About Doctoral Programs at GCU

A doctorate is the highest degree in the United States post-secondary system. It is also the least achieved, due to the requirement of creating new knowledge by completing a dissertation, which is original individual research that is defendable and publishable in the form of a five-chapter book.

Because of the uniqueness of the dissertation process, completely dependent on each doctoral learner, there is no way to predict the amount of time it will take for each learner to complete their dissertation journey. This information is offered as a guide to help you understand the process, but the path toward your doctoral degree and the timeframe to complete it will be determined by your effort and the pace of your work.

For doctoral programs, Grand Canyon University (GCU) calculates average time to completion by first calculating instructional time. This is completed by multiplying the instructional weeks per course, by the number of courses in the base program of study.

GCU adds the two weeks for Christmas when the university is on an official break. GCU also adds an additional two weeks for breaks for each year, as a reasonable amount of time learners would be out of class. GCU then reviews all graduates and determines the average number of additional dissertation continuation courses and adds that to the instructional time to get an average time to completion. Any amount of time a learner is not enrolled adds to the time to completion.

GCU doctoral programs are not designed to meet any state requirements for certification or to become a clinician.

Get More Information

Loading Form

Important Statistics

  • The time limit is seven years to complete 1) the minimum 60 credits of coursework and 2) an original defendable, approved and publishable dissertation. This can require more than 60 credits. University policy allows some extension of this deadline through an appeals process. Learners will not graduate by simply meeting coursework credits without an approved dissertation.
  • As of July 27, 2022, the average number of continuation courses for the 2,219 doctoral graduates since the first graduate in 2011, was 9.5 continuation courses (with passing grades) and a total program average time of 5.6 years.
  • The following table demonstrates the completion times for doctoral graduates since 2011 (as of July 27, 2022):
Graduation Timeframe Total Percent
Less than 3 years 15 0.7%

Within year 3

328 14.8%
Within year 4 654 29.5%
Within year 5 478 21.5%
Within year 6 317 14.3%
Within year 7 228 10.3%
Within year 8 103 4.6%
Within year 9+ 89 4.0%
Grand Total 2,219 100%
Loading item

The Dissertation Committee for Doctoral Programs at GCU

  • Learners should familiarize themselves with the Doctoral Dispositions located in the University Policy Handbook, specifically in communication with faculty, dissertation committee, administrative staff, academic advisors, and fellow learners. These will be upheld through graduation.
  • GCU will assign a chair and methodologist in the Dissertation I course in their program.
  • Learners are responsible for selecting a qualified content expert to serve as their third committee member. Learners must work with their student services counselors (SSC) to add the content expert to their dissertation committees.
  • The chair and committee provide academic guidance to doctoral candidates, but it is not their role to co-author a dissertation or determine how to conduct or interpret research.
  • The College of Doctoral Studies attempts to keep learners and their committees together throughout the dissertation process. However, a change to the dissertation committee may be needed due to faculty personal, work or health-related reasons. The longer a learner is in the program, or out of enrollment, the more likely the committee will require changes.
  • Learners must convince their doctoral chair and committee that they are an expert in their field through the proposal, dissertation and defense. Please see the Milestone Guide in the University Policy Handbook Appendix A.
  • Learners must submit dissertation topics that are aligned to their degree major. If the dissertation committee and corresponding program chair determine a study is not aligned with the major of the learner’s degree, the learner must adjust the dissertation topic to align with their major degree. This will add additional time to the learner’s dissertation journey. Below are the broad topics for the major degrees:
    • General Psychology in the Ph.D. program
    • Leadership in the Ed.D. Organizational Leadership program
    • Adult Instruction in the Ed.D. Teaching and Learning program
    • Management in the DBA program
    • Health Administration in the Doctor of Health Administration program
    • Counseling Practice, Counselor Education, Clinical Supervision or Advocacy/Leadership within the counseling field in the Counselor Education Ph.D. program.
Loading item

The Dissertation Process for Doctoral Programs at GCU

  • The College of Doctoral Studies sections of the Academic Catalog and the University Policy Handbook contain dissertation and program information. Both can be found on our Academic Catalog and Policies page. Scholarly standards for dissertation research require a rigorous, iterative peer-review process. Learners can expect multiple revisions of dissertation documents, including integrating edits and revisions, driven by committee members or the College of Doctoral Studies throughout the doctoral program.
  • Each dissertation class has a minimum progression milestone that must be reached to progress. Learners who do not meet the requirements will repeat the course. Each course may be attempted only three times.
  • Learners should be committed to quantitative or qualitative research by the 24thcredit, in order to prevent loss of time. Learners should use their 10 Strategic Points as guidance for methodology choice.
  • All doctoral programs require two residencies. An optional third is available and may be required for learners needing additional focus on completing the dissertation. Residency availability can be found here.
  • SSCs direct learners to resources and assist them with scheduling courses, including content, dissertation and continuation.

Learners who complete all the coursework and not the dissertation, also known as All But Dissertation (ABD), may be offered a chance to transfer many of their courses into a master’s degree in substitution, dependent on their previous earned degrees.

Scroll back to top