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Ph.D qualifying exams in the US

  1. Jan 26, 2014 #1
    Hello there,

    I wanted to know whether the Ph.D qualifying exams have to be taken when a student begins grad school? In some university websites, it's mentioned that all incoming students need to sit for the exam before the begin classes (provided they have sufficient background). Some other universities mention that the qualifying exams must be taken before the end of the first two years. Which is it?
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  3. Jan 26, 2014 #2


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    There is no "standard" as far as I know. It can vary from university to university, and even for a single university it can vary from department to department. The department I was in had us take it before the end of the first year of classes. But the exam itself was 100% up to the committee, so your exam was whatever your advisor wanted it to be. Mine was completely oral. But some (many?) departments give everyone the same written exam.

  4. Jan 26, 2014 #3

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    The policy is whatever each school says it is. Why would you think it isn't?
  5. Jan 26, 2014 #4


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    Please read Chapter IX of the So You Want To Be A Physicist essay.

  6. Jan 26, 2014 #5


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    It varies from school to school.
  7. Feb 24, 2014 #6
    At my grad program (Case Western Reserve Univ, Cleveland OH), the student has 2 chances to take the qualifier. My Ph.D. is in electrical engineering. The staff of profs recommend taking the qualifier early as possible. Since it is mandatory for graduation, there is no use in investing tens of thousands in tuition taking courses, then fail the qualifier twice, resulting in dismissal from the program. Also, I could not begin my research until I passed the qual exam. So the sooner you take it the better.

    It turns out I took it during my 2nd semester of course work and almost passed. THe profs who reviewed me were very close to passing me but did not do so. By the time I was able to take the qualifier a 2nd time, all my course work was finished. After spending big $$$ on tuition, and lots of studying to meet the grade requirements, I took the 2nd qualifier. Had I failed, dismissal would result, and my whole coursework was for not. Wow, it's easy to see why they insist that all students get the qualifier done as early as feasible. Don't do what I did. Fortunately I passed, but if I hadn't, well you know.

  8. Feb 24, 2014 #7


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    Also, different schools define "Qualifying Exam" in different ways. What cabraham describes at Case Western as a qualifier was called the Ph.D. Screening Exam. We had two chances to pass it.

    Our Qualifying Exam was to be taken after you had done your coursework and a good bit of preliminary research. It was a talk on your dissertation topic and passing it was required before you could go on "filing fee" status.
  9. Feb 24, 2014 #8


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    Both. In the USA, there are no national laws or regulations that dictate when or how universities must conduct their Ph.D. qualifying exams, as far as I know. It's up to each university to decide.
  10. Feb 28, 2014 #9
    Up to the university. In addition, some universities require you to pass both or more parts (if there are multiple parts) simultaneously. Other universities allow you to pass one part one semester and another part the next. The individual departments say math and physics may have different requirements for their quals as to when they can be passed or the ground rules.
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