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Graduate Program Director Guide


In the College of Arts and Sciences, faculty members serve as academic advisors. In the other academic units, there are full-time professional advisors who serve in that capacity. Regardless, it is important for all GPDs, whether they serve an advising function or not, to be aware of the Graduate Academic Regulations regarding advising. In the past, students have run afoul of the regulations because both they and their faculty supervisor were unaware of the their specific requirements. Some of these cases were resolved with sizeable additional tuition charges paid by the student or the academic unit.

The best source is to be familiar with the Graduate Academic Regulations is the document itself. The regulations were substantially rewritten and streamlined in 2011-2012. The document can be viewed as a pdf or in html at We strongly recommend reading all of it when you first start your role as a GPD.

Advising Wizard

Advising Wizard is an online advising tool whose features include viewing a student's grades, waiving prerequisites, and allowing for overload registration. Many GPDs find this tool very useful to advise and keep track of students' progress. To use this tool, you need to email and file a request for access. Do mention that you are a Graduate Program Director in your email as access to Advising Wizard is not given to all faculty. Once access has been granted, you will find a link to it on your account under "Academics."

Due to reasonable and unforeseen circumstances, a student may need to request an exception to the Graduate Academic Regulations. Suppose, for example, a student wants to apply for a medical leave, but due to their doctor's inability to send paperwork in a timely manner, the student receives Fs for their courses and is separated from the university. This student could petition for an exception to retroactively go on leave and withdraw from all classes.

To determine who makes the decision on a petition, see the petition chart at There are two important pieces of information to note:

1.   The person who makes the final decision depends upon the exception requested to a specific academic regulation.
2.   There is an appeals process that can only go one level above the final decider. That is to say, a student cannot continue to ask for appeals bringing it all the way up to the Provost or the President.

If the student needs to petition the Vice Provost of Research/Dean of Graduate Studies, please contact your associate dean and have them forward the petition rather than sending it yourself.

Furthermore, if as a GPD you don't believe the case merits an exception, it is recommended that you not forward it to the next level of reviewer. When you forward weak cases to your associate dean or the VPR/DGS, it clogs up the system for cases which deserve serious consideration, review, and consultation.

AU has clear guidelines regarding academic progress. The Graduate Academic Regulations stipulate:

The Registrar will place students on Academic Probation when, after attempting at least 9 credit hours of coursework, their cumulative GPA falls below 3.00 or when students fail to receive credit in at least two-thirds of the courses they attempt. Full-time students will be placed on Academic Probation for one semester. Part-time students will be placed on Academic Probation for the time it takes them to attempt 9 more credits, or three semesters, whichever is shorter. The Registrar will inform the students of their probationary status in writing. This notification should also inform the students that they cannot receive an incomplete grade while they are on Academic Probation status. After the Academic Probation period is completed, students who fail to bring their cumulative GPA up to 3.00 or fail to raise their course completion rate will be permanently dismissed from the University by the Registrar.

This has significant implications, especially to a new graduate student. Suppose a first semester, full-time graduate student stops showing up for one class and gets an F. Depending on the strength of his/her other grades in the remaining classes, it may be mathematically impossible for that student to recover his/her cumulative GPA to meet the 3.0 minimum requirement within the next 9 credits. This means the student would need to be dismissed from the program after the first semester. Exceptions to the grade policy are very rare and only for compelling circumstances.

To avoid these difficulties, it is important as a GPD to be proactive with graduate students in trouble, especially if they are new students in your program. We recommend:

1.   Having a conversation with all instructors in your graduate program to alert you and the academic advisor if a graduate student is in academic trouble. The early warning system is available for graduate students, but make sure that all of your faculty members alert you as well.
2.   Students who are not on academic probation and cannot improve a grade in a class to a minimal acceptable level should be encouraged to withdraw before the 8th week of the semester. Note that academic progress refers to cumulative GPAs, not individual courses. A 'B-' or 'C+' in one course, while not ideal, may be worth staying enrolled in the course, depending on the other grades the student expects to earn.
3.   For students who are placed on academic probation, developing a plan of performance improvement with yourself, the student, and their advisor is critical. In addition, you should ask the student's instructors to give you regular (e.g. monthly) updates on his/her progress in courses.

Withdrawal, Leave, Separation, and Academic Dismissal

There is often confusion about these four situations in which students stop attending or enrolling in courses.  

A student can withdraw from some or all of their classes. This action can be initiated by the student before the 8th week of the semester, but after that point, permission is needed from the academic unit. An academic unit or program might choose to academically dismiss the student for this action (see below), but if the student is allowed to return the next semester and enrolls in courses, matriculation is maintained.  

Withdrawal is not a status that appears on the transcript. Rather, 'W' appears in place of the grades for all courses from which the student withdraws.

Leave is an approved, temporary interruption in studies when the student is not actively taking classes at the University nor receiving support for thesis or dissertation work. Academic leaves have defined and agreed upon termination dates. A leave begins after the semester in which the student has applied. For example, suppose a student has started the semester but becomes ill and needs time off to attend to a personal medical condition. If the student will return by the following semester, he/she can withdraw from classes –a leave isn't necessary. If the student will need time beyond the semester to recuperate and knows when he/she can return, the student can apply for a temporary leave. In the latter case, the student should still withdraw from his/her classes.

Leave will appear as a status on the student's transcript. See the Graduate Academic Regulations for more details.

Separation is when a student leaves the school with no expected date of return to active status. Students who have separated from the University must reapply to regain active student status. A separation can be initiated by the student (called voluntary) or a representative of the University (called administrative). Voluntary separation begins after the semester when the student has applied. For example, a student may choose to voluntarily separate because he/she has taken a job outside of the Washington DC area and does not know when he/she will return. Similar to leave, if the student must stop studies in the middle of a semester, he/she should withdraw from classes. 

Graduate students who leave the University during a semester for which they are registered or who fail to register for classes as expected without notifying the Office of the Registrar will be administratively separated and will only be considered for readmission under exceptional circumstances. If they are registered for classes, they will receive failing grades in all them.

Separation appears as a status on the student's transcript. See the Graduate Academic Regulations for more details.  

Academic Dismissal is when a student fails to meet certain academic requirements. Examples of reasons why a student could be academically dismissed include not maintaining the university-wide minimum GPA of 3.0 after probation or not meeting a program's academic requirements. Academic dismissal is different from leave or separation in that it is based on academic reasons and the student is no longer in good standing (i.e., eligible to enroll for additional classes).

Leave and separation cannot be used to avoid academic dismissal. For example, suppose a student who is on academic probation is not doing well academically during a subsequent semester. Afraid that they will be dismissed, they request to take a general leave. The leave will not go into effect if the student's grades warrant an academic dismissal the following semester.

Academic Dismissal will appear on the student's transcript. See the Graduate Academic Regulations for more details.

Maintaining Matriculation through Continuing Enrollment Courses
Students who are enrolled must maintain matriculation (i.e. be registered for classes) to maintain their status in the graduate program. Three courses exist to help graduate students maintain matriculation while they are working on a capstone or thesis, studying for comprehensive exams, or finishing their doctoral dissertation research.

898 (Doctoral Continuous Enrollment course) may be taken by doctoral students who are completing coursework, exams or proposals in preparation for advancement to candidacy.

899 (Doctoral Dissertation course) may be taken by doctoral students who have been advanced to candidacy with approval of the faculty supervising the dissertation (or designee).

These courses have different rules and requirements, which have 

For more detail on these courses, see: