PhD Program Information

The Graduate School administers and awards all Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programs at Northwestern.

However, the schools responsible for the details of the curriculum design and teach the program of study. Students apply for admission to The Graduate School, and comply with uniform guidelines for candidacy and graduation set forth by The Graduate School and the Bienen School of Music. The Bienen School is responsible for the many details of the degree, the actual teaching, advising, and oversight of research. For detailed advice, and to become familiar with The Graduate School regulations that govern all PhD degrees at Northwestern, students should work carefully with Bienen School faculty.

Specializations of study are offered in four fields: Composition and Music TechnologyMusic EducationMusic Theory and Cognition, and Musicology. The curriculum is structured to take full advantage of the many and varied academic opportunities available within the Bienen School and Northwestern University.

Financial Aid and Expectations Top

PhD students typically receive two types of funding from The Graduate School: fellowships and graduate assistantships. These awards are in the form of a grant to cover tuition costs, a stipend for living expenses, and a health insurance premium subsidy. Fellowships do not carry a requirement for service. Graduate assistantships require the student to teach or provide general or research assistance to faculty.

PhD students are full-time (3 units or more), and fully-funded (stipend plus tuition scholarship). TGS expects PhD students to be financially supported through a combination of institutional and external funds for a minimum of five years. The support provided to PhD students includes year-round tuition, stipend, and fully subsidized health insurance.

Learn More about PhD Funding

Internal Fellowships and Grants

The Graduate School sponsors a number of internal fellowships and grants to students on a competitive basis. Those awards include the Presidential Fellowship, Summer Language Grant, and Conference Travel Grant, among others. PhD students are encouraged to apply for these special awards in consultation with their adviser and the Director of Graduate Music Studies (DGS).

Requirement for Seeking Outside Funding

Graduate student funding is a shared responsibility. We expect all students to make a good faith effort to obtain external support at some point during their funding period, and students should be encouraged to pursue these opportunities. Such awards enhance the student vitae, and help improve grant-writing skills. Bienen School of Music also awards a financial incentive when students are awarded an external fellowship.

Should a student be the recipient of an external grant or sponsorship, TGS requires these external resources be used in lieu of university funding.

Learn More about Regulations Governing Recipients of University Assistance

Student Loans

Students needing additional funds to pay for their education may apply for loans. Only U.S. citizens, and permanent residents who are enrolled at least half-time, are eligible for federal loans. There are alternative loan options for part-time students and for international students. Please contact Graduate Financial Aid for more information.

Graduate Assistantship Duties and Responsibilities

Graduate Assistantships require students to serve the Department of Music Studies for up to 20 hours weekly for each of the 10 weeks in a given quarter. Fall, winter and spring quarters are required for such service; the summer quarter carries no expectation of service.

Learn More about Graduate Assistantship Duties and Responsibilities

Assistantships assignments are made by the PhD Program Coordinators and the coordinator of non-major courses, in consultation with the DGS and the Assistant Dean for Admission, Financial Aid and Graduate Services, as needed.

Short Term Absence

Students who receive external funding, or have any other professional obligation that would necessitate missing more than two days of classes or GA assistantship tasks, must receive approval as early as possible from their instructors, GA supervisor, major adviser or program coordinator, and the Assistant Dean for Admission, Financial Aid and Graduate Services. A form for requesting such a leave is below.

Short Term Absence Request Form

Health Insurance Top

All PhD students who are registered full-time (3-4 units), except for TGS 512, during the fall quarter are eligible for the healthcare subsidy for the full academic year (September 1 to August 31). The subsidy covers 100% of the cost of the health insurance premium. The subsidy applies automatically as long as the student is enrolled in the Northwestern health insurance plan, and registered full-time.

For information on the Northwestern student health insurance coverage, contact the Student Health Insurance Office.

Learn More about Student Health Insurance

Advising Top

Each PhD student is assigned both a program specialization adviser within the Department of Music Studies, and an Academic Student Services adviser from The Graduate School. The specialization advisers are in charge of the overall academic career, and are not the major adviser for the student's dissertation. For additional advising, contact Bienen School’s Graduate Services or your Department Chair.

Learn More about Graduate Advising

Music Studies PhD Directory

Bienen School of Music

Graduate Services:
Assistant Dean for Admission, Financial Aid and Graduate Services: Thomas Crespo
Chair for Music Studies: Drew Davies
Director of Graduate Studies, PhD: Ryan Dohoney
Assistant Director of Graduate Services and Financial Aid: Christina Wouters 
Coordinator for Composition and Music Technology: Jay Alan Yim
Coordinator for Music Education: Sarah Bartolome
Coordinator for Music Theory: Vasili Byros
Coordinator for Musicology: Andrew Talle

The Graduate

Course of Study Top

Students design a course of study incorporating their individual interests and a broad-based approach to contemporary music research. A year-long sequence of selected courses in Music Education, Musicology, Music Theory and Cognition, and Composition and Music Technology provides an interdisciplinary context for students in all specializations, with additional seminars and colloquia in each major as a foundation for advanced work.

A unique aspect of this program is a cognate area requirement in a non-music field such as psychology of learning, cognitive science, learning sciences, cultural studies, social sciences, humanities, philosophy, or communication studies. Students are encouraged to check with their specialization advisers to obtain any additional information about expectations not specified here.


Students pursuing a doctoral degree should be in residence during coursework and while fulfilling teaching obligations.

Time Limitation 

All requirements for the doctoral degree must be met within nine years of initial registration in a doctoral program, which falls on the last day of the 36th quarter. For students on an approved leave of absence, milestones are extended accordingly.

Academic Standing Top

To be eligible for all forms of financial aid, including PhD funding, PhD students must remain in good academic standing, and demonstrate satisfactory progress towards their degree. Generally, good academic standing means students must meet the standards set by the academic program and The Graduate School, and make satisfactory progress toward fulfilling all stated requirements for the degree.

A student whose overall (cumulative) grade average is below B (3.0 GPA), has more than one incomplete (Y or X) grade, or otherwise fails to make progress towards the degree in accordance with the requirements adopted by The Graduate School, is not considered in good academic standing. Satisfactory Academic Progress encompasses milestone deadlines and program length for completing all degree requirements, as well as grade quality, and differs for students pursuing the master's or doctor of musical arts degree as compared with those pursuing the PhD.

Learn More about Satisfactory Academic Progress

Students document progress towards their degree by completing certain forms in the Graduate Student Tracking System (GSTS) under “TGS Forms.” These forms include:

PhD Prospectus
PhD Qualifying Exam
Application for Degree
PhD Final Exam
Petition for Absence

Forms submitted in GSTS are routed to Bienen Graduate Services in the Bienen School for approval. Once approved, the forms are routed to The Graduate School for final approval barring any holds or issues. Students are notified when the forms are submitted and approved. Students are encouraged to complete the forms in consultation with their major adviser. 

Access GSTS information and user guides

The Bienen School of Music and The Graduate School annually review student progress. Students submit a self-evaluation, updated CV, and current transcript. The student’s major adviser and the DGS review all materials, and send the student a formal written review.


The Bienen School of Music, in conjunction with the administration in The Graduate School, is ultimately responsible for monitoring Satisfactory Academic Progress. Students may be dismissed, after due process, for failure to maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress, or the inability to meet major deadlines for degree completion.


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