Doctoral Dissertation Requirements

Dissertation front matter should be in the following order. The front matter refers to the title page through the end of the table of contents/supplemental materials.Required sections are indicated in bold while optional sections are italicized.

  • Title Page (required)
  • Acceptance Page (required)
  • Copyright Page (optional)
  • Dedication (optional)
  • Acknowledgements (optional)
  • Preface (optional)
  • Abstract (required)
  • Table of Contents (required)
  • Supplemental Materials (lists of tables, figures, appendices, etc) (optional)

Additionally, all students are required to include their resume/curriculum vitae at the end of their dissertation.

For more information about each section, please see below.

Title Page—Required

The title page should be a separate page and no longer than one page. All content on this page should be centered horizontally and vertically. Keep in mind that the title must be able to fit on the spine of a bound manuscript.

See a sample Title Page
Tips for Title Page Formatting

Acceptance Page – Required

This page confirms the committee's approval and acceptance of your dissertation.

The acceptance page should be a separate page and no longer than one page. The page must be signed by all members of your committee. No proxy, electronic, or copies of signatures are permitted.

See a sample Acceptance Page
Tips for Acceptance Page Formatting  

Learn about submission methods »

Copyright Page – Optional

If you choose to copyright your dissertation, you should include a copyright page. The copyright page should be a separate page and no longer than one page. All content on this page should be centered horizontally and vertically.

Copyright © [year]

[Student's Name]

Dedication, Acknowledgements, or Preface - Optional

Depending on your personal inclination, you may wish to include a dedication, a preface, or a set of acknowledgments. The latter are designed to recognize people or agencies to whom you feel grateful for any academic, technical, financial, or personal aid in the preparation of your thesis. As a matter of courtesy, you would ordinarily mention the members of your committee here, as well as institutions that provided funding or anyone else who helped. For the dedication page, all content  should be centered horizontally and vertically. Only the dedication itself should be on the dedication page; no title should appear. Acknowledgements and Prefaces pages should have a title.

Abstract – Required

As many people will learn about your work through your abstract published in the ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Database, you should spend a good bit of effort in the composition of both the abstract and the title of your work. Try to convey the flavor of your work, not just the bare bones of your findings. You should also work to phrase your title so that it truly describes the contents and will be easily found in the index of the database. The index is based on key words, so be as specific as you can be about your subject. Go to the database »

Have your entire committee sign the page at the defense and submit the entire signed abstract to the University Graduate School.  Submission of  signature portion-only of the abstract is not sufficient. The page must be signed by all members of your committee. No proxy, electronic, or copies of signatures are permitted.

See a sample Abstract Page
Tips for Abstract Page Formatting  

Table of Contents – Required

Include a table of contents to guide readership of your dissertation.

Add an entry for your curriculum vitae (CV) to the table of contents. The CV should be the last item in your dissertation and listed last on the table of contents.  Since CV pages should not have a page number, the table of contents entry for it should note only the presence of the CV at the end with no page number indicated.

Add an entry/entries (as is appropriate) for the reference/bibliography page/pages to the table of contents.

Supplemental Materials – Optional

Include lists of tables, figures, appendixes, abbreviations, or other supplemental materials, if appropriate.

Resume/Curriculum Vitae - Required

Include a resume/curriculum vitae at the end of the dissertation, after the main content. Do not add any page number(s) to the resume/curriculum vitae.

Your CV should be in the same font and have the same margins as the rest of your dissertation and should not contain your home address, phone number, nor any page number. Please list your PhD degree as completed in the same month as listed on the title page.

PhD Degree Requirements

The only doctoral degree offered by The Graduate School (TGS) is the doctor of philosophy (PhD) degree. In some cases, this degree is offered in conjunction with another degree, whether from another program administered by TGS or from another school at Northwestern University.

The Doctor of Philosophy degree is oriented toward research that will advance knowledge. Study for a specified time and accumulation of credit toward residency for courses taken are not by themselves sufficient to earn the PhD degree. A student must demonstrate scholarly distinction and the ability to advance knowledge through independent research by achieving admission to candidacy and writing a dissertation.

Each student enrolled in a PhD program must have a principal research advisor and a committee.

The principal research advisor (also known as mentor, PI, dissertation director, advisor) is a member of the Northwestern University Graduate Faculty who works with the student to develop a research topic, formulate ideas and structure for, and guides the progress of the thesis/prospectus/dissertation. In some cases, although rare, there is a Principal Research Co-Advisor who also works with the student to develop a research topic, formulate ideas and structure for, and guides the progress of the thesis/prospectus/dissertation.

The committee members are those who have expertise in and inform the student's area of research, serve as a reader of the thesis, prospectus, or dissertation, and vote on the outcome of the proposal defense/final exam. The committee chair is a member of the Graduate Faculty who leads the committee for the defense of the prospectus or final exam (dissertation). In some cases, there is a Committee Co-Chair who co-leads the committee. The Committee Chair may or may not be the same individual as the Principal Research Advisor. A minimum of three individuals must serve on the final exam committee. At least two members of this committee, including the chair, must be members of the Northwestern University Graduate Faculty.

All Northwestern University graduate students, must fulfill a set of requirements regarding

12.1 PhD Coursework and Registration

A student who enters a doctoral program must successfully complete at least nine letter-graded courses (non P/NP) authorized for graduate credit. A 3.0 cumulative GPA must be maintained. TGS does not accept transfer credit in lieu of the 9 letter-graded minimum course requirement.

Two types of advanced courses, 499 Independent Study (or 499 Projects) and 590 Research, are applicable to residency credit but bear restrictions concerning either when they may be taken during a student's academic career or total allowable credits:

  • 499 Independent Study - For doctoral students, independent studies may not represent more than half of the total units taken in the first three quarters of enrollment in a PhD program.
  • Program courses identified as 590 Research, may be taken for one, two, three, or four course units per quarter. Generally, this registration is not available to students until a core of basic courses has been completed. All 590 Research registrations must be taken on a P/N/K basis

Students in quarter nine and beyond may have additional course requirements to complete in their program and may register for up to four units:

  • Students who are funded and who register for less than three units must also register for TGS 500. All course requirements for a doctoral program must be completed by the end of the twelfth quarter.
  • Students in quarters thirteen and above may register for non-required coursework in addition to TGS 500 if the courses are related to the student's area of study.
  • Grading for advanced year registrations must adhere to existing grading policies.

12.2 PhD Residency

Residency is calculated in terms of quarters of full-time study. A student pursuing a doctoral degree must complete eight quarters of residency consecutively over two years, including summers (see the PhD Timeline Completion). Approved leaves of absence or parental accommodation may alter the residency timeline.

No PhD residency credit will be awarded by The Graduate School (TGS) for work completed in a graduate program prior to admission to and enrollment in the PhD program in TGS. Individual programs may waive course requirements based on work completed at another institution (either prior to or after enrollment at Northwestern), but all doctoral students must complete nine letter-graded (A,B,C) courses authorized by TGS for graduate credit, eight quarters of residency, and maintain a 3.0 GPA. Students may register for 590 Research within their programs to maintain full-time registration during quarters in which they are not enrolled full-time in graded coursework.

12.3 PhD Candidacy

Admission to The Graduate School (TGS) does not constitute or guarantee a student's admission to candidacy for the PhD degree. Admission to candidacy is contingent upon the recommendation of the student's department or program and upon approval of The Graduate School.

A student must be admitted to candidacy by the end of the third year of study, which falls on the last date of the 12th quarter. A student failing to meet this milestone will be considered not in good academic standing and therefore will be placed on academic probation. Deadlines will be altered in the case of an approved leave of absence or parental accommodation.

  • Admission to candidacy is reached by passing a comprehensive qualifying examination, written or oral or both. Individual departments or programs determine the character of this examination. At the time of admission to candidacy, proficiency in the major and related fields is certified and additional requirements for the PhD degree are stipulated. Students should be aware of requirements for admission to candidacy established by both the department or program and the Graduate Faculty.
  • The Director of Graduate Studies (or DGS designate) submits the PhD Qualifying Exam form online via TGS Forms in CAESAR (SES). The program must submit approval of this form before the end of a student's third year. Following the submission of the approved Qualifying Exam form in SES students are admitted to candidacy. Students are notified via email by TGS of approval of their Qualifying exam form and admission to candidacy.

12.4 PhD Prospectus

Students must have a prospectus (dissertation proposal) approved by their committee no later than the end of the fourth year of study, which falls on the last date of the 16th quarter. A student failing to meet this milestone will be considered not in good academic standing and therefore will be placed on academic probation. Deadlines will be altered in the case of an approved leave of absence or parental accommodation. The prospectus must be approved by a faculty committee. A minimum of three individuals must serve on the prospectus committee. At least two members of this committee, including the chair, must be members of the Northwestern University Graduate Faculty. The student must submit the PhD Prospectus form through TGS Forms in CAESAR. The program must approve this form online before TGS enters the final approval. Students are notified via email by TGS of approval of their prospectus form.

12.5 PhD Dissertation

Every candidate for the PhD degree must present a dissertation that gives evidence of original and significant research.

12.5.1 Dissertation Assistance

All dissertators should consult with their advisors about appropriate forms of assistance before assistance is rendered. Dissertations must acknowledge assistance received in any of the following areas:

  • Designing the research
  • Executing the research
  • Analyzing the data
  • Interpreting the data/research
  • Writing, proofing, or copyediting the manuscript 

12.5.2 Formatting

Dissertations must be formatted according to the Dissertation Formatting Guidelines document. Dissertations not conforming to these instructions will not be accepted by The Graduate School.

12.5.3 Depositing the Dissertation

Dissertations must be deposited into the ProQuest Database. In addition, the University Library receives a copy of the dissertation that may be used at its discretion for reasons including but not limited to long term archiving, library use and interlibrary loan, and dissemination through an institutional repository or other means. The library also archives electronic copies of dissertations to help ensure that the content is preserved for future generations. 

12.5.4 Dissertation Embargo

A student wishing to delay public release of their dissertation for an initial embargo of up to two years must submit a request providing a clearly stated rationale. Whatever the rationale, the student should be sure to consult with their faculty mentor(s) before considering an embargo, since support of a faculty member well versed with the student’s work and the fields it engages – presumably the primary advisor – is required for the request to be reviewed by TGS Academic Affairs, which will consult with all parties concerned before making a final determination as to whether the dissertation can be embargoed. 

An approved request to place an embargo has the effect of restricting online access to the dissertation through the library's discovery systems and ProQuest for the period of the embargo. Metadata (author,
title, abstract, keywords and subjects) about the embargoed dissertation will be available through the ProQuest system and the library catalog. Users of those systems are able to search for and see the metadata, but not the actual text or other content of the dissertation.

The dissertation will automatically be released in the library's discovery systems and ProQuest after the approved embargo expires. To extend the embargo with ProQuest, students should contact ProQuest Support directly. To extend the embargo with the University Library, students must contact TGS at least thirty days prior to the point of expiration. The student may request a one-time extension of the embargo for up to six years and must provide a sufficient intellectual and/or professional rationale in seeking approval from TGS Academic Affairs.

12.6 PhD Completion

Scheduling the final examination (dissertation defense) is the responsibility of the candidate and the members of the committee.

  • The PhD final exam must be approved by a faculty committee. A minimum of three individuals must serve on the final exam committee. At least two members of this committee, including the chair, must be members of the Northwestern University Graduate Faculty.

12.6.1 Filing Requirements and Forms

Students pursuing the Doctor of Philosophy degree must file the following required documents prior to graduation and by the published deadlines:

  • Application for Degree: this form must be filled out via CAESAR. Students should login to CAESAR, click on "Main Menu"-> "TGS Forms" and navigate to "Application for a Degree" form.
  • PhD Final Exam Form: this form must be filled out via CAESAR. Students should login to CAESAR, click on "Main Menu" -> "TGS Forms" and navigate to "TGS PhD Final Exam" form. Students must print out a hard copy of the completed form to take to the PhD final exam. Each committee member must sign the form. The signed form should go to the Director of Graduate Studies (or their designate) who will finish the approval process online; the form will be submitted to The Graduate School electronically for final approval, with the signed copy to follow.
  • Dissertation submission via ProQuest's website. Once the dissertation has been approved by the committee and all edits and revisions are complete, the student must submit online via ProQuest. The dissertation must conform to TGS formatting standards on the Dissertation Formatting Guidelines document. Once the student has submitted the dissertation online, a Student Services representative will review its formatting and confirm via email that the dissertation is acceptable or notify the student if changes need to be made.

Change of Grade forms: Students with Y or K grades on their transcript must work with their program/department to ensure the appropriate change of grade forms are submitted to The Graduate School by the published deadline.

12.7 PhD Timeline

The Graduate School policy states that all requirements for the doctoral degree must be met within nine years of initial registration in a doctoral program, which falls on the last day of the 36th quarter. For students on an approved leave of absence or approved parental accommodation, milestones will be extended accordingly.

Year OneTuition RateRegistrationMilestones to be AchievedForms to be Completed
Q1 - FallFull Rate3-4 units of coursework or 590Coursework towards residency requirement. A minimum of nine letter-graded (ABC) courses approved by TGS for graduate credit are required. Individual programs may require more graded courses.
Q2 - Winter3-4 units of coursework or 590
Q3 - Spring3-4 units of coursework or 590
Q4 - Summer3-4 units of coursework or 590
Year TwoTuition RateRegistrationMilestones to be AchievedForms to be Completed
Q5 - FallFull Rate3-4 units of coursework or 590Coursework towards residency requirement. A minimum of nine letter-graded (ABC) courses approved by TGS for graduate credit are required. Individual programs may require more graded courses
Q6 - Winter3-4 units of coursework or 590
Q7 - Spring3-4 units of coursework or 590
Q8 - Summer3-4 units of coursework or 590
Year ThreeTuition RateRegistrationMilestones to be AchievedForms to be Completed
Q9 - FallAdvanced RateTGS 500 and/or courseworkCoursework towards program requirements (if applicable). Students must complete all required courses (including incomplete grades/F grade make-up) and be admitted to candidacy (PhD Qualifying Exam) by the end of the twelfth quarter. Students who have completed their program requirements will register for TGS 500 in addition to any non-required (extra) coursework. Students who have not completed their program requirements will register for courses as determined by their program.PhD Qualifying Exam form (submitted by program. No student entry)
Q10 - WinterTGS 500 and/or coursework
Q11 - SpringTGS 500 and/or coursework
Q12 - SummerTGS 500 and/or coursework
Year FourTuition RateRegistrationMilestones to be AchievedForms to be Completed
Q13 - FallAdvanced RateTGS 500 in addition to non-required courseworkStudents must complete their prospectus (proposal of dissertation topic) before the end of the sixteenth quarter.PhD Prospectus form (submitted by student via TGS Forms in CAESAR ; approved online by program)
Q14 - Winter
Q15 - Spring
Q16 - Summer
Year FiveTuition RateRegistrationMilestones to be AchievedForms to be Completed
Q17 - FallAdvanced RateTGS 500 in addition to non-required courseworkStudents who are completing their degree must complete: (1) Application for Degree via TGS Forms in CAESAR; (2) PhD Final Exam Form via TGS Forms in CAESAR to be approved by the program (3) Online submission of dissertation via ProQuest
Q18 - Winter
Q19 - Spring
Q20 - Summer
Year SixTuition RateRegistrationMilestones to be AchievedForms to be Completed
FallAdvanced Rate or Continuous RegistrationTGS 500 if receiving funding; TGS 512 if unfundedDegree deadline - students have 9 years from matriculation to complete the PhD degree. Only rarely under extenuating circumstances will students be granted permission to continue beyond 9 years.Students who are completing their degree will complete the following forms: (1) Application for Degree via TGS Forms in CAESAR; (2) PhD Final Exam Form via TGS Forms in CAESAR which will be approved by the program (3) Online submission of dissertation via UMI ProQuest.
Winter
Spring
Summer
PhD students who do not complete their PhD program within  9 years of initial registration in the doctoral program will be placed on academic probation.

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