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The Qualifying Exam (PhD)


Quick links

Exam schedule – Composition of exam committee; oral exam date, time, and room
Checklist for students
Administrative page (limited access) – time line and information on process


The purpose of the Qualifying Examination (QE), called the "preliminary exam" by Rackham, is to evaluate the student’s research progress to date, the student's abilities, background knowledge, and potential to complete a PhD degree. The QE is held either in the student's third (3rd) or fourth (4th) term in residence. For graduate students who matriculated in the Fall term these terms are, respectively, the Fall and the Winter terms of their Year 2 in EARTH. Students take the QE in the

  • 3rd term if they entered the program with a MS degree. They have the option to take the QE in the 2nd term.
  • 4th term if they entered the program with a BS/BA degree. 

Students who earned a MS from EARTH and continue toward the PhD degree take the QE after they have completed the MS thesis, usually in the following academic term.

To postpone the QE, the student's adviser must send a formal request and justfication to the Grad Chair (with the Academic Program Manager copied). 

Students "advance to candidacy" after passing the QE and completing at least 18 hours of non-research graduate credit on the Ann Arbor campus. Candidacy requirements are explained on Rackham's Candidacy Requirements web site. The Academic Program Manager will submit the Recommendation for Candidacy Form to Rackham Graduate School.

Students who did not complete their undergraduate degree or MS degree at an English-language university should pass the OET exam or obtain an English Language Institute (ELI) waiver before taking the QE. This is required for candidacy.

The QE has two components: the writing exam and the oral exam. They are held in the same term roughly one month apart.

The QE involves five steps described below.