Is there a term similar to "ABD" (All But Dissertation) that denotes a PhD student who has completed all coursework, but who hasn't taken comprehensive exams and of course hasn't done the dissertation?

I left my PhD program unfinished, just before taking the comps. Hoping there's something similar to "ABD" that I can put on my CV/resume.


  • 2
    I won't try to give a definite answer, because I'm not 100% sure. But I think that there's no such notion for it. Note that in many countries, there are no courses taken in a PhD programme. So for people in such a place, passing some exams is not interesting at all; they only long for a scientific work done.
    – yo'
    Oct 22, 2015 at 15:20
  • 3
    PhD pretty much amounts to the thesis... There might some loophole somewhere, but it would be pretty weird... You can put that you started and didn't finish.... Oct 22, 2015 at 15:24
  • Similar question here: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/28717/… Oct 22, 2015 at 16:28
  • 1
    Why not just refer to it simply as it is: either "complete coursework toward(s) Ph.D. in ..." (noun variant), or "completed all coursework toward(s) Ph.D. in ..." (verb variant)? Oct 22, 2015 at 22:54
  • What's wrong with "former PhD student"?
    – JeffE
    Oct 23, 2015 at 3:56

2 Answers 2


In the US, you'd have completed the coursework master's portion of a typical PhD program. There's no shorthand for this. Some people take a master's degree at this point and go on to something else. It's reasonably common to do so. I don't know if typical corporate recruiters know about all of this, but academic-ish labs, government labs, and similar organizations that employ a lot of folks with advanced degrees will understand what happened. So much so that you probably want to have a good stock answer for what happened to your PhD aspirations that isn't a complaint of some sort.

  • Great suggestion (having a stock answer), Bill, thanks!
    – martyl1000
    Oct 23, 2015 at 17:55
  • Thanks, Bill. I'll def have to work on my "stock answer," as my real answer would only sound like complaint. (See the narrative I've posted, below, added to Pete L. Clark's comment.)
    – martyl1000
    Oct 23, 2015 at 18:18
  • @martyl1000, that's not a terrible story, actually. Good luck with the writing!
    – Bill Barth
    Oct 23, 2015 at 19:04

In PhD programs where entering with a master's degree is not expected, then the best way I can think of to denote this status is to list your enrollment in a PhD program for a period of years and then list that you got a master's degree at the end. (Added: Forgive me for not mentioning this explicitly, but: of course you actually have to get a master's degree at the end in order to do this! What was left implicit is that this is a very common procedure for students who drop out in the middle of a PhD program. Often it is something that can be arranged with relatively little trouble.) This does not correspond to exactly what you asked for: you mentioned "completed all coursework", but in fact many PhD programs do not have much in the way of required coursework. I think it gives approximately the right spirit: i.e., you left in the middle of a PhD program, you were not almost finished in any sense, but there is a recognizable sense in which you completed some of the work.

If you entered your program with a master's degree, you could still list this if you've gotten a second master's degree (I have seen this happen). However if you were enrolled in a program which has a master's degree as a prerequisite, then I don't know what you can write: at least in my experience there is not a clearly defined level of "PhD coursework" separate from both master's coursework and exams and PhD-level exams.

I should also mention that in most non-academic walks of life, "attended a PhD program and didn't complete it" is about as fine a point as most others will naturally draw. There is usually little or no stigma in having left a PhD program.

  • 2
    I don't follow your logic. If you didn't actually get a Master's degree from the school, I don't think you should claim one by virtue of having completed some or all of the courses in a PhD program. Whether or not the work you did towards a PhD is sufficient to earn you a Masters is a judgement to be made by the school, not the student.
    – Tyler
    Oct 22, 2015 at 20:49
  • 1
    While I cannot tell whether there indeed is a stigma or not on dropping out of a PhD program, the analogy of people in the U.S. sounds unfitting. A PhD is an undertaking that takes a limited amount of time, the general dimension of which (+/- 2 years) is generally clear beforehand, not a lifelong commitment that is citizenship (for those who consider leaving a country "dropping out of something", anyway). Also, a PhD means achieving certain standards, and people usually drop out because they do not think they can live up to those standards, not because they think they're ... Oct 22, 2015 at 21:10
  • ... too good for a PhD. The opposite happened with the ancestors of U.S. Americans, who left hoping to build a better place, not because they felt inferior and unable to live up to the standards of the old world. Lastly, the ancestors of U.S. Americans had to spend some effort leaving their original countries (read: becoming independent), whereas it's the opposite in a PhD again: You do not spend any effort to leave, you spend effort to stay in. Oct 22, 2015 at 21:10
  • 1
    @O.R. Mapper: It wasn't an analogy exactly (there are four things in analogy), it was an inequality. But not the most convincing one: I took it out. And for what it's worth: it does take some courage and effort to leave a PhD program, especially to do it in a productive way. I have known several PhD students over the years that took much longer than they should have to muster that effort. Oct 22, 2015 at 22:29
  • 1
    @martyl1000: Thanks for the additional comments. Your situation is indeed rather different from the typical one on this site, which is quite focused on STEM disciplines. I don't have any direct experience with fiction-writing PhD programs, but I'm having trouble of thinking of a non-academic job which has a PhD in fiction writing as a requirement. Having a prize and a published book seem better to me in all real world situations, and if you are now in the business world I especially doubt that the PhD would matter to anyone. Do you have a situation in mind in which it does? Oct 23, 2015 at 19:58

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .