When does a PhD student officially stop being a PhD student? To be more specific, are you no longer a PhD student when:

  1. you have submitted your PhD (and thus stopped working on it),
  2. been approved for the degree, or
  3. graduated?

I have looked on the Internet and on Stack Exchange and I cannot find a clear answer to this question. On Academia Stack Exchange, one question asks something similar but from such a different perspective that it provides no help. While I know I can ask some administrative body in the university (and have), I remain sufficiently confused about the general consensus on this matter that I would appreciate answers from experts here.

I have a personal interest in knowing the answer to this question as I am involved in a society which is only open to current students and unsure as to when I will become ineligible.

  • 1
    Are you asking about "PhD student" or just "student"?
    – Nobody
    Feb 5, 2016 at 5:25
  • I went with PhD student as PhD students go through a different completion process to undergraduate students. Do you think I should pose this as a more general question about the student to non-student transition? Feb 5, 2016 at 5:40
  • 14
    I'm not sure what "officially a student" could mean other than that the part of the institution which is responsible for determining student status -- usually, the registrar -- says that you are officially a student. If that's what you mean, the answer is what the registrar tells you. Seems disappointing, but what else? (But I will say that option (i) cannot be right: if your thesis is not accepted, you will need to work on it again. You are still a student on Saturdays too...) Feb 5, 2016 at 5:47
  • 5
    @David: Not necessarily. Some institutions only graduate students once a year, so people can spend some months having earned a PhD but not received it. Are they officially students at that time? Ask the institution. In fact, now that I think about it, I skipped my PhD graduation so in some sense I never graduated. Some silly sense, of course, but still... Feb 5, 2016 at 6:32
  • 3
    Out of curiosity (and to help future generations of confused people), what did your university administration tell you when you asked them about this?
    – Dan Romik
    Feb 5, 2016 at 12:24

2 Answers 2


As I say in the comments and djechlin says in his answer, one's official student status is entirely determined by the institution in which the student is enrolled. You can ask them at any given time whether you are a student, and they'll tell you. If you want to know when you will lose your student status assuming that you complete all the requirements and paperwork for the PhD, they should be able to tell you that. This won't have any cosmic significance though: in practice, you are probably asking them about how the computers in the registrar's office deal with the boundaries between one semester, the next and/or the intervening summer.

In terms of your intended need -- i.e., continued membership in a society -- I suspect that you may be taking the "official student status" more seriously than others will and thereby worrying yourself needlessly. I can't think of any society that wouldn't take the student's own word as to the completion of their own student status, even allowing a reasonable grace period. For instance, there are professional societies in my field (mathematics) which students can join for special rates (sometimes free). In these cases membership is determined annually and the renewal process takes place shortly after a given academic year is underway. So if you get your PhD in, say, June, then you get to keep the student benefits until, say, September or October.

A big exception to the above is immigration issues. For that: yes, ask the university for the precise date at which your student status expires!

  • 2
    +1, but "entirely determined by the institution" -- I'm sure in Germany at least there are relevant national/state laws as well.
    – Chris H
    Feb 5, 2016 at 9:11
  • 2
    @ChrisH I suspect there is not. Each university has their own "Promotionsordnung" and the status of "Doktorand" is not relevant for state or national administration. At my alma mater I needed to register my intended dissertation, but was not even an official student. However, there is national legislation detailing when you are allowed to call yourself "Doktor".
    – user9482
    Feb 5, 2016 at 10:21
  • 3
    @ChrisH I think it is implied that the institution determines their criteria within the boundaries the laws and regulations of their countries (and the question is not regionally tagged). I'm sure Pete didn't mean to put academic institutions above government laws. Feb 5, 2016 at 13:53

I have a personal interest in knowing the answer to this question as I am involved in a society which is only open to current students and unsure as to when I will become ineligible.

Then the only definition that matters is their definition. If your status is "on the line" you should inquire them directly, or submit your application knowing your eligibility may be questionable (please at least be clear about your status in this case, since this is ethical).

Also note that even if you found a reasonably standard definition, they may be open to an exception "in your case" for reasons they or you would know better than I do. You'll have to use your judgment if you turn out to be in a grey area.

  • The potential problem with this is the involved in "I am involved in a society which is only open to current students", quiet often means Involved in running. This is the case for most student clubs for example. Feb 5, 2016 at 15:45

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