PhD Degree Requirements

The only doctoral degree offered by The Graduate School (TGS) is the doctor of philosophy (PhD) degree. In some cases, this degree is offered in conjunction with another degree, whether from another program administered by TGS or from another school at Northwestern University.

The Doctor of Philosophy degree is oriented toward research that will advance knowledge. Study for a specified time and accumulation of credit toward residency for courses taken are not by themselves sufficient to earn the PhD degree. A student must demonstrate scholarly distinction and the ability to advance knowledge through independent research by achieving admission to candidacy and writing a dissertation.

Each student enrolled in a PhD program must have a principal research advisor and a committee.

The principal research advisor (also known as mentor, PI, dissertation director, advisor) is a member of the Northwestern University Graduate Faculty who works with the student to develop a research topic, formulate ideas and structure for, and guides the progress of the thesis/prospectus/dissertation. In some cases, although rare, there is a Principal Research Co-Advisor who also works with the student to develop a research topic, formulate ideas and structure for, and guides the progress of the thesis/prospectus/dissertation.

The committee members are those who have expertise in and inform the student's area of research, serve as a reader of the thesis, prospectus, or dissertation, and vote on the outcome of the proposal defense/final exam. The committee chair is a member of the Graduate Faculty who leads the committee for the defense of the prospectus or final exam (dissertation). In some cases, there is a Committee Co-Chair who co-leads the committee. The Committee Chair may or may not be the same individual as the Principal Research Advisor. A minimum of three individuals must serve on the final exam committee. At least two members of this committee, including the chair, must be members of the Northwestern University Graduate Faculty.

All Northwestern University graduate students, must fulfill a set of requirements regarding

  • residency link
  • approved courses link
  • grades link
  • qualifying exam (admission to candidacy)
  • prospectus
  • filing for graduation link
  • dissertation link

12.1 PhD Coursework and Registration

A student who enters a doctoral program must successfully complete at least nine graded courses (non P/NP) authorized for graduate credit. A 3.0 cumulative GPA must be maintained. TGS does not accept transfer credit in lieu of the 9 letter graded minimum course requirement.

Two types of advanced courses, 499 Independent Study (or 499 Projects) and 590 Research, are applicable to residency credit but bear restrictions concerning either when they may be taken during a student's academic career or total allowable credits:

  • 499 Independent Study - A first-year graduate student may take no more than one-half of the total credits in any one quarter in 499 Independent Study or 499 Projects.
  • Program courses identified as 590 Research, may be taken for one, two, three, or four course units per quarter. Generally, this registration is not available to students until a core of basic courses has been completed. All 590 Research registrations must be taken on a P/N/K basis

Students beyond their ninth quarter may have additional course requirements to complete in their program and may register for up to four units:

  • Students who are funded and who register for less than three units must also register for TGS 500. All course requirements for a doctoral program must be completed by the end of the twelfth quarter.
  • Students in quarters thirteen and above may register for non-required coursework in addition to TGS 500 if the courses are related to the student's area of study.
  • Grading for advanced year registrations must adhere to existing grading policies.

12.2 PhD Residency

Residency is calculated in terms of quarters of full-time study. A student pursuing a doctoral degree must complete eight quarters of residency consecutively over two years, including summers (see the PhD Timeline Completion). may alter the residency timeline.

No residency credit will be awarded by The Graduate School (TGS) for work completed in a graduate program outside of TGS. Individual programs may waive course requirements based on work completed at another institution (either prior to or after enrollment at Northwestern), but all doctoral students must complete nine letter graded (A,B,C) courses in TGS and maintain a 3.0 GPA. Students may register for 590 Research within their programs to maintain full-time registration during quarters in which they are not enrolled full time in graded coursework.

12.3 PhD Candidacy

Admission to The Graduate School (TGS) does not constitute or guarantee a student's admission to candidacy for the PhD degree. Admission to candidacy is contingent upon the recommendation of the student's department or program and upon approval of The Graduate School.

A student must be admitted to candidacy by the end of the third year of study, which falls on the last date of the 12th quarter. A student failing to meet this milestone will be considered not in good academic standing and therefore will be placed on academic probation. Deadlines will be altered in the case of an approved leave of absence or childbirth accommodation.

  • Admission to candidacy is reached by passing a comprehensive qualifying examination, written or oral or both. Individual departments or programs determine the character of this examination. At the time of admission to candidacy, proficiency in the major and related fields is certified and additional requirements for the PhD degree are stipulated. Students should be aware of requirements for admission to candidacy established by both the department or program and the Graduate Faculty.
  • The Director of Graduate Studies (or DGS designate) submits the PhD Qualifying Exam form online via TGS Forms in CAESAR (SES). The program must submit approval of this form before the end of a student's third year. Following the submission of the approved Qualifying Exam form in SES students are admitted to candidacy. Students are notified via email by TGS of approval of their Qualifying exam form and admission to candidacy.

12.4 PhD Prospectus

Students must have a prospectus (dissertation proposal) approved by their committee no later than the end of the fourth year of study, which falls on the last date of the 16th quarter. A student failing to meet this milestone will be considered not in good academic standing and therefore will be placed on academic probation. Deadlines will be altered in the case of an approved leave of absence or a childbirth accommodation. The prospectus must be approved by a faculty committee. A minimum of three individuals must serve on the prospectus committee. At least two members of this committee, including the chair, must be members of the Northwestern University Graduate Faculty. The student must submit the PhD Prospectus form through TGS Forms in CAESAR. The program must approve this form online before TGS enters the final approval. Students are notified via email by TGS of approval of their Prospectus form.

12.5 PhD Dissertation

Every candidate for the PhD degree must present a dissertation that gives evidence of original and significant research.

For requirements regarding formatting of the dissertation, consult the Dissertation Formatting Guidelines document. TGS deposits dissertations into the ProQuest Database. In addition, the University Library receives one or more copies of the dissertation that can be consulted, circulated through interlibrary loan arrangements, and made accessible through the internet. The library also archives electronic copies of dissertations to help ensure that the content is preserved for future generations.

12.6 PhD Completion

Scheduling the final examination (dissertation defense) is the responsibility of the candidate and the members of the committee.

  • The final exam must be approved by a faculty committee. A minimum of three individuals must serve on the final exam committee. At least two members of this committee, including the chair, must be members of the Northwestern University Graduate Faculty.

12.6.1 Filing Requirements And Forms

Students pursuing the Doctor of Philosophy degree must file the following required documents prior to graduation:

  • Application for Degree: this form must be filled out via CAESAR. Login to CAESAR, click on "Main Menu"-> "TGS Forms" and navigate to "Application for a Degree" form.
  • PhD Final Exam Form: this form must be filled out via CAESAR. Login to CAESAR, click on "Main Menu" -> "TGS Forms" and navigate to "TGS PhD Final Exam" form. Print out a hard copy of the completed form to take to your final exam. Have each committee member sign the form next to their name. The signed form should go to the Director of Graduate Studies (or program/department assistant) who will finish the approval process online; the form will be submitted to The Graduate School electronically for final approval, with the signed hard copy to follow.
  • Dissertation submission via ProQuest's website. Once the dissertation has been approved by the committee and all edits and revisions are complete, the student must submit online via ProQuest. The dissertation must conform to TGS formatting standards on the Dissertation Formatting Guidelines document. Once you have submitted your dissertation online your Student Services representative will review your formatting and confirm via email that your dissertation is acceptable or notify the student if changes need to be made.

Change of Grade forms: Students with Y or K grades on their transcript must work with their program/department to ensure the appropriate change of grade forms are submitted to The Graduate School by the published deadline.

12.7 PhD Timeline

The Graduate School policy states that all requirements for the doctoral degree must be met within nine years of initial registration in a doctoral program, which falls on the last day of the 36th quarter. For students on an approved leave of absence or approved childbirth accommodation, milestones will be extended accordingly.

Year One Tuition Model Registration Milestones to be Achieved Forms to be Completed
Q1 - Fall Full Rate 3-4 units of coursework or 590 Coursework towards residency requirement. A minimum of nine graded courses are required by TGS. Individual programs may require more graded courses.
Q2 - Winter 3-4 units of coursework or 590
Q3 - Spring 3-4 units of coursework or 590
Q4 - Summer 3-4 units of coursework or 590
Year Two Tuition Model Registration Milestones to be Achieved Forms to be Completed
Q5 - Fall Full Rate 3-4 units of coursework or 590 Coursework towards residency requirement. A minimum of nine graded courses are required by TGS. Individual programs may require more graded courses.
Q6 - Winter 3-4 units of coursework or 590
Q7 - Spring 3-4 units of coursework or 590
Q8 - Summer 3-4 units of coursework or 590
Year Three Tuition Model Registration Milestones to be Achieved Forms to be Completed
Q9 - Fall Advanced Rate TGS 500 and/or coursework0 Coursework towards program requirements (if applicable). Students must complete all required courses (including incomplete grades/F grade make-up) and be admitted to candidacy (PhD Qualifying Exam) by the end of the twelfth quarter. Students who have completed their program requirements will register for TGS 500 in addition to any non-required (extra) coursework. Students who have not completed their program requirements will register for courses as determined by their program. PhD Qualifying Exam form (submitted by department. No student entry)
Q10 - Winter TGS 500 and/or coursework
Q11 - Spring TGS 500 and/or coursework
Q12 - Summer TGS 500 and/or coursework
Year Four Tuition Model Registration Milestones to be Achieved Forms to be Completed
Q13 - Fall Full Rate TGS 500 in addition to non-required coursework Students must complete their Prospectus (proposal of dissertation topic) before the end of the sixteenth quarter. PhD Prospectus form (submitted by student via TGS Forms in CAESAR ; approved online by department)
Q14 - Winter
Q15 - Spring
Q16 - Summer
Year Five Tuition Model Registration Milestones to be Achieved Forms to be Completed
Q17 - Fall Advanced Rate TGS 500 in addition to non-required coursework Students who are completing their degree must complete: (1) Application for Degree via TGS Forms in CAESAR; (2) Final Exam Form via TGS Forms in CAESAR to be approved by the program (3) Online submission of dissertation via UMI ProQuest
Q18 - Winter
Q19 - Spring
Q20 - Summer
Year Six Tuition Model Registration Milestones to be Achieved Forms to be Completed
Fall Advanced Rate or Continuous Registration TGS 500 if receiving funding; TGS 512 if unfunded Degree deadline - students have 9 years from matriculation to complete the PhD degree. Only rarely under extenuating circumstances will students be granted permission to continue beyond 9 years. Students who are completing their degree will complete the following forms: (1) Application for Degree via TGS Forms in CAESAR; (2) Final Exam Form via TGS Forms in CAESAR which will be approved by the department (3) NRC Survey of Earned Doctorates; (4) Online submission of dissertation via UMI ProQuest.
Winter
Spring
Summer
* Those who do not complete in 9 years must enroll in TGS 513 for the remaining quarters and pay tuition accordingly.