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Doctor of Philosophy

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The doctor of philosophy (PhD) degree signifies mastery of a broad discipline of learning together with demonstrated competence in a special field within that discipline. In addition to the common requirements below, PhD candidates must complete additional requirements specified by their program.

Academic Residence

PhD students must register full-time until receipt of the degree, for a minimum of two years. At the discretion of the program, this requirement can be reduced up to one year (eight courses: 32 credits) if academic credit is given for work done elsewhere. A department may appeal to the Office of Student Affairs to request certification of other criteria to measure the amount of progress a student has made.

English Proficiency

All incoming GSAS PhD students must demonstrate English proficiency. Those who are non-native speakers of English and have not received their undergraduate degree from an English-speaking institution will have their English proficiency screened based on either the iBT TOEFL or IELTS Academic speaking score.

Tuition and Fees

PhD students must pay two years of full tuition and two years of reduced tuition unless the time from the student’s initial registration to completion of the degree is less than four years. In years 5 and up, students must pay the facilities fee.

General or Qualifying Examination

In most programs, students must pass a general examination or other preliminary or qualifying examinations as determined by the program before undertaking independent dissertation research. When the nature of the field and previous preparation permit, students are expected to pass these examinations by the end of the second year of full-time academic residence.


Many programs require that students prepare a dissertation prospectus, which must be approved by their program. Any student wishing to present a dissertation as a published article, series of articles, book or other document, or a manuscript that has been accepted for publication must also receive the approval of their program.

Approved dissertations must be submitted to ProQuest ETD by the dates noted in the degree calendar:

  • A dissertation submitted for another degree, either at Harvard or elsewhere, may not be used.
  • Students writing their dissertations must follow Harvard guidelines.


If an approved dissertation is submitted to the Registrar’s Office prior to the registration day for a term, a student does not need to register for that term.

If a student registers for a term and then submits an approved dissertation to the Registrar’s Office by the last day to cancel registration for the term without payment of tuition, registration will be canceled and any tuition paid for that term will be refunded.

Satisfactory Progress toward the PhD

In addition to overall satisfactory progress requirements, PhD students must:

  • Complete expected requirements during the first two years of graduate study.
  • Pass general examinations or the program equivalent by the end of the third year.
  • Obtain approval of a dissertation prospectus or program-defined equivalent by the end of the fourth year.
  • Produce at minimum one acceptable dissertation chapter by the end of the fifth year and each subsequent year during which a student is allowed to register.

Programs may require additional and/or more stringent conditions.

G10 Enrollment Cap

PhD candidates who have not completed the requirements for the degree by their tenth year of study will be withdrawn. Once the dissertation is complete, withdrawn students may apply for readmission to register for the purpose of receiving the degree. Exceptions may be made for students with special circumstances. For more information, students should contact their program, who may confer with the Office of Student Affairs to review particular circumstances.



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