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Qualifying Examination - Professional Doctorate



To define the content, form, scheduling, and reporting requirements for the Qualifying Examination.


Academic Goal

To assess whether the student is capable of conducting doctoral-level professional studies based on evidence of critical thinking and other skills that the Graduate Faculty of the program view as necessary to be a successful practitioner in the disciplinary field.



All students enrolled in programs of study leading to a professional doctorate.

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. The primary purpose of the Qualifying Examination is to provide an early assessment of whether the student has the potential to develop the knowledge, skills, and attributes the program has defined in its formal Learning Objectives, including evidence of critical thinking skills, necessary for a successful professional in the disciplinary field.
    1. The Qualifying Examination is conducted early in a student’s program to ensure that the considerable investment of time, resources, and effort required by the student has a high likelihood of leading to completion of the doctoral degree.
    2. Additionally, the Qualifying Examination may assess if the student is well grounded in the fundamental knowledge of the discipline.
  2. Content:
    1. The student’s major program must establish guidelines for the Qualifying Examination that are uniformly applied to all students. These guidelines and evaluation criteria must be presented in the graduate program’s handbook, which must be provided to the student upon matriculation. These guidelines must include:
      1. The timing and the format of the examination.
      2. Clear criteria for evaluation.
      3. The program’s policy describing the student’s options in case of failure. The policy must include:
        1. If retaking the examination after failure is allowed.
        2. If retaking the examination after failure is permitted whether there is a limit to the number of attempts and a timeline under which the retakes must be completed.
        3. If students who have failed the final attempt will be dismissed from the program or may be allowed to change to a master’s degree, if applicable.
    2. If the student is also enrolled in a dual-title graduate degree program,
      1. the Qualifying Examination requirement shall be satisfied by one of the following:
        1. Ideally, a single Qualifying Examination that incorporates content from both the graduate major program and the dual-title program. The Qualifying Examination Committee must include at least one member of the Graduate Faculty from the dual-title program.
          1. In cases where the timing of the Qualifying Examination in the major area precludes the inclusion of the dual-title area, the dual-title program may choose to examine proficiency in the dual-title area at a later time, but no later than the end of the fourth semester (not counting summer semesters) of entry into the major doctoral program.
        2. Dual-title programs may choose to allow the Qualifying Examination in the major area alone to satisfy the requirements for the dual-title program.
      2. The means of establishing proficiency in the dual-title area must be defined in the major program proposal adopting the dual-title degree and must be included in the student handbook for each dual-title program.
  3. Format of Exam:
    1. Each graduate program will determine the composition of its Qualifying Examination Committee. All members of the Qualifying Examination Committee must be members of the Graduate Faculty, with the majority drawn from the faculty of the program.
    2. The graduate program administering the Qualifying Examination may choose from the following general formats with the specific details being left to the discretion of the program. The exam can be:
      1. a written, oral, or written and oral assessment of a student’s ability to complete the professional doctoral degree as determined by the graduate program; or
      2. an assessment of the culminating experience submitted in fulfillment of a master’s degree in the major or a related program.


  1. Scheduling:
    1. It is the responsibility of the major Graduate Program Head to ensure that the Qualifying Examination is scheduled within the required time limits as defined below.
    2. All programs are encouraged to administer the Qualifying Examination after students complete 25% but must administer it before students complete 50% of the total required credits for the degree taken while enrolled in the professional doctoral degree program.
      1. This includes any required courses for the dual-title, if appropriate.
    3. To be eligible to take the Qualifying Examination the student must:
      1. Have a grade-point average of 3.00 or greater for work done at the University while a graduate student.
      2. Have no incomplete or deferred grades.
      3. Be in good academic standing and must be registered as a full-time or part-time graduate degree student for the semester (excluding summer session) in which the qualifying examination is taken.
  2. Outcome: At the conclusion of the evaluation, students must be informed of the results in writing. In cases when the Qualifying Examination is not passed, the student must also be notified whether a re-examination is offered or if the student will be terminated from the program. If the student will be terminated from the program, they must also be informed if they will be allowed to change to a master’s degree, if applicable.
  3. Reporting: All Qualifying Examination decisions, regardless of the outcome, must be reported to the student, the adviser, and Graduate Enrollment Services as soon as possible. The timing below applies to both the initial examination, and any subsequent retakes.
    1. For programs where qualifying examinations are scheduled for individual students or all students in one time block, results must be reported no later than 30 days following the examination of the student.
    2. For programs where individual qualifying examinations are scheduled in multiple time blocks for groups of students, results must be reported no later than 30 days after the last group completes the qualifying examination, but no later than 60 days after the first group completes the qualifying examination.
    3. The report will include any identified deficiencies as well as any remedial steps the committee recommends or requires the student to undertake. Unresolved deficiencies from other assessments (e.g., English Competence, see GCAC-705 should be included.
    4. Following the examination, the Qualifying Examination Committee should also share any recommendations for further study or preparation, as well as any remedial steps the committee requires the student to undertake with the student’s Professional Doctoral Culminating Experience Adviser and Professional Doctoral Committee (when formed).
    5. While it is common and helpful for a student and the student’s Professional Doctoral Committee to use the information gathered to further guide the student’s program, such discussions are not part of the examination itself.


The program is responsible for ensuring that:

  1. Qualifying Examinations are administered fairly to all students.
    Examples (not an exhaustive list):
    1. Smaller programs may use the same Qualifying Examination Committee for all eligible students.
    2. Larger programs or programs with distinct subdisciplines may use multiple committees but will undertake measures to ensure that the evaluation criteria are equally applied across all examinations or consistently within each distinct subdiscipline; a description of such measures will be included in the program’s handbook (e.g., the evaluation criteria will be listed in the handbook).
  2. Conflicts of interest in administering the Qualifying Examination must be avoided or effectively managed.
    Examples (not an exhaustive list):
    1. For students whose Professional Doctoral Culminating Experience Adviser has already been identified at the time of the Qualifying Examination, the adviser may participate in the examination (if oral) or review the examination (if written) but not be the sole participant in the formal assessment.
    2. Graduate programs will undertake measures to ensure that conflicts of interest are managed; a description of such management measures will be included in the program’s handbook.


insert_drive_file Report on Doctoral Qualifying Examination (PDF)

Further Information

Revision History

  • Approved by Graduate Council, Feb. 17, 2021. Effective date: Fall 2021 (08/16/2021).
    • New policy.
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