Department of History
Old Horticulture
506 E. Circle Dr
Room 256
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824
Main: 517.355.7500
Fax: 517.353.5599
Email: history [at] msu [dot] edu
Hours: 8:00-5:00 M-F

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Graduate Handbook

III – Degree Requirements for the Ph.D. Degree in History

Comprehensive Examinations:


Graduate students are expected to become experts in one major field and two minor fields, and they will constitute a committee, as explained below in IV and V, that consists of two professors in the major field and one each in the two minor fields.

Exams, written and oral:

In practice, this means that students will prepare for four exams, two in the major field and one each in the minor fields. They will come to an agreement with each of the four professors on the material on which they will be examined, consisting usually in a reading list of at least fifty to seventy-five books per exam, though this can vary according to case. The members of the committee will meet prior to the exam process and share this material among themselves. The history department expects graduate students to complete their exams by the end of their sixth semester in the program. Writing time for each exam is determined in consultation with the Guidance Committee, but is limited to 48 hours. Students must complete all of their exams within a period of six months time. Exceptions to this timetable are strongly discouraged and must be approved by the entire guidance committee. Students can expect to hear the results of each exam within one week following the exam. Within a period not to exceed two weeks after the written exams are completed, an oral exam will follow with the committee. **Students must be enrolled for at least one credit the semester the oral comprehensive examination is taken.**

The Dissertation Prospectus:

Within six weeks of the oral exam, the student will submit a dissertation prospectus of at least 10 double-spaced pages to the members of their committee. This prospectus must offer a plan for the dissertation that shows awareness of relevant historiography, discusses the available sources, and presents a prospective schedule of research and writing. The prospectus must be approved by the committee before the student is admitted to candidacy for the PhD.

English Language Proficiency for International Students

Please consult MSU’s Academic Programs Catalog website for university requirements for English Language Proficiency. For non-TA duties, the History Department does not require the SPEAK test.

Residency Requirement

In accordance with Academic Programs, residency shall be defined as follows: One year of residence on the campus after first enrollment for doctoral degree credit is required to permit the student to work with and under the direction of the faculty, and to engage in independent and cooperative research utilizing University facilities. A year of residence will be made up of two consecutive semesters, involving the completion of at least six credits of graduate work each semester.

Graduation/Degree Certification

The semester a student intends to graduate, regardless of whether the student plans to attend the ceremony, it is necessary to apply for graduation. The Graduate School has an on-line link: This site has a list of important dates, dissertation/thesis deadlines, commencement information, etc. Once you apply for graduation, the Registrar’s Office will generate a form called the Final Certification for Degree form. The department will file this with the College office. If it has taken more than 8 years to complete the program, the Graduate Secretary will contact you about taking steps to file for an extension to complete your degree. The department will contact students should there be any questions concerning the final certification form, such as when language requirements have been fulfilled, etc.