Doctoral Degree Requirements

Credit and Residence Requirements

Individual program credit hour requirements are established by the student's academic program and must be satisfied. Doctoral students are required to complete a minimum program residence credit of four full semesters, either by full-time registration, or by part-time registration over several semesters. At least two of the required four semesters of residence must be earned in contiguous registration of no fewer than six credit hours at UNC-Chapel Hill. While summer session registration is not required to maintain consecutive registration, any credits of three to six hours per session will be computed on the usual basis as part of the required two-semester contiguity.

See Residence Credit.

Transfer Credit

Please refer to the general guidelines for Transferring Course Credit and Doctoral degree guidelines.

Major Course Requirements

Course requirements in the major field must be fulfilled as specified by the student's academic program. The student is expected to complete a program of courses that will provide mastery of the field. Major courses must also include a minimum of six credit hours of dissertation (994) registration.

Electing a Minor

With the approval of the major and minor programs, a student may elect to declare a formal minor in programs that offer a graduate degree. The student should submit an approved Minor Declaration Formpdf icon to The Graduate School.

The minor must comprise at least 15 credit hours. All credits must be for courses listed (or cross-listed) in programs other than that of the major, and cannot also be counted toward the major. A minor may consist of a set of related courses, some of which are listed by one program and some of which are listed by another. In most cases, the minor would not include courses from more than two programs. Only one program name will be listed as granting the minor, and the director of graduate studies in the minor program must agree to accept any courses from outside the minor program offerings.

The minor must be approved in advance by the director of graduate studies in both the major and minor programs. In some fields it may not be appropriate for a minor to be declared, so early consultation is advised.

When a satisfactory minor has been planned and approved by both programs, a copy of the proposed minor course of study should be signed by the director of graduate studies in the major and minor programs and sent to The Graduate School to become a permanent part of the student's record.

Foreign Language or Research Requirement

Language and research skill requirements differ for each academic program. Students must acquire competence in those foreign languages needed for research or teaching in their disciplines. At an early stage, a student should consult the academic program advisor concerning what foreign languages, if any, will be required.

Graduate students must satisfy the foreign language requirement from a list of acceptable languages other than English as approved by their academic program.

Foreign Language Proficiency Assessments are offered as an alternative to special language courses offered on campus. For more information, see Foreign Language Proficiency Assessment.

Each academic program determines at what point a student must fulfill language or research skill requirements, provided that all such requirements are satisfied before a student is admitted to candidacy. The student's director of graduate studies will need to certify on the Program Certification of Degree Requirements formpdf icon that all such requirements have been met.


A doctoral written examination, a doctoral oral examination, and a final oral examination covering the dissertation and other topics as required by the examining committee are required for doctoral degree completion.

The first two items together constitute a comprehensive examination of the student's command of the field. If the student declares a minor, the student will be examined on the minor in at least one of the two doctoral examinations. Together they should:

The final oral examination is primarily a true defense of the dissertation. It may be open to the public, limited in attendance to the candidate and the committee, or a combination of the two. Questions that relate the dissertation to the field are appropriate.

Registration Requirement
Students must be registered during the semester(s) in which exams are taken.

See Required Registration.

Examining Committee
A student passes an examination only after the approval of a majority of the examining committee members. The Graduate School considers the examining committee's vote to be final. Signatures of the committee chair (or director of graduate studies/program director as appropriate) should be submitted on the Report of Doctoral Committee Composition Formpdf icon. Typically, the examining committee is the same as the student's dissertation committee.

Exam Order
Academic programs determine the order of doctoral written and oral examinations. In general, it is desirable that only a short interval separates the two examinations. If the second doctoral examination involves the examination of the dissertation prospectus, the Report of Doctoral Committee Composition Formpdf icon must be submitted to and approved by The Graduate School before the examination. This form may be submitted any time prior to the second doctoral examination.

Immediately after each examination has been given, results should be sent to The Graduate School on the Doctoral Exam Report Formpdf icon. If the report of the first doctoral oral shows that the dissertation prospectus has not been examined or that it has been considered but not accepted, a separate report must be filed with The Graduate School as soon as the prospectus is approved.

Final Oral Defense
Any written or oral examination must be successfully completed prior to the final defense. The final oral defense will be held only after all members of the committee have had adequate opportunity to review a draft of the doctoral dissertation. The dissertation advisor is responsible for determining that the draft is in an appropriate form for committee evaluation. If substantial revisions are necessary, they should be completed before the final oral defense is scheduled.

Final defenses should not be scheduled until all other degree requirements have been fulfilled, including any program level milestones (e.g., internships, practica, publications).

All committee members are expected to be present at the defense. Participation of any committee member or the student via distance-based capabilities is appropriate, provided it is mutually agreeable to the student and other committee members.

The final oral defense may be open to the public or limited in attendance to the candidate and the committee. Questions that relate the dissertation to the field are appropriate. A dissertation is accepted only after the approval of a majority of the committee members. At the conclusion of the final oral defense, all committee members should sign Part III, and, if appropriate, Part IV, of the Doctoral Exam Report Formpdf icon.

At the time of the final oral defense, but no later than the oral, the committee may require alterations and corrections, but these should constitute relatively minor changes agreed to by a majority of the committee members. The dissertation advisor is responsible for verifying that the changes required by the committee have been made. If not done already, all committee members should sign Part IV of the Doctoral Exam Report Formpdf icon. When all changes have been verified, the committee chair should initial Part IV of the Doctoral Exam Report Formpdf icon.

The student should submit the dissertation in final form designed to meet the standards as defined in The Graduate School's Thesis and Dissertation Guide. The program should submit the Doctoral Exam Report Formpdf icon to The Graduate School for final processing.

Failure of Examinations
A graduate student who fails either a written or oral examination may not take the examination a second time until at least three months after the first attempt. The student should work with the academic program to identify areas needing additional emphasis and to establish an action plan to prepare for taking the exam a second time.

A student who fails an examination for the second time becomes academically ineligible to continue in the Graduate School. See Academic Eligibility.

Rescheduled or Remote Examinations
The Graduate School permits examinations to be rescheduled or held via distance-based capabilities. This applies both to course examinations and to written and oral examinations.

Before scheduling remote examinations, the student and program should consider the logistics, technology, and back-up plans for the event, including how final approval signatures will be obtained.

The Honor Code remains in effect for any examination taken outside the regularly scheduled time or off campus.

The student and faculty should work together to find a mutually agreeable time for the examination and ensure all participants are in agreement with the chosen format.

Application for Admission to Candidacy

Admission to candidacy recognizes the achievement of a significant milestone in the career of a doctoral student and signifies that the only outstanding requirement for the degree is the dissertation. The student is then designated ABD—all but dissertation. Students will be designated as ABD after they have passed both the doctoral written and oral examinations, have submitted an acceptable dissertation prospectus, have completed all courses required by the major and minor programs, and have satisfied any foreign language or language substitute requirements. Academic programs should submit corresponding documentation to The Graduate School as soon as the above requirements have been satisfied so the ABD Milestone can be completed for the student.

For more information about Milestones, see Graduation Clearance.

The transcripts for students admitted to candidacy will contain the statement “Advanced to Candidacy for Doctorate” at the end of the term in which posted. Note that this remark does not in any way confer additional time to earn the degree or remove registration requirements. See Time Limits and Registration.

Degree Level Changes

Doctoral students considering changing their degree level should consult with their academic program and The Graduate School about options. See Admissions and Matriculation for more information.

Dissertation Requirements

A dissertation is required, with a minimum of six credit hours of dissertation (994) registration.

Registration Requirement
Students must be registered for a minimum of three credit hours of dissertation (994) during the semester in which the dissertation prospectus/proposal is approved (if the dissertation topic was not approved at the time of the second doctoral examination), and the semester in which the dissertation is defended. Once students successfully defend their dissertation, no further enrollments are necessary or permissible, and graduation should not be delayed.

See Required Registration and Graduation Enrollment.

Committee Composition
A committee of at least five members is required. A majority of the members of a doctoral committee (and a majority of the people passing the student on an examination or approving a doctoral dissertation) must be regular members of the UNC-Chapel Hill Graduate Faculty from the student's major academic program. Other members may be special appointees to the Graduate Faculty. Doctoral programs are encouraged to include scholars from outside the program to serve as members of doctoral committees. The outside members may be selected from among scholars from other academic programs or from other institutions where scholarly work is conducted. The committee is approved by the academic program's director of graduate studies, after consultation with the student.

A student should have a faculty research advisor and a committee chair. One individual faculty member may serve in both roles if approved by the academic program. Both roles should be filled by regular members of the Graduate Faculty in the student's major academic program; however, at the request of the program and approval of The Graduate School, they may be fixed-term graduate faculty members or from another UNC-Chapel Hill program.

The advisor typically oversees the research progress and serves as the primary mentor. A student may elect to have co-advisors as long as one is from the student's major academic program.

The committee chair typically oversees committee meetings and the associated documentation.

This committee examines the prospectus, either as part of the first doctoral oral examination or subsequent to it, consults with the student throughout the progress of the research, and participates in the final oral examination. Each doctoral student is expected to consult with members of the dissertation committee at frequent intervals throughout the progress of research and will be required to submit a progress report to each member of the committee at least once a year. The Report of Doctoral Committee Composition and Report of Approved Dissertation Project Formpdf icon should be submitted to The Graduate School before or filed concurrently with any action reflecting prospectus approval.

If the student has a minor field of study, at least one member of the committee must represent the minor field. In the case of a joint minor involving two academic programs, one faculty representative on the committee for both minors is sufficient, provided that both minor programs agree that the faculty member can adequately represent each minor course of study.

The Graduate School will accept only theses and dissertations produced according to the standards in The Graduate School's Thesis and Dissertation Guide. Documents must be prepared in a form consistent with approved methods of scholarly writing and research. On matters of form, the student should also consult published manuals of style. Sample draft pages of the document may be pre-approved by Graduate School staff before the submission deadline, but final approvals will occur only after the student has submitted the final document.

The document is expected to be written in English. In special cases, languages other than English may be used; the substitution is not permitted for the student's convenience but may be allowed when the student has sufficient skill at composition and has a topic that is, in the advisor's judgment, especially suited to treatment in the second language. Approval to use a language other than English must be obtained in advance from The Graduate School, and a title page must be submitted in English.

Submission of Dissertations
Dissertations must be submitted to The Graduate School according to the schedule in the University Registrar's Calendarnew window iconin final form designed to meet the standards defined in The Graduate School's Thesis and Dissertation Guide. Documents submitted electronically will not require front page signatures.

It is strongly suggested that every document be submitted well before the deadline to ensure ample time for format revisions.

The Graduate School's Thesis and Dissertation Guide should be reviewed for all publication and submission matters, including formatting requirements, copyright questions, a checklist of submission steps, and sample pages. Students may also find this thesis and dissertation webpage useful.

Time Limits

A doctoral student has eight calendar years from the date of first registration in the doctoral program to complete the doctoral degree (e.g., if the date of first registration is August 2013, the eight-year time limit expires August 2021). A student admitted to a master's program and later given formal permission to proceed to the doctoral degree has eight calendar years from the date of receipt of the master's degree to complete the doctoral degree. Reapplication is required to continue pursuit of the degree if the eight-year limit expires.

Extension of the Time Limit
When extenuating circumstances warrant, a student in good academic standing may request one extension of the degree time limit for a definite, stated period of time (up to one year). The student must first complete the Request for Extension of Time Formpdf icon and receive approval from their academic program, after which time the program's director of graduate studies should forward a petition for extension to The Graduate School. Ordinarily, an extension of the degree time limit may not be extended.

Interruption of Study
If graduate study is interrupted by active military service, or service in the Peace Corps, VISTA, or the equivalent, as much as two years of that time will not count toward the time limit for the degree. In such an event, an official letter from the appropriate agency should be sent to The Graduate School to document the interruption.

Leave of Absence
Within the eight-year limit, a student may request one leave of absence from graduate study for a definite, stated period of time (up to two full upcoming terms inclusive of summer as needed) during which the student does not plan to make academic progress. To be eligible for a leave of absence, a student should not have received an extension of the degree time limit and cannot have temporary grades of IN or AB on record for courses taken.

In advance of the first term of leave, the student must complete and submit a Request for Leave of Absence Formpdf icon to The Graduate School. This form requires approval by the academic program. If The Graduate School approves the leave of absence, the time of that leave will not count against the total time allowed for the degree.

Please note that an approved leave of absence request does not withdraw a student from the current term nor cancel future enrollments. When appropriate, these actions should be requested per normal processes, along with a leave request for subsequent terms as needed.

Students should be able to return and register for classes for the term following the approved leave period; readmission is not required.

Students should be aware that while on leave no progress towards their graduate degree should be made. When on an approved leave of absence, they cannot be considered enrolled students and therefore will not have access to many campus services and benefits afforded to enrolled students, including eligibility for holding student employment positions (e.g., TA or RA) or student health insurance, among other services. Students on an approved leave of absence will retain access to their student email during the leave period.

Students taking advantage of the Parental Leave Policy do not need to file a separate Leave of Absence request unless they are planning not to make degree progress for a full semester or more.