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Comprehensive Examination - Research Doctorate

Research Doctoral Degree (Ph.D.) Requirements Policy GCAC-606

Purpose: to define the requirements for the second summative assessment of doctoral student progress, the Comprehensive Examination.

Academic Goal: to evaluate the student’s mastery of their major field and, if appropriate, dual-title and minor fields, and whether the candidate is prepared to embark upon their dissertation research.

Scope: all students enrolled in programs of study leading to the Ph.D.



Professional Doctoral Degree Program: an integrated program of study combined with understanding of research literature to support application of knowledge to practice at the highest level, culminating in a project, portfolio, or performance that demonstrates expertise in professional practice. Students successfully completing a professional doctoral degree program are awarded the appropriate doctoral degree; professional doctoral degrees at Penn State include D.Ed., D.M.A., D.N.P., and Dr.P.H.

Research Doctoral Degree Program: an integrated program of study combined with investigation of a significant problem, question, or issue in the discipline, culminating in the completion of an original scholarly contribution (in the form of a dissertation) that expands the frontiers of knowledge. Students successfully completing a research doctoral degree program are awarded Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree.

Policy Statement

  1. When a candidate for a doctoral 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 and whether the candidate is prepared to embark upon his/her dissertation research.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Doctoral candidates must have satisfied the English competence and any program-specific communication and foreign language requirement before scheduling the comprehensive examination.
  5. The format for the comprehensive examination may be entirely oral, or it may have both a written and an oral component.
  6. 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 or final performance will be scheduled.
  7. Comprehensive examinations are scheduled and announced officially by the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services upon recommendation of the program head, and must not be held without official notification from the Graduate School.
  8. It is expected that comprehensive examinations will take place at the campus location of the graduate center offering the program, and the graduate student must be physically present at the comprehensive examination.


The program head will notify Graduate Enrollment Services, providing two weeks' notice, when the candidate is ready to schedule the comprehensive examination.

Revision History

Adapted from Graduate Bulletin: June 2018

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