Policies regarding registration, leave, employment, and academic grievances

Students should familiarize themselves this information and refer to their graduate groups for program-specific policies.

Graduate Division Policies 

All students are required to be continuously registered while in graduate school, except when granted a leave of absence (Ph.D. candidates on dissertation are generally not permitted leaves of absence except for medical or military reasons or when the Family Leave Policy applies). Students who do not qualify for one of these exceptions and who do not register each semester will be dropped from the rolls of the Graduate Division of Arts & Sciences.

AM, MS, PhD students will be granted a leave of absence for military duty, medical reasons, or family leave; any of these may require documentation. Military, medical and family leave “stops the clock” on time to completion. Personal leave for other reasons may be granted with the approval of the Graduate Group Chair in consultation with the Graduate Dean of the student’s school, but does not, absent exceptional circumstances, “stop the clock” on time to completion.

Notification of permission or denial of leaves of absence will be communicated in writing by the student’s Graduate Group Chair. The terms of the leave will be specified at the time the leave is granted, including the extent to which the student will have access to resources, facilities, or campus – either physically or remotely -- during the leave period. Requirements for return may be imposed by the Graduate Chair in consultation with the Graduate Dean of the student’s school; such requirements will be provided in writing to the student when the leave is approved.

Leaves of absence from AM, MS, PhD studies are typically granted for one or two semesters. Leaves requested for a longer period are approved only in exceptional circumstances (for example, mandatory military service). Students may request an extension of leave, to be approved by the Graduate Chair in consultation with the Graduate Dean. Extension requests should be made by the student at least 30 days before the expiration of the original leave of absence.

Continuous registration as a graduate student is required unless a formal leave of absence is granted. A student is considered to have withdrawn from candidacy for the degree if the student: (1) fails to return from leave as scheduled, (2) fails to secure an extension of a prior leave, or (3) does not have an approved leave of absence and fails to register each semester. In these cases, approval to return by the Graduate Dean and re-certification are required as outlined in the Academic Rules for PhD Programs.

While on leave, a student’s funding from the University is deferred until the student returns from leave. Students receiving funding from external sources, such as government grants, are subject to the conditions established by the funding source. No language or other degree examinations may be taken while a student is on a leave of absence. Students may not earn credit for courses taken at another institution during a leave of absence. Leave should not be granted for the purpose of evading tuition charges.

Students returning from leave are not guaranteed to return to the same research group, project, or lab. If necessary, Graduate Group will make every effort to find a suitable new research group, project, or lab for the student.

In order to ensure successful completion of the PhD, a student’s leave(s) should generally not exceed two years over the course of the doctoral program. If, however, it is determined in an individual case that extension of the leave period(s) beyond two years is appropriate, students may need to repeat coursework or other requirements, as determined by the Graduate Group Chair. Original funding limits remain in place for students who must repeat requirements. In addition, the Graduate Group Chair, in consultation with the Graduate Dean, will annually review each case in which a further extension has been granted, or repeated leaves have been taken, to assess if the length and/or number of leaves have made it impossible for a student to make sufficient continuous academic progress to complete the degree.  In such a case, the student will be advised that no further extensions will be granted and that they will be withdrawn from the program.

Students taking Family Leave who anticipate adding a dependent (e.g., newborn) to their Penn Student Insurance Policy must remain in active student status at the start of the fall semester.

How does a student request a leave?

Students wishing to take other types of leave – military, medical, or personal -- should fill out a AM, MS, PhD Leave of Absence Request form available in each school:

PhD Leave of Absence Request Form

How does a student request return from a leave?

Students should fill out the AM, MS, PhD Request to Return from Leave of Absence form available in each school. Requests to return from leave should be made at least 30 days in advance of the term beginning that a student wishes to return.

PhD Return from Leave of Absence Request Form 

How long can leave be?

Leave is typically for one or two semesters. In order to ensure successful completion of the PhD, a student’s leave(s) should generally not exceed two years over the course of the doctoral program. If, however, it is determined in an individual case that extension of the leave period(s) beyond two years is appropriate, students may need to repeat coursework or other requirements, as determined by the Graduate Group Chair. Original funding limits remain in place for students who must repeat requirements.

Leave of Absence Checklist for students

Check your student account; any outstanding balance will result in late fees and your account will be placed on hold. Students who have borrowed from the Federal Loan Program must complete the online exit loan counseling session. Please note that depending on the length of the leave, students may be required to begin repayment of federal loans before returning to Penn.

  1. Tuition

    If the leave is requested before the end of Add/Drop students will receive a full refund of tuition and fees. If the leave occurs after Add/Drop, partial refunds may apply. Leaves processed after the 6th week of classes are not eligible for any tuition refund. Consult your school for tuition refund information.

  2. Penn Student Insurance Plan

    Consult your Graduate Dean’s Office about continuation of PSIP.

  3. On-Campus Housing (Sansom)

    If the leave occurs within the semester, complete Request for Early Termination.

  4. International Students

    Immigration status is dependent upon full-time enrollment and students are required to depart from the U.S. within 15 days of a posted leave, except in certain cases requiring medical care in the U.S. International students must communicate their intention to take a leave of absence with their ISSS advisor. You may need to obtain new immigration documents for re-entry.

  5. Medical Documentation

    If medical documentation is requested, please ask your healthcare provider to fax documentation to Student Health Service (attention: Request Leave of Absence at 215-746-1032) and/or CAPS (attention: Request Leave of Absence at 215-573-8966). Do not provide medical documentation to faculty or staff in your Graduate Group.

Students with an approved leave of absence will receive a letter from their Graduate Group Chair outlining the terms of the approved leave and any conditions for return.


A student who fails to complete a course will receive, at the instructor’s discretion, either a grade of I (incomplete) or F (failure). It is expected that a student will complete the work of a course during the term in which that course is taken. The Graduate Division of Arts & Sciences permits an extension of up to one year for the completion of the course. Faculty are expected to grade completed work for a student receiving an incomplete in a timely manner. If the course remains incomplete after one calendar year from its end date, it will not be credited toward a degree.

Please note: This is different for students who have not finished their required coursework to begin dissertation registration. A one semester grace period is allowed for completion of incomplete courses needed to register for the first term of dissertation registration. This is less than the usual one year extension.

Students will be placed on administrative leave if incomplete courses are not completed within one calendar year.

The Graduate Division of Arts & Sciences has three different courses available to students while studying abroad or participating in an internship. The GAS courses allow the student to remain registered during the research and writing stages of the dissertation. A student conducting dissertation research abroad in a given semester is eligible to register for Dissertation Research Abroad Status (GAS 996). Students who must complete an internship as a part of their degree requirement or those awarded the opportunity to conduct research through specific programs to further their research interest may request to register for GAS 993 or 994.

The Graduate Division of Arts & Sciences covers the tuition for students registered for academic internship, clinical psychology internship and dissertation abroad in years 2 through 8. Students are responsible for the reduced general fee while registered for any of the SAS courses listed below regardless of their year in the program.

Academic Internship – 993
Clinical Psychology – 994 
Dissertation Abroad Status – 996

Students may not be enrolled in GAS registration in the term in which they file for a degree (alternate masters or Ph.D.). That is, students must be in enrolled in courses or dissertation registration in the term in which a degree is earned. Students in the Graduate Division of Arts & Sciences can register for a maximum of 4 semesters of Dissertation Research Abroad, External Internship and Clinical Internship over the course of their Ph.D. career in the Graduate Division of Arts & Sciences.

The Exchange Scholar Program allows Penn Ph.D. students to apply to study for a semester or an academic year at one of eleven other participating institutions: Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Rutgers, Stanford, University of California-Berkeley, University of Chicago, and Yale.

Through cooperative arrangements with Bryn Mawr College, Haverford College, and Swarthmore College, Temple University (Penn students in Poetics and Cinema Studies only), University of Delaware (arrangement with programs in Anthropology and Art History only) and Villanova University (Philosophy Consortium), University of Pennsylvania students may, upon presentation of the proper credentials and with the permission of the instructor concerned, enroll for courses in these institutions. The University of Pennsylvania will accept, towards a masters or Ph.D. degree, up to the equivalent of three course units for work completed under this arrangement.

First year doctoral students and masters students may not participate in either the Exchange Scholar Program or the co-op program. Please check with your graduate group about graduate group policies regarding the Exchange Scholar program.

Consortium for Exchange Scholar Program for Ph.D. Students:

  • University of California at Berkeley
  • Brown University
  • University of Chicago
  • Columbia University
  • Cornell University
  • Harvard University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Princeton University
  • Rutgers University
  • Stanford University
  • Yale University

Exchange Scholar PROGRAM Application

Joint Degree

A Joint Degree is a specified combination of degree programs in which a student is enrolled in two graduate degree programs concurrently. The programs are developed and proposed by the student with agreement of the student’s advisors and the graduate group chairs of the groups affected. The result is one Ph.D. with two concentrations.

Dual Degree

A Dual Degree is a combination of two degree programs undertaken at the same time. A student pursuing a Ph.D. may choose to complete the requirements for a masters degree in a field related to his/her research interest. The result is one Ph.D. in one graduate group and a masters degree in another graduate group or two masters.

This can result in the awarding of two masters degrees, one of which is a research masters and the other a professional masters.

The school does not award multiple research masters. An alternate masters degree can only be granted by the graduate group in which the student originally matriculated.

All course requirements need to be documented on the approved degree form for both the dual and joint degrees. Students can enroll in joint degree programs across the nine schools granting research masters and doctoral degrees.

Because Arts & Sciences fellowships are intended to enable the recipient to work full-time toward the Ph.D., a student is not permitted to accept employment without the permission of their graduate group chair in any month in which he or she receives a fellowship stipend if that employment is not compatible with continued progress toward the degree at a full-time rate as determined by the Graduate Chair and the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies.

As a general rule, students on fellowship may accept employment that requires less than twenty hours of work per week (e.g., as a grader, tutor, or hourly research assistant). Employment requiring twenty hours or more per week is not permitted without written approval by both the Graduate Chair and the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies.

To help enforce these restrictions and to promote a more egalitarian distribution of funding opportunities, monthly payments from all University sources to students on fellowship may not exceed 130% of the student’s stipend. Any exceptions must be approved by both the Graduate Chair and the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies.

SAS imposes no restrictions on employment hours or payments during months when a student does not receive a fellowship stipend. Thus, a student who is not receiving aid during the summer may work as much as he or she chooses, and a student who has an opportunity for lucrative summer employment may opt to decline or defer stipend payments in the summer.

Upon advancement to candidacy, each student has a Dissertation Committee consisting of at least three faculty members (including at least two members of the graduate group). At least half of the members of the Dissertation Committee must be members of the graduate group at the time of appointment to the committee. Faculty who are not members of the graduate group may serve only with the written approval of the graduate group. The authority to approve membership on committees may be delegated to the graduate chair. A graduate group may establish additional requirements, such as a requirement for outside reviewers on the Dissertation Committee.

The Chair of the Dissertation Committee must be a member of the Standing Faculty in the graduate group. If the Chair of a Dissertation Committee leaves the Standing Faculty before the dissertation is completed, then a new chair from the Standing Faculty in the Graduate Group must be appointed as chair. The Dissertation Committee chair is responsible for convening committee meetings, advising the student on graduate group and university expectations, and assuring the graduate group chair that the group’s requirements have been met. The Dissertation Supervisor may serve as Chair of the Dissertation Committee, but is not required to do so.

The Dissertation Supervisor is the person primarily responsible for overseeing the student’s dissertation research. A student may have both a Dissertation Supervisor and a Dissertation Co-Supervisor, or two Dissertation Co-Supervisors, if that responsibility is shared equally.

Dissertation Supervisors, and Dissertation Co-Supervisors, must be members of the Standing Faculty at Penn, with special approved exceptions. A member of the Associated Faculty (such as Research Faculty or Adjunct Faculty) may be permitted to serve as a Dissertation Supervisor with prior approval of the Vice Provost for Education on a case by case basis. The Graduate Group Chair may petition the Vice Provost for Education, in advance, for an exception. In such cases, a member of the Standing Faculty in the graduate group must be appointed as the Dissertation Committee Chair.

The rules and regulations governing degree requirements and academic policies and procedures are listed in the Graduate Catalog.

The offices of the individual graduate programs are responsible for maintaining and updating the student academic records on file in the Office of the Graduate Division of the School of Arts and Sciences. Thus, graduate chairs and graduate group offices serve as the primary student contact for almost all academic record keeping. The most important exception is course registration which students do by PennInTouch.

Records on grade changes, approvals of transfer credit, and the satisfaction of degree requirements are submitted by graduate groups to the Office of the Graduate Division of the School of Arts and Sciences. Students must contact their graduate chair to arrange for a leave of absence, withdrawal, or readmittance, and to transfer within the University from one graduate group or school to another. The Office of the Graduate Division of the School of Arts and Sciences processes these changes in student status, but all petitions and approvals originate at the graduate group level.

Graduate students who have a concern about a course should discuss the matter first with the instructor and then with the graduate chair. Concerns about a matter related to the degree program, rather than a specific course, should be discussed with the graduate chair. Students whose problems remain unresolved may discuss them with the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies. Consult the graduate chair and business administrator of your graduate group for further information. Or get further details here about:

  • course registration
  • change of grade
  • transfer credits
  • completion of degree requirements
  • leave of absence or withdrawal
  • change of graduate group or school division
Student Financial Records

Adjustments to students' bills for tuition and general fees are processed in the Office of the Graduate Division of the School of Arts and Sciences. Students should contact their graduate group's Business Office for questions regarding stipend payments. All other financial business is resolved through the Office of Student Financial Services.

Biographic and Demographic Records

A variety of University offices handle the following biographic and demographic records: change of address name changes Penn identification card.

The following procedures should be followed in the event of an academic grievance. Academic grievances concern only matters pertaining to a student’s performance and progress in his or her academic program, such as coursework, grading, evaluations, teaching and research responsibilities, examinations, dissertation, and time-to-degree.  

These procedures apply to current students enrolled in two kinds of graduate programs in SAS, and may also be used by former students within 1 year after leaving the University:

  • Ph.D.-track degrees that are governed by the University’s Graduate Council of the Faculties.  Within SAS these degrees are administered at the School level by the SAS Graduate Division and the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and at the local level by a Graduate Group Chair.  A standing faculty committee, the SAS Committee on Graduate Education, advises the Associate Dean on these programs.
  • School-based Master’s degrees that are administered either by the College of Liberal and Professional Studies (and the Associate Dean for Continuing Education) or the SAS Graduate Division (and the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies).  At the local level, they are overseen by Program Directors.  A standing faculty committee, the SAS Committee on Graduate Continuing Education, advises the two Associate Deans on these programs.

A list of SAS graduate degrees and their reporting lines appears as an appendix.

1.  Procedure for Appeal of an Evaluation, Exam or Course Grade

a.  Faculty members have the authority to make academic judgments in relation to their students and to make decisions in the interests of furthering their students’ education.  Therefore, ordinarily, only the instructor who gives an evaluation, exam or course grade has authority to change the evaluation, exam or course grade.

b.  In cases in which the instructor who gave the evaluation, exam or course grade no longer has an appointment at the University, the authority to change an evaluation rests with the Graduate Chair of the student’s graduate group or Program Director of the relevant graduate program.

c.  Graduate students who wish to have an evaluation, exam or course grade reviewed must first discuss the matter with the instructor who gave the evaluation provided the instructor retains an appointment (including that of emeritus faculty) at the University.  (In cases in which the instructor no longer retains an appointment at the University, the student must first discuss the matter with the Graduate Group Chair or Program Director.)  Should this discussion not yield a resolution that is satisfactory to both the student and the instructor, or should a discussion not be possible, the student may submit a request, in writing, to the Graduate Chair or Program Director of the relevant graduate program for assistance in the matter.

d.  Should the matter not be resolved with the aid of the Graduate Chair or Program Director, the student may seek the assistance of the appropriate Associate Dean. The role of the Associate Deans is to ensure that the involved SAS graduate group or program has arranged for a proper review of the matter and that the evaluation was fair and impartial and in accordance with applicable University policies.

2.  Procedure for Requesting Waiver of a Graduate Group Requirement and Transcript Changes

a. Students may petition their Graduate Group Chair or Program Director, as applicable, for waivers of requirements. The Graduate Group Chair or Program Director will forward all approved requests for waiving requirements to the appropriate Associate Dean for final consent and transcript change.  Proposals for waivers in Ph.D.-track programs that violate the rules and regulations of Graduate Council of Faculties will be denied.  In cases where there is a request to drop courses from the transcript, consultation of the involved faculty, if the faculty members are still at the University, is required.

3.  Procedure for All Other Academic Grievances

a. For graduate students in the School of Arts and Sciences, the first person to consult about most academic problems is the Graduate Group Chair or Program Director.
b. If the Graduate Group Chair or Program Director does not provide a satisfactory resolution, or is seen as part of the problem, graduate students in the Graduate Division of Arts and Sciences whose graduate groups are associated with an academic department may next bring the grievance to the Department Chair.  Students whose programs are not associated with specific academic departments may follow the procedures beginning in the next paragraph (3c), which describe appeals to the Associate Dean.

c. If the student cannot reach a satisfactory solution after following the preceding procedures, s/he may take the problem directly to the appropriate Associate Dean. If such a meeting fails to resolve the problem, the student may request a hearing before the Graduate Academic Grievance Committee of the School of Arts and Sciences (on which see below, #4). This request should be made only as a last resort (that is, after the student has exhausted all viable channels discussed above). To file a formal grievance with the Graduate Academic Grievance Committee, the student must contact the office of his or her Associate Dean by letter or email that includes a description of the grievance and a description of the outcomes of the student’s attempts at resolution through the channels described above.

d. Upon receipt of a grievance, the Associate Dean will convene the Grievance Committee, which will discuss the grievance and decide whether a hearing with the student is appropriate. The committee’s decision about whether or not to hear the case will be final.

e. In cases where a hearing is held, after committee meetings are finished and the committee has reached a determination, the chair will draft a recommendation, which, in most cases, will be addressed to the Associate Dean (the recommendation would go directly to the Dean if the Associate Dean were implicated in the grievance).  To the best of its abilities, the committee will present its recommendation to the Associate Dean (or other applicable entity) in no more than twenty days after the hearing, and the Associate Dean (or other applicable entity) will strive to reply to the aggrieved student within one month (thirty days) of the hearing.

4.  Composition of the Academic Grievance Committee

a.  The committee is composed of six voting members—three SAS faculty members and three SAS graduate students. The Associate Dean appropriate to the student’s program will convene the committee and serve as a non-voting, ex officio member. The Associate Dean is responsible for appointing the three faculty members, who should come from diverse departments within SAS and whom s/he will draw from the members of either the standing SAS Committee on Graduate Education or the Committee on Graduate Continuing Education, as appropriate to the student’s program. SASgov (the official graduate student government of SAS) is responsible for appointing the three graduate student members of the committee.

b.  The committee has a faculty chair, who is elected at the first meeting of the hearing. Only the faculty members of the committee are eligible to be chair. At the first meeting, the Associate Dean serves as chair, reviewing the role of the committee with all members and orchestrating the election of the faculty chair. 

c.  The chair is responsible for drafting a recommendation for the disposition of a grievance after full deliberation by the committee. This recommendation is then transmitted to the Associate Dean for consideration and a decision about implementation. The decision of the Associate Dean will be final, unless verifiable procedural objections are raised. In such cases, the matter will be referred to the Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences for final disposition.

In addition to the channels outlined above, students may take problems to the Office of the Ombudsman.  The Ombudsman does not have decision-making authority, but serves as an impartial mediator in helping to resolve disputes.  Further, any student who feels that he or she has been subject to discrimination may take his or her complaint to the Office of Affirmative Action & Equal Opportunity Programs.  The role of the Office of Affirmative Action is to coordinate compliance with certain anti-discrimination laws.

Approved April 28, 2009. These procedures supersede those dated April 1999.

Appendix: School of Arts & Sciences Graduate Program Reporting Lines

SAS Graduate Division
  • Master of Arts, Master of Science, and Doctor of Philosophy *
  • Master of Biotechnology (joint program with School of Engineering and Applied Science)
  • Master of Governmental Administration
  • Master of Philosophy 
College of Liberal and Professional Studies
  • International Master of Public Administration
  • Master of Applied Positive Psychology
  • Master of Behavioral and Decision Sciences
  • Master of Chemical Sciences
  • Master of Environmental Studies
  • Master of Liberal Arts
  • Master of Medical Physics
  • Master of Philosophy (Liberal Arts)
  • Master of Philosophy (Organizational Dynamics)
  • Master of Science in Applied Geosciences
  • Master of Science in Organizational Dynamics

*  The M.A., M.S., and Ph.D. are University-based degrees governed by the Graduate Council of the Faculties.  All other degrees listed on this page are School-based.