How Long Does IT Take to Get a PhD?

A Ph.D., or Doctor of Philosophy, is among the highest of degree levels and is sometimes considered the most difficult to complete because it requires candidates to write and defend a dissertation, take courses and pass several tests. It typically takes 5-6 years to fulfill the requirements needed for a Ph.D.

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Length of Time It Takes to Get a Ph.D.

Earning a Ph.D., regardless of the subject of study, requires a typical set of tasks that typically spans 5-6 years. Students must first take advanced courses in their field for a few years, followed by a set of comprehensive exams. After this is accomplished, Ph.D. students produce a dissertation project, which can vary in its time to completion.

Completion Time for Ph.D. Courses

Full-time Ph.D. candidates typically take advanced courses during their first 2-3 years of study. The number of course credits required to get a Ph.D. may vary widely, depending on the university's semester or quarter schedule and the doctoral program. For example, the University of Akron requires 36 semester-hour credits to earn a Ph.D. in Polymer Science, whereas DePaul University mandates 60 quarter-hour credits for a Ph.D. in Computer and Information Sciences.

Colleges typically require doctoral students to take nearly all of their courses in a specific discipline, although they may have the option to take elective courses, both in and outside of their department. For example, doctoral candidates in speech pathology may be able to take electives like anatomy, and students pursuing a doctorate in exercise physiology might have the option to choose electives such as epidemiology. Additionally, schools may require Ph.D. candidates to speak a foreign language, which they demonstrate via an oral exam.

Time Required for Exams

Doctoral students periodically take a series of exams until they complete their Ph.D. program. During the first year of Ph.D. studies, candidates typically take a comprehensive exam to gauge their knowledge in a chosen field of study. Additionally, students take a candidacy exam to test their general knowledge of a specific Ph.D. discipline.

School departments typically create the exams, but some allow students to choose the specific subjects within a discipline that the test will cover. For example, Stanford University allows candidates for the Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering to consult with their advisors and choose among set topics for the qualifying exam. Many schools allow students who fail the test to retake it, but that may delay the time it takes to get a Ph.D. by an additional semester.

Time Required for the Dissertation

After completing coursework, Ph.D. students must research and write a dissertation, a book-like document that shows thorough knowledge of a discipline and contributes new research to the field. Candidates must defend the dissertation's assertions before a faculty committee. The length of time it takes to write and defend a dissertation depends on factors such as the dissertation topic and whether the candidate is a full- or part-time doctoral student.

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