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Graduation Timeline + Checklist

The following checklist describes the procedures for preparing, submitting, and defending a Doctoral Thesis.

Degree ListOnline Degree App. DeadlineTitle DeadlineThesis Due
MayFeb. (late in April for $85)April ($85 in May)May
SeptemberJune (late in July for $85)July ($85 in Aug.)August
FebruarySept. (late in Dec. for $85)Dec. ($85 in Jan.)January
For exact dates see the registrar website
  • ONE-SIX MONTHS BEFORE: Decide on your degree list and complete the requirements before institute registrar DEADLINES.
    1. Complete an Online Degree Application through WebSIS to enter the February, June, or September degree lists. Submitting after the first deadline will result in a late fee (you can remove your name for free by emailing Dalia, so it is best to sign up even if you aren’t sure).
    2. Submit your “advanced degree thesis title” (within the Online Degree Application as a separate process).
    3. Decide on dates to defend and submit your thesis (including any revisions). You submit your thesis to the institute through the BE Academic Office. To get on a certain degree list, students should defend & submit their thesis, at the very latest, by the last date to be on the degree list (see calendar here).
      • The location can be a Zoom link or the student can reserve a classroom. If the student wishes to reserve one of the BE Classrooms (56-614, 16- 220), they should contact the BE Academic Office, any other classroom reservation must be reserved through the Registrar’s Office:
    4. Register for 20.THG for all your units (36 units in Fall or Spring; 24 units in Summer)
    5. Pay any fines: Check WebSIS/MITPay to make sure that there are no outstanding grades, obligations, or financial charges that would prevent you from receiving your degree.
    6. (Optional) Sign up for the commencement ceremony in June: Check deadlines for ordering/renting robes and details for the commencement ceremony. You sign up through the Online Degree Application portal.
    7. (International Students) Apply for OPT if needed: More information in the FAQ below or here.
  1. Write your Thesis Dissertation.
    • The Thesis Dissertation is a document prepared by the candidate which details the original research they performed throughout their PhD.
  1. TWO WEEKS BEFORE THE DEFENSE: Submit your written Thesis Dissertation to your Thesis Committee members
    • Committee members have two weeks to review the Thesis. The committee members must decide within these two weeks if the Thesis document is acceptable to proceed to defense.
    • Students are encouraged to send their theses to their committees more than two weeks in advance of their scheduled Thesis Defense, in case the committee requests Major Revisions, to avoid rescheduling the Oral Defense.
    • Remind your Chair that they will run the post-defense meeting and are responsible for reporting results (by sending the completed Oral Examination Form) to
    • (If defending virtually) Work out Zoom moderation logistics (such as who will create breakout rooms, etc)
  1. TWO WEEKS BEFORE THE DEFENSE: Inform the BE Academic office of your defense plans. They will send an initial announcement 1 week before the defense and a reminder 1 day before. Send the following to the BE Academic Office:
    1. date, time, and location of your defense,
    2. the title of your thesis,
    3. your thesis abstract, and
    4. your committee members, including their names, role on the committee (such as advisor or chair), professorship title (you can find this on their faculty page), and institution. Example:
      • Prof. Samirah al-Abbas (Thesis Co-Supervisor), Rick Riordan Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics, MIT
      • Prof. Meg McCaffrey (Thesis Co-Supervisor), Career Development Assistant Professor of Biological Engineering, MIT
      • Prof. Annabeth Chase (Thesis Chair), Professor of Biological Engineering, MIT
      • Prof. Carter Kane, Assistant Professor of Ancient Infectious Disease, HSPH
    5. your zoom link and passcode if you will be offering a hybrid option.
  1. Give an oral defense of your thesis and return the Oral Examination Thesis Proposal and Defense Form to the BE Academic Office within two weeks.
    • The Oral Defense must be attended by all members of the Thesis Committee. Members may attend via video-conferencing. In highly unusual circumstances, the Graduate Program Committee Chair may approve faculty absences or substitutions. Such approval must be obtained in writing at least one week in advance of the meeting. Approval is only possible with written support from the Thesis Committee Chair and the faculty member to be replaced or absent.
    • The defense begins with a formal presentation of approximately 45 minutes based on the thesis. The floor is then opened to questions from the general audience, which is thereafter excused. The Thesis Committee, and any other MIT faculty that wish to remain, continue the examination of the Candidate in private. The Candidate and any non-Thesis Committee faculty still present are finally excused from the room for the final Committee deliberations and decision.
    • Students must give a copy of the Oral Examination Thesis Proposal and Defense Form to the Thesis Committee Chairperson. To verify that the Thesis Defense was acceptable, the student will return the completed and signed form to the BE Academic Office (16-267) within two weeks.
    • Outcomes: A majority yes vote is required to approve the thesis. It is the responsibility of the Thesis Committee Chair to give the Committee’s decision whether the thesis is satisfactory or unsatisfactory to the Candidate and to the BE Student Office. In the event of vote not to pass, the Thesis Committee will make recommendations as to needed changes to render the thesis satisfactory. The revised thesis will then be submitted for a second final defense.
  1. Complete any revisions to the Written Thesis Dissertation. There is no official form to verify that revisions are completed. There is no timeline for when Revisions must be completed, however students must submit their revised theses to the BE Academic office in time to make institute deadlines for their degree list.
    • No Revisions: If the Thesis is acceptable in the form submitted to the committee, the student may proceed to the oral defense as proposed. The student then submits the dissertation to the Institute through the BE Academic office (below).
    • Minor Revisions: The Committee often requests minor revisions that are not serious enough to delay the oral thesis defense. These revisions can be completed after the oral defense, but before final submission of the Thesis to Institute through the BE Academic Office. There is no set procedure for approval of minor dissertation revisions.  Most frequently it is up to the student to make the revisions, and then the advisor(s) approve the final versions, if they want.  The committee can ask to approve the final version, but this rarely occurs.
    • Major Revisions: If the Thesis is unacceptable, major revisions may be requested that require a delay of the thesis defense.
  1. Submit your Written Thesis Dissertation to the Institute through the BE Academic Office (16-267). NOTE: You may not need to submit a printed thesis because of the COVID pandemic. Check the current MIT Libraries policy.
    • Submit two unbound copies of your thesis to the BE Academic Office, with the following:
      1. A title page including original signatures of (NOTE: if submitting two printed copies, you will need two signed title pages):
      2. A second page with a list of all Thesis Committee members who voted in favor of the student’s defense
      3. A completed UMI form for MIT Libraries.
    • Printing: You must submit two copies of your thesis to the BE Academic Office (16-267), unbound and printed on acid-neutral paper. MIT Copytech has many services related to thesis printing.
    • You will receive a receipt from the BE Academic Office confirming that the Thesis was submitted. Once the Thesis is submitted, the student has officially graduated, and their student status is terminated (for more details, see the FAQ below).
    • MIT Libraries charges a thesis fee of $115, which is automatically and directly added to a student’s personal MITPAY account. A student facing financial hardship may petition the BE department administrator to reimburse the thesis fee. A student’s thesis advisor may also reimburse the fee.
  1. Complete the online Institute-wide MIT Doctoral Student Exit Survey
  • Get your diploma! All graduating students are eligible to receive a digital diploma at no cost.


For more help on the graduation timeline, check out this overview prepared by the BE REFS.

When do I stop being a student? There are multiple answers depending on who is asking. For most logistical purposes, the Termination of Student Status (which occurs after you submit your revised dissertation to the BE Academic Office) and your Degree List (February, June, or September) is what matters.

Can I submit my thesis to MIT before completing the thesis defense? No, you need to have completed the thesis defense and returned the Oral Examination Thesis Proposal and Defense Form to the BE Academic Office before your thesis can be submitted to MIT.

When does department admin (BE Academic Office) terminate student status? Normally, student status is terminated when the (revised, finalized) Thesis Dissertation is submitted to the BE Academic Office.

When do I stop getting paid? When the BE Academic Office terminates your student status.

What happens if I work in my lab after submitting in my thesis? You will need to set up a postdoctoral appointment with your advisor since you will stop being paid after your thesis is submitted.

How do I get paystubs and W2s after graduating? Students who are not currently active (including recent graduates) will not be able to access the electronic W2 or paystubs. At the end of January, the Payroll Office sends paper copies of the W2 to all former students and employees. The W2 is sent to the Home address. Make sure your home address on Athena is up to date and you will be able to access mail sent there the year after you graduate. Follow these instructions to request a replacement copy of your W2.

When do I stop paying tuition? Students pay tuition up until their student status is terminated. For example, if a student graduates in October, the full fall tuition will be charged to their account and then pro-rated for just the month of September (once student status is terminated, the student’s account will receive a reimbursement for tuition costs for the rest of the semester).

When does my health insurance stop? MIT insurance is purchased twice a year: Fall (Sep 1-Jan 31) and Spring (Feb 1-Aug 31). If you graduate in the middle of one of these periods, your insurance lasts until the end of the period. For instance, if you are on the June degree list, your MIT Health Plan coverage continues through August 31. It appears that insurance for students on the February degree list expires on January 31, and insurance for students on the September degree list expires on August 31. More information on the MIT Medical website.

When does my ID card stop working? In general, ID cards for graduating students expire the January or June after their graduation date. All members of the MIT community may find their ID expiration date on the front of their ID card in the bottom right corner. Once this card expires, you will no longer have access to any buildings or services requiring your MIT ID, including print quotas, TechCash accounts, and library borrowing. General building access will be revoked at midnight the day of card expiry, but this information will remain in the system for two weeks in the event your card is renewed. Graduating students may request a free Alumni ID card, which allows basic building access privileges to select buildings on campus, provides eligibility for Coop membership, and enables free admission to the MIT Museum. For more information, contact Card Services.

When does my email/Kerberos/Dropbox access stop? Typically Athena accounts are deactivated in the first week of the January after you graduate (a notice is sent in November). Your access to Dropbox, MIT Email, MIT Certificates, and other services is tied to your Athena account. Around the time of graduation, students will receive an email with instructions on how to prolong their licenses to some software (ex. Microsoft Office). Students can also request an alumni email address. More info from IS&T

What happens to my housing status? Students in MIT Housing are able to complete the full year of their leases, or they can terminate their status early without a fee (with 30 days notice). Any student who completes a degree program more than 90 days before January 31st (or July 31st) will be required to vacate at the end of the month in which they complete their degree (student status is terminated). For example, if you are to graduate within the month of October, you will be required to terminate your housing (with 30 days notice) and move out on October 31, 2021. Please be aware, there is an Early Termination fee equivalent to one month’s rent for anyone who terminates within the first 2 months of a semester (Feb/March or Sept/Oct). If your registration ends on Jan 31st, you may not stay in your apartment for the spring term.

What classes do I need to register for? Sign up for 36 units of 20.THG (no department seminars) or 24 units during the summer

Do I need to pay my student life fee? Probably. This seems to depend on a student’s degree list (so students on the June degree list will need to pay the Spring semester student life fee even if they defend in January or February).

I am an international student: what else should I worry about? If you have not yet found a postdoc or job to sponsor a new visa, you can apply for OPT (optional practical training) which allows you to continue your stay for another 12 months (24 months for STEM fields). You can apply no earlier than 90 days before degree completion and no later than 60 days after completion (this is your MIT degree list date). Note that USCIS processing times can take up to 3-4 months. Check with the ISO for more information.