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Prospectus & Qualifying Exams

Once you have fulfilled all your program's course requirements, there are only two more steps to take before you begin to work on your dissertation: a qualifying examination and a prospectus. 

Qualifying Examination

Every program administers an intensive examination before admitting a graduate student to candidacy for the Ph.D. Depending on the program, the exam may be written and/or oral; it may last for a couple of hours or extend over more than one day. You might take it alone or with other students in your cohort. Whatever the format, you will be asked to demonstrate a thorough understanding of the material in your discipline. 

For general information, check the section on Qualifying Examination in the Programs & Policies handbook.
For information specific to your program of study, go to your specific program's policy.


A prospectus is usually the first step in the process of writing your dissertation. The form and content will vary by discipline. For information specific to your program of study, go to your specific program's policy. In most cases, however, a prospectus will contain the following information:

  1. The name of your primary dissertation adviser.
  2. A statement of the topic of the dissertation and an explanation of its importance. Your dissertation is expected to present new information based on your research or provide a new interpretation or new appreciation of existing information. 
  3. A concise review of what has been done on the topic in the past. Specifically, how will your dissertation differ from or expand upon previous work? A bibliography is usually appended to this section.
  4. A statement of where most of the work will be carried out—for example, in one (or more) of the Yale libraries or in another library or archive, in the laboratory of a particular faculty member, or as part of a program of fieldwork at specific sites in the United States or abroad.
  5. If appropriate, a tentative proposal for the internal organization of your dissertation—for example, major sections, subsections, and the sequence of chapters.
  6. A provisional timetable for completion of the dissertation.

Please review the Programs & Policies handbook for more information about Graduate School policy on the Prospectus.

Consult with advisers and mentors in your program and with other graduate students. You are not alone! Additionally, you can seek help with Prospectus Writing through the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning.

Admission to Candidacy

Once you have satisfactorily completed your qualifying examinations and received approval for your prospectus, you are eligible to be admitted to candidacy. 

Congratulations! You are now prepared to do the original and independent research that will become your doctoral dissertation. 

Admission to candidacy normally takes place by the end of the third year of study. Training in teaching can occur both before and after being admitted to candidacy. 

After you are admitted to candidacy, you will have 30 days to complete your initial Dissertation Progress Report (DPR). For your initial report, you will state your future research plan (from the time you advanced to candidacy to April 1). On April 1, you will complete your first full Dissertation Progress Report, indicating the current status of the research plan you submitted and your research plan for the following year.

Be sure to review the Programs & Policies handbook for more information about policies related to Admission to Candidacy