Graduation requirements are governed by policies of both the Department of Physics and the University of Colorado Graduate School. To obtain a Ph.D. in Physics a student must:

  • Complete 30 hours of course work at the graduate level (5000 level or above), with at least a B- in each class. At least 27 credit hours of courses must be in the College of Arts and Sciences Natural Sciences Division or the College of Engineering. At least 21 credit hours must be in physics. The Topics in Scientific Writing course (PHYS7820) counts toward the 27 credit hours in A&S NS/Engineering but does NOT count toward the 21 credit hours in physics. The Applied Physics, IQ Biology, Chemical Physics, and Geophysics programs have different requirements on classes that supersede this. To have fewer than the required number of credit hours in physics, please petition the Associate Chair of Graduate Studies.
  • Complete Comprehensive Examination Parts I, II, and III.
  • Accumulate 30 hours of dissertation credit (different than course credit).
  • Retain a minimum GPA of 3.0.
  • File a Ph.D. candidacy application at least two weeks before your scheduled Comprehensive Examination (known in our department as Comps III).
  • Schedule and pass the final oral examination (Dissertation Defense).
  • Complete all requirements within six years (you can petition to extend this).

Students in the Chemical Physics or Geophysics program have different requirements for courses, Comps I, and Comps II. Students in the Applied Physics or IQ Biology certificate program have different requirements for courses and Comps I.


  • By end of Year 2: Comps I satisfied
  • By end of Year 3: Comps II satisfied
  • By end of Year 4: Comps III satisfied

(Deadlines can be extended if necessary by petitioning the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies.  Please see the relevant Comps extension forms.)

Dissertation Credit Hours

A doctoral student must earn 30 hours of dissertation credit to graduate.  Importantly, dissertation hours define the full-time status for grad students. Students should register for between 1 and 10 dissertation hours per semester, according to the following guidelines:

  • For pre-comps students (i.e., before taking Comps III): 1 diss. hr. = full time.
  • For post-comps students (i.e., after passing Comps III): 5 dissertation or course credit hours = full time.
  • Students are limited to 10 dissertation credit hours maximum per semester. 

Full time status requirements

  • Pre-comps: Minimum of 5 course credit hours or 1 dissertation credit hour.
  • Post-comps: Minimum of 5 dissertation or course credit hours.

Please read the more detailed information and guidance available in the General Guidelines for signing up for classes and Dissertation Credits (downloadable PDF).

Transfer Credits

There are two different facets to “transferring” courses taken at another institution:

  • Satisfying the physics department graduation requirements (e.g., passing Comps 1). If you have taken grad-level courses that may be equivalent to CU Comps 1 courses, you may be able to get these courses waived by completing the Comps Course Waiver Request.
  • Satisfying the credits requirement for the Graduate School (30 credits total). Up to 21 credit hours may be transferred from another university by submitting a Transfer Credit Form. Transfer credits may not be requested until a student completes at least 6 course credits at CU.

Paperwork and Deadlines

Review General Guidelines for signing up for classes and Dissertation Credits

The Department of Physics works with the University of Colorado Graduate School to ensure our candidates meet all requirements before graduation. As such, the Graduate School has provided a complete list of required documentation and corresponding deadlines for students who are seeking a Ph.D. Application for graduation is now processed online. Students must apply via the BuffPortal site.

Please contact Jeanne Nijhowne with any questions or problems regarding these and other graduation requirements.