To The Top

The header image is the default header image for the site.

Your Doctoral Degree

Academic Process for
Doctoral Students

Every graduate program has a Director of Graduate Study (DGS) who can provide you with guidance in navigating the academic process. Click here to identify your DGS and to read more about the role of the DGS.

Choose an Advisor

All admitted students must have an advisor.

In some cases, a program may assign a preliminary or temporary advisor. To select a permanent advisor/dissertation supervisor, a doctoral student selects a consenting advisor or co-advisors from faculty members of the academic program in which the major work is planned.

Doctoral advisors must be members of the doctoral faculty. To determine whether a faculty member has doctoral faculty status, refer to the list of faculty in each academic program in the University catalog. Students can change advisors during their doctoral program. Before registering for each semester or session, the student consults the advisor concerning a program of courses.

If an advisor is unable or unwilling to continue to serve as a student’s advisor, the academic program, led by the director of graduate studies, will make every effort to ensure a replacement is found. An advisor who retires or leaves MU may continue to serve as a student’s advisor, unless a written academic program policy prohibits such an arrangement.

Learn More

Choose a Doctoral Program Committee

Every student must form a faculty committee to oversee the process of dissertation completion.

All members of the doctoral program committee participate actively in the activities of the doctoral student at all the stages of the student’s career at MU, except the qualifying examination or process.

The doctoral program committee is composed of a minimum of four members of MU graduate faculty.* Three members must come from the student’s academic department or interdisciplinary degree program. The fourth may come from either a different academic department/interdisciplinary degree program at MU or from within the student’s home unit. Every department and interdisciplinary program must have a formal documented policy that establishes whether the fourth member is required to be from outside the student’s department or program. The fourth member’s role includes ensuring procedural fairness and objectivity, maintaining appropriate standards for scholarly work, offering interdisciplinary perspectives and complementary expertise. As such, having a fourth member from outside the department or program is an important consideration. At least two of the doctoral committee members, including the student’s advisor, must be MU doctoral faculty.

To determine whether a faculty member has graduate or doctoral faculty status, refer to the list of faculty in each academic department or interdisciplinary degree program in the University catalog.

*Exceptionally, the Doctoral Nursing Program uses a three-member committee.

Take Qualifying Examination

Check with your program to determine whether a qualifying examination is required. If required, the format of the examination will be dictated by the program. If a non-coursework based examination is required and the student does not successfully complete it, students have a minimum of four weeks, but no more than one additional semester to remediate a failed examination.

Submit Plan of Study

A plan of study is a list of courses and the credit to be earned in each of them. If a student completes more than one graduate credential at MU, they may use a course for no more than three formal credentials (e.g., a master’s, doctoral, specialist, and/or dual degree; certificate, minor).

Learn More

Take Comprehensive Examination

A doctoral student must successfully complete the comprehensive examination within a period of five years beginning with the first semester of enrollment as a PhD student. Individual departments or area programs may stipulate a shorter time period. The comprehensive examination consists of written and oral sections. It must be completed at least seven months before the final defense of the dissertation. The two sections of the examination must be completed within one month.

Official university recesses, university holidays, and periods of intersession that fall between the two sections of the examination (for example, Thanksgiving Recess, Winter Break) will not count against the student’s timeline. Students are encouraged to communicate and work with committee members to achieve a mutually workable timeline

Doctoral Comprehensive Examination

The student must be enrolled to take this examination. It is to be administered only when MU is officially in session. Both the written and oral sections of the exam can only be administered during a regular semester session, i.e., the period between start and end date (including exam week) of Fall, Spring, and Summer sessions, excluding holidays and weekends. It is important to note that some faculty members are 9-month employees, thus a student and their advisor should discuss with committee members their availability for the comprehensive examination during the Summer session.

Written Section

The written section of the examination may be conducted in one or both of the following ways:

  • The written section may be arranged and supervised by the major advisor, in which case questions are prepared and graded by the doctoral advisory committee;
  • The major advisor may delegate responsibility for arranging, preparing, supervising, and evaluating the written section of the examination to one or more departmental or program committees appointed for this purpose.

Successful Completion

For the comprehensive examination to be completed successfully, the doctoral advisory committee must vote to pass the student on the entire examination, both written and oral sections, with no more than one dissenting or abstaining vote.

A report of this decision, the Doctoral Comprehensive Examination Results form (D3), with the signatures of all committee members, must be sent to the Graduate School and the student no later than two weeks after the comprehensive examination is completed.


A failure of either the written or oral section of the exam constitutes failure of the comprehensive exam.

If a failure is reported, the committee also must include in the report an outline of the general weaknesses or deficiencies of the student’s work. This report should be sent to the Graduate School as well.

The student and the committee members are encouraged to work together to identify steps the student might take to become fully prepared for the next examination.

Request for Clarification
If at any time the student believes the advice given by the committee is inadequate, the student may send a written request for clarification to the committee.

A copy of this request should be sent to the Graduate School as well. The committee must respond to this request in writing within two weeks and a copy must be filed with the Graduate School.

Retaking the Exam
A student who fails may not take a second comprehensive examination for at least 12 weeks.

Failure to pass two comprehensive examinations automatically prevents candidacy.

Continuous Enrollment After the Exam

Students must maintain continuous-enrollment status during their doctoral candidacy. Continuous enrollment status as a doctoral candidate begins at the onset of the term immediately following successful completion of the comprehensive examination.

Continuous enrollment status provides students with access to the following resources for dissertation completion:

  • Advisor Support
  • Doctoral Program Committee Guidance
  • University Research Facilities

To maintain continuous enrollment, students must register for  at least 2 hours during the Spring and Fall semesters and 1 hour during the Summer semester using myZou.  Students who have enrollment difficulties should contact their director of graduate studies or the Graduate School’ doctoral academic advisor for registration assistance.

Learn More

Write Dissertation

The dissertation must:

  • Be written about a subject approved by the candidate’s doctoral program committee
  • Embody the results of original and significant investigation
  • Be the candidate’s own work

Learn More

Credits & Requirements

Full-time enrollment for graduate students is defined as enrollment in 9 credit hours per semester in the fall and spring semesters and/or 4.5 hours in the summer session. Full-time enrollment for doctoral candidates (after successful completion of their comprehensive examinations) is 2 credit hours in the fall and spring semesters and 1 hour in the summer session. Without special permission of the Dean of the Graduate School, the maximum number of credit hours in which a graduate student may enroll is 16 credit hours per semester in the fall and spring and/or nine in the summer.

International Student Enrollment

View the enrollment guidelines on the International Center website.

MU requires a minimum of 72 credit hours, including 15 hours of 8000-9000 level coursework exclusive of readings, research, problems and independent study experiences, beyond the bachelor’s degree for the PhD and EdD degrees.

A student’s doctoral program committee must approve all course work used to satisfy the credit-hour requirement and may require additional course work beyond these minimums.

The doctoral committee may recommend that up to 30 hours of post-baccalaureate graduate credit from a regionally accredited University be transferred toward the total hours required for the doctoral degree.

All transfer credits are considered general electives. They cannot be used toward the 8000-level requirement, but are considered as credit hours toward the completion of the degree.

It is the responsibility of the doctoral committee to determine whether it is appropriate to transfer credit; however the Graduate School must make the final review of the transfer request to determine if the credit meets the minimum guidelines. If so, the Graduate School will process the request so that the transferred courses appear on the student’s transcript.

All requests for exceptions to this policy must be approved by the Dean of the Graduate School.

All courses to be applied to the plan of study must be completed within eight years of filing the plan.

With program approval, up to 30 hours of coursework for which professional credit was received may be counted toward the 72 credit-hour requirement.  The student must have an undergraduate degree, and a policy for determining the relevance of the coursework to the current Ph.D. program must be established at the program level, and submitted to the Graduate School.

Doctoral Plan of Study

The doctoral advisory committee provides academic program approval of the student’s plan of study — a list of the courses and the credit to be earned in each of them — that will, when completed:

  • Prepare the student for research or scholarly investigation in the chosen field of study
  • Satisfy the credit-hour and residency requirement of the academic program
  • Satisfy any special requirements (proficiency in foreign languages, collateral field, doctoral minor, other special research skills) required by the department or area program
  • Satisfy the graduate faculty requirement for a minimum of 15 hours of MU coursework at the 8000/9000 level (exclusive of research, problems and independent study experiences)

As part of the plan of study, the committee also recommends to the Dean of the Graduate School any request for transfer of graduate credit.

Changes to the Plan of Study

Changes to the plan of study should be submitted on the Plan of Study Course Substitution form.

Foreign Language Proficiency

If required, a student may establish foreign language proficiency by demonstrating an ability to translate English into two foreign languages or by demonstrating a high order of fluency in one language — that is, the ability to read, write, and converse in that language and to translate that language into English and English into that language.

Plan of Study Completion Before Comprehensive Exam

The student must substantially complete the course work outlined in the plan of study to the satisfaction of the doctoral advisory committee and the Graduate School before being declared ready for the comprehensive examination.