Continuous registration, a satisfactory grade record (see Chapter V, Grade Requirements), and evidence that satisfactory progress is being made toward the degree are required of all candidates for graduate degrees offered by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. In addition, there are residence requirements, both financial and academic, in all programs (see Chapter III, Degree Requirements).


All students in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences must be making satisfactory progress in order to be eligible for any type of financial aid. The following five provisions are the general definition of satisfactory progress. Specific department modifications are included in the department’s descriptions of requirements below.

  1. During the first two years of graduate study, any student who has completed expected requirements is considered to be making satisfactory progress.
  2. In each of the first two years a student must have achieved the minimum grade-point average required by this faculty, a B average (see Chapter V, Grade Requirements).
  3. By the end of the third year, a student must have passed general examinations or the departmental equivalent.
  4. By the end of the fourth year, a student must have obtained approval of a dissertation prospectus or its departmental equivalent.
  5. By the end of the fifth year and each subsequent year during which a student is allowed to register, he or she must have produced at least one acceptable chapter of the dissertation.


A student who has not met degree requirements or an established deadline may, with department endorsement, be granted the status of “grace” for one year and remain eligible for institutional aid (not federal Title IV loans and/or work-study) during this period. At the end of the grace period, the student must have rectified the deficiency and be in compliance with all other established criteria in order to be considered to be making satisfactory progress. Ordinarily, only one such period of grace will be granted to a student during graduate studies. If a student continues to not make satisfactory progress, a department may withdraw the student. Only students making satisfactory progress are eligible for federal Title IV funding. Students in “grace” status are not eligible to hold teaching appointments.

If a student has been given sufficient time to make up requirements and still has considerable work to do, the student may be placed in “unsatisfactory status” during which time the student may not teach or receive financial aid.


The calendar of requirements as noted above may be interrupted by a single year of department-approved leave. In the special case of a student who wishes to obtain a professional degree or is employed by the US military, the approved leave period can be extended beyond a single year.


  1. An adjustment to the department G-year of one year can be made for a medically documented severe illness. Contemporaneous documentation must be submitted to the Accessible Education Office and should include a letter explaining the illness signed by the physician responsible for the care of the student.
  2. An adjustment of one year can be made for childbirth or other major family-related interruptions of timely progress in a graduate student’s work. Students who desire this adjustment in the department G-year based on a change in family circumstances should contact their department and request this change. The department will notify GSAS of this adjustment. (See Chapter XIV.)
  3. An adjustment to the department G-year can be made for all the years that a student is on active service in the US military.
  4. An adjustment to the department G-year can be made for the years a GSAS student is fully engaged in another Harvard School as an official participant in the MD-PhD or JD/PhD coordinated program.
  5. An adjustment of one year can be made for students entering a PhD program from a GSAS AM program.

Students who desire a change in their department G-year based on one of the above reasons should contact their department. A leave of absence is not necessary to receive an adjustment for reasons 1 and 2 above.


The Dissertation Acceptance Certificate must be signed by at least three readers approved by the student’s department, two of whom must be members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. FAS emeriti (including research professors) and faculty members from other schools at Harvard who hold appointments on GSAS degree committees are authorized to sign Dissertation Acceptance Certificates as FAS Members. GSAS strongly recommends that the chair of the dissertation committee be a member of FAS. If approved by the department, it is possible to have co-chairs of the dissertation committee as long as one is a member of FAS.


An overall GSAS policy has been established that students in PhD programs ordinarily will not be permitted to register beyond their tenth year in the Graduate School. However, exceptions to this rule may be made for students who have taken maternity or parental leave or for students with other special circumstances. If an exception is requested, GSAS will require a letter from the advisor explaining the progress the student has made and the reason for the request; and a letter from the student explaining the plan of completion. The department G-year will be taken into consideration. Students no longer enrolled because of this policy will have the status of “withdrawn.” Students are free to apply for readmission to the Graduate School, so as to re-register for the purpose of receiving the degree, when their dissertation is completed.


For further information or details about departmental requirements, students should consult the Programs of Study publication available at the GSAS Admissions office. For the most up-to-date information about requirements, please contact the departmental offices.

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