To make progress on your graduate student track, there are a number of milestones you must cross along the way. Here is a brief description of the major milestones in chronological order; click on the links for more information.


To be a full-time graduate student you must enroll for 9 credit hours each semester until your course work is completed. TAs and RAs may be eligible for a smaller load upon department approval. After course work is finished, you must enroll for at least 2 credit hours per semester, including the semester you graduate. And you must earn a "C-" or better in a minimum of 6 credit hours per year. You can find more information on enrollment requirements at this website.

Qualifying Exam

The qualifying exam tests your mastery of undergraduate physics. For PhD students: The qualifying exam must be passed before you can become a full-fledged PhD student. If you do not pass after three attempts, you will not be allowed to continue in the PhD program. For MS students: You must take the qualifying exam (typically your first week here) for assessment purposes, but a passing grade is not required. You can find more information on the qualifying exam at this website.

Advisory Committee

Each graduate student must have an advisory committee, including an advisor (the committee chair) and a few other members. This committee is typically established at the start of a student's second semester. You can find more information on the advisory committee at this website.

Study List

Together with your advisor, you must choose which courses you will take to satisfy your graduation requirements. This study list must be approved by the Graduate Committee Coordinator, typically at the start of the second semester for MS students and by the beginning of the second year for PhD students. You can find more information on the study list at this website.

In the first two years each PhD student must accomplish the following:

  1. Pass the qualifying examination.
  2. Earn at least a B- in the five non-repeatable committee-required courses on their study list.
  3. Have an overall GPA of 3.0, or better.


A prospectus is a research proposal to the department: what you plan to research, how to plan to study it, and why it is important. You must provide a written document and give an oral defense before your advisory committee. MS students typically complete their prospectus just after their second semester; PhD students typically just after their second year.You can find more information on the prospectus at this website.

Candidacy Exam

This exam is only for PhD students. Approximately two years after starting your PhD program, you must pass the candidacy exam. This exam involves a presentation of research you have performed so far, in order to demonstrate your research competency and productivity. Like the prospectus, both a written document and an oral defense must be done. This is typically done about six months after the prospectus defense. You can find more information on the candidacy exam at this website.

Writing Your Thesis/Dissertation

Your thesis/dissertation will be the major written product of your graduate career by which you justify your graduate degree. You can find more information on writing your thesis/dissertation at this website.

Defending Your Thesis/Dissertation

Once your thesis/dissertation has been approved, you must defend it before an examining committee. You can find more information on defending your thesis/dissertation at this website.

Applying for Graduation

Early in the semester when you plan to graduate, you must officially apply for graduation with the university. Delaying this application can result in unnecessary additional fees. You can find more information on applying for graduation at this website.