If one is intending on leaving a graduate program before completing their PhD, is there value in obtaining candidacy status before leaving?

Does it depend on where they are leaving to? If so, consider the cases where the candidate is either leaving for industry or leaving for another PhD position. (And say they are contractually obligated to not leave immediately, so they would have time to reach candidacy.)

  • 5
    Note that candidacy=/=ABD in some programs.
    – ff524
    Feb 9, 2015 at 22:57
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    My experience is that people outside academia are unlikely to know what "candidate status" even means. Feb 9, 2015 at 23:42
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    My experience is that people even within academia are unlikely to know what "candidate status" even means.
    – JeffE
    Feb 10, 2015 at 0:05
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    For those Europeans wondering what a PhD candidate is: link
    – Moriarty
    Feb 10, 2015 at 0:23
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    This is yet another one of those questions that seems to be implicitly USA-specific. This should really be tagged us such. I have the impression that this site has a fairly strong bias towards American viewpoints and issues, and doesn't explicitly identify them like Workplace.SE tends to. In most places there's no such thing as "obtaining candidacy".
    – Szabolcs
    Apr 15, 2015 at 23:57

2 Answers 2


For some departments, reaching the candidacy stage means you have earned a degree (often an MPhil, but it varies). If your department gives a degree when you reach candidacy, then it provides a nice break point to leave. Industry might be fooled by it, but PhD programs often know the difference between degrees that you were intending on getting and those that signify a departure from original plans. A degree might have some value Thor industry and PhD admissions, but in general, people are interested in what you have done and can do, and not in pieces of paper. If there is no degree, then reaching candidacy, doesn't really matter for industry or PhD admissions.

While it might not help for getting a job or another PhD, reaching candidacy might give you a sense of closure and/or accomplishment. The value of that is deeply personal, but a lot of people describe themselves as being ABD even if they have no intention of finishing. You need to weight the value of being ABD against the cost of getting there. Often reaching candidacy means taking qualifying exams. Quals can be really hard and if you are not 100% committed you could fail! which might be worse for your psyche. I am not sure anyone goes into quals thinking, I am going to pass and then quit. Did I mention quals are painful. I have since forgotten all my coursework scars, but my qualifying exam scar I think is with me for life.

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    A Master's degree definitely has value if you enter industry even if it is received as a "golden parachute" out of academia.
    – Eric
    Feb 10, 2015 at 16:26

If you are committed to leaving your current program, then candidacy is very likely irrelevant. It has varying meanings even inside academia (as noted by @JeffE in comments above), it will not matter to industry employers, and it is unlikely to sway other Ph.D. admissions committees. You should focus on getting the Master's degree, if you do not already have one - if achieving candidacy is in the critical path to that, fine, but otherwise I would ignore it.

I agree with @StrongBad that closure is important, especially after going through the trying process of making the decision to leave your Ph.D. program. I would suggest trying to find that from an achievement that will help you (a Master's degree) much more than candidacy will.

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