General Requirements. Advanced degrees are conferred by the trustees of the University five times each academic year, in September, November, January, April, and May or June. To be awarded an advanced degree, the candidate must fulfill the requirements of the department or program concerned, pay all necessary fees, and submit an application for the degree to the Graduate School by the established deadlines. When these obligations are met and the trustees have acted, the degree is recorded on the transcript.
Residence Requirement. The Graduate School is a community of scholars engaged in ongoing research, discussion, and scholarly exchange. Accordingly, except as approved by their departments and the Graduate School, candidates for advanced degrees are expected to be present on campus, using University resources to fulfill degree requirements and objectives, a majority of days per week for the academic term or year. Ph.D. candidates must be in residence for at least one academic year before standing for the general examination.
English Language Proficiency. In order to take full advantage of the education that Princeton University affords them, graduate students must possess a level of oral proficiency in the English language sufficient enough to participate successfully in all the various activities that comprise a graduate education, including classwork, research, and teaching. The English Language Program determines students’ English language needs and provides instruction and support to non-native speakers of English.
The Graduate School requires that all non-native speakers of English who have not earned their undergraduate degree at a United States college or university be tested early in the fall term for an acceptable level of oral proficiency (currently a 50 on the Speaking Proficiency English Assessment Kit [SPEAK test]). Those who fall below this level are required to take an English-language course during the academic year before being retested with the Princeton Oral Proficiency Test (POPT). Students must have passed SPEAK or POPT in order to hold an assistantship in instruction.
Foreign Language Requirement. The foreign language requirement is set by each department. Some departments do not require knowledge of a foreign language; in others, the requirement consists of having knowledge of one or more languages, depending upon the student’s field.
Students are expected to fulfill the language requirement as soon as possible after enrolling by sustaining examinations stipulated by the department. An examination from another institution does not fulfill the Princeton requirement. Students should stand for at least one language examination early in the first term of their enrollment. (Students should address inquiries about departmental requirements to the appropriate director of graduate studies.) Candidates whose program includes a language requirement will not be reenrolled for a third year (fifth term) of study, or to the general examination, unless the requirement has been satisfied.
Summer Study. Many graduate students and faculty members pursue ongoing research and scholarship on campus, and resources are available so that all Ph.D. students may continue degree-related work throughout the year. Intensive summer foreign language courses, normally in French, German, Latin, and Spanish, are offered to provide students with the reading proficiency necessary to meet degree requirements. In addition, various departments sponsor special programs or conferences in these months.
Ph.D. Requirements and Procedures. By design, Princeton emphasizes comparatively short and intensive programs of doctoral study, and the number of graduate students who can be enrolled is limited by the educational and financial resources of the Graduate School. To qualify for the Ph.D., a candidate is required to pass the general examination in his or her subject, present an acceptable dissertation, and pass the final public oral examination. More detailed information on each of these requirements is given below, and additional information can be found under the specific fields of study.
Individual departments may set specific requirements of their own in addition to those of the Graduate School, including completing specific courses or a specified number of courses, sitting for special examinations prior to the general examination, or submitting a certain number of dissertation chapters. Each department sets its own policy regarding incomplete grades in graduate courses, auditing, or taking courses on a pass/fail basis. Students are urged to read carefully the specific department’s program descriptions and to confer with the director of graduate studies if they have any questions.
Course Work. Ordinarily, Ph.D. students take courses during their first two or three years of enrollment to prepare for the general examination, but they are encouraged to take courses after passing it if they wish to pursue a topic or area of special interest.
Transfer Credit. The Graduate School does not operate on a system of semester-hour credits. Therefore no provision exists for satisfying any portion of the degree requirements by transferring credit received for work done at other institutions. Students who have completed work elsewhere, however, should be able to present themselves for the general examination in a correspondingly shorter time, after meeting the Graduate School residence requirement and any departmental requirements, including that in languages.
General Examination. The general examination is designed to ascertain the student’s general knowledge of the subject, acquaintance with scholarly methods of research, and ability to organize and present material. As such it may consist of several parts, some testing comprehension of the field and others assessing potential for original, creative research. Advancement to continued candidacy for the Ph.D. requires passage of all parts of the general examination in addition to all other departmental requirements, thereby demonstrating both general competency in the field and the potential for original, creative research. The examination is comprehensive and is not restricted to the content of graduate courses. In most programs, students normally are not reenrolled to a third year (fifth term) of graduate study unless they have sustained the general examination and unless they have first fulfilled the residence as well as any applicable language or other departmental requirements.
At the discretion of the department, the elements of the general examination may be written, oral, or both. Departments may elect to administer the examination to a student within 10 consecutive days during one of the three examination periods, or, with the approval of the Graduate School, in two or more major parts during different examination periods. (In such cases only the final, cumulative grade is reported.) In either case, the examination is held during a stated 21-day period in October or January, or during a five-week period in April and May. No department is required to give the examination in more than two of the three examination periods each year.
The examination committee consists of three or more members, all of whom shall be authorized to supervise doctoral dissertations, and at least two of whom normally shall be on the faculty of Princeton University. Any external examiners must have standing in the scholarly community comparable to appointees to the Princeton faculty.
Graduate students who withdraw from the University in good standing before passing the general examination (and therefore are not enrolled) may present themselves for the examination with the approval of the dean on the advice of the department, provided they have met the residence and language requirements.
If a student fails the general examination, he or she may stand for reexamination within one year. If unsuccessful the second time, the student may not take the examination again, and degree candidacy is automatically terminated.
The Master of Arts degree is earned by students in the humanities (Master of Fine Arts in the composition section of music), natural sciences, and social sciences, who demonstrate substantial mastery of the field, as defined specifically by the individual department or program (for example, by a particular level of achievement in a set of courses and sustaining the comprehensive or general part of the general examination, where appropriate).
Termination of degree candidacy at the master’s level shall stand without further appeal unless new evidence of scholarly promise or capacity is provided by the student’s subsequent professional achievement as shown by scholarly publication. In the latter event, a recommendation may be made to the dean that the student be reenrolled to candidacy for the Ph.D.
Dissertation. The dissertation must show that the candidate has technical mastery of the field and is capable of doing independent research. This study must enlarge or modify current knowledge in a field or present a significant new interpretation of known materials. The Graduate School requires that all doctoral dissertations be written and submitted in English.
A candidate may submit the dissertation for official action only after having sustained the general examination. When the dissertation has been formally presented, the department takes action on the positive recommendation of at least two principal readers to request that the dissertation advance to the final public oral examination. Qualified principal readers are those who are authorized to supervise doctoral dissertations in the University (such as, regular faculty at the rank of assistant professor or higher, and certain others in senior research ranks). External readers must be of comparable standing in another university or in the non-academic research community. Each principal reader submits a written and signed dissertation reader’s report to the department. Two copies of the dissertation must be available for interested readers in the department prior to the final public oral examination. The dean’s office then authorizes the department to hold the final public oral examination.
If the candidate and/or the adviser want the dissertation to be reviewed for possible patentable results and subsequent patent application, either by the University or a non-University agent, or have the dissertation reviewed by an outside sponsor for proprietary information or results, these processes must be completed before the department requests to hold the final public oral examination.
Final acceptance of the dissertation is conditional on passing the examination. The candidate must deposit two bound copies and a CD of the dissertation in Adobe PDF format in the University archives at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library after the defense but not more than two weeks after successfully passing the final public oral examination. At that time the University archivist signs the final public oral examination report, which is then submitted to the Office of Academic Affairs in the Graduate School. Only after receiving this report is the candidate’s name added to the advanced-degree list for approval by the Trustees of Princeton University, as indicated on the degree application form.
Each candidate for the Ph.D. must submit with the dissertation five copies of an abstract of the dissertation. Abstracts should not exceed 350 words. Two copies of the abstract are to be bound with the copies of the dissertation. The other three copies are submitted separately: one copy is retained by the academic department, one is submitted to the Graduate School with the Request to Hold the Final Public Oral, and one is presented to the University archives with the copies of the dissertation.
At the time the copies of the dissertation are submitted to the department, the candidate must complete and sign the Microfilm Publication Agreement Form, or present documentary evidence to the satisfaction of the Graduate School that the thesis will be published and made available in another suitable form.
The Princeton University archivist assumes responsibility for liaison with the microfilming agency. In order that certain minimum standards of uniformity are observed in the publishing process, the University archivist has established a format for the thesis and procedures for its deposition with the University archives. A brochure about this may be obtained from the archivist’s office, as well as online. The CD-ROM copy of the dissertation is forwarded to ProQuest for incorporation into their dissertations database. ProQuest has contracted with Amazon.com to sell copies of dissertations to interested readers at low cost. Should sales of the dissertation amount to seven copies or more in any one calendar year, the writer is paid a 10-percent royalty on the total sales for that year. The abstract is printed in Dissertation Abstracts, which is widely distributed.
When a dissertation that has already been approved by the two principal readers is presented in complete form later than May 1, the department concerned is not under obligation to take action on it in time to enable the student to receive the degree at Commencement. In such cases the degree is conferred in September of the following academic year.
If a student presents a doctoral dissertation more than five years after he or she has passed the general examination, the department is not automatically obliged to receive it for consideration. In such cases the department must vote formally as a faculty as to whether or not it should receive the dissertation for review and examination.
Final Public Oral Examination. The final public oral examination is a final examination in the student’s field of study as well as a defense of the dissertation.
The department holds the final public oral examination after the Graduate School reviews and accepts the readers’ reports and is satisfied that all other requirements have been met. The department is required to post prominently the date, time, and place of the examination for a minimum of three days (including Saturday) between the dean’s authorization and the date of the examination, in order to assure the open, public character of the oral examination. There are at least three principal examiners, all of them normally members of the Princeton faculty at the rank of assistant professor or higher, at least two of whom have not been principal readers of the dissertation. The department then determines whether or not the candidate has passed the examination.
In case the examination is not sustained, the candidate may stand for it a second time after at least one year has passed. If unsuccessful a second time, the candidate is not permitted another opportunity to retake the examination, and Ph.D. candidacy is terminated. In cases where an appearance for the final public oral examination would constitute a substantial financial hardship for the candidate, the director of graduate studies may recommend to the dean of the Graduate School that the examination be waived.