Deadlines: Applications should be submitted before the start of the semester.

Doctoral Milestones are designed to help guide the way through your program, by measuring your academic knowledge, preparing you to conduct original research, and write and defend a dissertation of your own original work, all within the timeline established by your program and the Graduate Faculty leadership at UWM. Individual programs design each milestone in the way that works best for their students and discipline, but all students must meet the basic guidelines established here.

System Instructions

Questions? Please contact the Graduate School at

Program of Study

The student and advisor prepare a Program of Study, which specifies all required and elective coursework, completed and proposed, that will be offered in fulfillment of degree requirements in the major field and in the minor. The Program of Study also specifies the foreign language, technical, or research skill requirements, if any, that will be offered in fulfillment of the program requirements.

Each program has its own deadline for submitting the program of study. Submitting a copy to the Graduate School is not required, although in some cases it is helpful.

Preliminary Examination

Doctoral preliminary examinations, commonly known as “prelims,” are designed to assess a doctoral candidate’s mastery of subject knowledge and application skills, and ensure adequate preparation for individual dissertation research. You must pass your prelims within five years of initial enrollment in your doctoral program.

Your program establishes the timing and structure of the prelims, as well as specific requirements and eligibility. Be sure to find out how preliminary exams are handled within your program. It may be helpful to ask other graduate students in your department about their experiences with prelims.

Prior to the start of the semester that you are eligible to take the prelims, you must complete the application for the Doctoral Preliminary Examination, located in the Online Doctoral Milestones System. After you submit the form, your program will be notified to submit their approval. Eligibility is then verified by the Graduate School, and you are granted “prelim status” for that semester.

During the semester that you are preparing for or completing prelims, you may enroll for a minimum of 1 graduate credit and still be considered full-time for financial aid, grant, fellowship, and graduate assistant purposes. This includes international students. This enrollment option is available for one semester only, and does not fulfill residency requirements. To use this option, your application for the Doctoral Preliminary Examination must be verified by the Graduate School prior to the start of the semester. Your program may have different requirements for prelims, so you must confirm with your advisor or the Graduate Program Representative.

After the exam(s), your program will enter the results and submit their approval online. It then goes to the Graduate School for final processing. If you fail the prelim, your graduate program must provide you with its written policy regarding continuation. If you miss the scheduled prelims, you must file a new application for the next semester. Test results are kept in your graduate record and posted on your transcript. After you pass the prelim(s), you are considered ready to undertake independent research.

Proposal Hearing

The dissertation proposal must be approved by your doctoral committee. Committee approval of the dissertation proposal establishes agreement on your chosen research and indicates that you have adequate preparation to complete the research.

Some programs hold a proposal hearing in conjunction with the preliminary exam. In this instance, you should submit the application for Doctoral Preliminary Examination and the Doctoral Dissertation Proposal Hearing Form in the Online Doctoral Milestones System at the same time.

Your Proposal Hearing can take place before or after you achieve dissertator status. If your program permits you to become a dissertator before holding your Proposal Hearing, you will need to submit a Summary of your Dissertation Topic in the Online Doctoral Milestones System before your application for dissertator status can be approved. This serves as a placeholder until your Proposal Hearing is held.

As you conduct your research and begin writing your dissertation, you and your advisor may decide that a change to your original proposal is needed. Any significant changes to the dissertation as presented in the proposal hearing must be approved. A new proposal and proposal hearing are required.

Dissertator Status (Doctoral Candidacy)

Dissertator Status, also referred to as Candidate for Degree, is awarded once you have completed all major and minor coursework in your program, and have only to complete your research and write your dissertation. This period of your doctoral program is intended to allow you time to focus solely on these aspects of the degree, leading ultimately to the oral defense of your dissertation, and awarding of your degree.

You are eligible to become a dissertator when you have:

  • Completed all major and minor course requirements.
  • Passed the doctoral preliminary examination.
  • Passed the proposal hearing, or submitted a summary of the dissertation topic.
  • Met doctoral credit and academic residency requirements.
  • Cleared all incomplete and “in progress” grades/reports in non-research courses.
  • Maintained a 3.0 or higher cumulative GPA.
  • Completed the language requirement (if required).
  • Completed other departmental requirements (if any).

You must submit an application for Doctoral Dissertator Status in the Online Doctoral Milestones System before the start of the semester you plan to begin dissertator status.

Your dissertator application is reviewed by the Graduate School, and your program. It is confirmed with an email from the Graduate School to you and your program’s graduate representative.

Continuous Registration Requirement

Once you have achieved dissertator status, you are required to maintain specific registration requirements until you defend and graduate. Please see the policy regarding Doctoral Dissertator Enrollment.


Please see Thesis & Dissertation Formatting and Submission.

Graduation (Completing your degree)

Please see the Doctoral Graduation website.