Chapter 7 - Finishing Up

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7.1 - Academic Requirements

7.1.1 Application for Graduation

Application for graduation should be made by the end of the third week of the semester in which the student expects to receive the degree. To apply for graduation, the student is required to log into their AccessPlus account and submit the electronic Application for Graduation form. Before submitting this form, a student must have submitted and had approved by the Graduate College the electronic Program of Study and Committee (POSC) form. Also the student must have been fully admitted to a program and met the Graduate English requirement (for nonnative English speakers). Graduation will be delayed if the filing deadline for the “Application for Graduation” form is not met. If it becomes apparent that a student cannot graduate during the indicated term, they should withdraw the application through AccessPlus.  The student must then submit a new application for the next planned term of graduation. All dissertation/thesis students will be charged a one-time, nonrefundable fee of $145 by the Graduate College upon submission of the graduation application. This fee will be billed to each dissertation/thesis student’s university bill to cover dissertation/thesis review, processing, and technical assistance.

7.1.2 Final Oral Examinations

Thesis and non-thesis master’s students and all doctoral degree candidates must pass final oral examinations. The final oral examination must be held by the final oral examination deadline date for the semester in which the degree is granted. All coursework in the program of study must either be completed or in progress before the final oral examination can be scheduled. This examination is oral; it may also include a written component if specified by the student’s program of study (POS) committee.

Graduate students must register at Iowa State University for a minimum of one credit, or Examination Only (GR ST 681B) if no course work is needed, during the semester in which the final oral examination is taken. International students, even those in their final term, must be registered full-time or previously approved by the International Students and Scholars (ISS) to reduce their course load.

The following conditions must be met before the “Request for Final Oral Examination” form is submitted to the Graduate College:

  • The student must have full admission status in a graduate degree program,
  • The student's Program of Study and Committee (POSC) form with all coursework completed or in progress must be approved by the Graduate College no later than the semester before the final oral examination,  
  • The student must meet the English requirement (for nonnative English speakers),
  • The student must not be on probation,
  • The student should not exceed the time-to-degree limit (see Chapter 4),
  • The student must have an approved “Report of Preliminary Oral Examination” form (for doctoral candidates only),
  • The student must have an “Application for Graduation” form submitted,
  • The student must be registered for the term in which final oral examination is taken for a minimum of one credit or for Examination Only (GR ST 681B) if no course work is needed,
  • The student's overall G.P.A. must be at or above a 3.00 This cumulative GPA reflects all courses listed on the graduate transcript, whether undergraduate or graduate level and regardless if listed on the POSC form or not. If the student does not have a 3.00 cumulative GPA, a petition must be filed with and approved by the Graduate College stating extenuating circumstances,
  • The student must wait a minimum of six months between taking the preliminary oral and final oral examinations (for doctoral candidates only).

The master’s final oral examination is conducted after the thesis is finished, if a thesis is required. The thesis and nonthesis final oral examinations are comprehensive, oral, and may include written sections. The doctoral final oral examination, conducted after the dissertation is finished, is oral and often, but not always, limited to a defense of the dissertation. To receive the degree at the end of a given semester, the student must hold the final oral examination before the final oral examination deadline for the semester.

The candidate is responsible for initiating the “Request for Final Oral Examination” form, which must be submitted to the Graduate College at least three weeks before the examination. When a final oral examination includes a defense of the dissertation or thesis, the candidate must submit copies of the manuscript to members of the POS committee at least two weeks before the examination. A committee member who does not receive the dissertation or thesis at least two weeks before the final oral examination may cancel the examination.

Oral examinations are the primary ways the university assesses learning by graduate students. These examinations also gauge whether students’ accomplishments meet expectations associated with earning advanced degrees. Oral examinations must involve the full engagement of all participants simultaneously, and unobstructed communication among participants is essential. Students and their committees should schedule oral examinations far in advance so that all participants are together on campus for the events whenever possible.

For the final oral examination, the student, in consultation with their committee chair(s), may decide on the examination modality (in person, remote, or hybrid). Similar to the preliminary oral examination guidance, the student and committee chair(s) should discuss the choice of modality with the committee, and for remote or hybrid meetings, arrange for facilities and equipment to ensure full video and clear communication. Determination of meeting modality must be determined when the student submits the Final Oral Examination Request form. If the chosen modality is not in person, the student must inform the Graduate College of the modality at the time the request form is submitted. Best practices for remote meetings may be found on the Graduate College website.

When one committee member cannot participate at a time that suits other participants, two options are available: 


  1. Complete the Request for Committee Substitution at the Preliminary or Final Oral Exam form before the examination to arrange for a temporary, substitute committee member who will serve with voting rights only for the examination that the permanent member cannot participate. This option can be used in cases in which the member’s absence is planned, or in cases of emergency/unplanned absences. The substitute must fill the same role (be an inside vs. outside member) as the absent member. 
  2. The committee member may be replaced permanently on the committee by another member of the graduate faculty who can participate in the examination and commits to fulfilling all other remaining responsibilities of POS committee service. The new member must fill the same role (be an inside vs. outside member) as the member being replaced. To make this replacement, a new POSC should be routed and approved.

The Graduate College is responsible for maintaining a process for the committee members to report the outcome of the examination to the college. The reporting process must require that each committee member attest to their mode of participation, the degree to which full (audio and video) and clear communication was sustained throughout the examination, and to their participation throughout the entire examination. The Graduate College is expected to confer with committees and program DOGEs in cases where at least one committee member reports problems with communication or participation. The college may nullify examinations that do not meet expectations of the college, the DOGE, and all committee members.  

Reporting Final Oral Examination Results

The “Report of the Final Oral Examination” form must be submitted to the Graduate College immediately after the examination. On this form the POS committee indicates whether the student

  • has passed the examination and may be granted the degree sought,
  • must meet some conditions before the degree may be granted. These conditions are specified on the report form and will remain in effect until the major professor and/or committee, if specified, submits the Preliminary or Final Oral Exam Conditions Met form to the Graduate College. This form notifies the Graduate College that conditions have been satisfied and the degree may be granted, 
  • has not passed but the exam may be retaken. Two months must elapse before the exam may be retaken (a written explanation should be provided with the report form), or
  • has not passed and the exam may not be retaken at a future date. The degree is denied (a written explanation should be provided with the report form).

In a final oral examination, if one member of the committee votes not to pass the candidate, each member of the committee must forward to the Dean of the Graduate College in writing a justification for their vote. If more than one member of the committee votes not to pass the student, the candidate does not pass the examination.

7.1.3 Terminating a Student after the Master’s Degree

 This is sometimes referred to as a “terminal master’s” degree. Most master’s degrees are scholarly achievements in their own right. There are occasions when the program or the POS committee judges that a student should not go beyond the master’s level. In such cases, on the “Report of Final Oral Examination” form for the master’s degree, the major professor should note in the “Comments” section that this is to be a terminal degree. If requested on this form, a hold will be placed on future registration of that student. This notation does not appear on the student’s transcript.

7.1.4 Registration for Students Not Required to Take Final Oral Examinations 

Graduate students who are not required to take a final oral examination should complete all required coursework on the POS prior to or during the term of graduation.  Any transfer credits must be completed the term before the graduation term and follow normal transfer rules. (Chapter 6).

7.1.5 Dissertation or Thesis

A doctoral dissertation must demonstrate conclusively the ability of the author to conceive, design, conduct, and interpret independent, original, and creative research. It must attempt to describe significant original contributions to the advancement of knowledge and must demonstrate the ability to organize, analyze, and interpret data. In most instances, a dissertation includes a statement of purpose, a review of pertinent literature, a presentation of methodology and results obtained, and a critical interpretation of conclusions in relation to the findings of others. When appropriate, it involves a defense of objectives, design, and analytical procedures. Dissertation research should be worthy of publication and should appear in appropriate professional journals or in book form.

A master’s thesis is a scholarly composition that demonstrates the ability of the author to do independent and creative work. It explores in some depth a problem or issue related to the major field of study. Although considerable variations in format and style are acceptable, precise expression, logical construction, and meticulous attention to detail are essential. A thesis is required in all fields in which a master’s degree is awarded, except where specific provision is made for a nonthesis degree program. A minimum of three research credits is required on every program of study for a thesis master’s degree.

Since satisfactory completion of the dissertation or thesis can constitute one of the most gratifying experiences in graduate study, the document should reflect the highest standards of scholarship, serving as a measure of quality for the student, major professor, the program, and Iowa State University.

Responsibility for writing and editing of the dissertation or thesis rests with the student, under the supervision of the major professor, and not with the Graduate College. The Graduate College does not permit joint authorship of dissertations or theses. It is the responsibility of the major professor to supervise the preparation of preliminary and final drafts of the dissertation or thesis, so as to assure the highest level of quality when the student presents the dissertation or thesis to the committee for final approval. Please refer to the Graduate College Dissertation/Thesis website ( for requirements, fees, and other pertinent information.

7.1.6 Creative Component

Most nonthesis students must present substantial evidence of individual accomplishment (e.g., a special report, capstone course, integrated field experience, annotated bibliography, research project, design, or other creative endeavor). A minimum of two credits of such independent work is required on those programs of study (POS). Some programs require more credits; these are specified in the Iowa State University Catalog. The element of creative independent study must be explicitly identified on the POS. The format of the creative component is determined in cooperation with the POS committee. As with a thesis, a creative component should be submitted to members of the POS committee two weeks before the final oral examination. 

7.1.7 Coursework Only Graduate Programs

Some programs have professional master’s programs that are approved as coursework only programs. These programs do not require a creative component or a thesis and will not have a final oral examination. For more information on creating one of these programs, refer to the guidelines available in Appendix E.

7.1.8 Graduate Student Approval Form for Graduation

The Graduate College requires final approval from the student’s program with submission of a “Graduate Student Approval Form,” signed by the major professor(s) and the DOGE(s), including co-major DOGE if applicable, after the student has passed the final oral examination and completed any necessary changes on the dissertation/thesis requested by the committee. A paper dissertation/thesis signature page is not required.

  • The form is electronically routed to the major professor or program to give to the student after the final oral exam request is received and approved by the Graduate College.
  • The Graduate Student Approval Form must be completely routed and approved by the published deadline each term.
  • After the Graduate Student Approval Form has been electronically signed, a dissertation/thesis student must upload their final dissertation/thesis to ProQuest. A non-thesis student must submit their creative component to the ISU Digital Repository.
  • Once the signed Graduate Student Approval Form has been received by the Graduate College, a student’s dissertation, thesis, or creative component will be reviewed for final approval.
  • Final clearance of academic requirements will be made when current term grades have been submitted and evaluated by the Graduate College.

All incompletes from previous terms must be completed by the deadline for completion of the Graduate Student Approval Form. An incomplete, non-report, or failing grade that a student receives for the term of graduation will result in removal from that term’s graduation list. The student will need to complete a new Application for Graduation and Graduate Student Approval Form for the new term of graduation.

If a conditional pass was recommended at the final oral examination, the major professor and the committee members, if so specified, must notify the Graduate College that the conditions have been met by submitting the Preliminary or Final Oral Exam Conditions Met Memo no later than the due date for the Graduate Student Approval Form for the term of graduation.

7.2 - Financial Obligations for Graduation

Students who have outstanding financial obligations with the university are not permitted to receive a diploma until such obligations have been settled. This policy applies to U.S. and international students, to students who are sponsored by an agency outside the university, and to those who pay their own tuition and fees. Among the offices that place holds on graduation for financial reasons are the Loans Receivable Office, Accounts Receivable Office, Business Office/Contract Registration, and the International Education Services/Coordinated Billing System for Sponsored Students.

Every attempt is made to notify students (whose names appear on the preliminary graduation list prepared by the Office of the Registrar during the sixth or seventh week of the semester) that they must arrange for fee payment before graduation. When a student’s education is financed through a contract with a sponsoring agency, ISU honors this contract by allowing the student to charge tuition and fees to the sponsor’s account and then bills the sponsor. In cases where the sponsor is one semester in arrears in making payments to the university, the student is notified and asked to assist in obtaining payment. Warning is given at this time both to the student and sponsor that the student may be prevented from further study and/or receipt of a diploma if tuition and fees are not paid by a specified date. If the sponsor does not respond by that deadline, the student’s degree is withheld until payment is received (although the diploma and transcript bear the originally anticipated date of graduation, if payment is made within six months of graduation).

When sponsored students enroll at ISU, they are required to sign a statement of understanding regarding their responsibilities. Since the student is receiving the benefit of an education and degree, the student—not ISU—is the principal contractor with the sponsoring agency. If the sponsor fails to meet its financial commitment, the student is held liable for payment before a diploma will be awarded.

7.3 - Graduation Ceremony Arrangements

Participation in the graduation ceremony requires the appropriate cap and gown, which can be purchased or rented at the University Bookstore. For doctoral graduates, ISU provides the doctoral hood at the ceremony, which must be returned either on stage after the ceremony or to the Graduation Requirements Office (210 Enrollment Services Center, 515-294-9372) the following Monday. All doctoral students must either rent or purchase from the University Bookstore custom doctoral regalia for the ceremony. Doctoral students are responsible for making arrangement with their major professor to present them at the graduation ceremony.

7.4 - Diplomas

Approximately one month before graduation, the Graduation Requirements Office emails graduating students at their in-session email address requesting information about attending the Graduate ceremony and providing future addresses. Diplomas are mailed by the Graduation Requirements Office (210 Enrollment Services Center, 515-294-9372) to all students approximately three weeks after graduation. Postage must be paid by the student for overseas mailings.

7.5 - Certification of Degree

If a student has not yet received a diploma but needs evidence of the completion of degree requirements, the Office of the Registrar can provide a letter of certification. This letter of certification should be requested in the Graduate College upon completion of the Graduate Student Approval Form and at least two days before the letter is needed.

7.6 - Registration Hold for Graduates

When a student receives a graduate degree, a hold on future registration will automatically be placed on that student’s record unless they have already been approved to pursue a concurrent degree or certificate. In order for this hold to be released so that the student may continue to register for courses, one of the following forms must be completed and sent to the Graduate College: A “Transfer From One Major/Program/Department To Another” if the student is continuing in a different master’s or doctoral program; a “Master’s Student on PhD Track in Same Department” form if a student wishes to continue taking classes, or a “Transfer From One Major/Program/Department to Nondegree” form if a student wishes to continue taking classes but is not currently pursuing another degree (only a total of 9 semester hours taken as an undeclared nondegree student may be later transferred to a graduate degree program at ISU).

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