Preliminary Examinations

The preliminary examination is a significant milestone in a doctoral student’s academic career. It is given to assess knowledge of areas within the academic discipline. Passing of the preliminary area exam, obtaining approval of the minor if the major program requires it, and completing all the major course requirements culminate in admission to candidacy for the doctoral degree.

Students’ eligibility to take the prelim examination(s) is determined by their program. The program notifies the Graduate School of a student’s admission to candidacy on the preliminary warrant, which must be requested 3 weeks prior to the exam date. The number of examinations and their content vary from program to program. A student’s program administers the examination(s).

After passing the preliminary examination, students have 5 years to take the final examination (i.e. dissertation defense) and deposit their dissertation. The 5-year clock starts on the first day of instruction of the term (Fall, Spring, or Summer) immediately following the completion of the preliminary examination. Failure to complete their degree within this period may result in students having to retake the preliminary examination and be re-admitted to candidacy.

Time limit extension for dissertators impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic

To offer flexibility amidst the major disruption that COVID-19 may have had on doctoral candidates’ research and scholarship progress, students who achieved dissertator status by the end of the 2020 summer term have automatically had the 5-year time limit extended by 8 months. Dissertators given this 8-month extension who need more time due to continued COVID-related disruption to their progress may request a further extension from the Graduate School. Decisions to extend the deadline beyond the additional 8 months are made on a case-by-case basis upon request of the student and approval of their advisor. Upon advisor approval, the advisor then requests an extension from the Graduate School by submitting the request to the PhD degree coordinator at

See Certificate of Doctoral CandidacyDissertator StatusTime LimitsWarrants