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.