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General PhD Requirements & Resources

All University of Wisconsin–Madison graduate students must meet the minimum degree requirements of the Graduate School. Additional details, including academic policies, can be found in the Graduate Guide.

Each academic department within the Wisconsin School of Business has a separate set of course and degree requirements that exceed the Graduate School minimums. For more information, see the specific area of study.

Some general PhD requirements vary for students enrolled in the joint degree in finance and economics. Details will be provided by the student’s advisor.

PhD Handbook

The PhD Handbook provides a comprehensive overview of the policies and procedures central to the doctoral programs in the Wisconsin School of Business. All students are encouraged to review the handbook annually.
View the PhD Handbook (PDF)


Coursework requirements are determined by dissertator status. Non-Dissertator coursework occurs before a student completes 32 credits (two years) of coursework in the program and prior to sitting for their preliminary examination.

Dissertator coursework occurs after a student completes all major and minor coursework and successfully completes the preliminary examination in the format required by the major department.


Coursework consists of departmental PhD courses and seminars and any additional coursework needed to develop a competency for scholarly research. Refer to specific areas of study for additional requirements.

PhD students are required to earn a minimum of 32 credits of coursework in the degree program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison prior to sitting for their preliminary examination and moving to dissertator status.

Non-dissertators must:

  • PhD non-dissertators carry a minimum of eight credits per semester.
  • A full-time program is eight to 12 graduate-level credits for a regular semester.
  • Coursework completed at another university may be counted toward the completion of major program course requirements, but may not be used to fulfill the required 32 credits taken at UW–Madison.
  • Students with teaching and project assistantships, fellowships, and scholarships carry a full course load of eight approved graduate credits for the semesters in which they hold the appointment or scholarship.
  • Maintain a 3.2 minimum GPA (some departments have a higher requirement)*.
  • Complete a minor program consisting of at least 10 credits

*The Graduate School may impose probationary status on a student who falls below a 3.0 GPA.


Students who have achieved dissertator status—after completing all major and minor coursework and passing the preliminary exam—register for three credits of dissertation research each semester. They are still considered full-time students.

Dissertation Defense

To successfully complete the program and obtain the degree, each doctoral candidate must successfully defend the dissertation to the dissertation committee and submit the dissertation to the Graduate School for review and archiving.

Dissertator and Dissertation Defense Requirements

Successful completion of the preliminary examination in the format required by the major department entitles the student to be admitted to dissertator status.

  • A dissertator registers for three credits of dissertation research each semester, works on the completion of the dissertation, and collaborates with departmental faculty on papers and presentations.
  • Dissertators must defend and deposit the dissertation no more than five years from the date of the preliminary examination.

Majors and Minors

Each student will have a unique degree plan with a major that is developed with an advisor.

PhD Minor for Business Students

A doctoral minor is not required as breadth requirements are achieved through the coursework requirements.

With approval from their Wisconsin School of Business advisor, current Wisconsin School of Business PhD students can still complete a minor (a minimum of 9 credits) in a department or major outside of the Wisconsin School of Business. Interested students should begin by consulting their advisor.

PhD Minor for Nonbusiness Students

UW–Madison doctoral students from departments outside of the Wisconsin School of Business should follow these guidelines for a minor involving business coursework (9 credits required). Any minor earned through the Wisconsin School of Business appears as “Business” on a transcript and not from a specific department.
Option 1: Complete a minor within one Wisconsin School of Business department (Accounting, Finance, Management and Human Resources, Marketing, Operations and Information Management, Real Estate and Urban Land Economics, or Risk Management). All courses/credits taken must be graded (A-F).

Option 2: Complete a general business minor made up of coursework from multiple departments (same as above) within the Wisconsin School of Business.

For both options above, an interested student should complete the following steps:

  • Meet with a major advisor in your home department to determine the business subjects most relevant to your program and/or research.
  • Print and complete your portion of the Minor Agreement Form.
  • Consult with WSB faculty in the area(s) where coursework is being considered. This faculty member will sign your Minor Agreement Form to indicate approval of the course(s) shown for that field of study.
  • Submit the completed Minor Agreement Form to

Coursework should begin only after receiving final written approval. A copy of the approved agreement will be kept in the PhD Program Office. It is strongly recommended that you have a copy of this agreement placed in your permanent file in your home (major) department.

If you have questions about the Wisconsin School of Business minor options, faculty representatives, or the Minor Agreement Form, please contact the PhD coordinator (

Graduate Certificates

You can augment your doctoral studies by earning one or more graduate-level certificates. These certificate programs are available to all degree-seeking students in good standing in any program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Certificate programs are available at no additional tuition cost. Each requires foundational academic coursework, as well as advanced academic courses and electives. Coursework in these certificate programs may be used by non-business majors to fulfill the requirements of a PhD minor. A minimum of 12 credits must be completed for this option.

WAVE board meeting

Certificate in Entrepreneurship

The Certificate in Entrepreneurship is designed for graduate students who anticipate starting or working for new ventures, or who wish to influence the policies of entrepreneurship. The curriculum focuses on imagining and bringing to life new enterprises, finding start-up capital, and managing enterprise development.

Graduate students with an interest in entrepreneurship can also participate in networking, business plan competitions, start-up ventures, and more.

Learn more about the certificate

MBA orientation day

Certificate in Strategic Innovation: Organizations, Technology, and Society

This certificate program prepares graduate students to work on innovative projects in existing organizations. The program emphasizes creating social and economic value through innovation. Students learn how to anticipate major societal shifts affecting the value of innovation, choose among different innovative projects, envision and create new products and services, and lead strategic initiatives for organizations.

Learn more about the certificate

Satisfactory Progress and GPA Requirements

Departmental requirements and standards for satisfactory progress vary. The Wisconsin School of Business expects students to maintain a grade point average (GPA) of 3.2, with some departments having a higher requirement.

The UW–Madison Graduate School may impose probationary status on a student who falls below the 3.0 GPA level.

Research Resources

The Wisconsin School of Business provides the comprehensive research resources you would expect to find at one of the leading research universities in the nation.

The University of Wisconsin–Madison library system features one of the largest collections in North America. Graduate students are served by the Memorial Library, the largest library in Wisconsin, as well as various subject, professional, and special-purpose libraries.

The Wisconsin Research Data Center provides access to highly sensitive data from the Census Bureau and other federal government agencies. This resource for statistical research is available only at selected universities.

Doctoral students in business also have access to the Behavioral Research Insights through Experiments (BRITE) Lab, a state-of-the-art facility for laboratory data collection for business, consumer science, and other social sciences.

Inside the Learning Commons

The Learning Commons, located in Grainger Hall, supports scholarly inquiry and communication with a collection of research guides, business databases, online tutorials, reference services, and more. Students have access to a broad selection of databases that support research in the business disciplines.

Preliminary Exam

Students in all areas of study must pass a preliminary exam upon completion of their major and minor coursework requirements, usually administered at the end of the second year of study. While each department conducts preliminary exams in its own unique way, all students must pass the preliminary exam to successfully progress in the program.

Preliminary Exam Requirements

A student is able to sit for the preliminary exam when the following conditions are met:

  • 32 credits of coursework have been completed
  • No incomplete courses are on the record
  • An approved Minor Form is on file and all minor coursework has been completed (if applicable)
  • The grade point average is appropriate for minor and major coursework
  • All required major coursework has or will be completed prior to the exam date

Each department conducts preliminary exams in its own unique way. Information on specific requirements and expectations is available from the student’s advisor.

Teaching Requirements

Teaching will be an integral part of your training to become a tenure-track university professor. Teaching expectations and responsibilities vary by academic department. Each doctoral student will serve as the professor in charge for at least one course during their time in the program.

Most students also work as teaching assistants. Duties will vary, and might include helping a faculty member with grading and class preparation, leading discussion sections, and holding office hours to support undergraduate students.

Teaching Resources

A successful academic career in a leading research institution requires excellence in both research and teaching. A variety of workshops, networking events, and online resources are available to help you develop your classroom teaching skills and explore the latest trends in teaching with mentors and peers.

There are many professional development opportunities available to you as a doctoral student.

  • The UW–Madison Collaborative for Advancing Learning and Teaching provides opportunities for cross-campus collaboration, strategic approaches to campus teaching and learning, integrated professional development for faculty, staff, and graduate students, and more.
  • The Delta Program in Research, Teaching, and Learning promotes effective teaching practices among future and current faculty by fostering learning communities in four areas: teaching as research, the academic career, learning through diversity, and effective use of technology. Although the focus is on developing a national science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) faculty, the program offers many useful resources for graduate students in the business disciplines as well.
  • My Professional Development, a service of UW–Madison, offers a calendar of professional development opportunities for graduate students and others.
  • The UW–Madison Teaching Academy brings together faculty, instructional staff, and graduate students to promote, recognize, and support teaching excellence. In addition to offering professional development events, the academy creates opportunities for members of the teaching and learning community to connect with each other and exchange ideas.

Graduate students who take advantage of these programs report that professional development makes them more impactful and efficient in their teaching, which, in turn, affords them more time for research, outreach, and scholarship.