This question is related to, but is slightly different from, this one.

I'm currently in a PhD program in electrical engineering in the US. After passing my qualification exam, I've decided not to continue in the current PhD program, and I will soon start to apply to new PhD programs at other universities in the US.

I've found several universities that offer admission both in Spring 2025 and Fall 2025. The application for Spring 2025 opens soon, while the application for Fall 2025 will open much later, and will require me to stay for one more semester at my current university to be able to apply. I would prefer not to do this, and to instead start in Spring 2025.

However, some of these universities mention a note next to their admissions deadlines that is similar to

Note: Very few PhD students are admitted in the Spring semester.

Based on this note, it seems that there is a disadvantage, in terms of chances of admission, when applying for the Spring semester rather than the Fall semester. If possible, I would like to hear the opinion of people on here who are familiar with the admission process, and whether there is indeed a disadvantage or not.

  • 3
    I would worry that Spring semester admissions are not truly in practice actually "open" and is more of an avenue for special cases, like a masters student who is graduating mid-year and continuing on to a PhD in the same lab, or someone working as a research employee and transitioning to a PhD program. For various administrative reasons, it may be necessary to move those people mid-year to student status to keep them funded, in the country, etc. That "Note" seems to be a bit of a warning not to apply for Spring.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Apr 19 at 18:45
  • 2
    @BryanKrause - I'd say more a "don't get your hopes up" message - the department plans on an academic calendar rhythm, bringing in a new cohort in the fall to slot into the usual course progression. Spring slots seemed (years ago now) to me mainly a question of getting fewer acceptances than anticipated for fall entry, and wanting a few more students for now rather than next fall.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Apr 19 at 19:02
  • @BryanKrause thank you for the advice. In your experience, if one applies for the Spring semester, and they have a strong enough profile, but there are not enough places at the University in the Spring semester, will their application automatically be deferred to the Fall semester admission cycle? Or will they get rejected and then have to pay another application fee to apply again to the same university for the Fall semester? Paying the application fee again is one of the reasons why I'm worried about applying in the Spring.
    – mhdadk
    Commented Apr 20 at 13:32
  • @JonCuster Hey Jon, thank you very much for the advice. It would be great if I could get your perspective on the same question that I asked to Bryan in the comment above.
    – mhdadk
    Commented Apr 20 at 13:34

1 Answer 1


When you start off-cycle you may miss out on some onboarding requirements such as entrance/qualifying/competency exams (if your program has them). However, your clock going up to candidacy/quals will still be running. If you do well on everything and are a great student, this is not a problem. However, if you struggle a bit, this can put you a little bit behind and on an awkward schedule compared to your cohort.

Also it is true that we typically admit a substantially smaller cohort in the spring (probably 10, vs 40)... but we also have substantially less applicants, so I would have to check all of our numbers to see if the rate is actually any different.

I would encourage you to just apply, especially if you are well-above the minimum requirements.

  • 1
    How would you treat an applicant who had already passed quals? That might make a difference as well.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Apr 19 at 18:39
  • Thanks a lot for your advice, R1NaNo.
    – mhdadk
    Commented Apr 20 at 13:35
  • 2
    @JonCuster our graduate coordinator handles those cases, and they are typically dealt with via an audit of the transcript and evaluation of eligible transfer credits. In my experience to date, the only time I have seen graduate students get full credit for all progress made towards their PhD is when they were part of a package when we poached established faculty.
    – R1NaNo
    Commented Apr 21 at 1:48

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