Doctorate Programs: Prerequisites and Requirements

A doctorate degree is the highest degree level conferred by postsecondary schools. Find out how degree candidates must meet prerequisites and other requirements to complete a doctorate program.

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PhD or doctorate programs are terminal degree programs involving intensive study and research throughout, and culminating in a dissertation based on original research in the chosen field. Requirements vary depending on the specific program, but most require submission of transcripts and passing a standardized test for admission.

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Prerequisites

Doctorate programs typically require candidates to submit transcripts from their bachelor's and master's degree programs. Some doctorate programs may require individuals to already hold degrees in a specific field of study. Prospective students must usually meet minimum GPA standards set by their specific program and submit letters of recommendation from professors or advisors.

Entrance to most graduate programs, including doctorate programs, requires applicants to take one or more standardized tests. The most commonly requested test score is that of the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), which consists of three sections:

  • Verbal reasoning,
  • Analytical writing
  • Quantitative reasoning

Some doctorate programs, including those in management and business, may require that applicants provide their scores from the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) or from a separate standardized test relevant to a particular field of study.

Nearly all doctorate programs request applicants submit a statement of purpose along with their application. Each school has unique specifications concerning the formatting and its content, but in general this document is meant to:

  • Convey why an individual is pursuing doctorate level studies
  • Show how they have prepared themselves for this level of research
  • Identify their academic and future career plans
  • Explain why they would make a good doctorate program candidate

Requirements

Doctorate programs vary in duration based on field of study and enrollment status, but nearly all programs have time limitations of how long an individual has to complete all requirements. In addition to taking core and elective coursework, students must write a dissertation based on original research in their field of study. In most disciplines, candidates are expected to present their dissertation for peer review and defend it in front of a faculty committee as a sort of oral examination.

Doctoral students must also take a series of tests throughout the course of their program. Preliminary exams during the first year of study are often used to measure candidates' undergraduate knowledge of their field. Subsequent tests, including the candidacy exam and the general exam, among others, evaluate graduate-level knowledge.

Specific PhD requirements varying according to the field of study, but some general requirements are common to most. These include submission of transcripts from bachelor's and master's programs, passing entrance exams such as the GRE or GMAT, extensive study and research, and defending a dissertation in front of peers and faculty members.

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