The doctoral degree is conferred upon students who have completed satisfactorily at least three years of graduate study and have met the other conditions prescribed for the degree.
A student who intends to work toward the doctoral degree usually is expected to have earned the master's degree. Permission to proceed directly to doctoral study must be obtained from the major department and school.
Admission to a master's program or the awarding of the master's degree, does not constitute admission to the corresponding doctoral program. The doctoral degree is granted only to students who give evidence of superior ability in investigation and of high attainment in the special field in which the major work is done.
The general requirements for doctoral study are given below. The student, however, also should consult the appropriate sections of this publication for specific information.
The minimum period of residence for the doctoral degree is three (3) years or the equivalent beyond the bachelor's degree. A full-time student may not complete this requirement in less than six (6) semesters. A part-time student may not complete this requirement in less than twelve (12) semesters. At the discretion of the department and with the approval of the dean of the school, work completed at another university may be accepted as fulfilling a maximum of two (2) semesters of the minimum period of residence. Continuous enrollment is required from the date of first registration until a degree program is completed, unless he or she is granted a leave of absence. Following is a summary of the current rules as they apply to graduate students:
PLEASE NOTE: Students who fail to maintain continuous enrollment will be reported to the National Student Clearinghouse as “not enrolled” with an effective date of the day immediately after the conclusion of The University’s Registration Drop/Add Period. Recipients of Federal Student Loans will enter their loan grace period, and if they have previously used up their loan grace period, will immediately enter into loan repayment.
After fulfilling the language and course requirements, the student must pass a written comprehensive examination. At the discretion of the department (where applicable) or school, the comprehensive examination may also include a written or oral examination in a minor subject. After successfully passing the comprehensive examination, the student may be considered for admission to candidacy for a doctoral degree.
Students should register for the comprehensive examination before the start of classes and must be registered before the conclusion of the registration drop/add period for the semester in which they plan to take the examination. Upon approval of the student's credentials by the school dean and, where appropriate, the department chair, the student will be granted written permission by the school dean to take the comprehensive examination. The student may not sit for the examination until he or she has received this permission.
The comprehensive examination is marked pass or fail. If the student fails the examination, he or she may retake the examination only once. Depending on school and department (where applicable) policy, the student must retake either the entire examination or just the failed portion. A student who fails the comprehensive examination twice may not be considered for admission to candidacy for the doctoral degree. A second failing grade is noted on the student's permanent records.
Admission to Candidacy
Admission to a doctoral program does not automatically include admission to candidacy for the doctoral degree. The faculty of the school and department (where applicable) must evaluate the progress of the student and determine that the student has completed all course and other requirements, has passed the comprehensive examination, and is otherwise qualified to fulfill the requirements of the doctoral dissertation or its equivalent. Schools and departments (where applicable) may follow different procedures for formal admission to candidacy. The student should consult with the school dean or department chair (where applicable) for information on these procedures.
Candidacy for the doctoral degree begins on the first day of the semester following successful completion of the comprehensive examination. The student has five (5) years (i.e., ten  semesters) from this date of formal admission to candidacy to complete, defend and deposit the dissertation. Individual schools and departments may, at their discretion, set different time limits for completion, as long as these do not exceed the five (5) year (ten  semester) limit. If more than five (5) years, or the time set by the schools or departments, elapse between formal admission to candidacy and oral defense of the dissertation, the doctoral candidate may be required to retake the comprehensive examination or fulfill additional requirements as determined by the school and department.
After the student has been admitted to candidacy, the department, the school and the Senior Vice Provost for Academic Administration and Dean of Graduate Studies must approve the dissertation topic and dissertation committee. The Senior Vice Provost for Academic Administration and Dean of Graduate Studies, acting on behalf of the Academic Senate, will seek the assistance of a faculty reviewer in evaluating the topic and committee.
The student may not proceed beyond the preliminary stage in the investigation of the topic until both the topic and the dissertation committee have been granted final approval by the Senior Vice Provost for Academic Administration and Dean of Graduate Studies. If human subjects are involved in the research, the dissertation proposal must be submitted for certification to the Committee for the Protection of Human Research Subjects prior to final approval by the Senior Vice Provost for Academic Administration and Dean of Graduate Studies. Certification by the committee indicates that the proposed research involving human subject participation is compliant with federal guidelines according to The Code of Federal Regulations 45 CFR 46. The committee will send the student and the Senior Vice Provost for Academic Administration and Dean of Graduate Studies written notification of its approval of the proposal's research methods.
The department chair, the Dean, and the Senior Vice Provost for Academic Administration and Dean of Graduate Studies must also approve any subsequent changes either to the title of the dissertation or to the composition of the dissertation committee. Forms for these changes are available in the office of the department chair, the dean of the school, and the Senior Vice Provost for Academic Administration and Dean of Graduate Studies Web site.
Dissertation proposals must be submitted for department and school approval no later than two (2) years after formal admission to candidacy. School deans may extend the deadline for cause. If this is necessary, arrangements must be made in advance with the school dean's office.
The dissertation proposal should contain the following elements:
- A brief statement of the problem to be studied and the background or antecedents of the problem which have led the student to propose a study of this particular topic;
- A specific statement of the purpose or purposes of the proposed study;
- A description of the methodology to be used. If the study involves the testing of a hypothesis, the hypothesis should be spelled out clearly. Where applicable, the student should describe the techniques, statistical measures, sampling methods and any other essential methodological features he or she will be using in the research;
- An explanation of the specific or unique contribution which this study will make to the field of knowledge under consideration;
- A brief selected bibliography of the most important primary and secondary sources relevant to the study.
The doctoral candidate submits the proposal for dissertation topic and committee on the form Doctoral Dissertation Topic and Committee: Request for Approval.
As stated above, the student has five (5) years from the date of formal admission to candidacy to complete, defend and deposit the dissertation, unless the school and/or department (where applicable) have set a different, earlier deadline. If the student is unable to complete the dissertation within this time period, the school dean and department chair (where applicable) will inform the candidate that he or she must submit a request for a reasonable extension. If the student fails to request an extension, the dissertation topic may be withdrawn and the doctoral candidate will be subject to dismissal from the program.
The completed dissertation in definitive form must be submitted for approval to the student's dissertation committee no later than the date specified by the school and department (where applicable) for each graduation date. The school and department (where applicable) establish the procedures for submission of the dissertation to the dissertation committee.
Criteria for Dissertations
Dissertations will be judged according to the following criteria:
- The dissertation should constitute a contribution to knowledge, including:
-the discovery of new facts;
-the establishment of new relations among facts already known;
-the solution to a problem or problems hitherto unresolved;
-the formulation of a new or improved method or technique;
-the construction of a theory involving new principles; or
-a critical study correcting errors or establishing negatives.
- The following are not considered to be contributions to the body of knowledge:
-Mere compilations or a digest of that which is already known about the subject;
-Translations of foreign language works without commentary or critical analysis;
-Bibliographies or other instruments of research, however useful they may be; or
-Essay-type works not based on detailed factual investigations.
- The dissertation should demonstrate the candidate's familiarity with the most recent and best methods and techniques of research in the subject and the ability to apply them. Research results must have been achieved through advanced methods or techniques. The dissertation should demonstrate academic maturity in discovering and formulating the broader and more generic aspects of the data collected.
- The dissertation should demonstrate knowledge of the contributions of previous investigators working on both the subject area of the dissertation and on closely or organically related subjects.
- The dissertation should give evidence of the candidate's ability to interpret the data both independently and constructively, and to recognize their bearing upon related problems.
- The dissertation should give evidence of balanced, objective and critical judgment.
- The dissertation should give evidence of the candidate's ability to marshal facts and evidence, to organize material around the major unifying idea or ideas, to emphasize important points, and to present data in an orderly sequence.
- The dissertation should be written in clear and direct language, proving the candidate's mastery of style and expression.
- The dissertation must follow the approved format, which conforms to the norms of The Chicago Manual of Style (University of Chicago Press), with whatever adaptations are appropriate for the candidate's discipline (eg.. the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing of the Modern Language Association of America).
- The dissertation should include:
-A precise definition of the proposed contribution to knowledge and a summary of the work of previous investigators of the problem. An exposition of the methods and/or techniques used by the candidate should precede the presentation of data;
-The presentation of the additional data assembled by the candidate and the exposition of the candidate's contribution to knowledge;
-A brief summary stating the major results achieved or the contributions made by the dissertation;
-A bibliography and an index, whenever called for by the nature of the dissertation.
Upon completion of the dissertation, but prior to final approval, the candidate must defend the dissertation in an oral examination in the presence of an examination board appointed by the school dean with the approval of the Senior Vice Provost for Academic Administration and Dean of Graduate Studies.
At least three (3) weeks prior to the proposed examination date, the dean of the candidate’s school must submit to the Senior Vice Provost for Academic Administration and Dean of Graduate Studies an Oral Examination Request for Approval Form. The examination may not be scheduled until all members of the dissertation committee have informed the school dean, in writing, that the dissertation is ready for defense. At least one (1) week before the examination date, the school dean's office shall publish a leaflet publicly announcing the defense and containing a summary of the dissertation and biographical information on the candidate.
The oral examination board shall include, in addition to the candidate's dissertation committee, two (2) faculty members from outside the major department or school, one (1) serving as chairperson and the other as secretary during the examination. The faculty member serving as chairperson has the rank of ordinary professor or its equivalent while the faculty member serving as secretary has at least the rank of associate professor or its equivalent. School deans and department chairs (where applicable) with the rank of associate professor are also eligible to serve as chairpersons of oral examinations.
All members of the examination committee must be physically present for the examination. In extraordinary cases, if a member of the examination committee who is not the chairperson or the secretary cannot be present, the school dean in which the candidate is a student may petition the Senior Vice Provost for Academic Administration and Dean of Graduate Studies for permission for the examiner to participate via video conferencing or some other electronic means.
Examinations must be conducted in English except in cases where the topic of the dissertation would warrant an examination in a language other than English. In these cases, every member of the Examination Committee including the chairperson and secretary must be fluent in the language used in the examination.
The duration of the oral examination shall not exceed two (2) hours. Oral examinations will not generally be scheduled during the summer session. However, when extraordinary circumstances require that the examination can only convene during the summer session, permission can be granted by the Senior Vice Provost for Academic Administration and Dean of Graduate Studies. No one may be admitted to the examination room without the permission of the school dean. A public presentation of the research methodology and findings may precede the examination to which only the candidate and the examinations board are invited. Each member of the examination board has one (1) vote. In order to pass, the candidate must receive a "pass" vote from at least four (4) examiners. If merited, a notation of "with distinction" will be recorded. The examination board is not permitted to pass the candidate conditionally. After successful completion of the final oral examination, the candidate may proceed with arrangements for deposit and publication of the dissertation (see below).
If a candidate fails in the first oral examination, he or she must obtain permission from the school to retake the examination. A candidate will not be permitted to retake the final oral examination until at least one (1) semester, or an equivalent period of time, has elapsed from the date of failure. If the candidate fails a second time in the oral examination, he or she ceases to be a candidate for the doctoral degree.
Deposition and Publication of Dissertation
Following the successful defense and final approval of the dissertation by the dissertation committee, the candidate must arrange for the deposit and publication of the dissertation.
Deposition of the dissertation with the Senior Vice Provost for Academic Administration and Dean of Graduate Studies must occur by the dates published in the Academic Calendar. If the dissertation cannot be deposited by this deadline, an extension for another semester must be requested. An extension of one (1) additional semester can be granted by the dean of the candidate’s school or by the dean’s designate. Failure to meet the deadline for deposition will result in the invalidation of the oral dissertation examination and would require retaking the examination.
The candidate must arrange for the electronic deposit of the approved dissertation and request written permission for publication. The Doctoral Dissertation Handbook provides detailed information on formatting and printing the manuscript; preparing the abstract; registering the copyright; and arranging for the deposit, publishing and binding of the dissertation. All candidates preparing to write a dissertation must obtain a copy of this publication. If the graduate wishes to publish or republish the dissertation, he or she must include in the publication a statement of acknowledgement that the dissertation was written in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a doctoral degree from The Catholic University of America.
Copyright ownership of a thesis or dissertation prepared by a student toward degree requirements shall remain with the student, provided that, unless otherwise agreed in writing, by submitting the work for credit or degree requirements, the student shall automatically be deemed to have granted a nonexclusive, worldwide, royalty-free license to The University (1) to make available to The University community through electronic or other means the entire dissertation; (2) to make available to the broader public a limited number of copies of such thesis or dissertation; and (3) electronic means without limitation on quantity of access or copying. In any event, The University must retain a non-exclusive right to all research reported in manuscripts funded in whole or part by National Institutes of Health funding, so as to ensure compliance with the NIH Public Access Policy, and as needed for other public access initiatives required by law.
Further information on copyrights may be found at the Office of the General Counsel website.
Completion of Requirements and Requests for Extension
The student has five (5) years from the date of formal admission to candidacy to complete, defend, and deposit the dissertation, unless the department and/or school have set a different, earlier deadline.
If the dissertation cannot be completed within the five (5) year candidacy period, the student may petition in writing to the school dean for an extension. The school dean or the dean’s designee (usually the associate or assistant dean for graduate programs) can authorize an extension. If the student fails to receive an extension, the dissertation topic may be withdrawn. In this case, the doctoral candidate will be subject to dismissal from the program. Another student may then submit the topic for approval. If the dissertation still cannot be completed by the end of the period provided by the extension, the student may submit a request for a final extension.
In certain cases such as a medical condition or other changes in circumstances that prevent the student from continuing his or her studies, the student may request an academic leave. If the school dean or the dean’s designee endorses the academic leave request and it is approved by the Senior Vice Provost for Academic Administration and Dean of Graduate Studies, this suspends the time period allowed for the completion of the dissertation. When the student is ready to resume study and research on the dissertation, he or she must notify the school dean of this intent. Only after the dean (or the dean’s designate) has approved this request, can the student register and resume his or her studies.