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Graduate Degrees: Degree Progress

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Minimum Progress Requirements for Graduate Students

The academic requirements for graduate students include completion of University, department, and program requirements, such as admission to candidacy, successful completion of qualifying exams, and so on in a timely and satisfactory manner. Graduate students must also meet the following standards of minimum progress as indicated by units and grades. (These standards apply to all advanced degree programs except the Graduate School of Business Ph.D., and the M.B.A., J.D., L.L.M., J.S.M., J.S.D., M.D., and M.L.A.)

Graduate students enrolled for 11 or more units must pass at least 8 units per term by the end of each term. Those registered for fewer than 11 units must pass at least 6 units per term by the end of each term, unless other requirements are specified in a particular case or for a particular program.

In addition, graduate students must maintain a 3.0 (B) grade point average overall in courses applicable to the degree.

Department requirements for minimum progress that set a higher standard for units to be completed, or a higher or lower standard for grade point average to be maintained, take precedence over the University policy.

Students identified as not meeting the requirements for minimum progress and timely and satisfactory completion of requirements are reviewed by their departments to determine whether the problem lies with administrative matters such as reporting of grades or with academic performance. Students have the opportunity to explain any special circumstances. Approval for continuation in the degree program is contingent on agreement by the student and department to a suitable plan to maintain appropriate progress in subsequent quarters. Dismissal of graduate students is addressed in separate guidelines.

During the academic year, graduate students who have been granted Terminal Graduate Registration (TGR) status must enroll for zero units in the TGR course in their department in the section appropriate for the adviser (801 for master's and Engineer degree students or 802 for doctoral students). An 'N' grade signifies satisfactory progress, whereas an 'N-' grade indicates unsatisfactory academic progress. The first 'N-' grade constitutes a warning; additional 'N-' grades normally call for departmental review, which can result in a denial of enrollment or dismissal from the degree program.

Students receiving federal student aid funds, including student loans, must maintain satisfactory academic progress standards that may be stricter than departmental standards. See the Financial Aid Office website for details.

Graduate Unit Requirements

The University's expectation is that the units counted towards all graduate degrees are primarily in graduate courses. The University has set specific requirements for units applied to the minimum requirement for the M.A., M.S., and M.F.A. degrees: All units must be in courses at or above the 100 level and at least 50 percent of those must be courses designated primarily for graduate students (typically at least the 200 level). Units earned in courses below the 100 level may not be counted towards the minimum unit requirement for the master's degree. Department specifications for the level of course work accepted for a particular master's degree program may be higher than the University's specifications.

Changes of Degree Programs

Graduate students are admitted to Stanford for a specific degree program. Students who have attended Stanford for at least one term and who are currently enrolled may submit a Graduate Program Authorization Petition in Axess to make one of the following changes:

  1. change to a new degree program in the same department;
  2. change to a new degree program in a different department;
  3. add a new degree program in the same or a different department to be pursued with the existing program. Students cannot add or pursue the same degree program for which they are already enrolled. Coterminal students must have the bachelor's degree conferred before adding a second advanced degree program. Summer term enrollment is optional for students beginning a new degree program in the Autumn term provided that they have been enrolled the prior Spring term.

It is important that the attempt to add or change degree programs be made while enrolled. Otherwise, a new Application for Graduate Admission must be submitted and an application fee paid. The Graduate Program Authorization Petition is submitted electronically through Axess to the department in which admission is requested. If applying for a higher degree program, students may also be required to submit other application materials such as GRE General or Subject Test scores, a statement of purpose, or new letters of recommendation. Decisions on the petitions are made by the programs or departments to which they are directed, and are at the discretion of those programs or departments.

International students changing departments or degree programs must also obtain the approval of the International Student Adviser at the Bechtel International Center. If the requested change lengthens their stay, they also are required to submit verification of sufficient funding to complete the new degree program.

Students who wish to terminate study in a graduate program should submit a properly endorsed Request to Permanently Withdraw from Degree Program eForm. To return to graduate study thereafter, the student is required to apply for reinstatement (if returning to the same degree program) or admission (if applying to a different program). Both applications require payment of a fee. Reinstatement is contingent upon departmental approval.

Guidelines for Dismissal of Graduate Students for Academic or Professional Reasons

Admission to graduate programs at Stanford is highly selective. It is anticipated that every admitted student will be able to fulfill the requirements for the advanced degree. This document provides guidelines to be used in the unusual circumstance that a department must consider dismissal of a graduate student for academic reasons. These guidelines apply to all advanced degree programs except those in the schools of Law and Business, the STEP program in the Graduate School of Education, and the M.D. program in the School of Medicine, which follow guidelines issued by the respective schools.

The principal conditions for continued registration of a graduate student are the timely and satisfactory completion of the University, department, and program requirements for the degree, fulfillment of minimum progress requirements, and meeting standards of professional behavior. The guidelines that follow specify procedures for dismissal of graduate students who are not meeting these conditions. In such cases, a departmental committee (hereafter "the committee"), whether the department's committee of the faculty or other committee authorized to act on the department's behalf such as the departmental graduate studies committee, will:

  1. Where possible and as early as possible, warn the student, in writing, of the situation and deficiency. A detailed explanation of the reason for the warning should be provided.
  2. Consider extenuating circumstances communicated by the student.
  3. Decide the question of dismissal by majority vote of the committee (with at least three faculty members participating in the committee's deliberation) and communicate the decision to the student in writing.
  4. Place a summary of department discussions, votes, and decisions in the student's file.
  5. Provide students the opportunity to examine their department files, if requested.
  6. Provide students with information on their rights to appeal under the Student Academic Grievance Procedure. See the Student Academic Grievance Procedure.
  7. Careful records of department decisions safeguard the rights of both students and faculty.

Guidelines for Addressing Graduate Student Professional Conduct

The success of any academic institution depends on a shared willingness to discharge the ethical obligations that bind students, staff and faculty together in a system of mutually supporting professional roles. Stanford University is no exception (see Administrative Guide, 1.1.1 Code of Conduct). The relevant ethical obligations are clearly defined for faculty in the Faculty Handbook: “In order to maintain the integrity of its teaching and research and to preserve academic freedom, Stanford University demands high standards of professional conduct from its faculty” (see Faculty Handbook 4.3.A). The purpose of this policy is to similarly define the professionalism expectations for graduate students as they prepare to be responsible members of professional communities.

Graduate students are expected to meet standards of professional behavior, including: being present on campus to meet the academic and research expectations of the school or department; communicating in a timely, respectful and professional manner; complying with institutional policies and procedures; and participating appropriately in the program’s community.  Graduate students are expected to familiarize themselves with applicable University policy and degree program requirements. Failure to meet these standards may be grounds for dismissal.

Information about degree program requirements, including department and program academic advising expectations, is available from departments. Students are encouraged to consult with faculty and  staff in those programs should they have questions about local requirements.

When the University has professionalism concerns about a graduate student, the University manages the concern utilizing the Guidelines for Dismissal of Graduate Students for Academic or Professional Reasons (above).

Additional Specifics for Degrees with Candidacy

Before the Review for Candidacy

The committee, before review for admission to candidacy, may vote to dismiss a student who is not making minimum progress or completing requirements in a timely and satisfactory way or meeting standards of professional behavior. Before considering dismissal, the committee should meet with the student to discuss their academic or professional performance and identify steps to correct deficiencies, where such deficiencies are deemed correctable. Following the meeting, the student should receive a written summary of the discussion. Should it not be possible to meet, a written communication detailing academic and professional performance and steps required to correct any deficiencies should be provided to the student.

At the Review for Candidacy

In a review for admission to candidacy, if the committee votes not to recommend the student for admission to candidacy, the vote results in the dismissal of the student from the program. The department chair, or Director of Graduate Studies, or the student's adviser shall communicate the department's decision to the student in writing and whenever possible, in person. The student may submit a written request for reconsideration. The committee shall respond in writing to the request for reconsideration; it may decline to reconsider its decision.

During Candidacy

When a student admitted to candidacy is not making minimum progress, or not meeting standards of professional performance, or not completing University, department, or program requirements in a timely and satisfactory manner, the student's adviser, the Director of Graduate Studies, or department chair, and other relevant faculty should meet with the student, whenever possible. A written summary of these discussions shall be sent to the student and the adviser and added to the student's department file. The summary should specify the student's academic or professional deficiencies, the steps necessary to correct them (if deemed correctable), and the period of time that is allowed for their correction (normally one academic quarter). At the end of the warning period, the committee should review the student's progress and notify the student of its proposed actions. If the student has corrected the deficiencies, he or she should be notified in writing that the warning has been lifted.

If the deficiencies are not deemed correctable by the committee (for example, the failure of a required course or examination, or a pattern of unsatisfactory behavior or performance) or if, at the end of the warning period, the student has not in the view of the committee corrected the deficiencies, the committee may initiate proceedings for dismissal. The student shall be notified in writing and whenever possible, in person, that the case of dismissal will be considered at an impending committee meeting. The student has the right to be invited to attend a portion of the scheduled meeting to present his or her own case; a student may also make this case to the committee in writing.

After full discussion at the committee meeting, the committee, without the student present, shall review the case and vote on the issue of dismissal. The student shall be notified of the decision in writing and, whenever possible, in person. The student should receive a written summary of the discussion, including the committee's decision and the reasons for it. The student may submit a written request for reconsideration. The committee's response to the request for reconsideration shall be made in writing; it may decline to reconsider its decision.

Pregnancy, Childbirth, Adoption and Lactation Policy

Stanford prohibits discrimination on the basis of any characteristic protected by law including discrimination on the basis of pregnancy.  Stanford complies with requirements of California Education Code section 66281.7.  Stanford's policy provides that pregnant graduate students be supported either by staying enrolled or taking a pregnancy leave of absence (see GAP 5.9 Pregnancy, Childbirth, Adoption and Lactation). The policy also provides childbirth accommodations for graduate students giving birth as well as support for non-birth parents who have recently experienced the birth of a child. Questions about the policy can be directed to the Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education.