The Catholic University of America

Requirements for the Ph.D. Degree

Credit Hours, Seminars and Transfer Credits

A Ph.D. requires a minimum of 18 courses (54 credit hours) beyond the bachelor's degree. University regulations specify that a maximum of 8 courses (24 credit hours) can be transferred from another institution toward the Ph.D. at CUA. At least four seminars are required for the Ph.D. The time for completing the degree can vary dramatically, but it is the normal expectation that a full-time student can complete course requirements for the Ph.D. in three years.

The Goals of the Ph.D. Program

The program of studies for the Ph.D. is tailored to each individual student's interests and background. The student is being prepared to complete the comprehensive examinations in one major and two minor fields, as well as developing the background for the dissertation. For this reason, if a student is not to waste time, a very close relationship with a faculty mentor must be developed and the complete schedule of courses to be taken must be worked out carefully as far in advance as possible.

It is important for each student to understand that the degree program is not just an accumulation of credits, but rather preparation for the two specific tasks outlined above. Faculty will not permit students to take the comprehensives until they are convinced that the student is prepared both for the examinations, and to complete the independent research involved in a dissertation. More than the minimum number of credits may be required to reach those objectives.

MA Students Continuing to the PhD

All students entering the graduate program without a MA who wish to continue to the PhD must make a formal application to do so. By 15 April of their first year of study, students must submit to the DGS an application consisting of an unofficial transcript, a short essay of about one page explaining their broad academic interests and a rough sense of a possible project, and the endorsement of a faculty member willing to supervise the PhD. Students should submit the transcript and essay to the DGS via email or paper copy, and should arrange for the faculty member willing to supervise their work to contact the DGS directly. The Department will look for evidence of success in coursework thus far, with the expectation that graduate students applying to continue should have at least an A- average in their history classes. The Department will also consider the quality, originality, and cogency of the proposed research interests, and the extent to which the proposed project can be successfully completed at CUA (with attention to the willingness of faculty to supervise the project). On the basis of these standards, the DGS will prepare a set of recommendations to the faculty, to be voted on at the final Department meeting of the year. Students will be informed of the Department’s decision by the end of their first year, so they can plan for their exams appropriately.

The Colloquy

Planning the Ph.D. program is essential. One critical aspect of this planning is the colloquy. This is a formal meeting involving the student, the professor most centrally involved in the student's preparation for the major examination field (and who will serve also as the student's dissertation director), and additional faculty members who will be involved in the major and minor fields (usually a total of three faculty will be involved). It generally takes place in the second semester or third of a student's residence in the Ph.D. program, although this may vary widely depending on previous graduate work, the number of courses a student is taking, the time planned to complete the degree, and other factors. The student should discuss the timing of the colloquy with his/her faculty mentor upon entering the program.

The members of the colloquy discuss the student's interests insofar as a dissertation topic is concerned, the major and minor fields for the comprehensive examination -- as well as the faculty who will organize and write the questions -- and set up a tentative timetable for the completion of the degree requirements. The chair of the committee draws up a formal report of the colloquy. The formal transfer of course credits from another institution requires specific departmental approval, and this should take place prior to the colloquy.

Major and Minor Fields

The major field is defined by the student's specific interests and possible dissertation topic. It is usually defined both chronologically and topically (High Medieval Social History, 1100-1350; Twentieth Century U.S. Political; Early Modern European social and economic; Modern German political; intellectual; etc...).  

The selection of minor fields (second and third fields) is not so constrained. The student is free, with departmental approval, to pursue fields with faculty available in other departments of the university and within the Washington Consortium. One of these fields, as well, may be entirely outside of the discipline of history if the preparation it offers is judged to be important to the area of intended dissertation research.

The purpose of this requirement is to give the student some breadth and comparative perspective, both for intellectual as well as for  practical reasons (the preparation for a teaching job after graduation).

Language Requirement

As a requirement for the degree, students must submit evidence of foreign language proficiency (a computer language is not an acceptable alternative).  For Ph.D. students in U.S. and Modern European history, proficiency in two foreign languages is required; in Medieval European History the requirement is three languages. This can be accomplished in the same manner as outlined elsewhere for the language requirements for the M.A. degree.

The Language requirement must be completed before the comprehensive examinations can be taken.