Dissertations and Exams

Comprehensive Exams

Ph.D. comprehensive exams are based on core course content in Microeconomic theory and Macroeconomic theory. All students must take these exams during the summer of their first year.

The comprehensive exams serve two purposes:

  1. The process of studying for the exams provides an opportunity to synthesize core economic theory and methods.
  2. The exams permit students to demonstrate their mastery of the material at a level deemed appropriate for a Doctoral candidate.

The exams are given two weeks before the start of the Fall semester and the results are announced one week after the exam days. Results include an evaluation of the student’s strengths and weaknesses. Comprehensive exams are graded on a Pass/Fail system. A “pass” indicates the student qualifies to continue with their Ph.D. program coursework without any additional requirements. A “Fail” indicates that the student has not demonstrated an acceptable level of mastery of the core sequence theory and methods. Students who receive a “Fail” are allowed to take the exam a second time in January, with results available before the first week of the start of the spring semester. After two failed attempts, students are withdrawn from the Ph.D. program and may continue in the Master’s Program.

Admission to Candidacy

Within one year after passing their comprehensive exams, students submit to their advisory committee a written prospectus for their thesis research. The committee members give a “Pass” or a “Fail” based on the written prospectus.

A “pass” indicates that the student has established the disciplinary contribution of the proposed research, demonstrated a substantive knowledge of the related literature, proposed research that can be accomplished given the resources at hand and over a reasonable time horizon. A pass on the prospectus confirms that the student fulfilled all necessary requirements to submit the Admission to Candidacy Form, provided that all other Graduate School criteria are met. The student's advisory committee, graduate program director, and the Graduate Dean must approve the Admission to Candidacy Form. Admission to candidacy verifies that a student has successfully completed the program course requirements and university residency requirements. The Graduate Catalog provides further details about Graduate School requirements for admission to candidacy.

If more than one negative committee vote is cast on the basis of the written prospectus, the student is given a chance to rewrite the prospectus. The advisory committee may also recommend additional study through more coursework. After two failed attempts at a written prospectus, students are withdrawn from the Ph.D. program and may continue in the Master’s Program.

Students should file for candidacy no later than eight calendar months prior to graduation.


Following the advisory committee’s approval of the dissertation prospectus, the student is expected to complete the dissertation in a manner satisfactory to the committee.

The candidate should develop the dissertation while in residence in order to facilitate close and constant supervision by the director. If the student makes considerable progress in researching, outlining and writing the dissertation while in residence, the candidate may be permitted to complete work away from the campus. Permission for off-campus work must be arranged first with the research advisor and then approved by the graduate dean.

A Ph.D. degree candidate must complete a minimum of 24 credits of dissertation. Dissertation courses are not graded. At the close of each semester of registration for credit, an "X" is indicated instead of a letter grade on the student's permanent record. These courses are not counted in grade-point average computations. After the dissertation is completed, defended and accepted by the student's committee and by the graduate dean, credit is posted to the student's academic record.

All candidates must conduct a successful oral defense of their dissertation in the presence of their entire advisory committee. The defense is unsuccessful if more than one negative committee vote is cast. At the discretion of the advisory committee, the candidate may be permitted one additional attempt to conduct a successful defense.

The final date for submission of the dissertation in final form is one week before the close of the semester.

The Graduate Dean makes final approval of the dissertation.