Student presenting her comps 2

Preliminary Requirements

As of Spring 2020, the APS department no longer requires a separate written "comps 1" preliminary examination. All students must pass the five Core Courses with a grade of B- or better unless preparation by a particular student prior to starting the APS graduate program indicates that a waiver for individual courses is appropriate (evaluation of prior experience will be made by the Admissions Committee during the review of applications). Any student who doesn't meet this standard during their first enrollment in a given core course will be assigned a second faculty mentor (not the core course instructor) who has previously taught the core material and who has the time to work closely with the student to help in mastering the core material. Students may, at their option, request a course of independent study to prove mastery of the material instead of retaking the course.

The Preliminary Requreiments guidelines are available here.

Comprehensive Examination 

The comprehensive exam ("Comps") is designed to examine a Ph.D. candidate's ability to carry out semi-independent research and to encourage students to develop skills in written and oral communication and time management.

The Comps guidelines are available here.


Dissertation work generally begins in the fifth or sixth semester, after passing Comps. Students establish a progress review committee, which meets regularly to evaluate the student's progress. The progress review committee often forms the core of the student's thesis committee. Graduate students are required to write and defend a thesis before their thesis committee. For the curious, university Ph.D. requirements are discussed in more detail in the requirements for advanced degrees section of the Graduate School website.

After Comps and Classes

  • Sign up for thesis hours and remain a full-time student. You can sign up for 5-10 thesis hours per semester, 5 being typical if you're not taking classes.
  • At least once a year, you are expected to meet with your advisor and 3-4 of your (potential) thesis committee members for a progress report. This serves the purpose of (1) you get to explain what you are doing (or plan to do), (2) you hear ideas from people who may have a somewhat different perspective than your adviser - suggestions for people to talk to, papers to read, avenues to explore, (3) if your adviser has some rather nutty ideas (no!) then the others provide a sanity check, and (4) you can avoid the situation where a member of your committee tells you that you need to do another 6 months' work a week before your defense. After this meeting, your advisor should write a brief summary and e-mail Lindsay Nelson for your file.
  • Thesis requirements from the graduate school.
  • Read the requirements for doctoral degrees from CU to make sure you haven't forgotten anything.
  • Comps do expire, so if you stay here more than 5 years after you have taken them, you may have to take them again (you can petition the department/graduate school to "keep them" valid).