A person who holds a PhD holds the highest academic degree available in a particular field. Although each PhD program is different, generally, certain requirements must be met before an applicant is admitted into a PhD program and before a student may be awarded a PhD.
Complete a Bachelor's Degree
Earn a bachelor's degree. A PhD is the highest academic degree one can attain; thus, a prerequisite to attaining a PhD is the completion of a bachelors degree. A PhD applicant often holds a bachelor's degree in the same academic field in which she seeks the PhD. However, applicants may also hold a bachelor's degree in a related field, especially if the applicant has completed undergraduate coursework in the same area in which she seeks the PhD. For example, a social psychology PhD program may admit a student with an undergraduate degree in sociology, or a political science PhD program may admit a student with an undergraduate degree in history.
Write an undergraduate thesis. Although it is not universally required, writing an undergraduate thesis may help gain admission to a PhD program. Completing a thesis signals to a PhD program's admissions committee that the applicant is capable of producing academic research, which is the focus of a PhD program.
Assist a professor with his research. Serving as a research to assistant to an undergraduate professor may help a PhD applicant become a more desirable candidate. If a PhD applicant assists with research as an undergraduate, usually the professor who the applicant assisted can provide a strong letter of recommendation in support of the PhD student's application.
Gain Admission to a PhD Program
Take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Most PhD programs require a GRE score for an applicant to be considered for admission. Study hard and consider taking a preparation course. All things equal, the higher an applicant's GRE score, the higher that applicant's chance of acceptance into a PhD program.
Research schools. The PhD applicant should research schools to which he would like to apply. Some matters a PhD applicant should consider include the school's location, the quality of the PhD program at the particular school, the presence of faculty with whom he would like to work and the job placement of recent graduates of the program. Another important concern might be the availability of research or teaching assistantships, scholarships/fellowships and tuition waivers, all of which could defray the cost of attendance or even make attendance free.
Revise the resume or curriculum vita (CV). Most PhD programs require a resume or CV to be included in the applicant's application. A CV is an academic resume, which includes an complete list of publications and conference presentations. Whereas common advice is that a resume should be limited to one to two pages, a CV usually has no page limitations. Be aware whether the PhD program requests a resume or a CV.
Write a personal statement. The PhD candidate should write a personal statement or respond to application questions, as the application instructs. If there are no guidelines regarding length or content of the personal statement, approximately 1,000 words is a common length. A personal statement should include an explanation of why the applicant wants to attend the PhD program and how the PhD will relate to the applicant's career goals.
Accept admission to a PhD program. The PhD candidate who has been accepted to a PhD program must accept a school's offer of admission before becoming eligible to enroll at the school.
Complete PhD Requirements
Review the PhD completion requirements. The PhD student should be aware of the PhD requirements of the student's particular academic program. Each PhD program is different.
Pass the qualification exam. If the PhD student is admitted to the PhD program with only a bachelor's degree (i.e., without a master's), usually, the PhD student must pass a qualification exam, or "the quals," after earning the master's degree but before being allowed to proceed with the PhD. Generally, a master's student who does not pass "the quals" will not be allowed to proceed with the PhD at that institution.
Complete the PhD coursework. Students in PhD programs generally need to complete a certain amount of prescribed coursework. The PhD student should know what is required and complete the required courses.
Conduct research. The PhD student generally is expected to assist with the PhD adviser's research or conduct her own research under the supervision of the PhD adviser.
Teach undergraduate students. The PhD student may also be expected to teach undergraduate courses. Usually, teaching activities at minimum gain a PhD student a tuition waiver and sometimes come with an additional salary.
Write a dissertation. The PhD student is required to complete a dissertation, a lengthy academic paper of original research. The dissertation usually is completed under the supervision of the PhD's adviser and dissertation committee. PhD students often choose a dissertation topic that they hope will be publishable in an research journal in their academic field.