UNC Charlotte Academic Policy: Ph.D. Degree Requirements

I. Executive Summary

This policy outlines the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree requirements including residency requirements and grade point average for graduate students. To graduate from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, students must be in good academic standing, and must have earned a minimum grade point average of at least 3.0 in the major.

II. Policy Statement

A doctoral degree is conferred by the University after the student has demonstrated outstanding scholarship in an approved program of study. Candidates must satisfy all University degree requirements in addition to all standards established by the doctoral faculty of their particular program. Specific program degree requirements are listed under the respective doctoral programs in the Graduate Catalog. In some cases, requirements in a given program are more stringent than the minimum requirements established by the Graduate School.

Ordinarily, a student must complete at least 72 post-baccalaureate credit hours in order to earn the Ph.D. In cases where a student has earned a master’s degree in a relevant field from UNC Charlotte or another institution, the student may be permitted to pursue advanced standing within their Ph.D. program. Such advanced standing must be approved through the graduate curriculum review process and appear in the program-specific sections of the Graduate Catalog.

Advisory Committees

All students in graduate programs must have a graduate advisor who is a regular member of the Graduate Faculty in the student’s major program. The advisor is typically the chair of the student’s dissertation committee. When there is a compelling reason to do so, another faculty member may serve as “co-chair.”

For doctoral students, the dissertation committee will consist of at least four Graduate Faculty members, one of whom is appointed by the Dean of the Graduate School as the Graduate Faculty representative. Dissertations are chaired by graduate faculty and are selected by agreement between the student and the faculty member.

The committee for doctoral students is indicated on the Appointment of Doctoral Dissertation Committee form (available in the Graduate School office or online). At the time that the Appointment of Doctoral Dissertation Committee form is approved, the Graduate School appoints the Graduate Faculty Representative to serve on the doctoral committee.

Graduate Faculty Representative

The graduate faculty representative is a member of the doctoral student’s advisory committee appointed by the Graduate School. Advisors may recommend to the Graduate School a faculty member who meets the relevant criteria (below). Recommendations should accompany the initial Committee form. The graduate faculty representative must assure that the doctoral student is treated fairly and impartially by their advisory committee, and assure that University standards and policies are upheld. For these reasons, faculty serving in this role should hold tenure and a Regular Graduate Faculty membership, have served on a dissertation or thesis committee prior to this appointment and come from a department different than the student and chair. This faculty member’s role is primarily but not totally procedural. The faculty member may also participate in the development and evaluation of the student’s research to the extent appropriate for the faculty member’s background. The Graduate Faculty Representative is a full voting member of the committee. This representative is appointed prior to the student’s dissertation proposal defense and must participate in the formation of the student’s topic and in the final dissertation examination.

Advanced Standing Tracks for Doctoral Programs

Doctoral students who enter with a relevant master’s degree may be admitted to an Advanced Standing track in some doctoral programs. In those programs offering this option, the Graduate Program Director must recommend admission to the Advanced Standing track for the term in which the student begins their graduate study. This accelerated track must consist of a minimum of 42 credit hours (including GRAD 8302, GRAD 8990, and 18 credit hours of research).

Note: Courses taken as part of the student’s master’s program will not be accepted for transfer credit in such cases. Graduate credit from other institutions may not be applied to Advanced Standing Tracks for doctoral programs.

Program of Study

Students pursuing a Ph.D. who are not enrolled in advanced standing are eligible to transfer a maximum of 30 credit hours from another institution. In situations where a student is pursuing a master’s degree and a Ph.D. simultaneously at UNC Charlotte, up to 30 credit hours may be shared between the two programs, provided that the student completes the master’s degree before or concurrently with the Ph.D. Only those courses appropriate for the approved program and curriculum in which the student is enrolled may be transferred or shared. Appropriate courses should be determined by the student’s supervisory committee and approved by the program director before the request is submitted to the Graduate School.

Students are expected to satisfactorily complete all required coursework with a GPA of 3.0 or above in courses on the degree plan of study. Grades in all courses attempted, whether or not on the plan of study, remain on the transcript and will be included in the calculation of the student’s cumulative GPA as it is reported on the transcript. Courses graded as C on the degree plan of study must be offset by an equal number of graduate-level credits graded as A. Some programs may have stricter requirements regarding the applicability of grades of C towards degree completion. Please reference the program-specific entries of the Graduate Catalog. Students and faculty should refer to the Academic Suspension and Termination policies in the Graduate Catalog regarding the accumulation of marginal grades of C.

Time Limit

All requirements for the Ph.D. must be completed within nine (9) calendar years, beginning with the student’s first term in the program. The time limit cannot be paused, even if the student takes an approved leave of absence. No course older than nine years may be applied towards a research doctoral degree (including transfer credit). Any course that exceeds this limit must be retaken. Failure to adhere to the time limit may result in the termination of a student’s enrollment.

The Graduate School may consider requests for a single extension of one (1) year in cases with rare, extenuating circumstances. In such cases, the student and graduate program must provide a signed timeline for program completion that does not exceed one year. Failure to adhere to the approved timeline for completion will result in automatic termination of the student’s enrollment for a lack of satisfactory academic progress. Multiple extensions will not be approved.


All doctoral students are required to complete a substantial residency requirement during which they have sustained contact with the graduate faculty. This requirement is specified in the program descriptions.

Qualifying Examination

Each student must complete a qualifying examination. Ordinarily students who enter a Ph.D. program directly from a baccalaureate program sit for this examination before the end of their third post-baccalaureate year in the program while students who enter a Ph.D. program from a master’s degree program take the examination before the end of their first year in the doctoral program. To sit for this examination, the student must have at least a 3.0 GPA and must have removed any conditions upon admission. Qualifying assessments are administered by graduate program faculty. Students who fail a qualifying assessment are subject to termination and should discuss options with their graduate program director. With program approval, a qualifying assessment may be retaken one time. If the student fails the exam a second time, the program may, in rare circumstance and with compelling evidence, allow a student to, within four months, retake the exam (or portion of the exam). In such cases, the program must document the circumstances under which the student is allowed to retake portions of the exam and demonstrate that the student’s committee unanimously supports the decision. Documentation must be submitted to the Graduate School for review prior to the exam date. In no instance will the student be allowed to take the exam (or portion of the exam) a fourth time. Students may only appeal a termination to the Graduate School if their appeal to retake the exam is based on a procedural error or discrimination (please see the Category 2 appeal description under Appeal for Academic Termination) and their initial appeal to the program was denied.


The dissertation topic may be proposed after the student has passed the qualifying examination. The dissertation topic proposal must be defended at a meeting of the student’s advisory/dissertation committee. A written dissertation proposal must be submitted to the advisory/dissertation committee at least two weeks prior to the scheduled defense. A doctoral student advances to candidacy after the dissertation proposal has been approved by the student’s advisory/dissertation committee and the Graduate School. Results of the dissertation proposal defense should be submitted to the Graduate School via the Proposal Defense for Doctoral Dissertation and/or Master’s thesis form directly after the defense. Candidacy must be achieved at least one term prior to the term of graduation.


The doctoral program of study must include 18 hours of research credit, including dissertation credit. The doctoral candidate must be continuously enrolled in dissertation credit hours (Also see: Student Responsibility – Continuous Registration) beginning with the semester after the dissertation topic proposal is approved until the semester of graduation.

It is expected that all dissertation committee members be present for the dissertation proposal defense and for the dissertation final defense. If there is an exceptional case in which a committee member needs to participate in the proposal or final defense from a remote location, the student and all committee members must agree prior to the defense. Additionally, the student must ensure that the defense is open to the public.

The dissertation must be submitted for final review by the student’s committee at least two weeks before the date of the final examination in which the dissertation is defended. Following the successful completion of this defense, the doctoral candidate must submit one electronic copy of the approved error-free manuscript to the Graduate School (via ProQuest) no later than the filing date indicated in the University calendar. Guidelines for the preparation of the dissertation are available online on the Graduate School website under Current Students. Each student must submit the Defense Report for Doctoral Dissertation and/or Master’s thesis form, the Submission and ETD Signature form, and the original dissertation title page to the Graduate School (with original signatures).

The Graduate School requires publication of the dissertation through ProQuest, an online database of dissertations. The student is responsible for paying the optional copyrighting fees. Any other arrangements for publications of the dissertation must not interfere with publication through ProQuest. It may be appropriate for some students to restrict access to their dissertation temporarily (such as when a patent application is pending). In these cases, the student and their committee must submit an embargo request to the Graduate School explaining why restricted access is needed.

As a research university, UNC Charlotte contributes to the scholarly community through the work of faculty and graduate students. Students are required to submit their dissertation or thesis to ProQuest, an online repository for scholarly work. Although the author of the work retains the copyright, open access may impact the likelihood of publication in some journals. More information is available at www.ProQuest.com.

Under certain circumstances, research may need to be temporarily withheld from publications or “embargoed.” Such restrictions may be requested when a:

a) patent application is expected;
b) publication has been submitted and the publisher’s copyright excludes publication of the work in Proquest. In this case, a screen shot of the journal policy must be included.
c) contract with an outside entity, such as a government agency, requires that the research be embargoed temporarily.

To request an embargo of a dissertation or thesis, the student and the advisor must submit a request to the Graduate School, which will include supporting documentation. Embargoes may be requested for up to one year, after which time the document will be made available through ProQuest. In extraordinary circumstances, an extension to the embargo may be requested.

Final Examination

Each candidate must pass a final examination over the contents of the dissertation. Sometimes called the “dissertation defense” or the “dissertation oral,” this meeting is open to all members of the University community and must be announced to campus. The announcement of the final defense can be uploaded by the advisor to the Graduate School website at least 10 days prior to the date and disseminated through the Academic Affairs listserv. The announcement of the dissertation defense should include identification of the student’s full name, the date of the defense, the location of the defense, the time of the defense, the title of the dissertation, the name of the Chair of the dissertation committee, and a brief Abstract of the dissertation. The defense constitutes the final exam for a doctoral student. The decision of the faculty advisory committee is final. In the rare event of a split decision, typically the faculty come to an agreement as to whether the student defense is acceptable. It is the responsibility of the committee chair to work within their ability to resolve any impasse among committee members. If no resolution is feasible, then the chair should consult with the Graduate School. No student is permitted to take the final examination more than twice.

Application for Degree

Students who are co-enrolled in a master’s and doctoral program should be enrolled in both programs for two academic terms prior to graduation from either degree. Students should submit the Online Graduation Application at the beginning of the term in which they anticipate defending their dissertation. Adherence to Graduate School deadlines is expected. Degree requirements are completed when students successfully defend their dissertation and file the final copy of the dissertation in the Graduate School. Students are encouraged to review their individual DegreeWorks audit to ensure they have met all graduation requirements.

III. Definitions

  • Admission to Candidacy – The period in a doctoral student’s studies when they are deemed ready to undertake research resulting in a dissertation or scholarly project.
  • Catalog – A resource of all academic policies and procedures, college and degree requirements, faculty, and course descriptions. UNC Charlotte has both an Undergraduate Catalog and Graduate Catalog.
  • Dissertation – The major research project normally required as part of the work for a doctoral degree. Dissertations are expected to make a new and creative contribution to the field of study, or to demonstrate one’s excellence in the field.
  • Dissertation Chair – A graduate faculty member responsible for directing a doctoral student’s dissertation research. This may or may not be the student’s academic advisor.
  • Embargo – In academia, an “embargo” is a restriction placed on research, typically a thesis or dissertation, to be temporarily withheld from publication.
  • Graduate Faculty Representative – A member of the doctoral student’s advisory committee appointed by the Graduate School that assures that the doctoral student is treated fairly and impartially by his or her advisory committee, and assure that University standards and policies are upheld.
  • Ph.D. – The Doctor of Philosophy a type of doctoral degree awarded by a university to students who have completed studies beyond the bachelor’s and/or master’s degrees, and who have demonstrated their academic ability in oral and/or written examinations and through original research presented in the form of a dissertation (thesis).
  • Residence – For degree-seeking students, a residency requirement indicates the number of credits you must complete through the University in order to graduate.

IV. Policy Contact(s)

V. History

  • Established: TBD
  • Revised: TBD

VI. Related Policies, Procedures, and Resources

VII. Frequently Asked Questions

  • Where is this policy referenced?
    The policy is published on the Academic Policies & Procedures webpage of the Provost website and in the Degree Requirements & Academic Policies section of the Graduate Catalog.
  • What is an Assistantship and where do I look for one?
    Graduate assistants receive financial support for their contributions to the teaching, research, and service missions of the University. The great majority of Graduate Assistants on campus are hired by the student’s department. Check with your Program Director to seek out those opportunities. Additionally, other campus offices and initiatives seek graduate assistants from time to time. Visit the University’s Hire-A-Niner portal for current openings.
  • Is Financial Aid available to graduate students?
    The Office of Student Financial Aid administers several federal, state, and institutional financial aid programs available to graduate students who complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Visit the Graduate School’s website for details of current programs open to graduate students.