PhD Qualifying Exam, Pre-2010


At the end of the first nine hours of graduate work the doctoral student takes what is called a “Qualifying Exam.”  The Qualifying Exam is administered by a committee of at least three members, including the faculty members with whom the student has completed his or her first nine hours of coursework.  The Qualifying Exam is not an exam in the conventional sense.  It serves, rather, as an opportunity to assess and discuss strengths and weaknesses in the student’s work, a chance to assess the student’s aptitude for continued doctoral study, and as a formal advisement session.  

Passing the Qualifying Exam constitutes permission to continue in the PhD program.  The QE may be repeated only once. Should a student fail the QE a second time, he or she will be dismissed from the program.  


At the request of the Graduate Director or the chair of the Qualifying Committee, the student delivers to the committee clean copies of substantial written work from at least three completed classes.  At the Qualifying Exam meeting, the committee will convene without the student present, discuss the work, determine areas of strength and weakness, and come to a preliminary opinion as to the student’s qualification for the program. 

The committee then invites the student into the meeting, poses questions about the work in hand, and provides the student with suggestions and guidance as to areas of strength and weakness.  After a period of conversation and discussion, the committee will dismiss the student and make a determination as to whether the student has passed and can proceed without further ado through the program.

If the student has passed, the committee will turn to advisement, in terms of both academic work (where the student might improve, where he or she is doing well) and program requirements (completion of coursework, possible comprehensive exam areas, foreign language/research tool requirements, etc.).   

Should the student’s work be deemed insufficient, the committee will advise the student that he or she has failed the examination and will offer guidance as to how the student can improve his or her performance and succeed in the second attempt at the QE.  The chair of the Qualifying Exam committee will communicate the results of the exam with the Director of Graduate Studies, who will set up a second QE after the next semester of coursework.