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Graduate Student Roadmap to Successful Degree Completion

grad student completion roadmap

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Steps to Completing a Doctoral Degree
Step Procedure Timeline

Discuss admissions with department of interest and apply online through The Graduate School.

Per department deadlines.

Graduate Committee Consult with department advisor or research chair to form committee. To occur by the end of 3rd term of registration.
Graduate Program of Study and Committee Consult with Graduate Chair and Committee; submit form to The Graduate School. Must be submitted to The Graduate School before the end of the 3rd term of registration.
Qualifying Examination Consult with Graduate Chair and Committee to schedule. The examination generally occurs during the 1st year of attendance.
Comprehensive Examination Consult with Graduate Chair and Committee. The examination usually occurs when at least 2/3rd of the required coursework has been completed.
Maintain Continuous Enrollment Must be enrolled in 3 or more credits each term, excluding summer. After passing any portion of the comprehensive examination.
Application to Graduate Consult with Graduate Chair; submit form to The Graduate School. Form processing results in a Graduate Student Audit fee of $20 and a Graduation fee of $30. Must be submitted on or before the 3rd Friday of the intended term of graduation.
Defense of Dissertation Consult with Graduate Chair and Committee. Must be passed at least 14 business days before the end of the intended term of graduation.
Approval of Dissertation Approval by the Graduate Dean and Graduate School Formatting Advisor. See submission procedures. Must be approved at least 14 business days before the end of the intended term of graduation.
Graduation Commencement See Registrar's Office for Commencement Information.

December ceremony - summer and fall candidates; May ceremony - spring candidates.

12 Tips for Advising Graduate Students

Please visit our CollegeNET help center for information about how to login to CollegeNET and how to review applications for your program.

There are 5 possible admissions decision outcomes, outlined in the Graduate Admissions Policy:

  • Full admission
  • Full admission with provision
  • Full admission with condition
  • Full admission with provision & condition
  • Denied admission

It is up to the department review committee to determine if they will review an application(s) before it is complete, meaning there may be some required documents missing from the application at the time of review (for example, official transcripts or exam scores; less than the required number of recommendation letters). The Graduate School may advise a department to review an incomplete application situationally based on prior conversations with the department and/or prospective student.

Please see Graduate Admissions Policy for the types and descriptions of possible admissions outcomes.

International applicants must be funded either by the department at the time of their application, or through personal funds to be admitted to MSU, but the Grad School has worked with the Office of International Programs for a solution to conditionally admit students. This gives international applicants a chance to both request an assistantship and, if not given one, to seek funding.

With few exceptions, international students must also submit English language proficiency exam scores that show a satisfactory level as determined by the Office of International Programs in order to be admitted to MSU. The graduate studies requirement is higher than for undergraduate, and a department may require evidence of an even higher minimum proficiency.

Students will have a registration hold placed on their account beginning the end of the 1st semester for Certificate, 2nd semester for Masters, and 3rd semester for Doctoral until a completed Program of Study is received by The Graduate School.

Faculty and student should work together to prepare and submit the Graduate Program of Study & Commitee form. Signatures of all committee members and the department chair are required.

Once the Graduate Program of Study & Committee is approved, the hold will be removed. Students are charged a one-time $50.00 fee for the processing of their Graduate Program of Study & Committee form and are never charged fees to make changes to these forms.

Make sure the new committee member meets the Grad School committee member criteria. The student should prepare and submit a Graduate Committee Revision form to the Grad School, and have the commitee members who are to be removed or added sign their consent.

If comprehensive exams cannot be accommodated with all parties involved in person, it is okay for a student or committee member to arrange (amongst the committee, in alignment with departmental policy) to participate in a comprehensive exam via Skype or another video conferencing tool. The exception to this is comprehensive exams for Doctor of Nurse Practictioner (DNP).

For Masters & Doctoral students, the following must be present at the same physical location:

  • student
  • committee chair
  • one MSU faculty committee member
  • grad representative (if Doctoral)

The Graduate School uses DegreeWorks to show complete curriculum for a student's graduate program. Only general degree requirements will appear until the student submits their Program of Study. Students cannot use DegreeWorks until they have selected an advisor/graduate committee chair.

 All theses and dissertations must be formatted to meet The Graduate School guidelines. Students can submit a draft to the Formatting Advisor at any time in the writing and formatting process.
  • AY appointments start 8/1 and end 5/31.

  10 payments in this time period.

  • Appointment are not necessarily aligned with tuition waivers.
  • An appointment is valid if the student:

  Is in good standing (GPA >= 3.0)

  Appointed 10 hours/week but not more than 19 hours/week

  Enrolled for a minimum of 3 credits/term

  Is a degree-seeking student 

  • Non-resident: Graduate Assistant Tuition Award (GATA) appointment at in-state rates if:

  Is in good academic standing (GPA >= 3.0)

  Appointed on a graduate appointment

  • All Graduate Appointments are a part of a Collective Bargaining unit represented by Graduate Employee Organization (GEO), and the Montana Education Association-Montana Federation of Teachers,  MEA-MFT.  The Collective Bargaining Agreement can be found at
 Graduate students must obtain a 3.0 or above to remain in good academic standing and avoid probation and suspension. The first term after a less than 3.0 GPA will usually result in academic probation unless the department and/or The GS has put strict provisions in place stating that the student only has one term to prove they are capable of graduate level work. A student has one or two terms to be on probation before they are suspended from a program. More information about grades & academic standing for Graduate Students.

Suspension may occur when a graduate student's GPA drops below 3.0. Students have a right to appeal an academic suspension.

Appeals Process:

Step 1:            The student must notify the Office of Student Services of their intent to appeal within 5 working days of receiving the suspension letter.

Step 2:            The student has an additional 10 days to provide a letter to The GS explaining the circumstances of their suspension.

Step 3:         The GS can deny/support the appeal. In the latter case, the student will be sent a Plan of Action template to prepare with their advisor.

Step 4:            The department will decide whether or not to complete the Plan of Action.

  If the plan is to be prepared and submitted to The GS, the plan must enumerate the items to be completed for the student to return to good standing.

  If the plan is not to be submitted, the student can take 9 credits at the 4xx/5xx level as a non-degree student and reapply to the program.

Leave of absence: a student can return to a degree program as long as they are current with The Grad School policies. Which policies to watch out for?

  • Course age: Masters - 6 years; Doctoral - 10 years.

Continuous enrollment:

  • Masters : Required when either all of the required content coursework on the approved Graduate Program of Study is completed or any portion of the comprehensive exam is completed.
  • Doctoral: Required when any portion of the comprehensive exam is completed.
  • A student is allowed 3 terms of leave (excluding summer)
  • If not enrolled for more than 3 terms, they must reapply and complete the steps to become a degree-seeking student.

Intent to Register:

  • The Intent to Register form flags The GS that the student intends to return.  If the period of non-enrollment is greater than one year, the department will be contacted to verify that the student may return. The department may be unaware that the student was not enrolled, and may need to advise the student, especially if the length of the non-enrollment results in invalidation of courses, comprehensive exams, and so forth.