Admission to the S.T.L. program presupposes the possession of the S.T.B. degree from a pontifical faculty or its academic equivalent as determined by the Ecclesiastical Degrees Committee (EDC). For admission to the S.T.L. program, applicants must submit a University application, post-secondary transcripts, three letters of recommendation, and either GRE or MAT scores; in the case of international students, TOEFL scores are required.

School of Theology and Religious Studies students who are entering their seventh semester of theological studies in the S.T.B. program and have obtained permission to delay their S.T.B. comprehensives until the scheduled dates during that semester may apply for provisional admission to the S.T.L. program provided they have a cumulative grade-point average of 3.00 or higher. This provisional status will be lifted once the student has successfully completed all S.T.B. requirements.


The residency requirement for the S.T.L. is four semesters (full time). 

Course Requirements

Students must complete a minimum of 24 credits of coursework, plus 6 credits for the thesis; thesis credits will be awarded after the thesis has been approved.

The directives for research guidance on the doctoral level also apply on the licentiate level; in particular, S.T.L. students are required to maintain continuous registration until all their requirements are completed, unless they have received an approved leave of absence.

Each student must take and successfully complete at least 24 semester hours of coursework on either the 700 or 800 level. 18 of these required credits must be taken in the student's chosen field of concentration; the other 6 credits are electives, normally taken from the School's offerings.

Ordinarily courses will be chosen from the course offerings of the School of Theology and Religious Studies. Students may take advantage of the broad offerings of the university in subjects useful for their theological studies, by taking up to six semester hours in another school or department; such courses must be related to the student's area of concentration. In each instance, the written approvals of both the area director and the dean or the department head of the other school or department are required.

In addition to the minimum 24 credit hours of coursework, each student must prepare and obtain final approval for a written thesis on a research project. Students must register for research guidance (993) for each of three successive semesters, beginning with the second semester of enrollment in the S.T.L. program. The purpose of the non-credit research guidance is to guide the student in readings pertinent to the chosen area of concentration, help the student prepare a thesis proposal, and direct the student in the writing of the thesis.

Language Requirements

Candidates for the S.T.L. degree in theology must fulfill the following language requirements by the end of the semester before the candidate takes the comprehensive examination.

  1. Latin: Successful completion of a Latin Proficiency Examination. The Latin requirement should ordinarily be satisfied by the end of the first fall semester in the program.
  2. Greek: Successful completion of a reading course in either biblical or patristic Greek or passing an examination in either biblical or patristic Greek, depending on a student’s area of concentration.
  3. Modern Language: A reading ability in either German or a Romance language (French, Italian, Spanish) must be demonstrated by the successful completion of an examination. The requirement in theological usage in German may be fulfilled by passing TRS 504 “Theological German.”

Another modern foreign language may be substituted for German or a romance language if needed for the student's research with the approval of the student’s thesis director and reader and with the approval of the area director.

Admission to Candidacy

An S.T.L. student may apply for admission to candidacy when the following requirements have been successfully completed:

  1. all language requirements
  2. all required course work
  3. Thesis

The application for candidacy should be submitted to the area director, who forwards a recommendation of the candidate to the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies.


Each candidate for the S.T.L. degree must write a thesis of approximately 25,000 to 35,000 words, which demonstrates the ability to proceed further in theological research. The thesis should give evidence of training in research and make a contribution to theological knowledge involving a limited, yet significant, problem of investigation. The thesis must show the candidate's familiarity with basic methods and techniques of research, technical mastery of a specific but limited subject matter, and ability to exercise sound theological judgment and formulate accurate conclusions.

The format of the thesis must conform to the guidelines presented in the current version of the Dissertation/Thesis Handbook published by The Catholic University of America and prepared by and available from the Office of Graduate Student Services.

A thesis proposal must be approved by the director and a reader (who are ordinarily members of the School of Theology and Religious Studies faculty). After approval by the director and reader, the proposal is circulated by email to the area faculty for consideration. After the proposal has been approved by the area faculty, it is then forwarded to the Ecclesiastical Degrees Committee for final approval.

Ordinarily, a proposal should be presented by the end of a student’s second semester in the S.T.L. program. The form and style for the S.T.L. thesis proposal is the same as for a doctoral dissertation. Samples of S.T.L. proposals are available for review in the School of Theology and Religious Studies office.

Upon completion of the thesis, the director and the reader signify their approval in writing on the form: "Final Approval of S.T.L. Thesis". The original of this Final Approval form and a copy will be submitted to the Office of Graduate Student Services; one copy of the signed Final Approval form should be placed in the student's file. A student may schedule, but may not take, the comprehensive examinations prior to the final written approval of the thesis by the director and reader.

Comprehensive Examinations

S.T.L. students must successfully complete both written and oral comprehensive examinations, which are based on a list of books in systematic theology (see here for list). Available in the School of Theology and Religious Studies office are copies of past S.T.L. comprehensive examinations.

To qualify for S.T.L. comprehensive examinations, a student must maintain at least a 3.00 cumulative average in coursework. The comprehensive examinations may be taken once the thesis has received the approval of the director and reader, during the final semester of residency.

The written examination, which lasts four hours, requires a student to answer three out of six questions. The written comprehensive exam will be graded by the director, the reader of the thesis, plus a third member of the faculty appointed by the area director. The candidate must receive an average grade of 3.00 (on a scale of 0.00-4.00) from the three examiners in order to proceed to the oral comprehensive.

The oral examination lasts one hour and takes place before the same three persons who grade the student's written examination. The oral is usually scheduled one week after the written examination. The oral examination will be evaluated on the basis of a score from 0.00-4.00. In order to pass the oral comprehensive, the candidate must receive an average grade of 3.00 from the three examiners in a secret vote. The student’s director is responsible for obtaining a Grade Sheet for S.T.L. Comprehensive Examination form from the School of Theology and Religious Studies office and submitting the final grades for the written and oral examinations to the area director who will see that the grade form is placed in the student’s file. A candidate for the S.T.L. degree may not continue candidacy after two failures in the comprehensive examinations.

Final Grade for the S.T.L.

The three components of the S.T.L. degree program — coursework, thesis, and comprehensive examinations (written and oral) — will be graded on the basis of the usual 4.0 grade point scale. The average of the grades for courses will be one-third; the average of the two grades for the thesis (from the Director and the Reader) will be one-third; and the combined average of the final grades for the written and oral comps will be the last third. A student must have a 3.0 average to receive the S.T.L. degree.

To be admitted to the S.T.D. program, a student must successfully complete the S.T.L. degree with a cumulative average grade of 3.3.

Thesis Deposit

After a student has successfully passed the comprehensive examinations, he or she must submit the final form of the thesis as an unbound manuscript to the Office of Graduate Student Services. The thesis manuscript must follow the specifications for the type of paper and the format for dissertations. The manuscript must be accompanied by the original signed Final Approval form. In addition, one copy of this Final Approval signature form stapled to a copy of the thesis title page should be submitted to the Office of Graduate Student Services. Students are expected to follow the format for preparing the title page and signature page for doctoral dissertations. In order to submit the thesis, the student must schedule an appointment with the director of the Office of Graduate Student Services.

A student should have a check or money order to pay the required deposit fee. The student's identification number should be on the check or money order. Cash or credit card payment will not be accepted.

The final date for depositing a thesis (or dissertation) is indicated in the academic calendar for the spring semester. Students who wish to qualify for a mid-year graduation should have all forms completed and deposits made by the appropriate dates in the fall or winter.


Catholic University graduates students in October, January and May of each year, however, commencement exercises are held only in May. All students planning to graduate in May should submit a diploma card (available from the School of Theology and Religious Studies office or Office of the Registrar) to the Office of the Registrar by February 1. In addition, they are to submit a “Commencement Book Information” sheet (available from the School of Theology and Religious Studies office) to the theology and religious studies administrative assistant for graduate studies by April 1. This is to ensure that a student’s name and previous degrees will be correctly printed in the University commencement book.

When the School of Theology and Religious Studies office has received written verification from the Office of Graduate Student Services of the deposit of a student's thesis, as well as the completion of all S.T.L. degree requirements, the student's name is then submitted to the School of Theology and Religious Studies faculty for approval for the next graduation date.