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Requirements for the Doctoral Degree, Ph.D

Type: University Requirements
Effective Date: 9/21/2017

The following general requirements pertain to all students pursuing the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree. Additional program and discipline-specific requirements not addressed by this policy may be found in the program/department/school graduate handbook as well as the Academic Catalog

General Degree Requirements – Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Doctoral degrees at NAU require the successful completion of a minimum of 60 units in a course of study, and many degrees require more units for completion of the degree. In addition to coursework, all doctoral degrees require their graduate students to engage in extensive and rigorous research, scholarship, practicum, and/or clinical experiences and to prove a high level of competency in their field. NAU requires at least six semesters beyond the bachelor’s degree to complete the Doctor of Philosophy degree. 

To graduate with the Ph.D. degree, the student must meet following requirements:

Academic Requirements

Students must complete all courses in an approved Program of Study (POS) totaling the number of units specified for the program and meet all academic requirements and standards set by the academic unit for the doctoral program. The POS must be approved by the student’s major advisor and other appropriate academic unit administrators designated by the program. 

All graduate students must adhere to the academic requirements and criteria outlined by their program, Graduate College, and NAU. See NAU Policy 100319: Academic Continuation, Probation, Dismissal, and Readmission - Graduate for more detailed information. 

Graduate students must, at a minimum, meet the “Academic Requirements for Continuation in a Graduate Program” found in NAU Policy 100319: Academic Continuation, Probation, Dismissal, and Readmission - Graduate, in order to graduate. To begin the graduation process, please see NAU Policy 100334: Applying for Graduation, Graduate Students

Residency Requirements

NAU’s residency requirement provides doctoral students the benefit and opportunity to engage and contribute to the full spectrum of educational and professional opportunities provided by faculty and other students within their program and across the campus. The Graduate College and University Graduate Committee concur that the doctoral residency requirement at NAU may be met in a variety of ways, some of which fit the ethos of a particular discipline or type of cohort engaged in a particular program. 

When considering appropriate standards for doctoral residency, graduate programs are expected to encourage, design, provide and monitor the means for which doctoral students acquire the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values appropriate to their discipline. These means should extend beyond the required coursework and may include, but are not limited to: attending and presenting at professional conferences; participation and active engagement in presentations of scholarly work, seminars, and events on campus; assisting and engaging in various funding efforts to support research, scholarship, and creative work; and active participation in professional development opportunities offered by programs and the Graduate College. 

Given the diversity of disciplinary traditions at NAU, residency requirements may be met in different ways. At NAU, residency requirements may be met in one of two ways:

Option 1 – Full-Time Enrollment 

Two consecutive semesters of full-time enrollment after admission into the doctoral program. Full time enrollment is defined as enrollment for 9 units in Fall and Spring terms or 5 units in the Summer term. Most often, these consecutive semesters are Fall/Spring. However, if enough required courses are offered in the Summer term that satisfy full-time enrollment and ensure significant engagement with faculty and students in the program, Summer/Fall or Spring/Summer can be considered consecutive semesters. In all cases, courses taken must be approved by the student's major advisor and appropriate academic unit administrator. Programs are expected to provide enrichment opportunities beyond course enrollment to help doctoral students meet the intention of the residency requirements. 

Option 2 – Program-Specific Alternative Residency Plan

Modern doctoral programs, diverse academic traditions, access to educational resources, and rapidly changing technology are factors that make a single approach to meeting the intention of a residency requirement sometimes problematic. Considering the need to accommodate these needs, programs may propose alternative methods to achieving residency goals. This proposal would be submitted to the Associate Dean of the Graduate College for consideration by the University Graduate Committee and Graduate College Dean. Once approved, these residency requirements will be outlined and maintained in the program’s graduate handbook. 

In the event that unique circumstances arise, it may be possible for a student to meet the residency requirement through an individualized plan. A proposal for an individual residency plan can be submitted to the Associate Dean of the Graduate College for consideration and approval. 

Application and Admission/Designation

Admission to candidacy indicates that a doctoral student has a significant knowledge of the field and the specialty; knows how to use academic resources; has the potential to do original and independent research, scholarship, or creative work; and will likely complete the dissertation. 

Students must apply for candidacy using the  Candidacy Application for Doctoral Degree available on the Graduate College website. The Dean of the Graduate College approves and designates the advancement to candidacy upon the completion of certain academic milestones administered and evaluated by the faculty of the program.

Before applying for candidacy, students must satisfy and supply proof to the Graduate College of the following requirements:

  • Approval and assignment of the dissertation committee by the Graduate College Dean;
  • Finalization of an approved Program of Study (approved by student’s dissertation and/or graduate committee);
  • Residency requirement is met;
  • Completion of all course work required for the degree and noted in the program of study except the dissertation;
    • Students must remove any course deficiencies specified by the committee.
  • Demonstration of:
    • a reading competence in one foreign language, in an exam administered by the Department of Modern Languages; or
    • a research skill or competency for the program approved by the program faculty and the University Graduate Committee.
  • Submission of an approved dissertation prospectus page approved by their dissertation committee;
  • Successful completion of a comprehensive written and oral exam administered by the department/program;
    • Ordinarily, students take the comprehensive exam no less than six months before the final oral exam (dissertation defense). 

After the application for candidacy has been approved, the student will be notified by the Graduate College. If admission to doctoral candidacy is not approved, the student may be placed on academic probation and will be required to meet with their dissertation committee to discuss possible options. 


Ph.D. students are required to write a dissertation on a topic related to their research and major emphasis area, which must be approved by the student's dissertation committee. A minimum of 15 dissertation units (799) may be applied toward a Ph.D. degree. Please be aware that some programs allow fewer units to be applied toward the Ph.D. However, the student will likely take units above the minimum due to, but not limited to: the nature of the research, the writing process, or continuous enrollment requirements. The student must pass the dissertation defense (final oral exam) in the dissertation’s area of research. This exam is administered by a student’s dissertation committee. 

Time Parameters to Complete Degree

Students who are admitted to Ph.D. program with an earned master's degree have eight years to complete all requirements for the doctoral degree. The eight years starts with the first semester of doctoral study at Northern Arizona University. If students do not complete the degree in eight years, they may petition the Graduate College for one extension of this time limit.

Students who start the Ph.D. program with a bachelor's degree have ten years to complete all requirements for the doctoral degree. 

Appeal eligible: Yes

Students can appeal or petition for exception

Graduate students may petition for an exception to any academic, non-grade-related, graduate regulation for which no specific appeal or petition process exists. Petitions should be submitted, in writing, to the Associate Dean of the Graduate College. When applicable, the student’s advisor and department chair may endorse the petition letter. In some specific instances, utilizing the Academic Appeal and University Graduate Committee Hearing Panel is more appropriate. 

Students should contact the Associate Dean of the Graduate College for clarification on which process to initiate.

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