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The Qualifying Examination

The Qualifying Examination is used to evaluate whether a student: 

  • has determined an appropriate direction and goals for the doctoral studies in the chosen emphasis area of C I;
  • has sufficient background knowledge of developments, issues, and trends in that field of study;
  • has completed all prerequisites set upon admission to the C I Ph.D. program; and
  • exhibits the necessary knowledge, skills, dispositions, and motivation to complete doctoral studies in C I. 

Per Graduate School policy (see Policy GCAC-604), the Qualifying Examination can be administered after the student has earned at least 18 credits in graduate courses eligible to be counted toward the Ph.D. To be eligible, the student must also have a GPA of 3.00 or greater, and no incomplete or deferred grades, in graduate coursework at Penn State. 

The Qualifying Examination must be administered within the first three semesters (not including summer term) of entry into the Ph.D. program. For students pursuing a dual-title degree, the Qualifying Examination must be taken within four semesters (not including summer term) of entry. 

The Graduate School places the date of successful completion of the Qualifying Examination on the student's graduate transcript. The student must also complete all requirements for the Ph.D. in C I within eight years of that date (see Policy GCAC-610). Requests for extension of completion of degree should be made through a student's adviser and the C I Director of Graduate Studies. 

In consultation with the student, the adviser is responsible for planning and scheduling the Qualifying Examination. The Qualifying Examination Committee should include the adviser and at least one other C I faculty member. Both the adviser and faculty member must be currently approved by the Graduate Faculty in C I. Students who are considering completing a concurrent master's degree or a doctoral minor are strongly encouraged to include a faculty member from that field on the Qualifying Examination Committee. 

If a student is in a dual-title program, it is recommended that faculty administer a single Qualifying Examination that includes content from both C I and the dual-title area. The Qualifying Examination Committee must include at least one member of the Graduate Faculty from the dual-title program. 

At least three weeks prior to the desired date of the Qualifying Examination, the adviser should notify the C I Graduate Program Office to request that the examination is scheduled. 

The Qualifying Examination requires the presentation and discussion of written materials that address the purposes of the exam. During the exam, the student and faculty should consider possible areas of research, discuss the Plan of Study, and begin the process of identifying other faculty who might serve as members of the Ph.D. Committee.

Based on the student's performance during the exam and the written materials submitted, the Qualifying Examination Committee members provide an evaluation of the student, selecting one of the following three options:

  • The student passed the Qualifying Examination and should now be considered an official doctoral student;
  • The student failed the Qualifying Examination, but can re-take it; and
  • The student failed the Qualifying Examination and will not be given an opportunity to retake it. The student is removed from the program.
In C I, it is considered that a re-take of the Qualifying Examination will occur within one calendar year of the original exam. The Committee indicates its evaluation on the Report on Doctoral Qualifying Examination, which should be submitted immediately to the C I Graduate Program Office for review and signature by the Director of Graduate Studies.
If the student passes, the student will receive a letter from the Graduate School indicating that the milestone has been met. If the student does not pass, the adviser has 30 days from the date of the exam to send the student a letter/email indicating the results of the exam and "any identified deficiencies as well as any remedial steps" recommended (see Policy GCAC-604) and a copy of the completed Report on Doctoral Qualifying Examination. Whether or not the student passes the exam, the completed Report must be received by the Graduate School within 30 days of the exam. 

Ph.D. Manual
Expectations, Credit Load, and Residency ○ Emphasis Areas, Dual-Title Degrees, and Minors ○ Roles of an Adviser ○ The Qualifying Examination ○ English Competence ○ Doctoral Committee Membership ○ Responsibilities of the Doctoral Committee ○ Plan of Study ○ Comprehensive Examination ○ Dissertation and Final Oral Examination ○ Procedures Concerning Graduation