The Catholic University of America

The Doctor of Philosophy

Program Overview

  1. Students must spend at least two additional years (four semesters) for the doctorate following special courses approved by the dean and faculty. A minimum of eighteen courses (sixty hours of coursework) is required for the Ph.D. This includes work completed for the M.A. degree (but excludes credits awarded for the completion of an M.A. thesis). 
  2. Ph.D. candidacy follows upon:
  3. PhD Dissertation:
    • Within two years of attaining PhD candidacy, the student must have the PhD dissertation proposal approved by the student's faculty board and submitted to the dean for approval by the faculty of the School of Philosophy and the university.
    • The candidate must present a dissertation which gives evidence of power of research, of ability to do independent scientific work, of mastery of the candidate's part of the chosen field, and is of sufficient merit to warrant publication.
    • When the dissertation is completed and tentatively approved by the director and readers, a public oral examination will be conducted by an oral examination board. The board will consist of a chair and a secretary who will be appointed from university faculty outside the School of Philosophy, plus the director and the two readers of the dissertation.
    • The completed Ph.D. dissertation must be defended no later than five years after attaining candidacy.
    • Final approval of the Ph.D. dissertation is realized after the defense, when all conditions on the part of the board have been met and any objections satisfied.
  4. Candidates must pass the following examinations:
    • Regular examinations in all courses.
    • Written examinations in two of the three parts of the Graduate Reading program.
    • Written examinations administered by the School of Philosophy in which they demonstrate their ability to read both French and German. Both languages are prerequisite for the Ph.D. degree. These examinations must be passed one year before the degree is granted.
    • A public oral examination on the Ph.D. dissertation.
    • The Ph.D. degree is granted when all the above requirements have been fulfilled by the candidate and approved by the faculty of the School of Philosophy and the Academic Senate of the university.


Graduate Reading List Examinations

The Graduate Reading Program (policy found here) of primary sources is required of all Ph.D. degree candidates. The program is divided into three parts with reading lists corresponding to a threefold chronological division of the history of philosophy. List I ranges over texts from the pre-Socratics to Averroes, List II over texts from Aquinas to Kant, and List III over texts from Hegel to Wittgenstein.

The purpose of these examinations is to evaluate a student's capacity to understand classical texts in philosophy. The examinations are open-book: the student brings approved editions of the relevant texts to the examination (the current lists of approved editions are available here). In answering a question, students should not simply copy passages from the text; short citations are appropriate but the answers should be formulated in one's own words.

To be admitted as a candidate for the Ph.D. degree, a student must pass an examination on one of the reading lists (I,II, or III). To qualify for the Ph.D. degree, a student must pass an examination on a second list, thus passing examinations on any two of the three reading lists. Both examinations must be passed by the end of the semester in which the dissertation proposal is approved.

Graduate Reading Examinations for each of the three Lists are held every semester on the date scheduled in the Academic Calendar for comprehensive examinations for graduate students, and are administered only at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. All three parts of the reading program will be available on each of these two examination periods, but no student may attempt more than one part in a given two-day examination period. No student may attempt any part of the three-part examination more than two times.

Each examination is divided into two parts with six questions on each part. The two parts of an examination are administered on successive days. On each of the successive days students taking the examination are given four hours in order to answer four of the six questions. The completed examination thus includes a total of eight and only eight answers, four for each part. If a student completes the exam with fewer than four questions answered on either day, the exam as a whole will be considered insufficient and will not be graded. The student will receive an automatic grade of F for the entire exam attempt.

Essay topics will be contributed, and the examination graded, by the reading program committee, consisting of seven members appointed from the faculty by the dean: six as members and one as the Chair. Each of the eight essays will be corrected by two committee members, who will grade them on a scale of A, B, C, (including + and -) and F. The final mark for each essay will be the average of the marks of the two correctors. If the marks assigned the same answer by the two faculty members differ by four or more grade steps (e.g., a B- and an A) or if one corrector passes the answer and the other fails it, the Chair is responsible for marking the question, and the final mark will be the average of all three grades. The average of the final eight marks constitutes the grade for that part of the Graduate Reading Program Examination. An average below B- is a failing grade, requiring that the student retake the examination and indicating some question about the student's ability and qualifications to continue in graduate work. The student may retake the examination only once. A grade of B- indicates work that is acceptable, but in comparison with the work of peers clearly in need of improvement. Examination grades will be recorded on student transcripts as either "pass" or "fail". A passing grade on the first attempt at an exam will be recorded as such. A failing grade will only be recorded after a failed second attempt at the same exam. Students with an A or A+ average will be publicly recognized for the superior quality of their examination with the grade recorded on their transcript as "pass with distinction".

Copies of past Graduate Reading Program Examinations are available here.

Approval of Doctoral Dissertation Topic

The following procedure will be adhered to in securing the approval of a doctoral dissertation topic:

  1. Upon fulfilling the conditions for the Ph.D. candidacy and after consultation with the dean, the student will ask a faculty member to assume the direction of the dissertation.
  2. After securing a director, the student will prepare a written proposal and request the director's signature on the appropriate form, obtained from the Office of Graduate Studies
  3. That form will be forwarded to the dean, who, after consultation with the director, will appoint two faculty members to serve under the chairship of the director as members of the dissertation board.
  4. The candidate will be required to submit to the board a five-to-ten page statement indicating the objective of the research methods for the dissertation. Within two weeks, the board will meet with the candidate to discuss the proposal, and at that time will either accept or reject the topic or request a revision of the proposal. If a revision is required, the board will meet again within a period of four weeks to accept or reject the revised proposal. If the proposal is accepted, the candidate is free to pursue the research under the guidance of the major professor, in consultation with other members of the board if this is desired.
  5. The candidate then prepares a one-to-two page proposal according to directives given on the Request for Approval form to submit to the dean for approval by the faculty and the university.


Language Requirements

For the doctoral degree, a reading knowledge of both French and German is required. All language requirements must be fulfilled one year prior to the time of the presentation of the candidate's degree.

Language Examinations Administered by the School

The School of Philosophy translation examinations in French, German, Latin, and Greek are given once in the fall and once in the spring. They are administered in two parts, each of which is a three-hour session in which the student is required to translate a passage presented. The student may consult a single dictionary throughout the examination.

Candidates for the Ph.D. must pass both parts of the examinations in both French and German. All candidates must take both parts of the examination. No language will be recognized as a substitute for French and German.

A foreign language examination committee, appointed by the dean, will be responsible for the preparation and the grading of the examination. For further particulars see the Foreign Language Examination Guidelines.

Copies of past Language Examinations will be available in advance of the examination dates and can be obtained from the Dean's Office.

Continuous Enrollment of Graduate Students

Every graduate student is required to maintain continuous enrollment from the date of first registration until a degree program is completed, unless granted a leave of absence. The following is a summary of the enrollment regulations that apply to graduate students:

Enrollment Options

  • Course requirements not completed: Student must register for at least three credits of graduate course work (or approved undergraduate remedial work) unless granted a leave of absence.

  • Course requirements completed but two parts of the Graduate Reading Program Examination not passed: Student must register for additional course work, unless granted a leave of absence.

  • Two parts of the Graduate Reading Program Examination passed but the PhD dissertation not completed: Student must register for Dissertation Guidance (three semester hours) each semester until the Ph.D. dissertation defense has taken place, unless a leave of absence status has been granted.

Eligibility Criteria for Leave of Absence

Approval for leave of absence requires documentation of sustained ill health, required military service, or other circumstances resulting in involuntary interruption of graduate studies. The cumulative total period may not normally exceed one year.

To request Academic Leave, a student must first discuss the possibility with the Dean. Following these discussions, the student must make a formal application prior to the first day of the semester in which the leave would be taken. Final approval of the request for an Academic Leave is made by the Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate studies.

Continuous Enrollment

A student who fails to maintain continuous enrollment under one of the options available is presumed to have withdrawn from the university and must therefore petition for readmission.


An approved leave of absence period is not counted in determining deadlines.