Candidacy Exam


Admission to candidacy certifies that the PhD or DES student has demonstrated a depth of scholarship in the literature and the methods of the student’s chosen area of research, and has demonstrated a facility with the scholarly skills of critical evaluation and verbal expression. The candidacy exam must be completed (passed) prior to the thesis proposal.


The student is examined by a committee consisting of the student’s advisor and two other researchers who hold doctorates or equivalents. The advisor should solicit the prospective committee members, not the student. In cases where the student’s research and departmental advisors are different, both must serve on the committee.


The committee, after consideration of the student’s input, selects a syllabus of the 20-30 most significant documents that encompass the state of the art in the area.  The student then studies this syllabus.

The oral exam begins with the student’s 30 minute critical evaluation of the syllabus materials, and is followed by no more than 90 minutes of questioning by the committee on any subject matter related to their contents. The student is judged primarily on the oral evidence, but the content and style of the presentation can account for part of the decision.


The student must take the candidacy exam no later than the end of his/her sixth semester, but can take it earlier. It is not necessary to complete the breadth requirement or any other doctoral program requirement prior to taking the candidacy exam.

The entire candidacy exam committee must agree to the scheduling of the oral exam no later than two weeks (14 days) prior to the exam. The Doctoral Program Administrator must then be informed of the scheduling of the oral exam, also no later than two weeks (14 days) prior to the exam, use the PhD Program Milestones Registration Form. Emergency exceptions to either of these deadlines can be granted by the Director of Graduate Studies or the Department Chair on appeal by the advisor and agreement of the committee.


Passing or failing is determined by consensus of the committee, who then sign the candidacy exam form. This form must be returned the same day to the Doctoral Program Administrator.

If the student fails the candidacy exam on their first attempt, the exam can be taken one more time at the advisor’s discretion. The candidacy exam normally cannot be taken more than twice.  If the student also fails on their second attempt, the student is normally dismissed from the program at the end of that semester.  However, the student’s advisor may appeal to the full faculty to permit one more attempt.

Not taking the candidacy exam by the end of the sixth semester is deemed unsatisfactory progress.  Taking the candidacy exam but failing to pass by the end of the sixth semester is also deemed unsatisfactory progress.  In either case, the student is normally placed on probation and can be immediately dismissed from the program. However, on appeal of the student’s advisor, one semester’s grace can be granted by the full faculty.

Last updated on May 5, 2021.