Chapter 6: Requirements and Policies for Doctoral Degrees

Students are bound by the program and degree requirements in effect at their term of admission and are expected to be aware of these requirements. Students are not obligated to follow any subsequent changes to degree requirements unless the student has been Absent without Leave from the program (see Leave of Absence policy for details). Doctoral students should also review chapter 4 for more information about degree requirements.

A. Credit Hour Requirements

Doctoral degrees require successful completion of a minimum of 96 semester hours of graduate credit (see section C of this chapter for doctoral degree stages), except for those programs approved otherwise. Doctoral degrees also require successful completion of the preliminary and final examinations.

Doctoral degree candidates, regardless of transfer credits or a master's degree completed elsewhere, must complete at least 64 hours of residence credit (4.A.4) out of the total of 96 hours required for the doctoral degree, and should also see chapter 3 for information about transfer credit. Thesis hours count toward residence credit.

B. Registration Requirements

The Graduate College does not require that students be registered at the time of deposit. However, individual departments may have other registration requirements, so students should check with their department for details. The Graduate College does require that all doctoral candidates be registered for the entire academic term during which they take the preliminary examination and the term during which they take the final examination, regardless of when the dissertation will be deposited or when the degree will be conferred. For this purpose only, "academic term" is defined as extending to and including the day before the first day of the following academic term. If enough thesis credits have been accumulated, registration for zero hours is acceptable. See chapter 2.B.4. for more information about enrollment in GC 599 for loan deferral. For students in approved joint degree programs and in the Medical Scholars Program, registration in either program during the academic term in which they defend meets the enrollment requirement.

 

C. Doctoral Degree Stages

The doctoral degree is commonly thought of in three phases or stages of progress, with each stage having unique components and milestones. Departments usually have specific tasks and requirements in each stage.

Stage I: A doctoral student is considered to be in Stage I from initial enrollment in the Graduate College to completion of a master’s degree or its equivalent. Transfer credit can only be applied to Stage I. Each department should have a procedure for evaluating a student's progress at this first stage of doctoral work. Elements of this evaluation will include GPA, along with other factors related to good academic standing and satisfactory progress. In some departments, this evaluation may take the form of a qualifying examination, or other examination or series of examinations, which a student must pass before entering Stage II of the doctoral degree program. Evaluation of progress in Stage I, whether by examination or other formal review, should take place no later than the end of the second year after a student enters the doctoral program. The evaluation results should be communicated in writing to the student. Students who apply to a doctoral program having already completed a master's degree equivalent to that awarded by the University of Illinois are generally considered to have completed Stage I of the doctoral program unless the department deems otherwise, in which case the department must notify the student of the stage in which they are entering the program.

Stage II: A doctoral student is considered to be in Stage II from completion of the master’s degree or equivalent to completion of all departmental requirements (except the defense and deposit of the dissertation), including passing the preliminary examination. In some programs, doctoral students entering with a master’s degree will take a qualifying examination early in Stage II. Stage II usually consists of one or more years devoted to course work and research in preparation for the preliminary examination. A student who passes the preliminary examination has completed Stage II and is often referred to as being "ABD" (all but dissertation). A student who has completed Stage II is formally a candidate for the doctoral degree.

Stage III: Stage III is the time from the completion of Stage II to passing of the final defense and deposit of an approved dissertation. See the Graduate College Deadlines for deadline dates for final examinations and deposits.

D. Doctoral Committees and Examinations

  1. Qualifying Examination and Qualifying Examination Committee
  2. Preliminary Examination and Preliminary Examination Committee
  3. Dissertation Committee
  4. Final Examination and Final Examination Committee
  5. Preliminary and Final Exam Result Forms (PER/FER)

Committees may be formed and examinations given at various stages of graduate study in order to monitor and ensure the quality of graduate work. This chart provides an overview of committee structure and rules. For complete information and further details, see the relevant sections below.

Overview

Overview of doctoral committee structures

 

  1. Qualifying Examination and Qualifying Examination Committee:
    The Graduate College does not require qualifying examinations, but departments may. Qualifying exams, usually given at the end of Stage I of the doctoral work (see chapter 6.C), evaluate the student's knowledge in the field and preparation for the doctoral program. The format of these examinations may be written, oral, or both, as determined by the program. The program must clearly communicate information about the format and rules (i.e. closed-book) to all students in advance. Departments may internally appoint committees to conduct these examinations.
     
  2. Preliminary Examination and Preliminary Examination Committee:
    The preliminary examination is one of the Graduate College requirements for completion of Stage II of graduate study.

    Format:

    • Preliminary examinations may be oral or written or both, depending on the unit's policy, and generally evaluate the student's overall and specific knowledge in the field.
      • Preliminary examinations also usually include an oral presentation to review the feasibility and appropriateness of a student's dissertation research proposal.
    • The doctoral degree program prescribes the scope, format and procedures associated with the examination, including the composition of the committee. The program must clearly communicate information about the format and rules (e.g., closed-book) to all students in advance.
    • The process for selection of committee chairs varies by unit, but the chair must be a member of the Graduate Faculty. At the department’s discretion a co-chair may be appointed. If appointed, a co-chair must meet all the requirements that apply to the chair. The role of the committee chair is described below.
    • The student, committee chair, and at least one additional voting member of the committee must be physically present for all oral components of the examination (i.e., presence by video or teleconference is not acceptable). If the committee has more than one chair, all chairs must be physically present; in these cases, no additional voting member is required to be physically present.
    • All voting members of the committee must be present in person or participate via teleconference or other electronic communication media during the examination, deliberation and results determination of all oral components of the examination.

    Registration: Students must be enrolled for the entire academic term in which the preliminary exam occurs. See chapter 6. B. for details.

    Committee Appointment Process: The preliminary examination is conducted by a committee appointed by the dean of the Graduate College upon recommendation of the executive officer of the unit. Persons authorized by the department to submit committee requests (as assigned in the Graduate College Roles & Access Manager) may make requests on behalf of the executive officer. The committee must be appointed before the exam takes place, and the Graduate College strongly recommends submission of the Request for Appointment of Doctoral Examination Committee form at least three weeks in advance of the exam date.

    Once a committee has been appointed it remains active for 180 days or until a Pass or Fail result is submitted to the Graduate College, except in the case of a Defer result, see below. Any revisions to the membership of an active committee must be approved by the Graduate College in advance of the examination.

    If the examination did not take place within 180 calendar days after the date on which the Graduate College appointed the committee, the committee is dissolved and a new committee must be appointed before the examination occurs. The newly appointed committee may, but is not required to, consist of the same members as the dissolved committee.

  3. Membership Requirements:
    • The preliminary examination committee must include at least four voting members, at least three of whom must be members of the Graduate Faculty, and at least two of whom must also be tenured at the Urbana-Champaign campus of the University of Illinois.
      • Departments may request the inclusion of non-Graduate Faculty members who make a significant contribution as voting members of the committee. The dean of the Graduate College must approve, in advance, individuals who are not members of the Graduate Faculty who will serve as voting members of the committee. To request the approval of a non-Graduate Faculty member to vote, a curriculum vitae for the individual and a justification from the chair of the committee must accompany the request for appointment of the doctoral committee. Voting members, must have earned a terminal degree in their field of study and must have demonstrated expertise that qualifies them to judge the quality of the student’s research and its contribution to the field. Each voting member must be well-positioned to vote independently and must be free from conflicts of interest. Additional guidance for nominating external members is available at http://www.grad.illinois.edu/exams-committees.
      • The tenure requirement can be met by term members of the Graduate Faculty who retired or resigned with tenure for a period following their resignation or retirement, according to the Policy on Graduate Faculty Membership.
      • If there are more than four voting members on the committee, at least half of the voting members must be members of the Graduate Faculty.
    • Non-voting members may be appointed but are rare on preliminary examination committees.

    Role of the Committee Chair: The chair of the preliminary examination committee must be a member of the Graduate Faculty. The committee chair is responsible for convening the committee, conducting the examination, and submitting the Preliminary Exam Result form to the unit in which the student is enrolled and to the Graduate College. If appointed, a co-chair must meet all the requirements that apply to the chair.

    Results: Decisions of the preliminary examination committee must be unanimous and are recorded on the Preliminary Exam Result form. The committee may make one of three decisions:

    • Pass the candidate.
    • Fail the candidate. A program may, but is not required to, grant the student another opportunity to take the examination after completing additional course work, independent study, or research, as recommended by the committee. However, if a second attempt is given, a new committee must be appointed by the Graduate College. The new committee may, but does not have to, consist of the same members as the original committee.
    • Defer the decision. If this option is chosen:
      1. the same committee must re-examine the student,
      2. the second exam must occur within 180 calendar days of the date of first exam, and
      3. the outcome of the second exam must be pass or fail.

    Number of Attempts: After a fail result, a student will only be allowed to take the preliminary examination one additional time while working toward the completion of any one program of study. 

    Preliminary Exam Result Form: All results must be recorded with the Graduate College on the Preliminary Exam Result form. See Chapter 6.D.5 for additional details. 
     

  4. Dissertation Committee:
    The dissertation committee does not need to be formally appointed or approved. The purpose of this committee is to advise the student with dissertation research and effectively monitor the student's progress, often before the student is ready to form the final examination committee. The Graduate College encourages formation of a dissertation committee as early as possible after the successful completion of the preliminary examination. In units with preliminary examinations that include the presentation of a proposal for the doctoral research, the dissertation committee membership may be substantially the same as the preliminary examination committee. The dissertation committee membership may also be the same or essentially the same as the final examination committee. There is no time limit on the duration of service of the dissertation committee, other than the length of time that the student is allowed to complete the degree.
     
  5. Final Examination and Final Examination Committee:

    Format:

    • Students must adhere to departmental procedures or requirements. These procedures and requirements must be clearly communicated to all students in advance of the exam.
    • The process for selection of committee chairs varies by unit, but the chair must be a member of the Graduate Faculty. At the department’s discretion a co-chair may be appointed. If appointed, a co-chair must meet all the requirements that apply to the chair. The role of the committee chair is described below.
    • Committee members should be chosen for their expertise in the student's research area, but may also be chosen to give diversity in viewpoint, methodology, or academic discipline. The faculty of a department may establish procedures or requirements for introducing diversity in the membership of the final examination committee (e.g., by including members from more than one sub-discipline within the department, from other departments, or from other institutions).
    • The committee chair, defending student, and at least one additional voting member of the committee must be physically present for the entire duration of the final examination. If the committee has more than one chair, all chairs must be physically present; in these cases, no additional voting member is required to be physically present.
    • All voting members of the committee must be present in person or participate via teleconference or other electronic communication media for the entire duration of the final examination, and the deliberation and determination of the result.
    • As a crucial milestone in a student’s doctoral experience at Illinois, as well as a significant event within the campus scholarly community, the final examination should take place on campus.
    • Final examinations are oral and open to the public.
       

    Registration: Students must be enrolled for the entire academic term in which the final exam occurs. See chapter 6.B. for details.

    Second Preliminary Exam: If more than five years elapse between a doctoral student's preliminary and final examinations, the student is required to demonstrate that his or her broad knowledge of the field is current by passing a second preliminary examination (see Time Limits in chapter 6.E. for details).

    Committee Appointment Process: The final examination committee is appointed by the dean of the Graduate College, upon recommendation of the unit executive officer. Persons authorized by the department to submit committee requests (as recorded on the Authorized Signatures Form filed with the Graduate College) may make requests on behalf of the executive officer. The committee must be appointed before the exam takes place, and the Graduate College strongly recommends submission of the Request for Appointment of Doctoral Examination Committee form at least three weeks in advance of the exam date. As a matter of professional courtesy, the Graduate College recommends that individuals who served on a student’s preliminary examination committee and who are not being appointed to the final exam committee be notified as part of the committee appointment process.

    Once a committee has been appointed, it remains active for 180 days or until a Pass or Fail result is submitted to the Graduate College. Any revisions to the committee membership must be approved by the Graduate College in advance of the examination. 

    If the examination did not take place within 180 calendar days after the date on which the Graduate College appointed the committee, the committee is dissolved and a new committee must be appointed before the examination occurs. The newly appointed committee may, but is not required to, consist of the same members as the dissolved committee.

    Membership Requirements:

    • The final examination committee must include at least four voting members, at least three of whom must be members of the Graduate Faculty, and at least two of whom must also be tenured at the Urbana-Champaign campus of the University of Illinois.
      • Departments may request the inclusion of non-Graduate Faculty members who make a significant contribution as voting members of the committee. The dean of the Graduate College must approve, in advance, individuals who are not members of the Graduate Faculty who will serve as voting members of the committee. To request the approval of a non-Graduate Faculty member to vote, a curriculum vitae for the individual and a justification from the chair of the committee must accompany the request for appointment of the doctoral committee. Voting members, must have earned a terminal degree in their field of study and must have demonstrated expertise that qualifies them to judge the quality of the student’s research and its contribution to the field. Each voting member must be well-positioned to vote independently and must be free from conflicts of interest. Additional guidance for nominating external members is available at http://www.grad.illinois.edu/exams-committees.
      • The tenure requirement can be met by term members of the Graduate Faculty who retired or resigned with tenure for a period following their resignation or retirement, according to the Policy on Graduate Faculty Membership.
      • If there are more than four voting members on the committee, at least half of the voting members must be members of the Graduate Faculty.
    • Upon departmental request, the dean of the Graduate College may also appoint non-voting members to doctoral committees. Non-voting members do not need to be present at the final examination.
    • The student's dissertation adviser (i.e., director of research) need not be the chair of the committee. Co-directors of research are acceptable.

    Role of the Committee Chair: The chair, and co-chair if appointed, of the final examination committee must each be a member of the Graduate Faculty. The final examination committee chair is responsible for convening the committee, conducting the examination, communicating any required revisions to the student, and submitting the Final Exam Result form to the department in which the student is enrolled and to the Graduate College. The Committee Chair may designate another voting member of the Committee to communicate the required revisions.

    Results: Decisions of the Committee for the Final Examination are recorded on the Final Exam Result form.  The voting members of the committee must make one of two decisions:

    • Pass the candidate. The candidate passes the final exam if the Director(s) of Research vote Pass and no more than one of the remaining Committee members votes Fail. The Committee will indicate on the Final Exam Result form if revisions are required. The Committee will sign the Thesis/Dissertation Approval form after the completion of the examination and the completion of any required revisions.
    • Fail the candidate. The candidate fails the Final Exam if a Director of Research votes Fail or if two or more Committee members vote Fail. A program may, but is not required to, grant the student another opportunity to take the examination after completing additional research or writing, as recommended by the committee. However, a new committee must be appointed by the Graduate College. The new committee may, but does not have to, consist of the same members as the original committee.
       

    Number of Attempts: After a fail result a student will only be allowed to take the final examination one additional time while working toward the completion of any one program of study. 

    Final Exam Result Form: All committee member votes and the examination result must be recorded with the Graduate College on the same Final Exam Result form. See Chapter 6.D.5 for additional details.
     

  6. Preliminary and Final Exam Result Forms (PER/FER):
    The Preliminary Exam Result (PER) form and the Final Exam Result form (FER) verify that the student has completed the examination, regardless of the outcome. All voting members must record their vote. The department head (or authorized person) must affirm the accuracy of the result. The result of the examination is communicated to the student and to the Graduate College as soon as possible after the conclusion of the exam. The result must be received by the Graduate College no later than 180 days after the appointment of the committee.  Examination result decisions are maintained by the Graduate College. 

E. Time Limits

The time by which a doctoral candidate is expected to complete all degree requirements varies depending on whether or not the student was accepted with a master’s degree that will fulfill Stage I requirements (see chapter 6.C.) and whether or not the student takes a break (that consists at minimum of a fall or spring semester) from the program after the completion of the master’s degree. A doctoral candidate who must complete all three stages of the degree is expected to complete all degree requirements within seven years of first registering as a degree-seeking student in the graduate degree program, if no break is taken. If the doctoral candidate has completed a master’s degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that will fulfill Stage I requirements (see chapter 6.C.) and took a break of less than 3 years before starting the doctoral program, the student is expected to complete the Stage II and III requirements within five years of first registering as a doctoral student in the graduate degree program. If a break of three or more years occurred between receipt of the master’s degree at Urbana-Champaign that will fulfill Stage I requirements and returning for the doctoral degree, the student is allowed six years to complete Stage II and III requirements after first registering as a doctoral student in the degree program. If the doctoral candidate has completed a master’s degree accepted from another university that will fulfill Stage I requirements (see chapter 6.C.), he or she is allowed six years to complete Stage II and III requirements after first registering as a doctoral student in the degree program, regardless of whether or not any break was taken.

When supporting petitions for extensions of time to degree, it is the program’s responsibility to determine whether old coursework is still relevant to the current degree.

  1. Exceptions: 
    Programs may formally propose different time limits for completion of a doctoral degree program that are different from those of the Graduate College. The exceptions which have been approved are listed in the following table.

    Approved Exceptions

    Program Level Effective Time to Degree
    All College of Education programs PhD and EdD Fall 2000 7 years from first enrollment in doctoral program, after completing the Master's degree*
    Anthropology PhD Fall 1999 10 years from enrollment in doctoral program, if no master's* was earned previously
    Medical Scholars MD/PhD Spring 1991 10 years from enrollment in doctoral program, if no master's* was earned previously; 9 years from enrollment in doctoral program, if master's* was earned previously

    * Master's degree that fulfills Stage I requirements (chapter 6.C.)
     

  2. Time to Degree Completion Chart:
  3. Second Preliminary Examination: 
    If more than five years elapse between a doctoral student's preliminary and final examinations, the student is required to demonstrate that his or her broad knowledge of the field is current by passing a second preliminary examination. It is not adequate that the student has sufficient current knowledge in the area of the dissertation. The form of the second preliminary examination need not be identical to that of the first. Scholarly publications and college-level teaching assignments may be used as partial evidence of the student's current knowledge of his or her field, but a preliminary examination committee must be appointed by the Graduate College, an examination given, and its result reported to the Graduate College.
     
  4. Dissertation Deposit: 
    Students are expected to deposit their dissertation promptly following their final exam to preserve the currency of the research and the integrity of the document approved by the committee. Students must deposit their dissertation within three semesters (including the current semester). The deposit must be made by the published deadline for that semester. After this time, a new final examination may need to be conducted.

    Revised August 2017

F. Doctoral Exit Surveys

Doctoral students at Illinois complete two exit surveys.

The AIDE Exit Survey allows Illinois to compare students’ experiences in its doctoral programs with those of students from peer institutions.  Data from this survey are utilized for the Assessment of the Illinois Doctoral Experience (AIDE), which helps improve doctoral programs on our campus.  De-identified data from this survey are forwarded to the Association of American Universities (AAU) Data Exchange.  Data compiled by AAU from member institutions facilitates the sharing of information nationally and provides a data pool that is used to shape graduate education at the national level.


The Survey of Earned Doctorates is conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago for the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and other supporting institutions.  For more information about the Survey of Earned Doctorates, visit their website.


All doctoral students are required to complete both the Survey of Earned Doctorates and the Doctoral Exit Survey at the time of final deposit. Students may decline to answer any or all of the questions.