General Exams, Dissertation & Oral
General Examinations: Each student’s knowledge and competence in the special field is tested in the General Examination, normally completed by the middle of the third year of graduate work. On occasion, some part or parts of the General Examination may be taken earlier. The nature of the General Examination varies from field to field and, within fields, from student to student. The Examination typically consists of four parts and may entail preparing scholarly essays (as if for publication) as well as sitting for traditional written examinations. Successful completion of the General Examination entitles a student to the M.A. degree. If the faculty recommends that a student not attempt to submit a dissertation, the M.A. becomes a terminal degree, though in most cases students are permitted to move directly to the Dissertation.
For more information, please refer to the specific requirements for each area of study.
Dissertation: Candidates who are permitted to proceed beyond the M.A. submit a formal dissertation proposal to the Director of Graduate Studies as soon as possible upon completion of the General Examination. The proposal is discussed in an open meeting of the Graduate Studies Committee of the Department. Upon conclusion of that meeting, all faculty in attendance confer and decide whether to accept the proposal. If the proposal is accepted, the candidate is permitted to execute the project in consultation with appropriate faculty advisers.
Final Public Oral: When all Ph.D. requirements listed under the Graduate School (https://gradschool.princeton.edu/academics/degree-requirements) and Religion Department (https://gradschool.princeton.edu/academics/fields-study/religion) are met, the Final Public Oral Examination can be scheduled. The Director of Graduate Studies designates at least three principal examiners, normally members of the Princeton faculty at the rank of assistant professor or higher, at least two of whom have not served as principal readers of the Dissertation. The examination not only involves a defense of the Dissertation but also covers the student’s special field. The Department determines whether the candidate has passed the examination. Those who do pass receive the Ph.D. degree; those who do not are offered one more opportunity to be examined at least one year after the unsuccessful attempt.