Graduate Student Resources

Qualifying Exam and Doctoral Candidacy

Doctoral Qualifying Exam

The purpose of the Doctoral Qualifying Examination is to evaluate a doctoral student's ability to apply and synthesize the skills and knowledge acquired during graduate study. This exam is an important benchmark in a doctoral student's progress towards candidacy. Doctoral Qualifying Exams can take multiple formats, and every doctoral program will have a list of exam options available for its students. The Qualifying Exam is required for all doctoral students (in both Ph.D. and Ed.D. programs). All students will have two (2) attempts at passing the qualifying exam. If the student fails on both attempts, they will be dismissed from their program and the College of Education.

Qualifying Exam Options

College Wide

The College Wide exam option is taken over the course of three days (typically Monday through Wednesday) from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. Please see the "Current Qualifying Exam Schedule" link in the Exam Application section below for the current academic year's exam dates. Each student's supervisory committee will provide three days' worth of written exam questions covering the student's work in their program specialization area, cognate area, and the educational foundations area. The Major Professor will submit the exam questions to the Graduate Support Office at least one week prior to the College Wide exam date.

All students who chose the College Wide exam option will be invited to a College Wide Exam course in Canvas after the clearance process is completed. Once you join the Canvas course, you will be instructed to install the Honorlock proctoring extension and take a practice test to ensure that Honorlock is working properly. Students will have three quizzes assigned to them within the course, one for each day and question of the exam. Each day, students will complete one question of the exam through Honorlock and submit their answers in a Microsoft Word document to the Canvas page. 

Program Specific

There are four Program Specific exam options available within the College of Education. All Program Specific exams are administered independently by the program or department offering them rather than through the Graduate Support Office. The four exam options are listed below:

  • Program Administered Comprehensive 3 Day Exam
  • Catalyst for Dissertation
  • Scholarly Paper for Journal Submission
  • A Scholarly Portfolio

Students who wish to complete a Program Specific exam should meet with their Major Professor to discuss the different formats available to them. The Qualifying Exam application will also provide more details about each exam option available in your chosen program. Your Major Professor and/or committee will provide specific details on potential exam dates, testing locations, and the timeline for completion once you have been cleared to take the exam. Some exam formats, like the Program-Administered exam, may take place around the same time as the College Wide exam; other formats, such as the portfolio project or catalyst for dissertation, will be completed throughout the course of an entire semester.

Qualifying Exam Eligibility

The Graduate Support Office recommends that all doctoral students meet with their Major Professor and supervisory committee one semester prior to the semester they plan to take the Qualifying Exam. This allows time to determine if the student is completely ready to take the Qualifying Exam and to complete any missing paperwork (planned program, Committee Appointment forms, course transfers or substitutions, etc.) and/or coursework.

All students, regardless of the exam option chosen, must meet the eligibility criteria listed below to apply for and take the Qualifying Exam:

  • Must have an approved Planned Program of Study on file in the Graduate Support Office.
  • Must have an approved Advanced Graduate Student Supervisory Committee Appointment form on file in GSO. Any changes made to the supervisory committee must be formally recorded on a Change of Committee form.
  • Students should not have more than nine (9) hours of coursework left to complete in their program (besides dissertation hours) by the start of the semester in which they take the qualifying exam.
  • Must be enrolled in a minimum of two (2) graduate credit hours in the semester(s) in which the qualifying exam will be taken.
  • Students must be in good academic standing with a GPA of at least 3.0; all completed coursework must have a grade of "C" or higher. Any coursework with a grade of "C-" or lower cannot be used to fulfill program requirements.
  • The student cannot have any incomplete (I) or missing (M) grades on their transcript. (Note: your Major Professor may allow you to take the exam while you work to remediate an incomplete grade, but you will not be admitted to candidacy until the incomplete grade is officially removed.)

Exam Application & Deadlines

Current Qualifying Exam Schedule/Deadlines

Students must apply to take the Qualifying Exam before the current semester deadline using the Qualifying Exam Application. (The Qualifying Exam Application is NOT supported in the Mozilla Firefox or Apple Safari web browsers. Please use Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge.) You will need to select your doctoral program in the "Specialization" box, then click your degree type in the "Degree" box for your program's approved exam options to populate.

Approximate Deadlines for Qual Exam Applications

  • Fall - End of the second week of the semester (late August)
  • Spring - End of the second week of the semester (mid January)
  • Summer - End of Spring semester's Final Exam Week (early May)

Note: these deadlines are provided as estimates and are subject to change per the University calendar.

Qualifying Exam Clearance

Students will need to obtain signatures from all committee members on their Qualifying Exam Application before submitting the completed application to the Graduate Support Office. After the semester deadline for exam applications has passed, the Graduate Support Office will begin the Qualifying Exam clearance process. GSO staff will check the student's record against their planned program, review their Committee Appointment form, and check for any additional documents (such as course substitutions, course transfer requests, etc.). If students have any outstanding items that need addressing, the student and their Major Professor will be notified of the issue.

If students meet all eligibility criteria listed above and have all required paperwork on file, they will be cleared to take the Qualifying Exam. Once a student has been cleared, they will receive an email from the Graduate Support Office with instructions specific to the type of qualifying exam they have chosen. For College Wide exam applicants, the email will provide the dates, time, and location of the College Wide Exam, as well as information about any materials you may or may not bring to the examination. For Program Specific applicants, the email will direct you to contact your Major Professor or program advisors for dates, times, testing locations, and any additional guidelines regarding the exam. Students should expect to receive their clearance letter at least one week prior to the College Wide exam date for that semester.

Please note: You may not take the Qualifying Exam until you have been formally cleared by the Graduate Support Office. This applies to both College Wide and Program Specific exams.

Verification of Qualifying Exam Results

Once a student has completed their Qualifying Exam, the student's Major Professor will notify them of their exam results approximately 3-6 weeks after the College Wide exam date for the semester in which the exam was taken. This timeframe applies to all students, regardless of the type of Qualifying Exam you have chosen to complete (both College Wide and all Program Specific formats). The student's Major Professor will fill out the Verification of Qualifying Exam Results Form, stating whether the student passed or failed the exam, and obtain signatures from the entire supervisory committee. Once signed, the Major Professor will submit the Verification of Qualifying Exam Results Form to the Graduate Support Office.

Doctoral Candidacy

Students apply for Doctoral Candidacy once they have passed the Qualifying Exam and have completed all other program requirements. Doctoral candidacy status indicates that the program has approved the student for dissertation research. With the assistance of their supervisory committee, students must complete and submit the Admission to Candidacy Form to the Graduate Support Office. Candidacy applications are typically submitted during the same semester in which the Qualifying Exam was completed, but no later than the semester immediately following the exam. 

Both the Verification of Qualifying Exam Results and the Admission to Candidacy form are due to the Graduate Support Office 3 weeks before the last day of class for the semester (see Dates and Deadlines page for exact dates). This allows time for GSO staff to review the qualifying exam results and candidacy applications before submitting all completed Admission to Candidacy forms to Graduate Studies. 

Admission to Doctoral Candidacy Form

Admission to Candidacy Checklist

To be admitted to candidacy, students must complete the following requirements: 

  • Appointment and approval of a (Co-) Major Professor(s) and supervisory committee
  • Proof of successful completion of the Qualifying Exam by submitting the Verification of Qualifying Exam Results Form
  • Must be enrolled in a minimum of two (2) graduate credits in the semester that the Admission to Doctoral Candidacy form is submitted. Students should have also been enrolled in at least two (2) credits in the semester they took the Qualifying Exam – GSO recommends that students do both within the same semester.
  • No incomplete (I) or missing (M) grades on the student's current transcript. All I and M grades must be cleared before submitting the Admission to Candidacy form, so that an accurate GPA can be determined. 
  • Overall graduate GPA of at least 3.00. An unofficial transcript must be submitted with the Admission to Doctoral Candidacy form to verify the student's GPA.

Before completing their candidacy application, students should meet with their Major Professor and/or program advisors to ensure that they have completed all program requirements. The Admission to Doctoral Candidacy form should be signed by the student, the student's entire supervisory committee, and the Graduate Program Coordinator or Department Chair. Once all signatures have been obtained, the Admission to Doctoral Candidacy form is submitted to the Graduate Support Office for processing, along with the Verification of Qualifying Exam Results if those have not been previously submitted.

The Graduate Support Office will review the Admission to Candidacy form, ensuring that all program requirements have been met, before obtaining the COEDU Associate Dean's signature. Once signed by the Associate Dean, the form will be submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies for processing and approval. If the Admission to Candidacy form is approved by Graduate Studies, it will be forwarded to the University Registrar’s Office, and the student’s record will be updated to reflect their status as a Doctoral Candidate.

In the final weeks of the semester, students who are admitted to candidacy should expect to receive a Candidacy Letter via email confirming their status and outlining their next steps. Students will be eligible to enroll in dissertation hours (xxx 7980) in the semester immediately after their Candidacy application was submitted and approved. For example, students approved during the Fall semester may enroll in the Spring, students approved during the Spring may enroll in the Summer, and so on. Students may NOT enroll in dissertation hours prior to being admitted to doctoral candidacy. Before being admitted to candidacy, with program and department approval, students may enroll in Directed Research hours to decrease the total number of dissertation hours required.

Directed Research

While students are waiting for their Qualifying Exam results and/or admission to doctoral candidacy, they can register for Directed Research hours. Directed Research (xxx 7910) is an independent study course that can reduce the number of dissertation hours required in your doctoral program. Students who wish to use Directed Research hours to fulfill dissertation requirements should have their Major Professor submit a request in writing to the Graduate Support Office. Please note that you cannot reduce more than 50% of the required dissertation hours in your program by using Directed Research coursework.