Skip to main content

PhD Requirements

N.B. In what follows, there is a distinction between ‘academic level’ and ‘term-in-residence.’ ‘Term-in-residence’ refers to the number of semesters you have enrolled in the PhD program at UVa. ‘Academic level,’ by contrast, refers to your progress through the curriculum.  For students entering without an M.A., these two coincide. However, students entering with an M.A. are usually granted ‘advanced standing’ for prior graduate coursework, which accelerates their progress through curriculum by one semester.  In such cases, your first term in residence is actually the second semester of academic level one.  Where students with advanced standing are concerned, a requirement that needs to be completed by the end of the sixth semester, for example, must be completed by the end of the fifth term-in-residence.

Corcoran Department of Philosophy, University of Virginia

Graduate Program

I. Degree Requirements

All graduate students should be familiar with the degree requirements specified in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Record. These include requirements concerning the payment of fees, due dates for degree applications, the submission of title pages for theses and dissertations, and the submission of approved copies of theses and dissertations. In addition, there are several departmental requirements for degrees in Philosophy that are not included in the general Graduate School requirements. Students should consult the Graduate Record for further details and requirements. This and other valuable resources are available at The following summarizes the main requirements for the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees.

M.A. in Philosophy

  1. Two semesters of full-time residential study.
  2. 30 hours of graduate-level courses.  No transfer credits are accepted. Up to 6 hours may be satisfied through Non-Topical Research.  Students who previously enrolled in courses offered through GSAS while completing an undergraduate or graduate degree program at the University of Virginia may count up to six credits of such coursework towards a master’s degree as long as those credits were not used to fulfill requirements for the prior degree.
  3. Completion of one qualifying paper.  Each student must submit a qualifying paper to the Director of Graduate Studies, who will convene a committee of 2-3 faculty members to evaluate each paper.  Students are allowed two submissions, and missing a deadline will count as a failed submission.

Guidelines for qualifying papers.  The qualifying paper requirement is intended to help students transition from coursework to dissertation research by ensuring that they first undertake professional-level research projects on a smaller scale.  A successful qualifying paper will identify a promising research question; demonstrate an understanding of the current state of the literature; make a substantive philosophical contribution; and be written to appropriate professional standards.

Qualifying papers must be between 4,000 and 10,000 words in length (including footnotes and bibliography).  When determining the appropriate length for their submission, students should consider both the needs of their particular project and the typical length of published papers in the relevant subfield.

Qualifying papers are typically significantly revised graduate seminar term papers. A student considering developing a term paper into a qualifying paper should consult the instructor of the seminar for advice. (Upon initially submitting a term paper, the student may ask the instructor to read the paper with an eye towards whether it might serve as the basis for a qualifying paper.) The instructor will provide guidance as to whether the project is promising and may suggest possible changes the student might make to the paper to render it suitable. Such changes may be substantial. In addition to altering the existing argument of the paper, the instructor may suggest that the paper address works not read in the seminar; that it respond to further objections; etc. The instructor’s guidance is advisory only; following this advice does not guarantee that the paper will be accepted as a qualifying paper.

Ph.D. in Philosophy

  1. Two qualifying papers, including the qualifying paper for the M.A.  A total of four submissions will be allowed.  The first qualifying paper must be submitted by the first day of class of the 3rd semester of graduate study, and the second by the first day of class of the 5th semester.  Missing a deadline counts as a failed submission.  The qualifying paper requirement must be completed by the end of the 6th semester; to allow readers ample time to evaluate the paper, students must submit their final attempt(s) by November 15th or April 15th of their sixth semester.            Students entering the program with an MA from another university and who are provided a semester of advanced standing need write only one qualifying paper.  Two submissions are allowed.  Students with advanced standing begin the program in the second term of study instead of the first and are exempt from the first qualifying paper due the following term.  Instead, they submit their sole qualifying paper by the first day of class of the fourth semester, which is their third term in residence.  Missing the deadline counts as a failed submission.  The qualifying paper requirement must be completed by the end of the fourth term in residence; to allow readers ample time to evaluate the paper, students must submit their final attempt by November 15th or April 15th of their fourth term in residence. 
    Note: if the Qualifying Paper is a revision of a prior submission, it must be accompanied by a 1-2 page explanation of the changes that have been made, detailing how they respond to the comments made on the previous submission (along with page numbers in case of minor, localized changes).”
  2. Six semesters of full-time residential study.
  3. 36 hours of graded courses at or above the 5000-level.  The department may approve counting graduate courses taken elsewhere toward satisfying this requirement (see below). The Graduate School requires 72 hours of graduate course work for the Ph.D. The 36 hours over and above the department’s requirement of 36 graded course hours can be fulfilled through PHIL 7995: see Section III.
  4. Qualification for the Ph.D in four areas (see Section II).
  5. PHIL 9700, the Dissertation Seminar.This non-credit course is taught every spring.It combines discussions of the central aspects of professional life with multiple opportunities for students to present and receive peer feedback on their work-in-progress.It is mandatory for all third-year students in residence, and optional for others.
  6. Ph.D. dissertation proposal approved by a committee of three faculty members, including the dissertation director.  A proposal may take one of two forms: a summary or a sample chapter. Which form the proposal takes is to be determined by the student in consultation with the advisor. A summary proposal should provide an outline of what the dissertation will accomplish.  It should specify: the key questions that the dissertation will address; the scope of the philosophical literature that the dissertation will examine; the central thesis or theses that the dissertation will advance; and at least one of the main lines of arguments that will be used to advance these theses. Dissertation proposals of this type must be no longer than 2500 words (excluding bibliography).  Proposals of the second form must consist of a substantive sample chapter. This chapter cannot be a student’s Qualifying Paper. In either case, approval is given upon successful completion of an oral examination of the proposal by the committee.  Dissertation proposals should be approved by the end of the sixth semester. The committee will be formed by the DGS, in consultation with the student and the dissertation director.  Committee members are expected to read and examine the proposal, and to be involved with the writing process from that point on.   
  7. Ph.D. dissertation and successful oral defense of the dissertation.  The Examining Committee for the oral defense will normally consist of four faculty members:  the dissertation director, the other two members of the dissertation proposal examination committee, and an examiner from outside the philosophy department.

*Students who entered the program in or before AY 2015-2016 may choose to have their proposals examined by the entire department if they wish.  Students who entered the program in AY 2016-2017 have until September 15 of their 7th semester to have their proposals approved.

Degree credit for graduate courses taken elsewhere. A student entering the Ph.D. program with an M.A. from another university may be allowed to count up to 12 hours of coursework for the M.A. toward the 36 hour total. All students must complete at least 24 hours of graduate courses at the University of Virginia in order to receive the Ph.D.

Degree credit for graduate courses taken in other departments. Students are sometimes allowed to count graduate courses offered by other departments at the University of Virginia in the 24 and 36 hour totals required for the M.A. and Ph.D. A maximum of 6 hours of outside coursework may be counted toward the M.A. requirement, or 9 hours toward the Ph.D., provided the student is able to demonstrate (to the Director of Graduate Studies) the relevance of these courses to his or her philosophical pursuits.

II. Qualifying for the Ph.D.

1.   Qualifying in Metaphysics and Epistemology, Ethics, and History of Philosophy.

For each of these three areas, a student must qualify in the area by achieving an average grade of at least B+ in two courses in that area. No more than one course in each of the following areas can be counted towards satisfying the requirement in History:  Ancient Philosophy, Medieval Philosophy, Modern Philosophy. The Director of Graduate Studies, in consultation with the faculty, will determine the areas that courses fall under. There will be no double counting; a course can be used to satisfy only one area requirement. Courses taken at the University of Virginia outside the Philosophy Department cannot be used to satisfy area requirements.

For students entering the program with an M.A. from another university, no more than one of the two courses in each area may be from the student’s course work for the M.A.; the Director of Graduate Studies determines whether a course taken outside the University of Virginia satisfies a distribution requirement. The requirement for a B+ average applies only to courses taken at the University of Virginia.

2.   Qualifying in Logic. 

Students are expected to demonstrate qualification in logic by achieving a grade of at least B in PHIL 2420, a grade of at least B on the final exam of PHIL 2420, or a grade of at least B- in PHIL 5420. 

Students must qualify in Metaphysics and Epistemology, Ethics, History of Philosophy, and Logic by the end of their sixth semester.

Special Note about Incompletes: Course instructors may (but need not) allow students to receive a grade of “incomplete” in a course. Missing work for incompletes from Fall courses must be submitted by January 15th; missing work for incompletes from Spring courses must be submitted by June 30th. Instructors may impose earlier deadlines. The department strongly encourages students to avoid taking incompletes (grades of IN) in their courses. A student with two or more outstanding incompletes on his or her record at the beginning of a semester will not be allowed to register for classes, to teach, or to receive funding.

III. Special Courses

PHIL 7500 (First-Year Seminar): This seminar, offered in the fall, is required for (and ordinarily limited to) entering students. The course involves frequent, short writing assignments intended to develop students’ skills in writing philosophy papers. From year to year, different courses will be designated as ‘first year seminars’.

PHIL 7530 (Readings in Philosophy): With the permission of the instructor, a student may arrange to take an undergraduate course for graduate credit under this designation. The student would attend lectures and cover the subjects of the undergraduate course, but would do additional reading and/or written work; the student’s work in the course would be graded on a scale appropriate for graduate course work.

PHIL 7995 (Supervised Research): This course has variable credit (more than three hours can be taken in a given semester) and can be taken in successive semesters. PHIL 7995 is in effect a ‘dummy course’: one is not expected to do any work in the course, but it is a credit course which counts towards the Graduate School’s 54 hour requirement. (Students should consult with the Director of Graduate Studies before enrolling in PHIL 795; see Appendix 2 for more information on research courses.)

PHIL 8995 (Supervised Research):  Students may arrange with a willing faculty member to take a course of directed research on some philosophical topic. This allows students to do course work in areas (or approach topics in ways) not covered in regular graduate seminars. The instructor for each such course will set the schedule and requirements which the student must satisfy. Supervised Research courses count for regular degree credit.

PHIL 8998, 8999, 9998, 9999 (Nontopical Research): These are non-credit research courses and may not be counted toward the 24 or 36 hours degree requirements. Their purpose is to allow the student to do supervised or unsupervised research toward a degree, without the restrictions or requirements of ordinary course work. Generally, a student will take more hours of Nontopical Research as he or she spends more time on the preparation of a thesis or dissertation.

PHIL 9700, the Dissertation Seminar.  This non-credit course is taught every spring.  It combines discussions of the central aspects of professional life with multiple opportunities for students to present and receive peer feedback on their work-in-progress.  It is mandatory for all third-year students in residence, and optional for others.

IV.  Reviews of graduate student progress.

The department as a whole meets to assess graduate student progress.  Thorough reviews are conducted

  • at the end of the first year of study,
  • at the end of the second year of study, and
  • when a student has either completed her qualifying paper requirement or exhausted all attempts without passing.

Reviews are intended both to provide constructive feedback and to determine whether the student should be allowed to continue in the program.  Graduate students are informed of the results of their review by the DGS.

Reviews are holistic, taking into account course grades, performance in seminars, qualifying paper submissions, professional engagement, performance as a teaching assistant, and any other relevant factors.