Satisfactory Academic Progress

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences has specific rules for satisfactory academic progress for master's and for PhD students. Federal regulations require that students receiving federal assistance make satisfactory academic progress in accordance with the standards set by the university.

For all students, permission to register each term is contingent, in part, on judgment that progress in the degree program is satisfactory.

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences holds each student within a particular program to the same academic standards.

Departmental deadlines more stringent than those of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences supersede those of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Students who take a leave of absence or who do not register for the semester are not considered to be active Columbia students, and will not be able to fulfill requirements for the degree while they are not registered and/or on leave.

Progress Toward the MA Degree

The Graduate School considers progress toward the MA degree to be minimally satisfactory when progress is made at a rate that will allow a student to complete the degree within four consecutive terms of full-time study, with the exception of the MA program in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology; students in that program must complete the degree within eight consecutive terms of full-time study. Students will be evaluated annually to ensure that they are progressing at a pace that will allow them to complete their degree within the maximum time frame. This evaluation will be based on the number of credits that a student has completed of those attempted.

Students must also maintain a minimum cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 3.0. The cumulative GPA is derived from all courses in which a student has registered and received a grade. Students may not hold more than one mark of Incomplete at a time.

Master’s students in the programs listed below may, over a four-year period, pursue a program of part-time study leading to the MA degree. The half and quarter Residence Units are designed to accommodate part-time students in these programs. Students enrolled in these programs may register for half and quarter Residence Unit registration categories during the summer. For further information, see Summer Session.

  • African-American Studies
  • American Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Art History and Archaeology
  • Biotechnology
  • Classical Studies
  • Classics
  • East Asian Languages and Cultures
  • Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology
  • English and Comparative Literature
  • French and Romance Philology
  • Germanic Languages
  • Human Rights Studies
  • Italian
  • Islamic Studies
  • Jewish Studies
  • Latin America and the Caribbean: Regional Studies
  • Mathematics with a specialization in Mathematics of Finance
  • Medieval and Renaissance Studies
  • Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies
  • Modern Art: Critical and Curatorial Studies
  • Modern European Studies
  • Museum Anthropology
  • Philosophical Foundations of Physics
  • Philosophy
  • Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences
  • Religion
  • Russia, Eurasia, and East Europe: Regional Studies
  • Russian Translation
  • Slavic Cultures
  • Slavic Languages
  • Sociology
  • South Asian Studies
  • Statistics

To receive the MA degree, the student must apply for graduation with the Registrar.

Progress Toward the PhD Degree

The Graduate School considers progress to be minimally satisfactory when progress is such that a student completes the MA degree within two years from initial registration, the MPhil degree and the prospectus defense within four years from initial registration, and the PhD within nine years from initial registration. Students who receive credit for an MA completed elsewhere, and/or with two Residence Units of advanced standing, must complete the MPhil and the prospectus defense within three years from initial registration, and the PhD within eight years from initial registration; students who fail to meet this deadline will lose good academic standing and be placed on academic probation.

Students must defend the prospectus successfully by May 31 of their fourth year. Students who do not meet this deadline will lose good academic standing, be placed on probation, and not have their stipend disbursed for the ensuing fall semester. In exceptional circumstances, with a written rationale from the DGS and sponsor and the approval of GSAS, students may receive a final opportunity to defend their prospectus before September 30 of the fifth year. Students who do so successfully by September 30 of the fifth year will receive the full Dissertation Fellowship retroactively. Students who do not pass their prospectus by September 30 of their fifth year will lose PhD candidacy. For students who are off-cycle (those whose fifth year of matriculation begins in January), the corresponding deadlines described above will be December 15 and February 28.

Students must also maintain a minimum cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 3.0. The cumulative GPA is derived from all courses in which a student has registered and received a grade. Students may not hold more than one mark of Incomplete at a time.

Continuous registration is required of all doctoral degree candidates in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Exceptions are made for students on approved Leaves of Absence, which stop the clock on time-to-degree requirements and multi-year fellowship packages. For more information, see the Leaves of Absence page.

(Note: The rule commonly called the Seven-Year Rule refers to the maximum number of years PhD students are eligible for GSAS financial support.)

To receive the en-route MA, the student must apply for the MA degree with the Registrar. To receive the MPhil, the student must submit an application for the MPhil degree to the DGS, who then submits it to GSAS. For information about receiving the PhD, click here

Assessment of Progress

The satisfactory progress of doctoral students is assessed annually on the basis of academic performance, including the timely completion of all language examinations and all certifying and comprehensive examinations and thesis requirements, grades, and performance in any required teaching or research apprenticeships.

In addition, each year post-MPhil students and students in their eighth semester who are required to complete the MPhil by the end of the semester must submit the Report on Progress in Candidacy online through SSOL. The dissertation sponsor reviews the student’s report, determines whether or not the student is making satisfactory progress, and reports this evaluation of progress annually to the GSAS Dean’s Office via SSOL. Students have access to the online report from mid-January through mid-March, and faculty have access until mid-April; specific deadlines can be found on SSOL. 

Failure to Maintain Satisfactory Progress (MA and PhD Students)

A student who fails to maintain satisfactory progress will be advised of corrective steps to take, and apprised of the consequences of failing to take those steps. A student who fails to maintain satisfactory progress may have his/ her candidacy terminated. Additionally, each program maintains its own standards of satisfactory academic progress and corrective procedures, and all students must familiarize themselves with them. In cases of evident failure to achieve progress, a student may be dismissed from the degree program without a probationary period.

Dismissing a Graduate Student in the Arts and Sciences

Graduate students are expected to maintain good academic standing, including acquiring an advisor, meeting time-to-degree requirements, maintaining superior quality of work, and other criteria specified by the department and the Graduate School. (Further criteria appear on the academic standing page.) When a student's performance is unsatisfactory, departments and programs are expected to communicate to the student the conditions that must be fulfilled for him or her to return to good academic standing.

If a student's performance continues to be inadequate, the director of graduate studies or faculty member holding a similar position should confer with the GSAS administration, typically the dean of academic affairs, regarding the termination of that student’s candidacy for the degree.

The department or program will communicate to the student the reasons for recommending dismissal to the Graduate School, and GSAS will proceed with the formal termination of candidacy by sending an official letter to the student and copying relevant faculty and administrators.

The effective date of dismissal will be included in the official notification from GSAS. Typically the dismissal is effective immediately, or at the end of the then-current semester. However, the department or program may request a different effective date of dismissal if it provides compelling reasons to do so.

A student may appeal a departmental recommendation to dismiss within ten calendar days of receiving notification from GSAS by writing to the dean of the Graduate School. The letter should explain the grounds for challenging the program's recommendation to dismiss. The student may appeal the decision on only two grounds:

  1. The student has new and relevant information that was unavailable at the time of dismissal.
  2. The student has concerns with the process that led to the dismissal that could potentially change or affect the outcome of the decision.

The dean will consider the appeal to determine if a modification of the original decision is warranted. The dean will notify the student of the final decision in writing within ten calendar days of the appeal request. There are no further possibilities of appeal beyond the dean of GSAS. A student's university privileges remain in effect until the dismissal is final.