If you’ve considered entering a doctoral program, you may have wondered what universities look for in a candidate, and what kinds of qualifications you need to get admitted. Tim Capelle, Senior Doctoral Program Manager at Capella University, provides some insights into that topic.


Minimum Qualifications

It’s likely you’ll need prior education with a minimum GPA. “Most universities require a master’s with a minimum GPA,” says Capelle, “although some programs will allow you to earn a master’s along with the doctoral.”

On the GPA side, a typical expectation is a 3.0 GPA. “Most institutions won’t grant a master’s without a 3.0 GPA,” says Capelle. “Some do, but many won’t.” That doesn’t necessarily mean all is lost if you have a master’s with a GPA slightly lower than 3.0. “You can ask for exceptions through the school’s leadership. It’s not guaranteed, but if the GPA is close, it’s worth asking.”


Clinical and Research Qualifications

Depending on your program, you might be required to obtain licensure before applying for a doctoral program, or as part of the doctoral program. You may also need prior work experience or field experience in order to be considered for admission (again depending on the program).

You may find that some schools will have requirements regarding research topics. Some programs will have limits on what can be accepted as a research project for doctoral program admission. Even if you’re not sure what you want to research, if you’re in a program that will require a research project like a dissertation, it’s a good idea to find out what the school will or will not accept. If the acceptable research topics don’t appeal to you, it might be a sign to look for a different school or program.


Additional Collateral

What kind of collateral material you’ll be expected to provide—letters of recommendation, goal statement, essay—is dictated by the program and the school, and the requirements can vary from no additional collateral to several pieces. Or you may want to apply to a program that doesn’t require these things, but perhaps your GPA isn’t quite high enough. In this case, the school may be willing to consider your application if you provide these additional pieces. Learn more about what makes an application successful.


A Final Qualification

The one thing that’s hard to quantify is individual determination. “Some people underestimate what it takes to be successful,” says Capelle. “You really have to do your due diligence. How will you be successful in that program? How will you finance the program? How will you find the time to complete it? That’s what all of your qualifications should point to—your ability to handle the program and be a success in it.”



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 online doctoral programs.