Doctoral Oral Defense Procedures

Updated March 18, 2020: As part of continuity planning related to COVID-19, and to minimize the impact on students planning dissertation defenses, we have made the following modifications to our policies and procedures: 

  • Until further notice we are removing the current Graduate School restrictions that require students and committee members be physically present at the defense and that the defense be open to the public.

  • We are temporarily modifying some of our standard policies and procedures regarding form submission and required signatures - visit this page for details.

  • The hard copy Certificate of Completion has been replaced by an email approval process. Approval instructions will be sent to your committee members prior to your defense. 

The information on this page pertains to doctoral students only. Master's students may or may not be required to hold a defense of their thesis or project; confer with your department for more information. 

Preparing for the Oral Defense

A formal public defense must take place on campus at a date set by the committee chair and approved by the Graduate School.

Tentative approval of the dissertation by the committee is recommended prior to the formal defense.

This approval should be based on evaluation of copies of the final manuscript, which the candidate provides for the dissertation committee at least 3 weeks before the formal defense.


  • To graduate in a given term, the oral defense must take place by Friday of week 9 of that term.

  • The deadline to apply for oral defense is 3 weeks before the defense date.

  • The signed Certificate of Completion must be submitted to the Graduate School within 2 weeks after the defense, or by the published deadline, whichever is earlier.

  • The final, committee-approved dissertation must be uploaded, along with the Thesis/Dissertation Approval Form, by Monday of week 11 of the term of graduation. 

Doctoral Degree Completion Deadlines

Committee Members' Attendance at the Oral Defense

  • The preferred best practice is to have all members of the dissertation committee physically present at the final oral defense

Attendance Exception Policies

Instructions for Applying for the Oral Defense

  1. Submit an application for advanced degree in GradWeb. The priority deadline is the second Friday of the term. Specific dates for each term are listed here.

  2. Submit an application for oral defense in GradWeb.

    • Prior to applying, you should already have obtained provisional agreement from your committee members that they will be available on the specified day and time you wish to hold your defense.

    • Please be sure to allow yourself enough time for the online process of obtaining email confirmations from the faculty so that you can meet the application deadline of 3 weeks before your defense date.

      We recommend starting the process at least 4-5 weeks before your defense date.

    • If any of the committee members are unable to physically attend—in accordance with attendance exception policies—you must indicate this as part of the online process.

    • When you submit the oral defense application, each of your committee members will receive an email asking them to log in to GradWeb and confirm (or waive) their attendance.

  3. After all of your committee members have submitted their confirmation in GradWeb, the graduate coordinator for your department will print the application for final oral defense, obtain the signature of the department head, and email a scanned copy to the Graduate School.

    • The Graduate School must receive the signed form no later than 3 weeks before the defense date.
  4. Approximately one week before your defense date, the Graduate School will send a certificate of completion to your committee chair.

  5. After your defense, the chair is responsible for obtaining signatures of your committee members and department head and returning the certificate of completion to the Graduate School within 2 weeks, or by the published deadline, whichever is earlier.

    • If any of your committee members were not physically present at the defense, they must send an email approval instead of signing the certificate of dompletion (see waiver of attendance). This email is also due within 2 weeks, or by the published deadline, whichever is earlier.

Additional Notes About Your Oral Defense

  • If you hold your oral defense after the established term deadline, you will be considered an applicant for graduation for the next term.

    Registration requirements for the final term will vary depending on when you are able to submit your final dissertation to the Graduate School.

  • Defending during the breaks between terms: The Graduate School allows defenses to be held during the break between terms, but some departments may have restrictions on whether students can hold defenses at these times. Please check with your department before scheduling a defense during a break.

    If you schedule your defense during a term break, you will be considered a graduate of the term following the break. Registration requirements for the final term will vary depending on when you are able to submit your final dissertation to the Graduate School.

  • Counseling psychology, school psychology, and clinical psychology students: Students in these programs may hold the defense and obtain approval of the final dissertation before embarking upon the required year-long internship. The degree will be awarded once the internship is successfully completed.