2022-2023 Graduate Catalog 
    May 26, 2024  
2022-2023 Graduate Catalog [Archived Catalog]

Doctor of Philosophy Degree Requirements

View of students writing on a chalkboard.

Click on a link to be taken to the entry below.

Admission Requirements

The application must include the application fee, all post-secondary transcripts, degree certificates, and other materials as required by specific programs before processing of the application will begin. The Graduate School employs a rolling deadline, however, students should check with their program of interest for specific admission deadlines. Applicants for the Doctor of Philosophy degree, 60-credit plan, must have a Master’s degree. This degree must be awarded from an approved, accredited institution. In those cases where applicants do not have a Master’s degree, departmental requirements will apply, either requiring completion of a Master’s degree or permitting an individual to move directly into a doctoral program, 90-credit plan. Domestic, international or non-degree seeking students may submit an application online.

Advisory Committee

All graduate students are required to have a major advisor. As soon as possible, but no later than the completion of fifty (50) percent of the credits toward graduation, the student will request to the major advisor and the Graduate School (by submission of the committee approval request form) members of an advisory committee. The advisory committee must be composed of a minimum of four (4) members. The committee must include:

  • Committee Chair – must hold full graduate faculty status at SDSU. This member assists the student in developing a suitable graduate program, provides continuing guidance and counsel, evaluates student progress, informs the student as to who will provide primary research supervision, serves as a contact for the committee and ensures the completion of the degree requirements to the Graduate School.
  • Two (2) additional members with expertise within the discipline – must hold either full graduate faculty or associate graduate faculty status at SDSU. Additional members assist the student in developing a suitable graduate program, provide continuing guidance and counsel, evaluate student progress, and assist with the completion of the degree requirements. Additional members may serve as co-chairs.
  • Graduate Faculty Representative – graduate faculty member from within a distant, broadly-defined discipline. This member represents the Graduate Council to ensure the supervision of the student is carried out with sufficient integrity. This member ensures that minimal academic standards are maintained and acts as an advocate and counselor for the student. For votes regarding the final oral defense, the graduate faculty representative must vote in the affirmative for the vote to carry.

Professional doctorate degree holders with full graduate faculty status may only serve as chair for a committee for the degree which they hold.

Adjunct faculty members or University employees holding a master’s degree who fail to qualify as associate graduate faculty member may serve on graduate student committees. Such committees must contain the minimum number of full/associate graduate faculty in addition to the master’s degree holder. A committee may only include one master’s degree holder. Addition of the master’s degree holder does not alter the maximum number of committee members allowed. The master’s degree holder is not considered as having associate graduate faculty status and cannot serve as co-chair.

The advisory committee is responsible for approving the content and scope of comprehensive and final examinations, both written and oral. The committee must evaluate the student’s performance for the comprehensive exams and final defense and all other degree requirements taken under the auspices of -898 coursework (including those internal to the program).

All committee members must be available for regular meetings with the student and/or committee. Each committee member has voting privileges. Only committee members may vote on business before the committee. For activities requiring committee votes, the chair must ensure due diligence for accommodating all members of the committee. The graduate faculty representative and all but one (1) of the graduate committee must vote in the affirmative to pass the student.

The Department Head is responsible for informing the Graduate School if and when a committee member can no longer fulfill her/his duties consistent with the policies of the University.

Plan of Study/Credit Requirements

After the advisory committee is formed, the major advisor and the student will develop a plan of study and consider a research area for the dissertation. The plan of study must be submitted using the plan of study form and approved by the advisory committee and the Graduate School prior to completion of 50 percent of the credits toward graduation. Delay in submitting a plan of study may result in disapproval of courses taken prior to approval and/or registration restrictions. Student cannot take the comprehensive written examination prior to approval of the plan of study. Changes in the approved plan of study must be requested using the change in plan of study form. While devising the plan of study, please refer to specific academic program requirements in the Academic Programs  section of the graduate catalog in addition to the following information.

Total Credits Required

A minimum of 90 semester credits (90-credit plan) beyond a bachelor’s degree or a minimum of 60 semester credits (60-credit plan) beyond the master’s degree are required for the Doctor of Philosophy degree, unless otherwise specified in the Graduate Catalog. Where consideration is given to a master’s degree, it must be in the area of the program or a related area, be an academic program from an accredited institution, and be declared at the time the plan of study is submitted. The advisory committee may require more credits if the extra requirements are in the best interest of the student.

Graduate Credit Requirement

Credit applied toward graduate credentials should be at the 500-level and above. At least fifty (50) percent of the credits on a plan of study must be in courses 600-series or above. Please refer to the Graduate Credit Requirements Policy for more information.


Annual Evaluation

A formal review of the progress of degree completion, including performance in coursework and completion of dissertation goals should take place annually and be standard in format and timing for all students within a program. The review will include a written evaluation portion, including one opportunity for the student to rebut, followed by a meeting for a discussion.  The written portion should take place using a program-standard format and include a synopsis of progress made the previous year, as well as guidance for the upcoming year.

Comprehensive Written & Oral Examinations

Comprehensive examinations are generally administered after coursework on the plan of study has been substantially completed. The comprehensive written examination is followed, upon satisfactory completion, by an oral examination. These examinations are to test the student’s breadth of knowledge and his/her ability to integrate this knowledge.

The student arranges with his/her committee the time and location for the comprehensive written and oral examinations. Copies of the written examinations must be kept on file in the major department. Upon successful completion of the comprehensive written examination, the student will arrange with his/her advisor and committee members to take the comprehensive oral examination. The comprehensive oral exam form must be submitted to the Graduate School at least two (2) weeks prior to the exam date.  The submission of this form initiates the necessary paperwork to be provided by the Graduate School to the student and committee members. The comprehensive examinations must be completed at least three (3) months before the final oral examination. Upon satisfactory completion of the comprehensive examinations, the student is formally admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree. If the student does not receive the Ph.D. degree within three (3) years after becoming a candidate, comprehensive examinations must be repeated.

Final Oral Exam

The student arranges with his/her advisory committee the time and location for the final oral examination. The student will submit the final oral exam form to the Graduate School no less than two (2) weeks prior to the examination date. While the advisory committee determines the character and length of the examination, sufficient time should be devoted to the dissertation, including literature review, to evaluate the ability of the student to defend the research. In addition, questions to test the student’s general knowledge, judgment and critical thinking powers are usually asked. The graduate faculty representative and all but one (1) of the graduate committee must vote to pass the student. The final oral examination cannot be taken earlier than three (3) months following successful completion of the comprehensive examinations and must be completed three (3) weeks prior to the end of the semester in order to graduate.

Remediation Opportunity: Students who fail an academic exercise will be afforded a remediation opportunity.  The student should 1) be provided feedback regarding the deficiencies of his/her performance; 2) be provided resources useful to remediate his/her deficiencies; and 3) be allowed an appropriate length of time to prepare for the next attempt.



The student in consultation with the major advisor and/or dissertation advisor shall prepare a written dissertation proposal for approval by the advisory committee.


The dissertation should represent at least one (1) academic year of full-time research (18-30 credits). Of no specific length, the dissertation should advance or modify knowledge in the discipline and demonstrate the candidate’s mastery of the subject. The dissertation should meet discipline standards as required by the program.

Dissertation Formatting & Deposition

All dissertations must be submitted to the Graduate School for appropriate format checking and deposition with the library. Instructions are found on the Graduate School website

Use of Human Subjects or Vertebrate Animals in Research

After receiving approval of the research proposal students must also seek approval for the use of human subjects or vertebrate animals in research, when applicable, from the appropriate committee. These approvals must be secured before beginning the study. For more information, visit the Research Compliance website or contact the SDSU Research Compliance Coordinator in the Office of Research & Sponsored Programs, Morrill Hall 200, Telephone: 605-688-6975.

Credit Sharing between Graduate Credentials

(SDSU Policy 2:17)

Credit can be used for the satisfaction of more than one graduate credential (graduate certificate, doctoral degree) issued by SDSU and may be paired to share credit. Each graduate credential may be paired with itself or any other graduate credential. A doctoral degree using the 60-credit plan may not be paired with a master’s degree within the same discipline.

The allowable credit shared between graduate credentials is 12 credits. A single graduate certificate may be shared, in entirety, with credits for a doctoral degree. Once a graduate credential participates in a credit pairing, the graduate credential may not be paired with a third credential, with the exception of a certificate. Validated credit or course credit with an x898 suffix may not be shared between graduate credentials.

Time Limitation

Obsolete Program

If the Doctor of Philosophy degree is not completed within eight (8) years from the program start date, the request for an extension of the graduate program form must be submitted to the Graduate School.  The request will be reviewed and a decision as to whether the student may continue in the program will be made by the Graduate School Director.

Obsolete Coursework

Courses taken more than eight (8) years before completion of the doctorate are regarded as obsolete coursework. Obsolete courses may be used in the doctoral degree program if validated. Validation is allowed at the discretion of the advisory committee and department involved and can be accomplished by passing validation requirements in the subject matter area and submitting the validation form to the Graduate School Validated coursework cannot exceed fifty (50) percent of the total coursework (excluding dissertation credits) listed on the plan of study and must be certified by the advisory committee. Course validation will be subject to a processing fee. Only courses taken at SDSU may be validated.

Doctor of Philosophy Checklist

Requirements Timeline
Designation of Major Advisor Upon acceptance into Graduate School.
Designation of Advisory Committee During first semester of graduate work, graduate faculty representative will be assigned by the Graduate School.
Plan of Study During the first semester of graduate work or before 50% of coursework is complete.  Must be approved by all advisory committee members and submitted to Graduate School.
Comprehensive Written Exam Per Department procedures, near completion of coursework.
Comprehensive Oral Exam Scheduled upon successful completion of written exam.  Comprehensive oral exam form due to Graduate School two (2) weeks prior to exam date.  Must be taken three (3) months prior to final oral exam.
Graduation Application During final semester, by deadline.*
Final Oral Exam (Dissertation Defense) During final semester, by deadline.*
Final oral exam form must be submitted two (2) weeks prior to exam date.
Final Submission of Dissertation Final submission due by deadline.*
Signed acceptance page, copyright form and library fee must also be submitted.

The Graduate School sets deadlines for graduation each semester.  Please also consult with your department for other program specific requirements and deadlines.  All forms are available on the Graduate School Forms website.