Comprehensive PhD Examination

1. General information:  Your comprehensive exam will test your knowledge in areas of specialization appropriate for your anticipated dissertation topic.  The exam will take place in the second or third year, depending on whether you are entering with a BA or MA and, if the latter, how many coursework credits have been applied from the MA. (See "Timelines" section of handbook.)  You will take your exam in the spring semester. The exam is based on a reading list that you assemble in close consultation with the members of your committee.  It consists of a take-home written exam followed by a two-hour-long oral examination that concentrates on the written exam, but may also address texts and topics on your reading list that are not covered in the written exam.  (Note:  your committee chair and two additional committee members will submit questions for your written comprehensive review.  All of your committee members will participate in your comprehensive exam defense.)  The composition of the comprehensive exam committee follows the guidelines of the prospectus & dissertation committee composition below.  Once you pass the comprehensive exam, you will need to submit the candidacy application for an advanced degree.  See #4. Graduation Requirements below.

2. Reading list: You will design your reading list for the comprehensive exam in close consultation with your advisor and your dissertation committee.  Your committee must approve the list.  The reading list should include a body of work roughly equivalent to at least thirty book-length works, and it should include a significant amount of material related to your secondary concentration. You will also write a 3-4-page abstract describing the coherence of the list and articulating a research goal related to the list. 

3. Exam format: You will be given three groups of two or three questions each, and you will choose one question from each group. Your responses should be about 10 double-spaced pages each.  The exam will be e-mailed to you by the Graduate Program Assistant or your committee chair by 2:00 pm on Friday.  You should return your responses to the Graduate Program Assistant by 2:00 PM the following Friday. You may also start your exam on another day of the week, as long as the Graduate Program Assistant or your committee chair is available to send the exam to you.  You will then be responsible for submitting your responses one week later.  You can consult any materials you wish while writing your exam.

Prospectus & Dissertation Committee

After successful completion of the comprehensive examinations, you will form a dissertation committee and prepare a dissertation prospectus, which you will submit no later than the end of the fifth week of the semester following the successful completion of the comprehensive examination, to be followed by its defense a week later.

  1. Dissertation advisor: It is permissible for the dissertation advisor to be different from the comprehensive examination advisor and different from the MA thesis advisor. 
  2. Committee composition: The committee is formed in consultation with the Graduate Associate Chair and the dissertation advisor.  The committee is comprised of the committee chair and four other graduate faculty members. The chair must have a regular Graduate Faculty appointment in the German Program.  One committee member must come from outside your home department (GSLL). A member of GSLL’s REEES Program may count as the outside committee member with the approval of the Graduate Associate Chair and the Graduate School.  The other committee members must have regular or special Graduate Faculty appointments.  (In general, all CU tenure-track faculty have regular appointments, and some instructors and affiliated faculty members have special appointments.  See the Graduate Program Assistant for more information.)   The majority of the committee must be members of the German Program faculty.  With permission of the Graduate Associate Chair, a faculty member from another university who has special expertise in the student’s dissertation topic may also be a member of the committee.  Permission to include such a member must also be obtained by petitioning the Graduate School. (See the Graduate Program Assistant for assistance.)  Once finalized, the names of the dissertation committee’s members are submitted for approval to the Graduate Associate Chair.   After the Graduate Associate Chair approves the committee, the student should submit the names of committee members to the Graduate Program Assistant.  The dissertation committee should be finalized no later than the end of the fifth week of the semester following the successful completion of the comprehensive examination.


The prospectus should be approximately 2500 words long (no longer than 3000 words) and provide an outline of the dissertation argument, your rationale for choosing the topic, an overview of relevant secondary literature, a timeline for its completion, and a bibliography. The prospectus defense will take place with the members of the dissertation committee. The prospectus should be submitted no later than the end of the fifth week of the semester following the successful completion of the comprehensive examination, to be followed by its defense a week later.  The prospectus defense lasts approximately an hour. If the prospectus is approved, the student begins to write the dissertation; if the prospectus is not approved, the student may be put on probation.


1. General information: You will formally begin to write your dissertation after you have successfully completed your comprehensive exam and defended your dissertation prospectus. You should work closely with your dissertation advisor and committee members as you are writing your dissertation. In particular, you are advised to submit draft copies of each chapter to all members of your committee. Any subsequent changes to your "timeline for completion" will need to be circulated to the committee for approval. 

You will submit a final draft of your dissertation to your committee members at least three weeks before your defense. See the Graduate School website for dissertation specifications.

2. Dissertation hours: You must register for a total of 30 dissertation hours.  You may not register for more than 10 dissertation credit hours in any one semester.  No more than 10 credit hours taken prior to the semester in which the comprehensive exam is passed may be counted toward the 30 dissertation hours required for the degree.  You must be enrolled in a minimum of 5 dissertation hours during the semester in which you defend your dissertation (including summer session, if the defense is held over the summer).  To register for dissertation hours, e-mail the Graduate Program Assistant the number of hours you would like to register for, and the name of your dissertation advisor.

3. Continuous registration requirement:  You are required to register continuously for a minimum of five dissertation hours in the fall and spring semesters of each year, beginning with the semester following the passing of the comprehensive exam and extending through the semester in which you successfully defend your dissertation.

A student not required to maintain full-time status and not using campus facilities may claim off-campus status.  In such cases, registration for three rather than the minimum of five dissertation credit hours is allowed. Off-campus status (3 credits of dissertation hours) is considered part-time.  All University considerations for part-time status apply.

A student who fails to register continuously for dissertation credit hours after passing the comprehensive exam must retake and pass the exam, and validate any coursework more than five years old, to regain status as a student in good standing with the graduate school.  At its discretion, the department may petition the Dean of the Graduate School for a time limit for completion of all degree requirements of up to one year after retaking of the comprehensive exam.  The department must petition the Dean of the Graduate School to waive the requirement to retake the comprehensive exam.

4. Graduation deadlines: Students will begin to submit paperwork for graduation the semester they pass their comprehensive exam. See the Graduate School Deadlines for PhD students.

  • The online Candidacy Application for an Advanced Degree must be submitted no later than two weeks after passing the comprehensive exam (form should not be submitteed before passing comps).  Students should list no more than 30 hours of courework required for the PhD (any courses not listed on the candidacy applicaiton could potentially be used toward another degree).
  • To graduate, you must apply online through MyCUinfo. (Click on student tab, Academic Resources, “apply for graduation”).  
  • The Graduate Program Assistant will submit the PhD Exam Report form to the Graduate School at least two weeks prior to your PhD dissertation defense to receive approval of your committee. At least two weeks before your defense, email the Graduate Program Assistant date, time and location of your defense.
  • Check the “Deadlines for Doctoral Degree Candidates” on the Graduate School website for dissertation defense deadlines.
  • Students should submit the online Thesis Approval Form (TAF) once their committee has approved the dissertation for submission. The committee chair and one commiittee member will need to sign the TAF.  Student will need to upload a copy of their dissertation when submimtting the TAF.

If you are unable to meet the spring graduation deadlines, you have the option of summer graduation.  If you successfully defend your dissertation before summer session A begins (typically at the beginning of June), you will not have to register for summer courses and should submit graduation paperwork and your dissertation using the summer graduation deadlines.  (Note: You should expect to defend your dissertation before the spring semester ends, as many faculty are not available for a dissertation defense once classes have ended.)  Summer graduates are invited to walk in the spring commencement ceremonies, because CU does not hold a summer commencement ceremony.