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Degree Requirements

GSE Doctoral Handbook and Stanford Bulletin

Students are held to the academic policies contained in the GSE Doctoral Handbook and Stanford Bulletin for their year of admission. Updates, corrections, or clarifications may be made after the publication of these documents via email communication and/or memoranda to the students.

Ph.D. Minor

Students who have not earned, and do not plan to pursue, a relevant discipline-based master’s degree from outside the field of Education are required to earn a doctoral minor outside of the GSE. The PhD minor must be in an acceptable field relevant to the student’s degree program. The only exceptions to this requirement are when students enter the GSE with an earned master’s or doctorate degree from a cognate discipline that fulfills the purpose of this requirement, or when a student pursues a Stanford master’s degree outside of the GSE concurrently with her or his PhD program at the School of Education. Many Education doctoral students decide to earn a Stanford master’s degree concurrently (outside of Education) instead of opting for the PhD minor. This may provide additional grounding in the relevant discipline. This choice should be discussed with the student’s academic advisor and the Doctoral Programs Officer.

Two types of minors are available to PhD students in the GSE: Departmental Minor and Individually Designed Distributed Minor. Both require substantial coursework from a department or school within Stanford, but outside of the GSE. Regardless of the PhD minor option taken, outside course work should be selected to further the intellectual goals of the student. A student’s doctoral program advisor must authorize pursuit of the PhD minor and the related course of study. Courses used toward a minor may not be used also to meet requirements for an additional Master’s degree at Stanford, when applicable. Minor courses can count toward the minimum residency and degree requirements for the PhD.

To declare the minor, the student should submit the appropriate signed forms to the Doctoral Programs Officer.

Departmental Minor

Most departments in the School of Humanities and Sciences (H&S) offer doctoral minors (see the department listings within the current Stanford Bulletin for further information. The number of required units varies but is typically within the 20–36 unit range. There usually exists within these minors some flexibility allowing students to tailor the minor to their intellectual goals.

The minimum University requirement for a Ph.D. minor is 20 units of relevant graduate course work at the 200-level or greater taken at Stanford. However, each department may add requirements beyond this minimum. The definition of relevant course work may vary somewhat by department (e.g. cross-listed courses and courses at the 100-level may or may not be accepted). And they may require all coursework to be taken on a letter graded basis, with a grade of B or higher. Also, some PhD minors require completion of a qualifying process and/or representation by the minor department on the oral exam committee.

Specific signatory and course requirements should be discussed with the applicable minor department’s Graduate Studies Administrator followed by the Doctoral Programs Officer at the School of Education. Students can also review the department requirements in the Stanford Bulletin. Only the minor department’s Chair can approve an application for the PhD minor. In addition, the application must be approved by the GSE's Associate Dean of Educational Affairs (in the capacity of the Major Department Chair).

Individually Designed Distributed Minor (IDDM)

The Individually Designed Distributed Minor (IDDM) should only be undertaken if the student’s interests are not met by any Stanford departmental PhD minor. The student must meet with the faculty advisor to discuss his or her plans for an IDDM.

There are two cases where an official Departmental Minor might not be appropriate. First, that minor might require a course (or courses) with little relevance for the student’s intellectual goals. Second, in some cases a student’s intellectual interests do not fall neatly within the boundaries of one department in Humanities and Sciences (H&S); many important educational problems are interdisciplinary in nature.

The student can design (with consultation from their advisor and other faculty) a coherent set of courses that are drawn from the offerings of one of several Stanford departments. All units counted toward the IDDM must be taken at Stanford. This proposed set of courses, together with a strong rationale for how the coursework advances the intellectual goals of the student, requires approval by the program advisor, Area Chair, and Associate Dean of Educational Affairs.

The IDDM requires a minimum of 20 units taken in departments other than Education. When taking cross-listed courses, only 5 cross-listed units may be taught by GSE faculty. In many cases, however, the intellectual goals of the student might be better met if more than the minimum number of courses (i.e., 20 units) is completed outside of Education. All courses counted toward the IDDM must be at or above the 200 level.

Unit or Residency Requirements

The minimum unit requirement for the PhD at Stanford and the GSE is 135 units*. This is known as residency credit at Stanford, which focuses on unit-counting. Specific degree requirements are determined by the department or school. Up to 45 units of applicable graduate level coursework transferred from another institution or completed in another graduate degree program at Stanford can count toward the 135 units required for the doctoral residency requirement. When transferring the maximum 45 units of graduate coursework done elsewhere or at Stanford prior to admission to the PhD program, students must complete at least 90 units of courses taken at Stanford after admission to the PhD program in order to meet the residency requirements for the PhD degree, for a total of 135 units.

In addition to, and consistent with, the residency requirements, the University and the GSE require at least 90 units of approved Stanford graduate coursework to be listed on the Application for Doctoral Candidacy toward the 135 unit required minimum units for the PhD. These 90 units cannot count toward any other degree at Stanford, however, they can contain units used for an applicable PhD Minor. Refer to the Advancement to Candidacy section of this Handbook or the Stanford Bulletin for more details about doctoral candidacy requirements.

Note: Courses taken through Stanford’s Exchange Scholar Program or the formal exchange program with U.C. Berkeley or U.C. San Francisco count toward the 135-unit residency minimum. Refer to the U.C. Berkeley Exchange Program section for more details about exchange programs.

Minimal Progress

The academic progress requirements for all Stanford graduate students include a minimum grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 plus timely completion of department and program requirements, (e.g., completion of First- and Second-Year reviews; admission to candidacy before the seventh quarter; submitting an approved dissertation proposal; and the oral exam).

GSE doctoral students are required to register for a minimum of 11 units per quarter during their first year and 8-10 units per quarter during the second year and beyond in Autumn, Winter, and Spring Quarters in each academic year. There is no part-time study at the GSE.

Registration during the Summer Quarter is not required in the doctoral programs at the GSE. However, registration in at least 3 units (or in a TGR section when applicable) is required in any Summer Quarter in which a student completes a degree requirement (e.g., First- or Second-Year review, oral exam, etc.) or receives graduate financial support as a research or teaching assistant.

Any student who fails to maintain full-time registration during the regular academic year (i.e., Autumn through Spring Quarters) and does not secure a formal leave of absence will be withdrawn from the doctoral program. If a student later wishes to resume study, they will be subject to the reinstatement policies and fees in effect for that academic year. (See the Reinstatement section) Reinstated students may be held to the policies and academic requirements in the GSE Doctoral Handbook and/or Stanford Bulletin for their year of reinstatement, not their year of initial admission. But, this is at the discretion of the School based upon a student’s specific circumstances and specialization (e.g., some specializations are phased out before a student reinstates).

Failure to meet the minimum academic progress milestones will result in a review of the student’s progress to date by the appropriate Area Committee, Area Chair, Associate Dean of Educational Affairs, research or teaching supervisors, advisor(s), and staff. A letter will be sent to the student outlining the specific requirements to be met and the timeline within which to satisfy them. Actions may be taken, including the placement of an enrollment hold on the student’s account until specific conditions outlined in the letter are satisfied. The Area Committee could also recommend termination of the student’s doctoral degree program in accordance with the policies in the Stanford Bulletin and in the Termination of Student Status section of this Handbook.


Stanford permits students take courses on a letter graded or credit/no credit (i.e., S/NC or CR/NC) basis, dependent upon the course set-up, instructor consent, and compliance with applicable deadlines for updating grading bases. Some courses are only offered with one grading basis, in which case the student cannot request additional grading options. Although there is no specific required ratio of letter graded to credit/no credit courses in the GSE, students are strongly encouraged to take all courses on a letter graded basis, when that option is available. Faculty members expect to see letter grades as part of the progress reviews and to determine an appropriately weighted GPA for minimum progress standards. In addition, many PhD minors and master’s degree programs require course completion on a letter graded basis in order to count toward the PhD minor or master’s degree (contact the individual department). For more detailed information on grading policies, refer to the Stanford Bulletin chapter on Academic Policies and Statement.

Faculty Advisors

Based on similar interests identified during the application process, a doctoral program advisor is assigned to each student upon matriculation. This primary advisor (or co-advisors in some cases) assists the student in planning a program of study to meet degree requirements. However, during the first year or beyond, a student’s research may diverge from the advisor’s area of expertise or specialization, or irreconcilable differences may occur between the student and the faculty advisor. In such cases, the student or the faculty member may request a change in assignment. The process for changing advisors requires the submission of an advisor change form available from the School of Education website or the Doctoral Programs Officer. This form requires the approval of the new advisor, Area Chair, and Associate Dean of Educational Affairs. Students typically select and initiate contact with a new advisor, but in cases where this is not possible, the Area Chair or Associate Dean of Educational Affairs will assign a new advisor. Please read the Good Practices in the Graduate Student/Faculty Advisor Relationship section.

Contact us

PhD students, please contact

Photo of Jeremy Edwards
Jeremy Edwards
Associate Director of Degree Programs

MA POLS and MA/PP students, please contact

Wesley Horng
Wesley Horng
Associate Director of Admissions & Academic Affairs

EDS, ICE/IEPA, Individually Designed, LDT, MA/JD, MA/MBA students, please contact

Photo of Caroline Stasulat
Caroline Stasulat
Associate Director of Degree Programs
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