IV. Satisfactory Standing and Residency Requirements

Satisfactory Standing

To remain enrolled in the program, students must be in satisfactory standing. The minimum standard for satisfactory work in the Graduate School is a “B” average for all courses taken in each academic year (please refer to the GSAS Handbook for a more detailed explanation). The Department evaluates the progress of each student annually and reports its evaluation to the GSAS Dean in February; the DGS also makes a report to the Department in May. Among the criteria taken into consideration are: coursework and grades, language preparation, number of incompletes, performance in the general examination, performance as a teaching fellow, presentation of an approved dissertation prospectus, evidence of an active research and writing schedule, and submission of completed dissertation chapters. The advisor’s annual report is also carefully reviewed.

Students who, for whatever reason, are found lacking in their academic performance may receive a warning (“probationary”) letter from the DGS and/or advisor, informing them of the particulars of the Department’s concern and explaining the steps the student must take to avoid lapsing into Unsatisfactory Standing.

Unsatisfactory Standing may lead to a student’s being withdrawn from the program.  Should that occur, the case will be first reviewed, in consultation with the student’s primary academic advisor, by the Academic Program Committee headed by the Director of Graduate Studies and consisting of members of the department, with department chair being present ex officio; and the student will be given an opportunity to present her or his case formally in writing to the committee. The final decision reached by the Department will be communicated to the student after the Academic Program Committee meets and discusses the case.

Note that students who are in Unsatisfactory Standing may be prohibited from teaching.

Time to Degree

From the first year of registration in GSAS, whether in an AM or PhD program, the Registrar’s Office begins counting your years of enrollment. These are marked in the record as G1, G2, etc. The Registrar’s count of G-years is never subject to adjustment. The department “G-year clock,” as it is called, may be stopped for up to one year, but only under certain clearly defined circumstances:

a) maternity or paternity leave of absence

b) leave of absence for documented medical reasons

c) leave of absence for military service

d) participation in a Harvard coordinated degree

e) family disruption

This is a matter of GSAS, not department, policy. Military exemptions aside, exceptions to the one-year rule are uncommon and necessarily involve the approval of the Dean.

Additionally, by agreement with GSAS, students admitted (“transferred”) to the PhD from a Harvard Master’s degree program automatically have their department G-year clocks turned back by one year. For example, the typical EALC transfer student from RSEA will have spent two years at Harvard before entering the PhD. Such a student will for practical purposes be grouped together with G1 students, but for internal accounting purposes will be considered by the department to be a G2. It is thus expected that RSEA transfer students will take general exams at the end of the departmental G2 year, i.e., the end of their second year in the PhD program. Note that the Registrar’s official G-clock will not reflect this internal adjustment, so that former RSEA student will take generals at the end of what is actually their fourth year overall at Harvard (the Registrar’s G4 year).

As a rule, EALC students are expected to have satisfied all language and seminar paper requirements and to be prepared to sit for the General Examination no later than the end of the third year in the PhD program. Students who successfully pass generals go on to the next phase of the program, which involves the preparation of the dissertation prospectus. Once the prospectus is approved, the student may proceed to researching and writing the doctoral thesis. From start to finish, it takes an average of seven or eight years to earn a doctorate in the Department.

Below, for reference purposes, is a normative timetable for students in the EALC and HEAL PhD programs.

Phase 1 / G1-G3: regular coursework and general examinations

Phase 2 / G3-G4: three semesters of teaching and dissertation prospectus

Phase 3 / G5-G8: dissertation research and writing

For students who transferred to the PhD from the RSEA AM program, examinations should come at the end of the G2 year, the prospectus at the end of the G3 year, etc.

The department understands that everyone works at a different pace, so you should not be too concerned if you are a little behind this schedule. If, on the other hand, you are more than a year behind, then this might be a cause for concern. If you feel yourself falling irretrievably behind in your work or if you feel you are not making good progress, you should make an appointment to speak with your advisor and the DGS to discuss the circumstances and possible remedies. The Bureau of Study Counsel and the GSAS Office of Student Affairs are other important resources.

See also: Student Life: Resources

Progress Reports

In September, the department asks each student to submit a brief statement on his/her progress during the preceding twelve months. The purpose of the form is to confirm which milestones the student has passed and which remain, and to learn of any problems the student is experiencing or potential problems the student foresees. Students experiencing difficulties should not wait to report them here, of course, but should consult as soon as possible with an advisor and/or the DGS.

G10 Enrollment Cap

Students are permitted to register in GSAS only up to the G10 year (i.e., the department G10 year). An exception is EALC students who have received a GSAS Dissertation Completion Fellowship, who are permitted to register only through the G8 year (see under Section IX, “Dissertation Requirements”).

Students who, at the end of the tenth year, have not yet completed the requirements for the PhD are withdrawn from the Graduate School. In such cases, students may re-apply when they have finished the dissertation, and may be re-admitted for the purposes of defending the dissertation, filing the thesis and receiving the degree. Students in the G9 and G10 years can expect to receive letters from the DGS reminding them of the G10 rule. Exceptions to the G10 limit are extremely rare and require the approval of the Dean of the Graduate School. The form for readmission (together with many other forms) is available in Section XIII.


The minimum academic residence requirement for graduate study for the PhD in the Department is two years of full-time study. All students, including those who completed the AM-RSEA program, are subject to this requirement.

Non-resident Status

Students who plan to be away from campus for one term or more must file for non-resident status. The application for non-resident status depends on the category one applies for. There are three categories: Traveling Scholar Status, Leave of Absence, and Registration at Another Harvard School.

Traveling Scholar Status

Students who plan to travel in connection with their research; who take part in the Exchange Scholars Program; or who, for personal or other reasons, will be living outside the Boston area but will remain actively engaged in degree-related work should apply for Traveling Scholar status. Note that Traveling Scholars are by default covered under the UHS and Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance plans and will be charged accordingly. Generally, students who are traveling will waive the University Health insurance, as they will not be using the university health facilities. Students who have other health insurance coverage can submit a request to waive the Harvard insurance plan. Traveling Scholar status may be renewed annually, provided the student remains in satisfactory standing.

Leave of Absence

A student may request a Leave of Absence (LOA) at any time after the first year in the PhD. LOA status implies that the student’s time will primarily be given over to non-PhD-related activities. The reason for the leave must be stated clearly on the application. Depending on the reason for the leave, the department G-clock may be stopped, but generally only for one year (see above). The maximum length of leave that can be taken before the General Examinations is one year. After the General Examinations, students may take up to two consecutive years of leave. Note that Students on LOA do not receive health insurance coverage unless they request it and agree to purchase it. Taking leave may also have serious implications for international students and for students who have outstanding student loans. All students contemplating LOA are urged to read the relevant sections of the GSAS Handbook before consulting with their advisors and eventually the DGS.

Registration at Another Harvard School

The University has a small number of Coordinated Degree Programs (e.g., JD-PhD). Students in these programs may not register simultaneously in GSAS and another Harvard school, but must request LOA from GSAS while they are registered elsewhere at Harvard.

The deadlines for applications for non-resident status (all categories) are July 1, for the fall term or the full academic year and January 1, for the spring term. Late fees apply. The required forms are available on the GSAS website.

Forms for Traveling Scholar status and LOA are also available here.

Forms must be signed by the advisor and by the DGS before being submitted to GSAS, and a copy should be filed with the Graduate Coordinator. Non-resident students may elect to pay Active File Fees to maintain access to the University’s electronic resources, or they may pay the Facilities Fees if in addition they wish to maintain access to University buildings. PhD students on leave who remain in the Boston area are normally charged Facilities Fees.

Please be advised that students who choose to go on leave during the G3 and G4 years forfeit their priority claim on teaching opportunities normally guaranteed in those years. A student may not “bank” the TF positions they would have been given in those years and return to claim them in later years, though every effort will be made to accommodate the needs of advanced students who have not yet acquired teaching experience.