PhD Requirements

Doctoral candidates should be thoroughly familiar with the regulations in the University Bulletin and Department website.

Doctoral candidates, both full-time and part-time, have an overall eight-year time limit for completion of all degree requirements.

The Doctor of Philosophy degree requires satisfactory completion of a minimum of 72 semester hours of approved graduate course work (including Dissertation Research). The program is divided into two units: Pre-Candidacy consists of course work, special departmental requirements, and the General Examination; Candidacy includes the research, writing, and oral defense of the dissertation, known as the Final Examination. A minimum of 48, but no more than 60, of the 72 hours must be taken in Pre-Candidacy in preparation for the General Examination. The remainder of the 72 hours is taken in Candidacy as Dissertation Research credits, which must be taken in multiples of three. The number of semester hours required for any part of the total program is assigned by the department and may exceed the minimum required by CCAS. Many departments have special departmental requirements in addition to those listed here (see Special Departmental Requirements).

Transfer of Credit

An entering student who has a Master's degree relevant to the proposed doctoral field of study may be awarded up to 24 hours of course-work credits. Entering students who do not hold a Master's degree may request up to 24 semester hours of credit toward a doctoral degree for acceptable post-baccalaureate, graduate-level course work that meets the criteria cited above in the section on Transfer of Credits into Master's programs. Students who wish to transfer credit into their program should consult their Director of Graduate Studies as early as possible and arrange for the department to petition CCAS via the appropriate form. Only rarely and with good reason will more than 24 semester hours be transferred. (One such reason is if the courses were taken as part of a GW Master's degree within the same discipline.) This request should be submitted within the student’s first year in the program.

Special Departmental Requirements

See Special Departmental Requirements for Master's programs.

The General Examination

The Ph.D. General Examination is designed and administered by the department and consists of several examinations, some written and some oral, that cover the whole range of the student's program of study.

Students who fail any part of the General Examination may, with the approval of the department, repeat the examination at the next scheduled examination date. If, for a second time, the student does not perform at the level required by the department, no further opportunity is permitted and the student's program is terminated.

The Dissertation

Following the completion of all Pre-Candidacy requirements, the department will review the whole range of the student's academic performance with an eye to determining the likelihood that the student will succeed at producing an acceptable Ph.D. dissertation. Most Departments require an accepted dissertation proposal before moving a student to candidacy. If the department decides that there is a good chance of success at this final, and most difficult stage, and once a dissertation committee has been established, the department will recommend that the student be advanced to Candidacy.

Upon entering Candidacy, the student is expected to work closely with the department and the Dissertation Committee (director/co-director, and at least 2 readers). The director or one of the co-directors must be a member of the department/program in which the student is pursuing a Ph.D. While working on the dissertation, and until the required 72 credits are completed, the student will register for Dissertation Research credits, which must be taken in multiples of three.

When the dissertation is complete and approved by the Dissertation Research Committee the student takes the Final Examination or Defense.

Information and deadlines on the electronic submission of post-defense, final approved dissertations can be found on the Electronic Thesis and Dissertation (ETD) website.

The dissertation must be written, defended, and accepted (and all course-work completed) within eight years of the student entering the Ph.D. program. If the dissertation is not accepted within this period, the student may be required to repeat the entire General Examination or the student's candidacy may be terminated due to lack of satisfactory progress. In special circumstances, the Associate Dean may approve a semester's extension, in which case the student may be required to register for up to six hours of Reading and Research for audit.

Human Research Requirements

If you are planning to conduct research at GW using human subjects, which will yield generalizable knowledge in the form of a journal article, poster presentation, Master's thesis, or doctoral dissertation, you must obtain Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval before collecting data. Once you have defended your proposal to your committee, you can initiate the process by:

  • Downloading and completing the Non-Medical Submission checklist and Non-Medical Submission form. These items can be obtained from the Office of Human Research website.
  •  Preparing a submission packet. You can refer to the submission checklist in order to decipher what you will need to turn in.

 If you have any questions about this process, you may contact the Office of Human Research at any time by calling (202) 994-2715.

Failure to obtain IRB approval will result in the following:

  • You will not be allowed to collect data until you obtain IRB approval.
  • You will not be allowed to use the data collected for the intended research purposes. You may be asked to re-register for the thesis/dissertation research credits and start the data collection phase over again. 
  • You will not be allowed to use the data collected for future research, i.e., you will not be able to use the information to publish or as the base for a future study.
  • If the study is funded, you will not have access to the funds.

Final Examination

The Final Examination or Defense is designed, scheduled, and administered by the department. It is an oral examination conducted by the Final Examination Committee, which consists of the student's Dissertation Committee (director and two readers at a minimum) and two other examiners, at least one of whom must be from outside the department. A student's current or prospective immediate supervisor of employment is not permitted to be an examiner.

Once the student has successfully completed the Final Examination and the Committee has verified that any required revisions to the dissertation have been made, the student submits the dissertation through the Electronic Thesis and Dissertation (ETD) website and submits to CCAS the completed ETD Approval Form and Survey of Earned Doctorates. Formatting guidelines are noted on the ETD site. The guidelines are designed to produce documents that are uniform in style, but they also allow for the particular requirements of various disciplines.

The certification page in the dissertation should only include the core research committee (director/co-director and two readers). Please use academic titles only (you can find this information in the University Bulletin. Do not use titles such as Dr., PhD, or MD.

Dissertations will first be sent to the Gelman Library for approval. Once approved by Gelman, the dissertation will be forwarded to CCAS for a final check. Students may receive instructions from Gelman or CCAS to make changes and upload a revised edition of their work. The student will be notified by email once the dissertation has been forwarded to ProQuest/UMI.

Students will pay ProQuest/UMI directly on line. The amount charged will depend on the publishing option chosen by the student. GW recommends students choose the Open Access option in the interest of making their scholarship as accessible as possible.

Accepted dissertations and any accompanying illustrations become the property of the University. The University is to be given credit for material used in the publication of any portion of a dissertation, whether as a direct quotation or as an adaptation.