The program of any particular student may deviate from the following outline at some points, but this sketch indicates in general what may be anticipated.


Orientation and registration for incoming Ph.D. students is held immediately before the opening of the fall term in September. During the preceding May, students will be assigned temporary advisers who will help with first semester registration. Early in the semester a three-person residence committee will be appointed to work with the student throughout the residence period. From this committee and especially its chair, the student should secure counsel regarding courses and other aspects of the program up to the comprehensive examinations. As students plan their programs, they should remember that faculty will not normally be available during the summer recess or during official leaves from the Seminary. At these times members of the faculty have no contractual obligation to advise students, to read drafts of dissertations, or to engage in any other instructional activity. Other appropriate faculty members are normally substituted for residence committee chairs who are on leave.

First Two Years

Language Requirements:

After fulfilling the initial modern language requirement (see  Language Requirements ), the student enters a two-year period of full-time resident study prior to the completion of the comprehensive examinations. During this residence period, students are required to complete successfully a minimum of eight doctoral seminars or their equivalent. Full-time resident study is generally understood as enrollment for two or more seminars, courses, or directed readings per term, in accordance with faculty advisement, with availability Monday through Friday for library research and interaction with colleagues outside of scheduled class meetings. In no case is advanced standing granted at the time of acceptance for admission. In exceptional cases the Ph.D. Studies Committee may later reduce the time of residence preparation for the comprehensive examinations on recommendation of the student's department. Under no conditions will the minimum requirement of two years' full-time tuition be reduced.

First Year Review

In the first term of the second year, the student's work is reviewed and evaluated by the residence committee. The student completes the first-year review self-evaluation form through his or her profile in the online campus directory by September 1. After reviewing the student's self-evaluation form and meeting with the student to discuss progress, the chair of the residence committee completes the online residence committee evaluation form by October 1. If the student's committee feels there is cause for concern at the end of the first year, this review may take place in May of the first year. 

Third Year

Comprehensive Exams

The period of resident study culminates in the comprehensive examinations, a series of written examinations, and/or papers, as specified by each department, followed within ten days to two weeks by an oral examination, usually two hours in length. Refer to the "Areas and Fields of Study" section for a more detailed description of comprehensive examinations. Variations in testing procedure must be approved by the Ph.D. Studies Committee. In the oral examination, which is conducted by the faculty in each area, the student's competence across the breadth of the field is assessed, and a determination is made as to whether the comprehensive examination as a whole has been passed, provisionally passed (with required revisions), or failed.

Examinations may be taken in April and May of the second year of residence or in September and October or January of the following year. The examinations may be taken in one of these periods or split between two consecutive periods, as determined by the residence committee in consultation with the student. All seminars must be completed and grades recorded before comprehensive examinations begin. An exception to the requirement for a recorded grade will be made for any seminars in which a student is enrolled during the term in which comprehensive examinations are being taken. Upon successful completion of the comprehensive exams, the student becomes an official Ph.D. candidate.

Dissertation Proposal

The student is urged to give thought to possible dissertation areas and topics from the very beginning of residence.  Seminar and course paper topics may be selected in part to explore such possibilities. After the successful completion of all required written and oral comprehensive examinations, the Ph.D. candidate is eligible to form a dissertation committee. The process for forming the dissertation committee may vary by department or program but should involve consultation between the candidate and those faculty members who are to serve on the dissertation committee. Once the committee's composition is determined, the chair of the department is responsible for recommending the composition of the dissertation committee to the appropriate department or program, which formally acts on that recommendation and reports the resolved action to the Office of Academic Affairs, Ph.D. Studies. The dissertation committee is normally composed of three members of the Princeton Theological Seminary faculty, one of whom is to serve as chair of the committee and main adviser of the dissertation. In cases where the dissertation project anticipates needing to engage areas of expertise not adequately supported by current members of the Seminary faculty, a non-PTS affiliated scholar (of appropriate qualification and rank) may be appointed to serve as a third member of the dissertation committee (in place of a PTS faculty member) at the discretion of the department or program. The external member of a dissertation committee (except for Princeton University faculty) is entitled to a small honorarium. Such an appointment, as in the case of the dissertation committee's composition more generally, is to be reported to the Office of Academic Affairs, Ph.D. Studies, which then offers the formal invitation. In all cases, the chair of the dissertation committee and main adviser of the dissertation is to be a full-time member of the Princeton Theological Seminary faculty. Variations in the composition of the dissertation committee beyond what is described above are subject to the approval of the Ph.D. Studies Committee upon the recommendation of the appropriate department or program. Under the guidance of the dissertation committee, the candidate develops a formal dissertation proposal that is submitted to the appropriate department or program for approval by the time of the next to last department or program meeting of the year. The comprehensive examinations must be passed and the dissertation proposal approved no later than the last meeting of the Ph.D. Studies Committee in the third year. Failure to meet this deadline may result in dismissal.

Faculty are expected to read, assess, and return students' dissertation work within six weeks of submission. During the summer recess or during official leaves from the Seminary, faculty members have no contractual obligation to advise students, to read drafts of dissertations, or to engage in any other instructional activity. Other appropriate faculty members may be appointed as substitutes for dissertation committee chairs who are on leave.

Years 4 and 5


The Ph.D. Studies Committee has set a maximum length of 250 pages for a Princeton Seminary dissertation. Permission of the dissertation committee is required in advance for a significantly longer work. Final manuscripts of all dissertations should be prepared using the current PTS Dissertation Style Guide. The student's dissertation committee, led by the chair of the committee, is responsible for determining that a dissertation is defensible and thus ready to be circulated to an external reader for evaluation.

The dissertation committee in consultation with the student identifies three experts in the field in rank order as potential external readers. The chair of the dissertation committee contacts the first person on the list (and others if needed) to offer an informal invitation. If the person expresses interest in accepting the invitation, the name is reported to the department chair and to the Office of Academic Affairs, Ph.D. Studies, which then extends a formal invitation. The name is also reported to the Ph.D. Studies Committee. The purpose of the external reader is twofold. First, the external reader will offer a judgment on the quality of the dissertation as a member of the wider academic community. If the external reader is not in agreement with the judgment of the committee, he or she does not have the power to override the decision of the committee. Second, the requirement of an external reader will allow for academic interchange with other schools for our students and faculty.

In order to give the external reader at least six weeks to evaluate the dissertation and report out the evaluation, the dissertation must be submitted to the Office of Academic Affairs, Ph.D. Studies no later than March 15. To allow sufficient time for evaluation of the dissertation, the student should submit the draft to the committee several weeks in advance of this deadline. The oral defense of the dissertation is to be scheduled at a point after which the external reader's report has been received and normally no later than two weeks prior to the last regularly scheduled faculty meeting of the year. Ordinarily this means the oral defense must be scheduled no later than the last week of April. A date for a public oral examination is set by the candidate's department, in consultation with the candidate and with the approval of the Office of Academic Affairs, Ph.D. Studies.

A PDF and either a Rich Text Format (RTF) or Word version of the defense draft of the dissertation along with a hard copy of the same is to be submitted to Ph.D. Studies ([email protected]) no later than six weeks prior to the scheduled defense date. Ph.D. Studies forwards the dissertation to the external reader for evaluation and to the dissertation editor for a formatting check. The editor will communicate directly with the student with regard to formatting compliance. In addition, the student is responsible for providing copies of the defense draft of the dissertation to the dissertation committee and department or program in whatever form is customary for said department or program.

After the successful defense of the dissertation and once all required corrections and/or revisions have been made, the student should submit the dissertation to the dissertation editor for final formatting approval. No dissertation may be submitted to ProQuest without final approval from the dissertation editor. After such approval has been received, then the student may submit to ProQuest according to the guidelines on the Seminary's ProQuest UMI ETD Administrator web site. The student prints out one hard copy of the dissertation on high quality, non-erasable, acid-free paper and delivers it to Ph.D. Studies, which then forwards it to the Seminary Library for binding and deposit. 

Degree Completion

Upon satisfactory completion of the dissertation defense and receipt of all required documentation by Ph.D. Studies, the dissertation committee recommends the candidate to the faculty for the Ph.D. degree.

Beyond the successful completion of all degree requirements, the following additional items must be completed no later than one week prior to the last faculty meeting of the academic year in which the student will graduate:  (1) All outstanding Seminary fees and/or charges must be paid in full and all accounts must be in good order; (2) The online Survey of Earned Doctorates; and (3) The PTS Ph.D. Exit Survey located in the student's profile in the campus directory.

The degree may be conferred only after the satisfactory completion of all degree and graduation requirements.

Degree Duration

The Ph.D. program is designed to be completed in no more than five years of full-time study. In those cases in which candidates are allowed to study on a part-time basis during the dissertation stage, all degree requirements are expected to be completed within six years of entry into the program. The candidacy will be terminated if the dissertation is not successfully defended within nine years of the date of entrance into the program.

Failure to pay tuition (full or reduced) for an academic year without approval of the senior vice president and chief operating officer will result in termination of the candidacy.

Princeton Theological Seminary does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ancestry, sex, age, marital status, national or ethnic origin, or disability in its admission policies and educational programs. The Seminary's Senior Vice President (Administration Building, Business Office; 609-497-7700) has been designated to handle inquiries and grievances under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and other federal nondiscrimination statutes.