committees responsible for both the major program and the minor field. If more than one minor is being proposed, a separate group of courses must be taken for each (i.e., none of the courses may be used concurrently). If the student received a master’s minor in the same field as is being proposed for a doctoral minor, the 15 credits taken must be above and beyond those used for the master’s minor. However, credits earned in the master’s program over and above those applied to either the master’s minor or major may be applied to a minor in the Ph.D. program.

At least one faculty member from the minor field must be on the candidate’s doctoral committee.

Dissertation --The ability to do independent research and competence in scholarly exposition must be demonstrated by the preparation of a dissertation on some topic related to the major subject. It should represent a significant contribution to knowledge, be presented in a scholarly manner, reveal an ability on the part of the candidate to do independent research of high quality, and indicate considerable experience in using a variety of research techniques. The contents and conclusions of the dissertation must be defended at the time of the final oral examination.

When a complete draft of the dissertation has been compiled, the student must submit it to the Thesis Office for format review. Submission for format review must be made by the announced deadline for the semester/session in which the degree will be conferred. After a successful defense and after signed approval by the advisers and/or committee members and the department head or graduate program chair, the final archival copy of the dissertation (incorporating any format changes requested by the Thesis Office), must be uploaded as an eTD (electronic dissertation) by the announced deadline for the semester/session in which the degree will be conferred. It is also expected that the student will provide a final archival copy of the dissertation to the office of the department or program head.

A Thesis Guide, which gives details concerning format and other requirements, can be accessed at:


Updated: 12/14/11; links updated: 8/13/14


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