Doctoral Candidacy

Being admitted to doctoral candidacy requires that students successfully complete Qualifying Examinations. A doctoral student may take the qualifying exam after a committee has been selected and formed, all course work set by the committee and student toward the Ph.D. or Ed.D. has been completed, and the doctoral student indicates that he or she is prepared to complete written and oral examinations and write their major paper.

Qualifying Examination

The examination is prepared, conducted and evaluated by the student’s full supervisory committee.

Written Exam

The written examination will be designed by the student’s supervisory committee to address the special education program competencies and the student’s professional goals. The exam will consist of minimum four written products (or five, based on the size of the committee or the committee’s joint decision) that demonstrate the student’s qualifications for doctoral candidacy.

As one of their written products, all students will be required to write a Major Area Paper (i.e., a comprehensive literature review on a specific topic).

The remaining products will be determined by the students’ supervisory committee.  The following are examples of such products:

  • Paper for publication in a research-oriented journal*
  • Paper for publication in a practitioner-oriented journal*
  • Plan for teacher professional development on a topic relevant to the student’s area of study
  • Responses to time-limited (e.g., 1-2 weeks) take-home exam questions
  • Responses to time-limited (e.g., 3 hours) on-campus exam questions

* For publications that are co-authored, the student’s role must be substantive.

Oral Exam

After the written exam has been evaluated by the committee members, the oral portion of the qualifying examination takes place. All members of the supervisory committee must be present with the student at the oral portion. However, with the approval of all members of the supervisory committee, one committee member may be off-site at a qualifying oral examination or at the final oral defense of the dissertation or thesis, using communication technology to participate rather than being physically present. The supervisory committee has the responsibility at this time to decide whether the student is qualified to continue work toward a Ph.D. or Ed.D.

Admission to Candidacy

A doctoral student does not become a candidate for the doctoral degree until granted formal admission to candidacy. Such admission requires the approval of the student’s supervisory committee, the school director, the college dean, and the Dean of the Graduate School. The approval must be based on (1) the academic record of the student, (2) the opinion of the supervisory committee concerning overall fitness for candidacy, (3) an approved dissertation topic, and (4) a qualifying examination as described above. Application for admission to candidacy should be made immediately after the doctoral student passes the qualifying examination and has a dissertation topic approved by the student’s supervisory committee. A student may not register for EEX 7980 (Research for Dissertation) until he or she is admitted to candidacy for a doctoral degree.


Every candidate for a doctoral degree is required to prepare and present a dissertation. The dissertation requires that the doctoral candidate design and implement a study that is acceptable in form and content to the supervisory committee and to the Graduate School. The final dissertation is typically comprised of five chapters including (1) an introduction, (2) review of literature, (3) methodology, (4) results, and (5) discussion. The doctoral candidate will present the completed dissertation to the committee at the dissertation defense. (Dissertations must be written in English.)


Students who enter in Fall 2001 and after are required to submit their final theses electronically. Exceptions are considered on a case-by-case basis when submitted in writing by the School to the graduate school. These exceptions are intended for the student who is off-campus during the semester the thesis is submitted. More information is available from the Graduate School Editorial Office.

Time Limitation

All work for the doctorate must be completed within five calendar years after the qualifying examination, or this examination must be repeated.