As we continue through the educational journey, the way grades are handle changes with each educational level. Grades may not seem like an important topic for a doctoral program, when in fact they are an extremely important to determine the different role they play when going for a doctoral degree. In undergraduate and Master’s programs, there is a big focus on the overall GPA (Grade Point Average). In a doctoral program, grades play a very different role and this can create a challenge for the learner that is acclimated to applying themselves to earning the highest grade possible. This month’s blog is about understanding grades in a doctoral study to prepare you for the doctoral program.

In graduate or Master’s studies, the grade of “D” goes away, requiring the student to maintain a C or above. At the doctoral level, depending upon the institution chosen to attend, the “C” grade may also go away. In a doctoral program, the typical requirement is for students to maintain a 3.0 or higher to stay in school and work on a dissertation. At the undergraduate level, grades are maintained at a 2.0 which is a C grade,  so a 3.0 is a B grade or higher for course work. Institution requirements do vary in terms of how many C’s you may or may not be allowed to earn in a doctoral study.

Grades are given for the course work in a doctoral program, which is typically the first two years of a doctoral studies. The course work in a doctoral program is to prepare the learner for the writing of their dissertation, an original research study. The course work alone will not earn the doctorate degree, which is where the grade difference arises. Once the course work has been completed and the GPA at the appropriate level, work on the dissertation begins.

Dissertation work does have assigned classes, the big difference is…..you as a doctoral student will be working with your dissertation chair and two committee members. The typical and traditional course work is over, so now the self-discipline comes into play. A dissertation requires the student to be able to work without having big due dates like assignments and no grades being earned. See the difference!!

Once the dissertation has begun, NO GRADES are earned! For some learners, this is a real challenge and because they are not seeing their work receiving a grade it becomes discouraging. A doctoral program is about completing and defending the dissertation, which does not receive a grade. A dissertation is about the research, being able to present the research to the committee in an oral defense to where they approve it.

What does this mean? When going into a doctoral program, go in with the mindset of learning in terms of preparing for the dissertation versus needing a 4.0 GPA. Once a doctorate is earned, GPA’s do not matter and are not requested. One has to change their entire mindset in terms of thinking about learning and grades for a doctoral program, since the focus is on the dissertation. The goal is to get the dissertation done, most professors say, “The best dissertation is a done dissertation.” The way to get a dissertation done is to focus on learning the process versus focusing on the grades!

Time to get the dissertation done and earn that doctorate degree!!