PhD Timeline and Milestones

PhD Timeline and Milestones


There is no specific length of time associated with earning a PhD. Across disciplines and campuses, the average amount of time to earn the degree is between four and five years, although individual time varies widely.

The education program was planned to span at least three years and was designed for students who already have undertaken graduate work and already demonstrated competence and interest in educational research. The length of the program, however, is based on the student’s progress in mastering subject matter, preparing for examinations, preparing research proposals, and conducting original research. The nature of these activities differs and makes for considerable time variability among students in the same program.

Year-by-Year Guideline

A general guideline for planning your graduate program is described below.

First year

During the first year, students normally complete any prerequisites that are deemed necessary by the admissions committee, the graduate advisor, or faculty advisor. General program prerequisites are noted on the Advising Form in this handbook.

In addition to prerequisites, in the fall all PhD students are required to complete the one-quarter, 4-unit Proseminar In Education (EDU 291).

All students will take the following methodology core courses:

  • EDU 201 Qualitative Methods (4) Winter
  • EDU 204A Quantitative Methods in Educational Research: Analysis of Correlation and Design (4) Spring

Second year

During the second year of the program, students complete any remaining background course work or required course work. The rest of the second year is devoted to completing courses in your area of specialization. At least 32 units (approximately eight courses) are required for the area of specialization; these are selected with the assistance of the faculty advisor. You should also complete at least two advanced methodology courses.  Students will also complete the Preliminary Examination by the end of the second year.

Second/Third year

During the second and third year, students prepare for and complete the qualifying examination. The student and his or her qualifying examination committee will design a qualifying examination to assess readiness to complete the dissertation.

Fourth year plus

PhD dissertations must satisfy the standards and format of the Graduate Studies Office and those of an appropriate publications manual, for example, that of the American Psychological Association (latest edition). In general, the style and format of the journals by the AERA should be used in written work in this program.

The Office of Graduate Studies will assign a three-person committee to guide the dissertation, with one member serving as chair. Normally a student’s dissertation advisor will be the chair. All three members of the committee must approve the dissertation.

When the committee approves the dissertation, the student makes a public presentation of the dissertation results. The details of place and time for dissertation presentations will be publicly posted, and any member of the University community may attend and raise questions at this exit seminar. This presentation is not an examination, but an opportunity for students to inform members of the graduate group and others about their research. Participation in the process of research dissemination is viewed as a scholarly activity.

Expected Timeline for Completing Program Milestones

Students entering the Ph.D. program in Education are expected to make timely progress toward completing their doctoral studies. We have defined timely progress in terms of several program milestones. The table below specifies the time that students should take to complete each milestone. Students are encouraged to complete program milestones sooner than indicated, but not at the expense of producing quality work.

Students who do not complete program milestones within a normal time period are considered by the GGE faculty to be at risk of not completing the program successfully and will be counseled by their advisor to help them get back on track as quickly as possible.

Program Milestone Years to Completion

MILESTONE #1: Course requirements completed, Preliminary Exam passed, & Qualifying Exam committee formed two to three years from beginning of program

MILESTONE #2: Completion of both of the following two separate steps:

  • Qualifying exam completed
  • Dissertation proposal approved (Advancement to Candidacy) One year past Milestone #1, not to exceed four years from beginning of program

MILESTONE #3: Dissertation completed within four years past Milestone #2, not to exceed a total of seven years in the program.

We expect students to complete each milestone within the specified period of time. We recognize, however, that students come into the program with varied backgrounds and interest, and these will be reflected in somewhat different timelines through and between program milestones. We also recognize that exceptional circumstances can make it difficult for students to complete a program milestone within the normal period of time.

Progress in completing program milestones is an important criterion in shaping faculty evaluations of student work, including evaluations for fellowship and travel support, teaching assistantships, and research assistantships. GGE faculty also look for indications of each student’s course completion record, writing and reading ability, and writing and research productivity.

Faculty members also view the PhD program as a point of entry for students into the educational research community. Evidence that students are taking some initiative in joining this community - through collegial engagement with faculty, other doctoral students, and educational researchers in other venues (conferences, associations, journals, etc.) – is regarded very favorably by faculty members, not only on its own merits but as a resource to students in developing professional skills and dispositions. Evidence that students are not engaged in collegial relations of this sort is viewed by faculty members as a liability for students who hope to complete the program successfully and in a timely manner.

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