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Information on Doctoral Degrees

Graduate School > Academics > Graduate Degrees > Doctoral

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The University offers two types of doctorates. One kind is for students who intend to become researchers in a given field. The other is for students who intend to become highly skilled practitioners, but not researchers.

The doctor of philosophy degree is regarded as the researcher's degree. Program requirements may include the acquisition of special skills that would be useful in conducting scholarly investigation - traditionally, a working knowledge of one or more foreign languages or suitable alternatives approved by the department. Ph.D. candidates are expected to demonstrate their potential for careers as publishing scholars by writing and defending a dissertation of publishable quality.

When departmental requirements are more stringent than those of the Graduate School, the department may terminate a student's doctoral admission when unsatisfactory progress toward completion of the degree requirements is evident.


Admission is limited to those whose scholastic records show distinct promise of success in doctoral study. Admission to the Graduate School and the earning of a master's degree from The University of Alabama do not guarantee acceptance into a doctoral program. A student obtaining the master's degree at the University must submit to the dean of the Graduate School written permission from the department head or division dean to be eligible to work toward the doctoral degree. Students in doubt about their acceptance into doctoral programs should consult with departmental advisers and the Graduate School.

Residency Requirements

The intent of the residency requirement is to ensure that doctoral students contribute to and benefit from the complete spectrum of educational, professional, and enrichment opportunities provided on the campus of The University of Alabama.

The minimum period in which the doctoral degree can be earned is three full academic years of graduate study.

The student must spend an academic year in continuous residence on the campus of The University of Alabama as a full-time student in the Graduate School (or, if specifically approved by the faculty concerned, one full summer consisting of two terms, preceded by or followed by one regular semester). This requirement can be satisfied only by enrolling in coursework; dissertation or thesis research cannot be used. IITS, GOALS (online), or QUEST courses do not count toward doctoral residency.

Instructors, fellows, and assistants who teach more than 3 hours should expect to spend more than the minimum period in residence.

Transfer of Credit

Acceptable graduate credit, earned in a regionally accredited institution in which the student was enrolled in the graduate school, may be transferred and applied to the requirements for a doctoral degree. Only credit that was earned during the six-year period (18 fall, spring, and summer semesters) preceding admission to the doctoral program may be considered for transfer. Evaluation of credit for transfer will not be made until the student has enrolled in the Graduate School of The University of Alabama. Credit will not be accepted from any institution at which the student failed to achieve a "B" average on all graduate work attempted. A student initiates at the Office of the Graduate School the request for evaluation of graduate credit obtained at another institution. The student must also ensure that the Office of the Graduate School has an official (not faxed or copied) transcript of the credit involved.

With the approval of the student's department and the dean of the Graduate School, up to one-half of the required coursework for a doctoral degree may be transferred from another institution. Some departments have more stringent requirements; students should check with departments to determine their policies.

In some cases, foreign educational credentials may not meet the Graduate School's criteria for transfer of credit. It may be necessary for students in this situation to secure an evaluation of their credentials from World Education Services Inc., an external foreign credential evaluation service. Additional information on their services can be found at their Web site

Time Limits

All requirements for the doctoral degree must be completed within the seven-year period (21 fall, spring, and summer semesters) following admission to the doctoral program, with the following specific exceptions: psychology, modern languages and classics, and English (eight years if entering the doctoral program with a baccalaureate, not master's, degree). Previous graduate credit may be applied to the doctoral degree if the credit was earned during the six-year period prior to admission to the doctoral program. Such credit should be identified clearly on the plan of doctoral study. Only those students graduating within the time limit for their doctoral program may apply previous graduate credit to the doctoral degree if the credit was earned during the six-year period prior to admission to the doctoral program.

Plan of Study

Soon after admission to the Graduate School, each doctoral student is expected to complete the Outline of Doctoral Program for the Ph.D. form. Please click here to learn more on planning of your doctoral study.

Preliminary Examination

A preliminary or qualifying examination is required of all doctoral candidates. This examination is given after (a) any foreign language/research skill requirements are met (for Ph.D. students only); (b) two full years of graduate study are completed; and (c) the supervisory committee deems the student to have adequate preparation in the major and minor fields of study.

The examination is conducted by the student's supervisory committee or other committee established in the program area. Since one of the purposes of the preliminary examination is to determine the student's research competence, the examination should be completed at least nine months before the degree is to be awarded. The preliminary (comprehensive or qualifying) examination may be taken only twice.

Admission to Candidacy

When the student has successfully passed the preliminary examination and successfully defended a proposal, the student should be recommended by the major department or school to the dean of the Graduate School for admission to candidacy for a degree.

Continuous Registration

Once a student has met the requirements for admission to candidacy for a doctoral degree, the student (except for those in the D.M.A. program) is expected to pursue completion of the dissertation without interruption by enrolling each semester for at least 3 hours of dissertation research. This is true whether or not the student has submitted an Application for Admission to Candidacy. A Ph.D. student must have completed a minimum of 24 hours of such work upon completion of the dissertation. The amount of dissertation research for which a student enrolls in any given semester should be commensurate with the progress a student is expected to make on the dissertation, as well as reflective of the extent to which University facilities and faculty time are invested in the proposed activities. See Graduate Catalog for more information on this requirement.


A dissertation showing ability to conduct independent research and skill in organization and presentation must be prepared on a topic in the major field. It must constitute a definite contribution to knowledge. The subject of the dissertation must be approved by the dissertation committee of the major department or division and by the dean of the Graduate School.

A dissertation committee, with the director of the dissertation as its chairperson, supervises the preparation of the dissertation. The committee shall have not fewer than five members, appointed by the dean of the Graduate School. A form appointing a dissertation committee is available at the Graduate School's Web site. All members of a dissertation committee must be members of the Graduate Faculty. The committee chair must be a full member of the graduate faculty (see Graduate Catalog). One member must be from outside the student's major department.

The dissertation must comply with the regulations in A Student Guide to Preparing Theses and Dissertations. Check the Thesis/Dissertation page online for more information.

Article-Style Dissertations. This approach is intended primarily for doctoral students whose final, completed dissertation will consist of a number of journal-style manuscripts or articles. It is an option available only to students in certain programs.

Article-style dissertations must be based upon research completed while the student is enrolled at The University of Alabama. For each article used, the student must be the first author, or equivalent, as defined by the discipline.

The dissertation must be the student's original idea. It must be a unified work and include a sequence of articles of publishable quality around a theme, with a comprehensive review of literature demonstrating an in-depth understanding of the unifying framework.

There will be introductory material to describe the studies, show how they are related, and explain their significance. There will be connecting language to bridge each study to the next, as well as a summary making clear the importance of the studies, integrating the major findings, and discussing the implications for the overall topic. These components do not have to be separate sections or chapters. They may be parts of the manuscripts or may be accomplished in an abstract.

All parts of both traditional and article-style dissertations must conform to the provisions set forth in A Student Guide to Preparing Theses and Dissertations, except when the circumstances of a specific project require deviation. Students considering the article-style approach should contact the Graduate School before beginning their work if they have questions concerning specific problems or deviations from traditional procedure.

The candidate must give members of the dissertation committee a minimum of two weeks to read the dissertation before the date of the final oral examination. After successful defense of the dissertation, and before the official submission or deadline for each graduation, the candidate must submit a digital PDF copy of the dissertation through the Graduate School’s Electronic Theses and Dissertation (ETD) online portal. Please go to the Electronic Theses and Dissertations section of the Graduate School web site for full details of and instructions for the submission requirements and procedure.

The candidate must also submit to the Graduate School a completed and signed Committee Acceptance Form (CAF). The form can be downloaded and printed from the Administrative Forms section of the Graduate School web site. Original signatures are required from each and every committee member plus the department chair or the graduate program director. The student must also sign the form which not only certifies that the committee has approved and accepted the ETD but also that the digital copy submitted to the Graduate School is complete and is the final version for publication.

Doctoral candidates must complete the online NORC Survey of Earned Doctorates before their dissertation submission can be accepted. Links to the survey system and instructions for completion are included on the Graduate School’s ETD web pages; see Forms to Complete, item number 5. Students must either request an email be sent to the Graduate School upon completion of the survey or send a copy of their completion certificate.

The form and completion certificate or email must be received in the Graduate School dean’s office no later than the same deadline for the submission of the ETD for each graduation.

The dissertation must be published online through the University of Alabama digital library and also through UA’s ETD administration partner UMI/ProQuest.

UA mandates open access publishing through the university’s digital library, but the student may select traditional or open access publishing through UMI. A full discussion of the differences between the two publishing options is on the UMI web site, however note that they charge a fee (currently $95) for open access but no fee for traditional. The university does not charge any fee for publishing the dissertation.

Protection of Human Subjects for Research

Scientific research involving human subjects has produced substantial benefits for society, but it also has posed troubling ethical questions. The mission of the University's Institutional Review Board for Protection of Human Subjects is to ensure that research involving human subjects is conducted ethically. University and federal policies require that review and approval to use human subjects in research precede the research. In the case of dissertation research that involves the use of human subjects, the principal investigator is responsible for contacting the college Human Research Review Committee to obtain approval for the planned research.

The request form for IRB approval can be accessed from

Final Examinations

When the dissertation has been completed, the candidate will be given a final oral examination by a committee of not fewer than five members, one of whom must be from outside the student's major department or, for students in the College of Education, outside the student's area (not program), and appointed by the dean of the Graduate School. This examination will primarily concern the candidate's research work, as embodied in the dissertation, and the field in which the dissertation lies, but it may encompass the complete program for the degree. The results of the examination must be reported to the Office of the Graduate School at least six weeks before the commencement at which the degree is to be conferred.

Application for Graduation

Each candidate for a doctoral degree must apply for the degree through the Office of the Graduate School no later than the registration period of the semester or the first term of the summer session in which requirements for the degree are to be completed. For more information, please go to the Online Degree Application page.

Doctor of Education Degree

A minimum of two years of graduate study beyond the master's degree is required for the completion of the Ed.D. program. The student is required to complete 60 semester hours in approved graduate courses beyond the master's degree, or 90 semester hours of approved graduate courses, and to defend a dissertation. Specific regulations governing the Ed.D. program are described in the "College of Education" section of graduate catalog.

Doctor of Musical Arts Degree

The D.M.A. degree requires a minimum of 46 semester hours beyond the master of music degree, plus recitals and other examinations as appropriate. Specific requirements for each major area are outlined in the "College of Arts and Sciences" section of this catalog.

Doctor of Philosophy Degree

The doctor of philosophy degree is regarded as a research degree and is granted on the basis of scholarly proficiency, distinctive achievement in a special field, and capacity for independent, original investigation. The first two criteria will be tested in coursework and a comprehensive examination, the last in a dissertation that must present clearly and effectively the results of substantial research. A combination of these accomplishments, rather than the mere accumulation of residence and course credits, is the essential consideration in awarding the Ph.D. degree.

The following are specific requirements pertaining only to the Ph.D. degree:

Field of specialization. A defined field of specialization is required of all candidates for the doctor of philosophy degree. A minimum of 48 semester hours of course credit is required. Candidates should consult their departments or the appropriate section of this catalog for additional requirements. The doctoral course as a whole must be unified, and all its parts must contribute to an organized program of study and research. In addition, a student must complete a minimum of 24 hours of dissertation research.

Research skill/language requirements. There is no University-wide foreign language/research skill requirement for doctoral students; each college or department offering the Ph.D. degree may set its own requirements. This policy reaffirms the importance of research skills and foreign languages in the highest academic degree granted by American universities, but it also recognizes that the departments offering the degrees are in the best position to determine the number and nature of such requirements in the interests of their students.

For further information about Ph.D. foreign language/research skill requirements, students may contact their departments or the Graduate School office.

Interdisciplinary Studies

The doctor of philosophy degree is also offered in interdisciplinary studies. This degree program is administered by the Graduate School. In addition to the general requirements for the Ph.D. degree, the program of study and the supervisory committee for the prospective interdisciplinary degree candidate must be approved by the dean of the Graduate School before the student is admitted to the program.

Doctoral Degree Checklist
(NOTE: This checklist is applicable to all doctoral degrees. Departments may have additional requirements beyond Graduate School requirements)





Plan doctoral program As soon as student matriculates. In major department and Graduate School web site Student and advisor, or program committee, should structure a plan of study.
Transfer graduate credit 1st semester of enrollment in degree program. Graduate School Office or web site Up to of required course work can be transferred if credit meets conditions stated in the Doctoral Degrees section of the Graduate Catalog. (Some departments have more stringent requirements; students should check with departments to determine their policies.)
Residency requirement Should be planned as soon as student matriculates.   Doctoral students must spend an academic year as full-time students enrolled on-campus in course work. See the checklist pertaining to each degree for any exceptions.
Time limits Should be planned for as soon as student matriculates.   All requirements must be completed within seven years. Credit earned in the six years preceding enrollment in the doctoral program may be applied. See the checklist pertaining to each degree for any exceptions.  (Some programs may be eight years if certain conditions prevail.  See Graduate Catalog.)
Preliminary/qualifying/major exams Should be taken as soon as all course work is completed; foreign language or research technique fulfilled, if applicable; and residency satisfied. In major department This test may be taken only twice.
Application for admission to candidacy After successfully passing the preliminary exam and having a dissertation prospectus approved. Graduate School Office or web site Requires the signatures of the entire supervisory committee.
Continuous registration in dissertation research Begins upon admission to candidacy.   Continuous registration for a minimum of three hours per term in dissertation research is required until completion of dissertation.
Dissertation committee Appointed upon admission to candidacy. May or may not be the same as supervisory committee. In major department Dissertation committees must consist of a minimum of five members, with one member from outside of the student's department. Chair of committee must be a full member of the graduate faculty; all others must be approved by Dean of the Graduate School.
Dissertation Approved dissertation should be submitted to Graduate School Office at least six weeks prior to the end of semester in which student will graduate. Contact Graduate School Office for exact date each term. Dissertation must be defended and accepted by student's committee prior to submission to Graduate School See the Graduate School's web site for required editorial guidelines, entitled "A Manual for Students Preparing Electronic Theses and Dissertations."
Application for degree Submit degree application to the Graduate School Office during the first week of the semester in which degree is to be completed. Graduate School Office or web site This form does not require any signatures. Students who apply, but do not graduate, will be charged $10 and must re-file this form.
Graduation At the conclusion of each semester.   Doctoral students are required to attend commencement unless excused by Graduate Dean.

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