The Catholic University of America

Academic Regulations for Doctoral Degrees


Approved by: President
History: Issued    -- August 2006  
  Revised  -- July 23, 2015  
  Additional History
Related Policies: Transfer of Credit Policy
Additional References: Doctoral Dissertation Handbook; Graduate Admissions Programs
Responsible Official: Dean of Graduate Studies tel. (202) 319-5247
I.    Introduction
The University offers a wide range of doctoral degree programs. These programs are listed under the graduate programs section at the Graduate Admissions site ( This policy pertains to the various requirements related towards the successful completion of these degree programs.  
II.   Definitions
Courses carrying doctoral degree credit will normally be scheduled for three credit hours per semester. The semester is considered to be comprised of fifteen weeks which includes one week for examinations.
A credit hour is an amount of work represented in intended learning outcomes and verified by evidence of student achievement that is an institutionally established equivalency that reasonably approximates not less than either:
1. One hour of classroom or direct faculty instruction and a minimum of two hours of out of class student work each week for approximately fifteen weeks for one semester hour of credit or the equivalent amount of work over a different amount of time; or
2. At least an equivalent amount of work as required in paragraph (1) of this definition for other academic activities as established by the institution including laboratory work, internships, practica, studio work, and other academic work leading to the award of credit hours.
A student who intends to work toward the doctoral degree is expected to have earned the master's degree or have achieved its equivalent in satisfactory course work. Permission to proceed directly to doctoral study may be obtained from the major department and school. The doctoral degree is conferred upon students who have satisfactorily completed at least three years of graduate study and have met the other conditions prescribed for the degree.
Admission to a master's program or the awarding of the master's degree does not constitute admission to the corresponding doctoral program. Admission to the doctoral degree is granted only to students who give evidence of superior academic ability and of high attainment in the special field in which the major work will be done.
The general requirements for doctoral study are given below. The student should also consult the appropriate sections of the Graduate Announcements for specific information.
The program of studies to be pursued for the degree must include a minimum of 53 credit hours of graduate course work, of which at least 35 credit hours must be in the major subject. The remainder must be completed in a program that has been approved by the department chair and/or the dean of the school. Individual schools or departments may prescribe additional requirements.
Courses carrying graduate degree credit normally will be scheduled for three credit hours per semester. Continuing education courses are not acceptable in meeting requirements for graduate degree programs.
Courses given during the summer semester and compressed format courses also consist of three credit hours or its equivalent as determined by the dean of the school sponsoring the course.
Up to 24 credit hours of graduate work earned at another accredited institution in which the student received a grade of B or better may be applied toward course requirements for the doctoral degree upon recommendation of the appropriate department and with the approval of the academic dean. Classes submitted for transfer evaluation must have been completed within ten years of the request. Some programs only accept more recent classes. Transfer of credit must be approved before permission is given to take the comprehensive examination. Credits earned at The Catholic University of America are transferrable to other institutions at the sole discretion of the receiving institution. In addition to the foregoing requirements, see the University’s Transfer of Credit Policy for general transfer requirements.
Language requirements are determined by the various departments and schools. Each student should ascertain the language requirements applicable to the student's degree program by consultation with their academic advisor. Students must fulfill all language requirements before taking the written comprehensive examination in the major subject.
The generally accepted methods of satisfying modern language requirements are the same as those specified for the master's degree (see Additional requirements may be specified by individual departments or schools.
VII.   Comprehensive Examination
After fulfilling the language and course requirements in the major subject, the student must pass a written comprehensive examination in the major subject of the degree. At the discretion of the department 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 exam before the start of classes and must be registered before the conclusion of the Add/Drop Period for the semester in which they plan to take the examination. Upon approval of the student's credentials by the dean of the school and, where appropriate, the department chairperson, the student will be granted written permission by the 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/department 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.
VIII.   Admission to Candidacy
Admission to a doctoral program does not automatically include admission to candidacy for the doctoral degree. For admission to candidacy, the faculty of the school and department 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. Schools and departments may follow different procedures for formal admission to candidacy. The student should consult with the department chair or dean for information on these procedures.
Candidacy for the doctoral degree can begin formally on the first day of the semester following successful completion of the comprehensive exam. The student has five years 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-year limit. If more than five 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. This is a determination made by the school and department.
IX.   Dissertation
After the student has been admitted to candidacy, the department, the school, and the Dean of Graduate Studies must approve the dissertation topic and dissertation committee. The dean, 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 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 Dean of Graduate Studies. Certification by the committee indicates that the proposed research involving human subject participation is compliant with federal guidelines according to 45 CFR 46. The committee will send the student and the Dean of Graduate Studies written notification of its approval of the proposal's research methods.
The department chair, the dean of the school and the 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 offices of the department chairperson, the dean, and the Dean of Graduate Studies. Forms are also available online at
Dissertation proposals must be submitted for department and school approval no later than two years after formal admission to candidacy. Deans may extend the deadline for cause, but only if the request for extension is submitted to the dean within six weeks before the end of the two year allowed period.
Dissertation Proposal:
The dissertation proposal should contain the following elements:
1.  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;
2.  A specific statement of the purpose or purposes of the proposed study;
3.  A description of the methodology to be used. If the study involves the testing of a hypothesis, the hypothesis should be spelled out clearly. The student should describe the techniques, statistical measures, sampling methods and any other essential methodologies he or she will be using in the research;
4.  An explanation of the specific or unique contribution which this study will make to the field of knowledge under consideration;
5.  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 request on the form Doctoral Dissertation Topic and Committee: Request for Approval, available online at and from the department, the school, and the Office of the Dean of Graduate Studies. Instructions for submitting the form are listed on the back of the form. As stated above, the student has five 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 student is unable to complete the dissertation within this time period, the dean and department chair may inform the candidate that he or she must submit a request for a reasonable extension. The dean or the dean’s designee (usually the associate or assistant dean for graduate programs of the school) 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. 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 for each graduation date. The department and school establish the procedures for submission of the dissertation to the dissertation committee.
X.    Criteria for Dissertations
Dissertations will be judged according to the following criteria:
1.  The dissertation should constitute a contribution to knowledge. Such contributions may include:
a) The discovery of new facts;
b) The establishment of new relations among facts already known;
c) The solution to a problem or problems hitherto unresolved;
d) The formulation of a new or improved method or technique;
e) The construction of a theory involving new principles; or
f) A critical study correcting errors or establishing negatives.
2.  The following are not considered to be contributions to the body of knowledge:
a) Mere compilations or a digest of that which is already known about a given subject;
b) Translations of foreign language works without commentary or critical analysis;
c) Bibliographies or other mere instruments of research, however needed or useful they may be; or
d) Essay-type works not based on detailed factual investigation.
3.  The dissertation should demonstrate the candidate's familiarity with the most recent and best research methods 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.
4.  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.
5.  The dissertation should give evidence of the candidate's ability to interpret the gathered data both independently and constructively, and to recognize their bearing upon related data and problems.
6.  The dissertation should give evidence of balanced, objective and critical judgment.
7.  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.
8.  The dissertation should be written in clear and direct language, proving the candidate's mastery of style and expression. The official language of the dissertation is English. However, languages other than English as well as specialized notations such as mathematical, scientific, and musical may be used when they are essential to the subject of the dissertation. Under no circumstances can a language other than English be used strictly for the convenience of the student. When other languages or symbolic notations are used, the abstract, the section(s) explaining the central subject and background of the dissertation, and section(s) that summarize the conclusion and significance of the dissertation findings must be in English.
9.  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 (e.g. the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing of the Modern Language Association of America).
10.  The dissertation should include:
a) 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;
b) The presentation of the additional data assembled by the candidate and the exposition of the candidate's contribution to knowledge;
c) A brief summary stating the major results achieved or the contributions made by the dissertation;
d) 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 Oral Examination Board appointed by the academic dean of the school with the approval of the 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 Dean of Graduate Studies an Oral ExaminationRequest for Approval. The examination may not be scheduled until all members of the dissertation committee have informed the academic dean, in writing, that the dissertation is ready for defense. At least one (1) week before the examination date, the academic 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. Academic deans and Department chairs (where applicable) with the rank of associate professor are also eligible to serve as chairpersons of an Oral Examination Board.
All members of the Oral Examination Board must be physically present for the examination. In extraordinary cases, if a member of the  Oral Examination Board who is not the chairperson or the secretary cannot be present, the academic dean of the school in which the candidate is a student may petition the 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 generally will not be scheduled during the summer sessions. However, when extraordinary circumstances require that the examination can only convene during the summer session, permission can be granted by the Dean of Graduate Studies.
No one may be admitted to the oral examination conducted in the presence of the Oral Examination Board without the permission of the academic dean of the school. However, before the start of the oral examination, the academic dean may allow a presentation of the candidate’s research methodology and findings, to which the academic dean may extend an open invitation to the public. The scheduling of this public presentation remains at the discretion of the academic dean of the school.   
At the conclusion of the oral examination, two (2) votes are taken. The first vote is a preliminary vote, with only the dissertation committee members voting, while the faculty members serving as the Oral Examination Board chairpersonandsecretary do not vote.During the second vote, each memberoftheOral Examination Boardhasone(1)vote. Inordertopass,thecandidatecannot receive more than one (1) “no” vote from the members of the Oral Examination Board. If merited, a notation of "with distinction" will be recorded. The Oral 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.
If a candidate fails in the first oral examination, he or she must obtain permission from the academic dean of 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.
XII.    Deposit and Publication of the 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.
The depositing of the dissertation with the Dean of Graduate Studies must occur before the end of the semester following the successful defense of the dissertation. If the dissertation cannot be deposited by this deadline, an extension for another semester must be requested by the candidate. An extension of one additional semester can be granted by the dean of the candidate’s school or by the designate of the dean. Failure to meet the deadline for deposition will result in the invalidation of the oral dissertation examination and would require retaking the examination.
The CUA publication Doctoral Dissertation Handbook, available in the Office of the Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies and online, provides detailed information on formatting and printing the manuscript; preparing the abstract; registering the copyright; arranging for the deposit; and publishing and binding of the dissertation. All candidates preparing to write a dissertation should contact the Coordinator of Graduate Student Services in the Office of the Dean of Graduate Studies. The Coordinator will review the manuscript with the candidate for formatting errors.
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.
XIII.   The Copyright
Copyright ownership of a thesis or dissertation prepared by a student toward degree requirements shall remain with the student. While the student retains full copyright ownership on all written work submitted for credit or degree requirements, by submitting the work for credit or degree requirements the student shall be deemed automatically 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 thesis or 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.
As the copyright owner, the student can choose to restrict public access to their thesis or dissertation for a determined period of time, or grant to The Catholic University of America a local distribution license only as set forth in the Doctoral Dissertation Handbook. Such restrictions must be indicated in writing at the time of submission.
As nonexclusive,worldwide,royalty-free license holders, The University, its constituent schools, and departments (where applicable) cannot restrict access to student work that has been submitted for degree requirements and deposited with the John K. Mullen of Denver Library for cataloging, binding, and shelving.
Even if the student has decided to place restrictions on the distribution of their thesis or dissertation, The University must retain a non-exclusive right to all research reported in manuscripts funded in whole or part by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or other government bodies, so as to ensure compliance with public access initiatives required by law.
XIV.  Completion of Requirements and Requests for Extensions
As stated above, the student has five 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 this time period, the student may petition in writing to the dean of the school for an extension. The dean or the dean’s designee (usually the associate or assistant dean for graduate programs of the school) 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 another 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 petition the dean in writing for Academic Leave. If the dean or the dean’s designee endorses the Academic Leave request and it is approved by the Dean of Graduate Studies, this suspends the time period allowed for the completion of the dissertation. The Academic Leave is for a specific period of time. 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.