What Are the Different PhD Degree Requirements?

B. Miller

The specific PhD degree requirements vary widely across universities and among different degree programs. This is a doctoral degree, and the highest level of university education. Generally, a PhD requires at least an additional two to three years of research and coursework on top of a master's degree; or, without a master's degree, four years or more. Depending on the dissertation and the research required, it may take even longer. Most PhD programs require a final comprehensive examination, a presentation of a dissertation, and then a defense of the dissertation in front of a panel of experts that is similar to an intensive oral examination.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Each university may have different PhD degree requirements, but it will be the rare university that does not require an extensive final thesis or dissertation. This project typically requires years of academic research. This research can literally be in almost anything depending on the degree program the student is pursuing, but it will take place under the close supervision of certain faculty at the university. A student's thesis committee will usually be established quite early on when he or she begins her PhD studies, and this committee will be responsible for supervising the research that the student is doing, and providing guidance as needed.

Most schools will also require a certain amount of coursework as part of the PhD degree requirements as well. This coursework is usually completed within the first one or two years of study so that the student may then focus entirely on research. In some cases universities might not require any coursework at all, but this is not common. In general, graduate coursework should be expected to represent about half of the credits that are needed as part of the overall PhD degree requirements. Some degree programs may also require demonstrating reading competency in one or more foreign languages, and possibly certain types of field work depending on the area of specialization.

The dissertation is the largest part of the PhD degree requirements, but doing the research and writing it for publication is not the whole story. Most universities require a final examination of all PhD students, where the student will be asked a number of questions in order to defend the research and the conclusions he or she reached as part of the process; it is usually expected that the candidate's research must contribute some level of new knowledge to the field. The panel, which can include outside experts, may also ask the students questions that are not related to the dissertation, but which are related to the student's major course of study throughout the program. A PhD degree is designed to take quite a few years and to be very challenging, but for people who want to teach at the university level or make a career of ongoing scholarly research, it is often necessary.

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