You’ve done your research and self-examination, and you know you want to enter a doctoral program.

As you look into the admission process, you might wonder: what do schools look for in a doctoral degree applicant? How can I make my application a success?


Potential Application Requirements

Doctoral program admission requirements vary from program to program. In general, you might run across one or more of these items:

  • Application
  • Goal statement/personal statement
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Faculty interview



The application itself tends to be the most straightforward part of the process, not dissimilar from a job application. You’ll need to provide a copy of your previous academic records and official transcripts, as well as an education and employment history. There’s usually an application fee that you’ll need to pay. On the application, be honest and as specific as possible. Be sure to proofread for grammar and spelling, too.


Goal Statement/Personal Statement

“The important thing in a goal or personal statement is to show how you’re a fit to the program, and how you’ll be an asset to the school and the field,” says Tim Capelle, Senior Doctoral Program Manager at Capella University. That means you should have done some research into the program and the school and be able to explain how you and your background are a good fit.

But it’s not just about the specific field of study, but the school itself. “You’ll want to address how you will manage the program,” says Capelle. “Since many students have careers in place, they should talk about how they will be able to make that work. Or in the case of Capella, how will they handle an online learning environment? Do they have enough self-discipline?”


Letters of Recommendation

Not all programs will ask for this. But if they do, think in terms of professional references. Ask someone who’s been a colleague or supervisor in some capacity, particularly for a longer period of time, who knows you well. “You want someone credible and impartial who can speak to a working relationship with you, as well as to your potential future success,” says Capelle.


Faculty Interview

Whether or not you’ll be expected to take part in a faculty interview depends on the program. But if you are required to interview, planning ahead is critical. If you can, find out who will conduct the interview, so you can research their background, research, and interests. Research the school’s program thoroughly, especially its outcomes in your field of interest. If possible, role-play an interview with a colleague, or interview yourself in a mirror to get a better idea of how you look and sound while speaking. Be ready to articulate why you’re interested in this field and this school, and why you’re the best candidate to move forward in this field.


All of the Above

Even if your program doesn’t require most of these elements, it’s a good idea to brush up on them anyway—they can help you define what you want your doctoral process to be like, and they can prepare you for seeking work after you’ve attained your degree. If you’re a candidate who does not have all the requirements of a specific program—for example, you have a master’s with a 3.0 GPA, but the program you’re applying for requires a 3.2 GPA—you can request an exception, and if the school is willing to consider it, they’re likely to ask for some of the items mentioned above.



Admission requirements for Capella doctoral programs vary by program; refer to your program’s admission requirements page or talk to an enrollment counselor for more details.


Capella University offers PhD and professional doctorate degree programs ranging from business to education and health to technology. Learn more about Capella’s doctoral degree programs.