Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts
Earning Your Degree

Earning Your Degree

Navigating the route from matriculation to graduation takes planning, motivation, and considerable effort. Your time on this journey can be one of the most exciting, mind-opening, and fulfilling periods in your academic life. Although graduate students in the department have access to faculty who are committed to their roles as advisers and mentors, you can help yourself succeed by understanding the road map and milestones you’ll encounter along the way.

How does advising work?

During your first week on campus, the Director of Graduate Studies will help you select a member of the faculty to serve as your temporary adviser. Your temporary adviser will assist you in selecting courses for your first semester and in answering any questions or problems you might have as you begin your graduate program.

The assignment of a temporary adviser lasts for only that first semester. Early in the second semester, you should notify the Director of Graduate Studies as to whether you wish to continue with your temporary adviser, or whether you wish to choose a different adviser. You will then work with your adviser to identify faculty who will serve on your advisory committee. Typically, the committee established during your second semester of study will remain in place through the completion of your degree. The Director of Graduate Studies should be notified of any subsequent changes in the make-up of your committee.

Your adviser will help you in planning your degree program, and your committee must formally approve a plan of study that you develop. Your committee is also the body that formally evaluates the adequacy of your performance at major milestones, including the M.A. program of study review, the thesis proposal meeting, the thesis defense, the Ph.D. candidacy meeting, comprehensive exams, the dissertation proposal meeting, and the dissertation defense.

It is your responsibility to choose your adviser and your committee members and to discuss your program with them. If you have any questions about choosing an adviser or your committee, see the Director of Graduate Studies.

How do I develop a program of study proposal?

The program of study proposal is an important part of the Ph.D. candidacy exam and the M.A. program of study review. The purpose of constructing a proposed program of study and having it approved is to establish early a set of courses and a possible thesis/dissertation topic that enable one to meet degree-related scholarly and professional goals.

This document, which is developed and distributed prior to the committee meetings specified above, provides the basis for a conversation among the student, the student’s permanent adviser, and the assembled committee. Precisely what should appear in a student’s program of study proposal will differ depending on the student’s background, her or his objectives, and the expectations of advisers and committees. Students should discuss the program of study proposal with their adviser prior to its development.

The following is a general guide that students can use when developing the program of study proposal.

  1. The document should articulate the student’s objectives for his or her graduate education.
  2. It should identify the courses that the student hopes to take to meet his or her objectives.
  3. It should provide some means for assessing the student’s capability to complete the proposed program of study–e.g., transcripts of completed courses, a CV, etc.
  4. It should provide some sense of the student’s own position relative to his or her field of inquiry and the type of career she or he hopes to secure in the future.

The responsibility for constructing the program of study and arranging for its review are with the student. The following steps constitute a set of best practices that students may follow:

  1. Find a permanent adviser who can help you identify and achieve your goals.
  2. Discuss with your adviser potential committee members and courses.
  3. Obtain sample copies of successful program proposals from your adviser and/or more advanced graduate students.
  4. Prepare your proposed program of study proposal and revise it according to your adviser’s recommendations.
  5. Submit the proposal to your committee at least two weeks in advance of the relevant committee meeting (M.A. program of study meeting or the Ph.D. candidacy exam.)
  6. Work with the department’s graduate staff assistant to find an appropriate room, date, and time for the meeting.
  7. Meet with your committee at the time set and answer all questions concerning the proposed program, as well as related matters as directly as possible.
  8. Following the meeting, revise your program of study to reflect any changes required by the committee.
  9. Send a finalized copy of your program of study document to your committee and adviser.

The proposed program of study can be a relatively short document, usually no more than 5-10 pages in length. The content of programs of study varies among students and advisers; however, at minimum, it should include:

  1. A clear statement regarding your scholarly and professional goals (often including a brief history).
  2. Completed and planned courses (number, title, and semester taken or to be taken) that help you meet your goals.
  3. A discussion of the relationship of the courses to your scholarly and professional goals.
  4. A discussion of the possible thesis/dissertation topic or question you hope to pursue.

Your program of study remains a proposal until you have had a meeting with your advisory committee. If the committee approves the proposed program of study (with or without modification), you will become a candidate in the department for the degree you specified in your application. Please realize that your program of study represents a plan—it can be changed with the approval of your committee. Each of us has preferences regarding what the program of study involves. So, be sure to discuss the content of your program proposal with your adviser before setting a meeting with all committee members. Finally, be sure that the proposal, as developed, satisfies all departmental and Graduate School requirements relating to the particular degree objective of interest.

How do I schedule committee meetings and exams?

It is the student’s responsibility to schedule all meetings with his or her committee and inform the graduate staff assistant of the time for the meetings. The graduate staff assistant will then schedule a room for the meeting, provide formal notice to the committee, and notify the Graduate School of the meeting, if necessary. Due to the added faculty responsibilities at the beginning and near the end of semesters, no graduate student examinations may be scheduled during the first or last week of classes or during final exam week. Exams may be scheduled during the summer session with the approval of the committee chairperson and the members of the student’s committee.

M.A. Exam Scheduling

Program Review

  • Secure day and time from committee members
  • Notify graduate staff assistant (must have at least one week notice)
  • Graduate staff assistant will schedule room and notify committee members
  • Proposal must be provided to committee one week prior
  • Graduate staff assistant will prepare exam paperwork

Thesis Proposal Review

  • Secure day and time from committee members
  • Notify graduate staff assistant (must have at least one week notice)
  • Graduate staff assistant will schedule room and notify committee members
  • Proposal must be provided to committee one week prior
  • Graduate staff assistant will prepare exam paperwork

Thesis Defense

  • Secure day and time from committee members
  • Notify graduate staff assistant (must have at least one week notice)
  • Thesis document must be submitted to the department head with signature page
  • Graduate staff assistant will schedule room and notify committee members
  • Thesis must be provided to committee two weeks prior
  • Graduate staff assistant will prepare exam paperwork

Ph.D. Exam Scheduling

Candidacy Exam

  • Secure day and time from committee members
  • Notify graduate staff assistant (must have at least one week notice)
  • Graduate staff assistant will schedule room and notify committee members
  • Proposal must be provided to committee one week prior
  • Graduate staff assistant will prepare exam paperwork

Comprehensive Exam

  • Consists of written and oral portions
  • Must be registered during the semester the exams are taking place (even if occurring during summer session)
  • Written portion should be scheduled with graduate staff assistant three weeks prior
  • Graduate staff assistant will collect questions from committee members
  • Graduate staff assistant will schedule room and computer for written portion (if needed)
  • Student will pick up questions as scheduled from the graduate staff assistant and return upon completion with response
  • Graduate staff assistant will distribute all responses to all committee members
  • Student will secure day and time from committee members for oral portion
  • Student will notify graduate staff assistant of oral time (must have at least two weeks notice)
  • Graduate staff assistant will schedule room, notify committee members and Graduate School
  • Graduate School will prepare exam paperwork and forward to department

Dissertation Proposal Review

  • Secure day and time from committee members
  • Notify graduate staff assistant (must have at least one week notice)
  • Graduate staff assistant will schedule room and notify committee members
  • Proposal must be provided to committee one week prior
  • Graduate staff assistant will prepare exam paperwork

Dissertation Defense

  • Dissertation document must be submitted to the department head with signature page
  • Secure day and time from committee members
  • Notify graduate staff assistant (must have at least two weeks notice)
  • Graduate staff assistant will schedule room, notify committee members and Graduate School
  • Dissertation must be provided to committee two weeks prior
  • Graduate School will prepare exam paperwork and forward to department

How does the annual review process work?

The judgments of an adviser and committee on a student’s academic progress may be considered at any moment during the course of a student’s program. That said, the department has instituted an annual review process that takes place in March and April of each year.

In late February, the department’s graduate staff assistant will send each graduate student a set of forms and an invitation to begin the annual review process. Students are required to fill out the forms, which detail the progress that they have made over the course of the last year. Students are then required to schedule a meeting with their adviser to discuss the information on the documents and any additional issues that the student or adviser believes to be relevant to the review process.

Students and advisers are encouraged to discuss issues related to coursework, professional development, methodology training, and, especially, the milestones of each degree program. Adviser’s rate each student’s performance as “unsatisfactory,” “satisfactory,” “superior” or “not applicable” in the areas of Academic Progress, Research/Thesis/Dissertation, and Teaching. In addition, advisers may establish goals and/or provide written feedback to students in anticipation of the coming year.

Once advisers have provided their written feedback, students review these statements, sign the necessary paperwork, and provide all documentation to the graduate staff assistant. The Director of Graduate Studies will collate this information and write a formal letter to the student that summarizes his or her status. A copy of this letter and the accompanying materials is placed into the student’s official file.

What constitutes satisfactory academic progress?

Satisfactory academic progress is determined by three separate criteria: The considered judgments of a student’s adviser and committee, regular and consistent progress toward meeting the milestones of one’s degree program, and meeting the degree requirements of both the department and Graduate School. Expectations for timely progress toward degree are detailed in the M.A. and Ph.D. calendars.

Satisfactory academic progress is a condition of financial support as a graduate assistant, and unsatisfactory progress may lead to dismissal from the program.

What is the policy for completion of the thesis/dissertation revisions following the defense?

Students are expected to complete revisions to a successfully defended thesis or dissertation and have them submitted to the adviser within 60 calendar days following the defense meeting. Failure to complete revisions in this timeframe may adversely affect the student’s teaching opportunities, which may include, but are not limited to, continuing education, world campus, and resident instruction.

The defense normally commences with queries by committee members concerning the dissertation. However, it may take any form the committee feels is most appropriate to enable it to reach a sound judgment concerning a candidate’s qualifications for conferral of the Ph.D. degree.

A signed signature page with the original signatures needs to be submitted to the Office of Theses and Dissertations at 115 Kern, University Park, PA 16802 and is retained by the Graduate School (see examples in Appendix A). The signatures on the page indicate that the thesis/dissertation is approved as a complete and final work requiring no further alteration. This page is required for approval of the thesis/dissertation by the Office of Theses and Dissertations.