Timeline: What to Expect

Getting Started at MIT

Orientation advice, instructions, forms, and deadlines are here. In brief, admitted students submit their housing preferences by mid-May and arrive on campus starting in mid-August. Orientation usually begins on the last Monday of August.

Course Registration

At the beginning of the first year, each student is assigned a faculty advisor. The advisor approves the student's course registration each term and discusses his/her academic program. Students are expected to register for (at least) three graduate classes in every semester until completion of the oral qualifying exam. In most cases, after completion of the qualifying exam, the thesis advisor takes over as registration advisor.

English and Foreign Language Proficiency

All students must fulfill a foreign language requirement before graduation. Students from non-English-speaking countries should achieve English proficiency as soon as possible, preferably by the end of the first year. Instruction in English as a second language at MIT can be found here.

Academic Evaluation

The overall academic performance of all graduate students is reviewed at the end of each semester, as is their performance in RA or TA positions. Students are expected to maintain at least a B+ average. Ultimately, they must complete 11 one-semester courses with a grade of A or B.

Plan of Study (Applied Math Only)

Students in Applied Mathematics submit a tentative plan of study at the end of the first term. The plan must conform to the Applied Math breadth requirements. Students submit a more definite plan at the end of the first year.

Choosing a Thesis Advisor

As students progress in their coursework and their interests become more focused, they select an advisor in their intended area of research. They generally make at least a tentative choice by the end of the first year in order to plan for the qualifying examination. Students with advisors outside the department also have an internal advisor.

Qualifying Exam

The qualifying exam is an oral exam given by a committee of faculty members. Students should begin thinking of possible exam topics during their first year. More details can be found here.


After passing the qualifying examination, students must designate a thesis advisor and register for 18.THG, Thesis, in each subsequent term. Students continue to take regular courses as well as pursuing their research. Grades for thesis research (18.THG) are recorded as J (satisfactory) or U (unsatisfactory).

Students with external advisors submit a summary of their research to their external and internal advisors each semester in order to obtain a grade for 18.THG. The graduate chair reviews all research summaries. See external thesis advisor information.

Teacher Training

Graduate students are strongly encouraged to develop their teaching skills and establish teaching credentials. During the semester before their first teaching assignment, prospective teachers are required to participate in teacher training. Foreign students must demonstrate proficiency in English before undertaking the training.

Thesis Proposal

Within one year of passing the qualifying examination or by the beginning of the 6th semester students must submit a thesis proposal of about five pages. See thesis proposal for detailed instructions.

Final Semester

In their first week of their final semester, students must register as degree candidates. This does not constitute a commitment to finish; students can remove their names from the degree list at the end of the term. Students submit their thesis titles at mid-semester and prepare for the thesis defense, which usually takes place in April. Deadlines are here.

Thesis Defense

When the thesis approaches completion a Thesis Examination Committee is formed, consisting of the thesis advisor and two other faculty members in related fields. The student's successful defense of the thesis completes the doctoral program. Instructions are here.