What Are the Prerequisites for Ph.D. Programs?

A Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) is the highest degree offered at U.S. institutions, and graduates of a Ph.D. program achieve expert-level knowledge in their specialties. Applying to a Ph.D. program may require recommendation letters, high test scores, research experience and strong academic performance. Read on to learn more about prerequisites to enroll in a Ph.D. program.

Ph.D. Programs

Doctor of Philosophy programs are a type of doctoral program offered by many U.S. colleges and universities. These programs are typically designed for individuals who already hold a bachelor's or master's degree and who are interested in working in academia, research, administration or consultation. Students often need to have a variety of prerequisites lined up in order to gain admittance into a Ph.D. program.

Important Facts About Ph.D. Programs

Possible Careers Research scientist, psychologist, college professor
Degree Fields of Study Organic chemistry, biomedical engineering, computer science, physics, pharmacology, among many others
Online Availability Full programs are available in areas such as education, nursing, management, criminal justice, and health services; on-campus orientations or mentoring sessions may be required
Funding Opportunities Fellowship programs are offered by both universities and businesses


Participating in undergraduate research can often strengthen a graduate application and also has many other benefits. Aside from appealing to admissions committees, undergraduate research allows students to learn advanced research methods, which are essential to completing a Ph.D. program. Students can also make professional contacts, learn specialty skills under professional mentorship and get a feel for the daily work environment in which professional researchers work.

Another benefit of undergraduate research is that it can help students decide on an area of interest and improve the odds of admittance significantly. Many undergraduate research programs, especially in the sciences, offer some form of compensation in addition to possibly leading to publication in scholarly journals. Undergraduates can find research opportunities in their own universities, other universities and an increasing number of organizations.

Strong Academic Record

In addition to a high GPA, enrolling in a pre-doctoral program can be helpful. These programs may offer field-specific training or mentoring opportunities leading up to doctoral-level training. This is not a requirement for most Ph.D. programs, but the extra preparedness may appeal to admissions committees, especially when combined with a high GPA.

Standardized Test Scores

Most Ph.D. programs require students to take the GRE general exam. Some programs in psychology, accounting, literature and other fields sometimes require a second standardized test. Test requirements vary by school and academic field, with some schools requiring scores above a certain threshold.

Letters of Recommendation

In some cases, letters of recommendation can be just as important as a candidate's GPA. A letter of recommendation allows a candidate's past professors or supervisors to vouch that the student has good odds of succeeding in a Ph.D. program, which can help sway admissions decisions.

Popular Schools