GSEHD Doctoral Student Journey





2024-2025 Edition

The following information discusses the phases of the doctoral student journey in sequential order. The stated information applies to all GSEHD doctoral degree programs, but each doctoral program may also have additional considerations. Please be sure to contact your program faculty for additional program-specific information. Your Student Success Coach in the Office of Student Life can also answer questions about your doctoral studies or direct you to appropriate and helpful resources across the university.

For more information, contact the Office of Student Life at or 202-994-9283.



 Phases and Steps of Doctoral Study

Doctoral work at GSEHD is divided into two phases: pre-candidacy and candidacy, which involve specific sequential steps:

Phase 1: Pre-Candidacy (Program Planning - Course of Study - Comprehensive Exam) Phase 2: Candidacy (Dissertation Proposal - Dissertation Research - Dissertation Defense - Graduation)



 Phase 1: Pre-Candidacy

Pre-candidacy is the period from formal admission and first enrollment in a doctoral program through successful completion of the comprehensive examination.

Program Planning

Primary Advisor

A doctoral primary advisor provides the doctoral student with guidance through the pre-candidacy period. This advisor may also become the chair or a member of the student’s dissertation committee and provide further guidance through the dissertation work, if desired. You might also be assigned a secondary advisor at the time of admission, who can serve in a similar role. Your advisor will guide you in the selection of appropriate electives and research courses and help introduce you to appropriate field, research, and publishing experiences.

Program Plan of Study

Your program, as described by the GW Bulletin, is your contract with the university. Your program plan of study is also available electronically via DegreeMAP. This plan outlines the coursework and any additional requirements you will need to complete in order to graduate.

Your program plan is a working agreement between a doctoral student and the faculty and may be modified only with agreement of the faculty. If you find inconsistencies in your program plan of study, please contact

Course of Study

Monitoring Your Progress Using DegreeMAP

DegreeMAP allows you to see how many credits you have completed, your current GPA, and what courses you have remaining, providing a helpful "snapshot" of where you are in your program. GW uses DegreeMAP to clear students for graduation, so please check it frequently to make sure that it is accurate. If you have any questions about your DegreeMAP, please contact

Accessing DegreeMAP
  1. Log in to GWeb and click on the "Student Records and Registration" link.
  2. Select the "Student Records Information Menu."
  3. Click on the "DegreeMAP" link.
  4. Click “Launch DegreeMAP” to view your degree requirements and your individual academic history.

Comprehensive Examination

You must successfully complete the doctoral comprehensive examination at the end of your doctoral coursework and within five years of beginning your program. Learn more about the exam in the Doctoral Student Handbook >


To be eligible to sit for the comprehensive exam, students must meet all of the following requirements:

  • Be currently registered.
  • Be in good academic standing.
  • Have successfully completed all coursework or currently registered for the last semester of coursework. (In some programs, 8998 and one Level B Research Methods course may be taken after the comprehensive exam; please confirm applicability with your advisor.)
  • Have no grades of "I", "Z", or "IPG" (In Progress) from a previous semester (with the exception that Counseling PhD students may have "IPGs" in CNSL 8961, 8259, and 8260).
Comprehensive Exam Structure and Preparation

The program faculty construct the exams and determine the criteria for satisfactory responses; students should consult with them for guidance. We strongly recommend you download all course materials from Blackboard throughout your program to ensure that you have these materials available for review while preparing for the exam.




 Phase 2: Candidacy

After completing all coursework and successfully passing the comprehensive examination, you become a doctoral candidate and are ready to begin dissertation research.

The dissertation research and defense is the culminating, integrative, scholarly experience of doctoral study. The purpose of the dissertation research is to: (a) make an original contribution to knowledge in the candidate’s field of specialization, (b) demonstrate an advanced command of research skills, and (c) demonstrate an advanced ability to communicate findings.

An overview of the steps included in this phase is provided below. For step-by-step instructions, review the GSEHD Dissertation Guide.

1: Dissertation Proposal

Your dissertation proposal forms a working plan that is used by you and the committee to guide the research, evaluate progress, and provide ongoing feedback. To move successfully through the dissertation process, you must meet all deadlines agreed upon with your committee and deadlines set by the School for defense of the dissertation and graduation.

Form Dissertation Committee

The committee guides the candidate in development of the dissertation proposal and will make final judgments on its adequacy. They are also available for consultation during the research work. They guide the candidate in preparation of the dissertation document and decide when the dissertation is ready for defense.

Learn more about committee requirements and assembling your committee >

Dissertation Proposal

The dissertation proposal should include those elements normally found in Chapters 1 to 3 and the References of the dissertation, as indicated by the dissertation guidelines in the GSEHD Dissertation Content and Style Guide.

Learn more about drafting your dissertation proposal >

Proposal Approval

Before conducting dissertation research, your research proposal must be reviewed in an open forum (the proposal defense) and approved by:

  • Your dissertation committee
  • Your department or program chair
  • The GW Office of Human Research (IRB)

The committee has a responsibility to review the proposal and ensure that it will produce worthwhile and high-quality research. The committee might also suggest, and sometimes require, changes to improve the research.

Review steps and requirements for the proposal approval process >

Obtain Permission to Collect Data after the Proposal Defense

Following an approved proposal defense, you must determine if your study requires Office of Human Research (OHR) / Institutional Review Board (IRB) review and seek appropriate approval to proceed with research. The Office of Human Research assesses whether (a) the proposed research will expose human participants to risks, (b) practical precautions have been taken to minimize and inform the participants of those risks, and (c) the remaining risks are justified by the potential benefits of the research.

Learn more about the OHR/IRB submission process >


2: Dissertation Research and Composition

Once you have received approval from your dissertation committee and OHR/IRB, you may enter the research/data collection phase of the project.

Register for Dissertation Research Course

Candidates will enroll in CNSL, CPED, EDUC, HOL, SEHD, or SPED 8999 while conducting dissertation research.

Candidates will take a minimum of 12 and maximum of 24 credits of 8999, at a rate of three or six credit hours each fall and spring semester, until they successfully defend their dissertation or reach a total of 24 credits. Summer registration is optional.

After completing 24 credit hours of 8999, candidates can register for one credit hour of Continuing Doctoral Research (CNSL, CPED, EDUC, HOL, SEHD, or SPED 0940) each fall and spring semester until they defend their dissertations. Registration in 0940 for dissertation research is not permitted until you have completed 24 credits of 8999.

Half- or Full-Time Certification: GSEHD can certify students as half- or full-time while they are enrolled in Dissertation Research using a Half-Time/Full-Time Certification Form. For most forms of financial assistance, this will make you eligible to either receive aid or defer previous loans. Please work with the Financial Aid Office to confirm that this applies to your situation. GSEHD can also certify international students as full-time for visa purposes while they are enrolled in Dissertation Research; please reach out to the International Services Office for more information.

Complete Written Dissertation

Continue building on your dissertation proposal, using the same template and formatting as outlined in the Dissertation Guide.

Work with your chair to determine a final timeline for review and defense.

View more details about the written dissertation phase >


3: Dissertation Defense and Final Submission

The dissertation defense (dissertation oral examination) is a formal presentation and examination of your research and findings to a five-member committee. You will demonstrate your competency and understanding of the subject matter and the significance of your research contribution, as well as your ability to think critically, respond to questions, and engage in scholarly discourse with experts in the field. The committee will determine if the dissertation is acceptable and whether you satisfactorily defended it.

Learn more about eligibility, requirements, and what to expect in the oral defense >


4: Graduation

Applying for and Attending Graduation

Please submit the online Application for Graduation for the semester in which you plan to graduate by the listed deadline.

The University confers doctoral degrees three times a year, in August, January, and May. The Commencement Ceremony and the GSEHD Hooding Ceremony are only held in the spring semester, and summer and fall graduates are welcome to participate in the spring ceremonies.

The Office of Student Life will contact you regarding all commencement matters if you indicated on the Application for Graduation that you planned to attend Commencement. Information pertaining to graduation can also be found on the GW Commencement and GSEHD Commencement websites. Please note that free tickets are required for some events, and information will be provided as to how to obtain them.

Exiting the Doctoral Program and Graduating with an MA or EdS Degree

Students who determine that a doctoral degree no longer fits their goals or whose circumstances change such that they are unable to complete their doctoral research have the option to change their program to an Educational Specialist (EdS) or Master’s (MA) degree and graduate with that credential. These steps can be taken after the appeals process or independently of it.

Current students who wish to graduate with a different degree can pursue an EdS if they have already completed their comprehensive examination, or an MA if they have not. Please consult with your advisor or chair and then with the Office of Student Life at to begin this process.

Please note, if a student chooses to graduate with the EdS or MA, they will no longer be eligible to use their coursework toward an EdD program, and will need to reapply and complete all program requirements should they wish to continue doctoral study at a later time.



 Appendix A: Doctoral Student Checklist

Phase 1: Pre-Candidacy

  Register in coursework (or a leave of absence) each fall and spring semester. Summer enrollment is not required.

  Complete all course requirements on your Program Plan of Study (listed on DegreeMAP).

  Pass your Comprehensive Exam and, if applicable, complete the rest of your course requirements (i.e., 8998 and Level B Research Methods).

Phase 2: Candidacy

Refer to the GSEHD Dissertation Guide for detailed instructions on the steps below.

  Establish a doctoral dissertation committee and file the Dissertation Committee Membership form. Include the CV for any committee members outside of GW.

  Successfully defend your proposal and submit the completed Dissertation Proposal Approval form.

  Obtain IRB approval via the GWiRIS system.

  Register for dissertation research (CNSL, CPED, EDUC, HOL, SEHD, or SPED 8999) at a rate of 3 or 6 credits each semester (summer is optional).

  Work with your chair to establish a timeline for degree completion and to complete drafts of your dissertation.

  After you complete 24 credits of Dissertation Research, you will become eligible to register for 1 credit a semester of Continuing Research (CNSL, CPED, EDUC, HOL, SEHD, or SPED 0940). Register each fall and spring until you graduate (summer is optional).

  Submit an online Application for Graduation before the appropriate deadline.

  Work with your chair to complete your committee with the addition of two external readers. Agree upon a date and time for the dissertation defense with all committee members, and distribute copies of your dissertation to all members for review at least 30 days in advance of that date.

  Submit the Request for Dissertation Oral Examination form and all accompanying materials at least 30 days before your scheduled defense.

  Successfully defend your dissertation in the oral examination.

  Make any revisions requested by your committee and submit your final dissertation to Gelman Library and ProQuest by the ProQuest submission deadline for the semester in which you defend. We strongly recommend that you upload your dissertation at least one week prior to the deadline to allow sufficient time to make any required formatting changes to your document.

  Submit the ETD Approval form signed by you and your dissertation chair to

  Complete your Survey of Earned Doctorates and send a copy to

  Close the IRB study by submitting the Study Closure Form through the GWiRIS system. Exempt studies do not require a study closure form.

  Walk across the stage at graduation!