Process Navigating a Ph.D.
You’ve been accepted into a School of Education doctoral program. Congratulations; you’re now a Ph.D. student!
A great starting point is to familiarize yourself with the requirements associated with earning your Ph.D. These include requirements set by the Graduate School, the School of Education, and your specialization. We will work with you as much as possible to meet your graduate program goals. If you have questions along the way, please reach out to your adviser.
Doctoral Program Your Path
Meet with your adviser
For some specializations, part of the admission process includes matching you with a faculty member who will serve as your adviser. For others, your opportunity to select an adviser comes when you submit your GS-6–Graduate School Program of Study form and select your doctoral committee.
Discuss your coursework
Each specialization has a unique curriculum. Opportunities to customize programs of study and/or courses will vary across specializations. Please refer to your specialization’s curriculum page in the CSU General Catalog for more information.
Work closely with your adviser when selecting courses to ensure you will meet all requirements.
Make sure to download and save a copy of our Doctoral Handbook – this document is a resource designed to help answer questions and guide you on your path to a Ph.D.
Begin Your Coursework
To register for courses, please refer to the instructions and frequently asked questions on our website.
Some helpful tools for your first class and beyond:
- Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.)
You may purchase this manual through a variety of outlets, including the American Psychological Association, the CSU Bookstore, and other retailers
- Bibliographic and reference management tools
These may include Endnote, Manage Sources (part of Microsoft Word), and more
- CSU Writing Center
- CSU Grad Writes
- School of Education Resource Librarian
Establish Your Committee and Program of Study
Your adviser will help you develop your program of study and identify your doctoral committee members.
Forms completed during this time:
The doctoral committee’s function is to guide you in the development of your preliminary exam, dissertation proposal, and dissertation research. It is their responsibility to judge whether your work throughout this process warrants the conferral of a doctoral degree.
Your committee will consist of four members:
- Your adviser, who will also chair your committee
- Two School of Education faculty members
- One faculty member from another academic department at CSU
All committee members must hold graduate faculty status. See the Graduate School website for more details on committee requirements.
You should choose your committee with care. Select members who:
- Understand your content area
- Have research interests compatible with yours
- Complement each other in the knowledge you want to attain through your program of study
Program of study
Your program of study (GS-6) outlines the course requirements needed to complete your degree. A minimum of 90 credits must be included as part of your program of study—this includes 30 credits from your master’s degree, and 60 credits of required doctoral courses (6-15 of which will be dissertation credits).
- A maximum of 10 independent study credits may be used toward Ph.D. requirements
- A maximum of 10 credits from post-master’s coursework may be transferred
- Courses counted towards completion of a previous degree cannot be applied to your current doctoral program requirements
For details on the GS-6, please review the information on the Graduate School website.
A registration hold will be placed on your account if you have not completed the GS-6 by the middle of your third regular semester. The program of study form (GS-6) must be completed before registering for your fourth regular semester (fall or spring) of coursework.
Throughout your course of study, with the help of your adviser, you may choose to substitute courses in your program of study. Any changes will be included on your GS-25 – Application for Graduation form, which you will complete during the final semester of your program.
Moving to Candidate Status - The Preliminary Examination
You’ll take your preliminary comprehensive or general examinations once you have completed the majority of your doctoral coursework, typically in year four of your doctoral program.
The School of Education preliminary examination consists of a written paper and oral defense. The paper comprises three sections:
- Literature relevant to your proposed dissertation topic
- Critical analysis of the key theoretical constructs related to your dissertation topic
Critical analysis of the methods used by scholars engaged in research related to your dissertation topic
- Response to a research question specific to your degree specialization
The purpose of the preliminary examination is to determine your readiness for the final phases of doctoral work—the dissertation proposal and final dissertation document.
In preparing for the preliminary examination, you are expected to:
- Integrate and synthesize knowledge gained through coursework and academic experiences
- Define and demonstrate knowledge of theoretical constructs, extant research, and research methods relevant to the domain of inquiry in which you will conduct your dissertation research
- Demonstrate depth and breadth of knowledge in your area of study
- Demonstrate depth and breadth of critical inquiry, and research knowledge and skill
You will work with your adviser to determine when you are ready to begin the preliminary examination process. Working closely with your adviser through this process is important, as your adviser should guide you through the preparation stages prior to the examination.
Passing the preliminary exam indicates you are prepared to conduct rigorous, high-quality dissertation research commensurate with the expectation and responsibilities of earning a doctoral degree.
Once your committee has voted to pass your written and oral preliminary examination, you are moved into doctoral candidate status.
Detailed instructions can be found in the Preliminary Exam Process document, updated March 2021.
Once you have reached candidate status, it is time to begin your dissertation proposal. You should think about the topic of your research and discuss it with your adviser as early in your program as possible.
Ideally, you will have explored research subject ideas when you were first admitted to the doctoral program. It is important that you thoroughly discuss potential research topics with your adviser. One of the most important contributions your adviser will make is to help you select a manageable topic.
Registration for dissertation credit
You must maintain credit-bearing course enrollment after completion of your preliminary examination. While completing your dissertation proposal, research, and writing of the final document, you must be registered in EDHE/EDOD/EDRM 799-Dissertation or EDRM 792A-Seminar until your final dissertation is approved by the Graduate School.
Enrollment in dissertation credit requires the approval of your adviser; you should discuss your progress each time you register for a dissertation credit.
Dissertation proposal format
After you have been advanced to candidacy (i.e., passed the preliminary examination), you will seek official approval for your research topic by submitting a dissertation proposal to your committee. The proposal could take several forms, including the first three chapters of your dissertation or a 25-40 page grant prospectus.
Dissertation proposals should conform to School of Education and Graduate School guidelines. Refer to these resources to ensure you are formatting your proposal correctly:
Dissertation proposal meeting
Once you have completed your dissertation proposal and your adviser has confirmed it is ready for committee review, you will need to schedule a dissertation proposal defense with your graduate committee. To allow committee members adequate time to read and evaluate your proposal, you must provide each committee member with a copy of your proposal no later than two weeks prior to the defense meeting.
Upon approval, all committee members will sign the Dissertation Proposal Review (SOE-32) form and submit it to the School of Education Graduate Programs Office.
Approval to conduct human research
Under the guidelines established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and to protect the University’s privilege to do research, approval by the Human Subjects Research Committee is required for projects involving research in which human beings are the participants. Approval is required regardless of the funding source and is sought after your proposal is approved by your committee.
Your adviser will be listed as the principal investigator because the PI must be a faculty member. You will be required to complete Institutional Research Board training. Training information, forms, and procedures are available on the Institutional Review Board website.
Dissertation Research and Defense
Of all the steps in the extensive and time-consuming process of earning your Ph.D., the dissertation is often the most difficult and challenging.
The dissertation is a formal written document in which you present original research on an important intellectual problem. A majority of your studies will be spent learning how to prepare a proposal, conduct research, and write a dissertation.
Your dissertation must:
- Represent independent work
- Make a meaningful contribution to the knowledge of your field
- Describe the methods and procedures you used
- Present your findings in a sequential and logical manner
- Show your ability to fully and coherently discuss the meaning of your findings
Your dissertation research should:
- Provide hands-on, directed experience in the primary research methods of your discipline
- Prepare you for the type of research and scholarship that may be expected once you receive your doctorate
Refer to the School of Education Doctoral Handbook for helpful information about student and adviser responsibilities and components of the dissertation.
Registration for dissertation credit
Reminder: You must maintain registration in EDHE/EDOD/EDRM 799-Dissertation or EDRM 792A-Seminar until your final dissertation is approved by the Graduate School.
Enrollment in dissertation credit requires the approval of your adviser; you should discuss your progress with them each time you register for a dissertation credit. Typically, you will be expected to complete your dissertation within one year of proposal approval.
Dissertation oral defense
Once you, with the help of your adviser, determine your dissertation is complete and ready to be presented, your dissertation oral defense is scheduled.
Each member of your doctoral committee must receive a copy of your final dissertation at least two weeks before the oral defense. To allow time for final edits and the School of Education Associate Director of Graduate Programs’ review of your final dissertation, it is recommended that your oral defense occur at least one month before the Graduate School dissertation submission deadline.
The dissertation oral defense usually begins with short presentation providing an overview of your research study—keeping in mind that committee members have read the dissertation in its entirety. After the presentation, committee members will query you on the content, methods, analyses, and results of the original research. Committee member questions can vary widely and are intended to expand the scope of the scholarly conversation. The desired result is a conversation among scholars that uses your dissertation as its basis.
Once the conversation is completed, committee members will ask you to leave the room while they make their final decision. Their vote is made official on the Report of Final Examination Results (GS-24) form, which is delivered to the School of Education Graduate Programs Office for processing.
Submitting the final dissertation
After your oral defense is completed, you will have time to make any final edits to your dissertation. Final approval of your dissertation is indicated on the Thesis and Dissertation Submission (GS-30) form and completed through these steps. Your final dissertation must be submitted to the School of Education Graduate Programs Office at least three weeks prior to the Graduate School submission deadline.
- Final dissertation is submitted for department review
- The School of Education Associate Director reviews your dissertation and signs the GS-30 form
- Your graduate committee approves the dissertation and signs the GS-30 form
- Your signed GS-30 form and Survey of Earned Doctorates Certificate are submitted to the Graduate School, at which point you can upload your dissertation to ProQuest/UMI though the CSU Libraries ETD Submission Website
- The Graduate School will review your dissertation for formatting; once all formatting is correct your dissertation will be cleared for publishing
Dissertations must follow specific formatting guidelines. The Graduate School offers guides, sample pages, and publishing resources on its Electronic Thesis and Dissertation (ETD) Resources website.
Final Graduation Requirements
Graduate School deadlines
The Graduate School sets deadline dates for students completing their degree requirements. Refer to the Graduate School Academic Deadline Dates for each semester’s graduation deadlines.
Applying for graduation
Once you and your adviser have determined your graduation term, you must submit the Application for Graduation (GS-25) form. The GS-25 form is used to reconcile any changes to your program of study and to verify your degree information listed in the University commencement program.
The deadline to submit the GS-25 form is well in advance of all other graduation deadlines. Again, be sure to refer to the Graduate School Academic Deadline Dates for your intended graduation semester.
Evidence of scholarly work requirement
As part of your graduation requirements from the School of Education, individual programs may require students to show evidence of submission of a peer-reviewed manuscript, conference presentation, or other scholarly work, beyond completion of your dissertation. See your program coordinator for additional information and guidelines.