GRS PhD Degree Requirements

Students admitted into a PhD program in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences must have completed an approved bachelor’s degree at an accredited institution.


A student in a Graduate School of Arts & Sciences (GRS) PhD degree program is required to have an advisor who is a member of the faculty in the student’s department or program. If an advisor is not assigned in advance of registration, the student should consult the department chair/program director or director of graduate studies about assignment procedures. The first reader of the candidate’s dissertation committee will normally be the student’s advisor once he/she has begun the dissertation stage of their degree.

Credit and Course Requirements

Students are required to complete a minimum of 64 graduate credits, although specific degree programs may require more. These credits may be earned through graduate courses, seminars, or directed study or research with an individual faculty member. Specific requirements of courses, seminars, and research or directed study are determined by the student’s department or graduate program. Graduate credits are those earned from courses numbered 500 or higher. Students may be required to register for a 2-credit teaching course; credits for this course do not count toward degree requirements.

Normally, no more than 18 credits may be taken in any semester. Each student must register for at least 2 credits or Continuing Student Status each semester until degree requirements are completed. The number of credits that may be transferred is explained in more detail in the Transfer of Credits section of this Bulletin.

A student in a PhD degree program normally may not register for more than two graduate-level semester courses offered by another Boston University school or college other than the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences or the College of Arts & Sciences, unless the courses are listed in the GRS Bulletin or department/program websites. All courses must be approved by the student’s major advisor and department chair, program director, or director of graduate studies.

Students must be registered for every semester or Summer Term during which a degree requirement is completed or University facilities are used unless on an official leave of absence. When finishing the degree, students must be registered in the semester in which the final degree requirements are completed, as well as in the preceding semester.

Residency Requirement

Each PhD student must satisfy a residency requirement of a minimum of two consecutive regular semesters of full-time graduate study at Boston University. Full-time study in this context is full-time commitment to the discipline as determined by the department. Without necessarily implying full-time course enrollment, this commitment permits access to libraries, laboratories, faculty, and other academic facilities of the University.

This requirement does not apply to Boston University employees enrolled as part-time students.

Language Requirement

The Graduate School of Arts & Sciences has no general foreign language requirement. Proficiency in one or more foreign languages is required in some degree programs.

Qualifying Examination

All students shall demonstrate mastery of their field in special examinations set by the student’s department or graduate program. All parts of the qualifying examination or equivalent must be passed before the dissertation prospectus will be accepted by the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.

PhD Candidacy

Upon successful completion of such qualifying examinations as are designated by the student’s department or graduate program, a student is accepted to PhD candidacy. The maximum period allowable between matriculation and acceptance to PhD candidacy is established by the individual department. Once entered, a PhD candidacy will expire on its fifth anniversary and after such time will be renewed only if the student requalifies for candidacy as determined by the department or graduate program and the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. In no instance will a student who is not a PhD candidate be allowed to defend a completed PhD dissertation.

Dissertation Prospectus

At a stage in the research prescribed by the student’s department or graduate program, the student develops a dissertation prospectus with the help of his/her readers or the entire dissertation committee. The dissertation prospectus must be approved by the readers, the director of graduate studies, and the department chair/program director. Once approved, the dissertation prospectus approval form is submitted to the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences office on or before the date specified at the Graduation Information website. Although the length of the prospectus will vary from discipline to discipline, it cannot exceed 20 double-spaced (or 10 single-spaced) pages of 12-point type, excluding the bibliography. The format of the prospectus and specific procedures for meeting the general guidelines described at the GRS Graduation Information website vary from department to department.


Candidates shall demonstrate their abilities for independent study in dissertations representing original research or creative scholarship. After completing coursework, and all other pre-dissertation requirements such as language requirements and the qualifying examinations, a student develops a dissertation proposal. In some programs presentation of the dissertation proposal is part of the qualifying examination. The student works with the department or graduate program to identify first and second (and in some departments, third) readers for the dissertation. The first reader must be a member of the faculty of the student’s department or graduate program, except by special arrangement with the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.

Abstract and Final Oral Examination

Students undergo final oral examinations in which they defend their dissertations as valuable contributions to knowledge in their fields and demonstrate a mastery of their fields of specialization in relation to their dissertations. The examining committee is composed of four or more professorial faculty members, including the readers and a committee chair. The committee chair can be a designated reader, an additional committee member, or serve only in the capacity of chair for the defense. A designated reader is defined as those committee members who sign the final dissertation approval page; all committee members are expected to read the dissertation prior to the final oral examination even if not appointed as a designated reader.

At least two of the committee members, including the chair and either the first or second reader, must be from the student’s department or graduate program. If, by special arrangement with the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, the committee’s first reader is not from the student’s department or program, then at least the chair and the second reader of the committee must be from the student’s department or graduate program. A special appointment, approved by the dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, is required for those committee members who are visiting, adjunct, and emeritus faculty; Boston University employees not of professorial rank; and examiners from outside Boston University. A majority of the committee must be Boston University professorial faculty members who do not require a special appointment. The membership of the committee must be approved by the department chair/program director or the director of graduate studies. All committee members are required to attend the final oral examination. Up to one committee member, who is not the chair of the committee or the first reader, can attend via audio/video communication without a proxy during the final oral examination. A proxy must be in attendance for any additional committee members who attend via audio/video communication.

Students are responsible for arranging an examination date with the department and for requesting that the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences schedule the examination. Before the final oral examination can be scheduled, the candidate must obtain initial approval of a dissertation abstract from the readers, the director of graduate studies, and the department chair/program director. The abstract, which cannot exceed 350 words in length, describes the thesis, methods, and general content of the dissertation. The abstract and the schedule of the examination must be submitted to the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences office at least three weeks before the examination. Students should consult their departments and the Graduation Information website about specific procedures and dates pertaining to abstracts and examinations. General instructions concerning the scheduling of examinations and the submission of abstracts are available at the GRS website.

Good Academic Standing

The Graduate School of Arts & Sciences requires graduate students to maintain Good Academic Standing in order to remain enrolled in their graduate program and/or to retain GRS scholarship and/or fellowship support. The GRS criteria for Good Academic Standing are as follows:

    1. Have no more than two failing or W grades.
    2. Meet all milestones of the degree, such as comprehensive exams, qualifying exams, and dissertation prospectus, on the schedule specified by the program.
    3. Meet all milestones of the degree with sufficient quality of work as specified by the program.
    4. Satisfactorily fulfill all service fellowship obligations, as specified by the program.

Time Limit

PhD degrees must be completed within seven years after the first registration for that degree, except for periods of authorized leave of absence. In addition, a full-time or certified full-time PhD student who is in good academic standing and who becomes the primary caregiver of an infant or adopted child will receive a one-year extension of their approved time to degree.

Petitions for extensions of time to complete degree requirements must be submitted prior to the end of the above limit. Students exceeding this time limit without an approved petition for an extension of time will not be permitted to register.