PhD Overview and Timeline

Given here are School-wide graduate degree policies and guidance.  Program-specific degree options, requirements, and model programs can be found on the "Graduate Programs" pages under each of the subject areas listed in Academics.

General Ph.D. Requirements

  • 10 semester-long graduate courses, including at least 8 disciplinary.  At least 5 of the 10 should be graduate-level SEAS "technical" courses (or FAS graduate-level technical courses taught by SEAS faculty), not including seminar/reading/project courses.  Undergraduate-level courses cannot be used.  For details on course requirements, see the school's overall PhD course requirements and the individual program pages linked therein.
  • Program Plan (i.e., the set of courses to be used towards the degree) approval by the Committee on Higher Degrees (CHD).
  • Minimum full-time academic residency of two years.
  • Serve as a Teaching Fellow (TF) in one semester of the second year.
  • Oral Qualifying Examination
    Preparation in the major field is evaluated in an oral examination by a qualifying committee. The examination has the dual purpose of verifying the adequacy of the student's preparation for undertaking research in a chosen field and of assessing the student's ability to synthesize knowledge already acquired. For details on arranging your Qualifying Exam, see the exam policies and the individual program pages linked therein.
  • Committee Meetings: PhD students' research committees meet according to the guidelines in each area's "Committee Meetings" listing.  For details see the "G3+ Committee Meetings" section of the Policies of the CHD and the individual program pages linked therein.
  • Final Oral Examination (Defense)
    This public examination devoted to the field of the dissertation is conducted by the student's research committee. It includes, but is not restricted to, a defense of the dissertation itself.  For details of arranging your final oral exam see the Ph.D. Timeline page.
  • Dissertation
    Upon successful completion of the qualifying examination, a committee chaired by the research supervisor is constituted to oversee the dissertation research. The dissertation must, in the judgment of the research committee, meet the standards of significant and original research.

Optional additions to the Ph.D. program

Harvard PhD students may choose to pursue these additional aspects:

SEAS PhD students may apply to participate in the Health Sciences and Technology graduate program with Harvard Medical School and MIT.  Please check with the HST program for details on eligibility (e.g., only students in their G1 year may apply) and the application process.

PhD Timeline

--> Also see the separate pages with on-boarding information for new PhD students <--
 Information and Resources for New Graduate Students
Wiki site for incoming PhD students (behind Harvard Key)

First Year (G1)


  • Early September:
    • Notify your financial aid officers of any external funding.
      Contact: Erin Bishop in SEAS Finance and Emily Fingerle in GSAS Financial Aid.
    • Make note of the course registration deadline.
      (previously known as "Study Card Day"). See the GSAS Policies Academic Calendar.
  • Mid-September:
    • Register for courses before the deadline (previously known as "Study Card Day")


  • Mid-January: Deadline for submitting materials to be reviewed at the January CHD meetings.
  • Late-January: Course registration deadline (previously known as "Study Card Day").
  • Mid-February: Deadline for submitting materials to be reviewed at the March CHD meetings
  • April 1: Research Advisor Selection Form/Research Assistant appointment form due to Office of Academic Programs.
  • Early-April: Deadline for submitting materials to be reviewed at the April CHD meetings.
    • Note: The April CHD meeting is the last CHD meeting in all academic year. CHD does not meet over the summer. Remember to plan ahead.

Second year (G2)

Throughout year

  • Teaching Fellows (TFing):
    • G2’s are required to serve as a Teaching Fellow in either the Fall or Spring semester.
    • Make sure you complete the TF form once you line up a TF position! 
  • Qualifying Exam:
    • G2’s are required to take their qualifying exam in either the Fall or Spring terms.
    • Email quals_defenses@seas to book a room. If you book your own room (e.g., external to SEAS) you must still email quals_defenses@seas well in advance in order for your required documentation to be ready, else your exam cannot take place.
    • Upon completion of the exam, students are required to submit the Designation of Research Committee form to OAP.
    • If you plan to request a delay of the qualifying exam, complete a Request to Delay Qual Exam form. Note that delays until September (i.e. start of G3 year) are typically approved as a matter of course



  • Late-January: Course Registration Deadline (previously known as "Study Card Day"). See the GSAS Policies Academic Calendar.
  • May 1: Advising Agreement form due to OAP.
  • May: Commencement and diploma options for Masters en Route / Continuing Master’s students - You can apply to receive your S.M. degree en route to your PhD after you have completed eight of your core courses (this requirement may depend on area). You will receive your S.M. diploma, and participate in the Commencement if you choose to. However since you will be considered a non-terminal degree recipient, you will not be able to join the ceremony in Sander's Theater. 

Third year (G3+) and beyond

Throughout year

  • Meet with your Research Committee at least annually, as indicated by your area's expectations.
  • Send any changes to your Final Program Plan to the CHD for review. See the CHD page for submission dates.  Note that the Committee on Higher Degrees expects students not to petition for a revised Program Plan less than a year prior to the final defense in case additional coursework is required, so it's important to keep your plan up to date with your courses as actually taken.
  • Inform OAP of any changes to your research committee
  • PhD candidates can review their eligibility to receive an SM en route


  • Early-September: Course Registration Deadline (previously known as "Study Card Day"). See the GSAS Policies Academic Calendar.


  • Late-January: Course Registration Deadline (previously known as "Study Card Day"). See the GSAS Policies Academic Calendar
  • May 1RA reappointment form due to OAP.

Completing your degree

Degree Application

  • Check out FAS degree-completion information here (Registrar) and deadlines here (GSAS calendar)
  • Complete the degree application via my.harvard by the Registrar's deadline.


  • Book a room for your final defense by emailing quals_defenses@seas.
    • If you schedule your own room (e.g., external to SEAS) you must still email quals_defenses@seas well in advance in order for your required documentation to be ready, else your defense cannot take place.  You must also get agreement from your full committee to hold your defense in a non-SEAS room.

Dissertation Submission and Commencement

  • Find out the rules for formatting and submitting your dissertation to FAS. GSAS has formatting guidance as well.
    • The best way to share your dissertation with others is by linking to the DASH copy. DASH uses persistent URLs and provides you with download statistics, and the DASH copy of your PDF will not include the signed Dissertation Acceptance Certificate (DAC). If you choose to post or share your PDF in some other way, you should remove the DAC page so that readers do not have access to the scanned signatures.
  • Get ready for commencement by updating your email and other contact information via