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Comprehensive Examination - Professional Doctorate



To establish the content, form, scheduling, and reporting requirements for 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 student is prepared to successfully complete their professional doctoral culminating experience.



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

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. Each professional doctoral degree student is required to pass a Comprehensive Examination to become a professional doctoral degree candidate.
  2. The Comprehensive Examination is administered, overseen, and evaluated by the entire Professional Doctoral Committee (see GCAC-702 and GCAC-703).
  3. In administering the Comprehensive Examination, the Professional Doctoral Committee must evaluate the competency of the student to complete the professional doctoral degree in light of the program’s defined Learning Objectives, particularly with respect to:
    1. the student’s mastery of the major, and if appropriate, dual-title and minor fields of study; and
    2. whether the student is prepared to succeed in their professional doctoral culminating experience.
  4. The format of the Comprehensive Examination may be entirely oral, or it may have both a written and an oral component.
  5. Content
    1. The student’s major program must establish guidelines for the Comprehensive 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, and if so under what conditions.
        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, the Comprehensive Examination requirements of the dual-title program must be integrated into the Comprehensive Examination of the student’s major program.
      1. The dual-title faculty representative on the Professional Doctoral Committee will participate in constructing comprehensive examination questions and assessing student performance related to the dual-title area of study as part of a unified comprehensive examination with the major program administered to the student.
  6. A favorable vote of at least two-thirds of the members of the Professional Doctoral committee is required for passing the Comprehensive Examination.
  7. 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.


  1. The responsibility for scheduling the Comprehensive Exam rests with the student and their Professional Doctoral Committee chair.
  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.
    1. All students are required to have a minimum grade-point average of 3.00 for work completed at the University as a graduate student at the time the Comprehensive Examination is administered.
    2. Students may not have deferred or missing grades.
  3. The Comprehensive Examination may not occur before:
    1. the completion of all, or a substantial portion of, the course work required by the program (excluding any coursework associated with the culminating experience) and the Professional Doctoral Committee (this does not preclude the Professional Doctoral Committee from requiring additional education, including course work, as defined in GCAC-703); the program should define the timing of the Comprehensive Examination, and include that information in the program handbook.
    2. the student has satisfied the English competency requirement (GCAC-705); and
    3. the student has satisfied any program-specific communication and foreign language competency requirement.
  4. The Comprehensive Examination should be scheduled within a year of completion of all required course work to provide students with timely assessment of their ability to complete their professional doctoral culminating experience, but it must be scheduled no later than five years following the passing of the Qualifying Examination.
  5. Comprehensive Examination Attendance
    1. The Comprehensive Examination must be scheduled at least two weeks prior to the date of the examination.
    2. The Comprehensive Examination may be given in person at the campus location of the graduate center offering the program, via interactive, synchronous videoconferencing, or with some participants in person and some via interactive video conferencing.
      1. Remote participants will use appropriately equipped University videoconferencing facilities or University-supported web-conferencing technology.
      2. Up to one committee member may participate by audio only; the student may not participate by audio only.
      3. Programs may restrict the conditions for attendance at the Comprehensive Examination within the parameters listed here.
      4. The mode of participation for each participant will be indicated on the Examination Request form and will be included in the notification that the examination has been scheduled.
    3. In the case of emergencies where a committee member can no longer participate, programs should contact Graduate Enrollment Services.
  6. The results of all Comprehensive Examinations, regardless of the outcome, must be reported to the Graduate Enrollment Services within five business days following the examination.

Responsibilities/Guidelines/Best Practices

  1. The student may discuss with the Professional Doctoral Committee members the types of questions that might be asked on this exam.


insert_drive_file Examination Request Form (PDF)|(DOC)

Further Information

Revision History

  • Approved by Graduate Council, Dec. 16, 2020. Effective date: Fall 2021 (08/16/2021).
    • New policy.
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