Could one potentially get into a PhD program if they don't take college graduation requirements and instead take more classes in their field?

  • you can get BSC or ASS, and than at some uni apply
    – SSimon
    Mar 28, 2017 at 16:00
  • Look up the requirements of some PhDs you might apply to and see if they accept applicants without degrees.
    – astronat
    Mar 28, 2017 at 17:33
  • 5
    Wait, college graduation requirements - you mean skipping the classes required to get any bachelor at all and apply for a PhD anyway? Of all the graduate schools I've looked into in the US, every single one explicitly required a bachelor's degree to be completed and awarded before starting graduate school, with the stipulation in the acceptance email that you must provide an official verification of that or you won't be allowed to start. If you mean taking additional classes in a field because your major is in a different field, that's an entirely different question!
    – BrianH
    Mar 28, 2017 at 17:39
  • Just to provide a counter to @BrianHall's almost universal rule, I know of a student who was offered admission to a MEng program on the basis of her strong performance in upper division undergraduate work that was not going to lead to a finished degree for a few years due to a complicated cascade of transfers and incompatible curricula. But this was a decision made about a student the department already had significant experience with. Jul 19, 2017 at 22:35

3 Answers 3


There's no answer single to whether you can do this: every school sets its own policy, although the overwhelming majority will not allow you to apply for a PhD without a Bachelor's degree.

However, even if it is allowed, you should not do this!

  • A PhD involves a large amount of reading, writing, and self teaching. Taking a breadth of classes helps to hone your skills in these areas.
  • Real world papers are often interdisciplinary, so having a breadth of knowledge will be helpful in understanding (and writing!) these
  • If you have a degree and major in your subject, you will likely have enough knowledge to teach yourself things from the classes you didn't take.
  • Electives give you a good opportunity to take classes in things you enjoy but aren't related to your future career

I agree with the previous answers that graduation requirements typically have real intellectual value, but there's another reason why failing to complete requirements in other fields looks bad to admissions committees: it suggests an inability to make yourself do things you aren't excited about.

This is a crucial skill for having a successful career. You'll periodically have to do things you find uninteresting or unpleasant, and you'll need to do them well enough that they don't stand in your way. What these things are can vary; they might be perfectly sensible things you just don't happen to enjoy (such as writing or lecturing), or meaningless bureaucratic hoops you are forced to jump through. Either way, sometimes you'll just have to do them. If you're lucky this will amount to only a tiny part of your career, and if you're brilliant people might bend the rules for you, but most people are neither lucky or brilliant.

Every so often this derails someone's career. They enjoy and do well at 80-90% of the job, but they fall apart completely on the remaining 10-20%. They just can't make themselves do it, and they can't find a way to avoid it. This doesn't end well.

I don't want to invest years in working with a grad student unless I'm confident they can do what they need to do to have a successful career. If an applicant is too reluctant to complete graduation requirements (even requirements that I personally agree are excessive), it's a worrisome sign. I wouldn't consider this factor decisive by itself, but it would make me look at the whole application skeptically for signs of trouble.


Almost certainly not. I have only once heard of someone who did not get their undergraduate being accepted. They couldn't pass the university's swimming requirement, but otherwise met the requirements. They then won the Nobel.

There is a practical issue too and that is filtering. In order to winnow out the applications, graduate schools put a variety of filters in so that faculty do not have to review all applications that are submitted. If you are not getting a bachelors, then you will almost certainly be filtered out and even if you are the best candidate on the planet, no one will read it to know that.

Still inside the practical, your graduation requirements were almost certainly modified by the non-major requirements at your school. To provide an example, we are preparing to do a program review. Part of reviewing the graduation requirements is making sure that things that are necessary to learn are either taught in the program or in the core and gen ed requirements.

No academic field is independent. Within-major requirements are impacted by the courses out-of-major. Academic departments are not concerned with courses so much as skills. If we know some courses teach certain skills in a course, then we do not need to teach those skills within the major. Core requirements save academic departments effort in that if there is some commonly used skill, it saves money and resources if they are taught as broad skills in a core course rather than as narrow skills in a field course.

By avoiding courses out of your major you may be reducing your skills rather than increasing them. My school requires everyone to take statistics, for example, so we do not require field specific statistical methods, though you could take that course.

Still in the practical, even if you graduate and are qualified you may not get into graduate school. There are only so many spots. You may also hate it.

Outside the immediately practical, it is uncommon to not have to leap across fields in most research. A PhD is a degree that teaches you how to do independent research. If you have no knowledge of other fields, you will not know how they think. If you do not know how they think you will make serious mistakes in your own research.

In my own doctoral work, I had to draw on work from seemingly unrelated fields. None of these are inside my field.

Although not taught in my doctoral program, I found myself concerned with computational algebra because of issues related to significant digits and a computers ability to properly perform operations on very small numbers. I found myself drawn into the debate between the Frequentist, Likelihoodist and Bayesian schools of thought in statistics and even ended up doing reading in the now defunct Fiducial school of statistics. I ended up needing the tools normally taught to historians because I had to unwind how and why things were done the way they were in the past to explain to those in my field how we got to where we are at. I found myself in the philosophy of model building and in the general philosophy of science. I ended up needing to learn programming for massive data sets in a supercomputing environment. I found tools in geology that were very useful in my field, though we do not have anything at all to do with rocks. The Feldspar jockeys are useful for more than knowing what quartz is. I had to pull literature from psychology, sociology and biology. I found myself in neuroscience reading medical journal articles. My work is not in medicine.

If you go through your undergraduate with the plan of getting a doctorate, then you should take as many in your field as you can. Be sure to take a philosophy, biology, chemistry, computer science, and French literature courses too. You may end up stunned that the French literature course ends up being more useful than your field course.

A PhD program will teach you how to think in a disciplined manner and to learn without taking any more classes. You will want a broad base of knowledge going into a doctoral program.

If it is a choice of graduating or taking field courses, then graduate.

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