I see many LinkedIn profiles from Ivy League graduates that start a Ph.D. program only a few months after they get their Bachelor's (assuming that they graduate early in the summer). Given that graduate applications are usually open from October through December and programms start in August-September of the following year, how is that possible?

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    Isn't it more that applications are open Oct.-Dec. and that admissions are usually for the following August or September? – Bill Barth May 3 '16 at 13:23

In all phases of a US student's career, it is understood that many people will be applying based on their anticipated graduation date, rather than having already graduated. Thus:

  • High school students apply for colleges in the fall, even though they won't graduate until the end of spring.
  • Undergraduates apply for graduate schools in the fall, even though they won't graduate until the end of spring.
  • Ph.D. candidates apply for postdoctoral positions the fall or early spring, even though they won't graduate until the end of spring.
  • Postdocs apply for faculty positions in the fall, even though they typically have contract commitments through the spring or summer.

This does leave a problem of what can happen if one fails to actually graduate as anticipated. It is, however, generally the case that technically offers are made contingent on the current phase of one's career completing as anticipated. Usually this is a fairly safe bet, since it is unlikely that a strong candidate will suddenly plunge in performance so badly that they cannot graduate. In some cases, however, it will happen and in that case either:

  1. The offering institution may with withdraw their offer, or
  2. The offering institution may allow the candidate to defer for a year, or
  3. The offering institution may allow the candidate to start anyway.

The second is much more likely to happen in cases where the unexpected failure to progress is due to external circumstances, such as serious illness or having a child, which would not cause an institution to reassess one's potential, and the third where everything is done except some final formalities (e.g., a graduate student has defended their thesis but starts a postdoc before depositing). The chances also depend on the stage of one's career: there is often a great deal of flexibility for faculty start dates, for example, while postdocs are often tied to specific funding with a specific non-deferrable timeframe.

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    Some institutions offer spring admissions as well. I started my PhD in January of 1998 in the US, on purpose due a planned December 1997 graduation date. – Bill Barth May 3 '16 at 13:23
  • I am an international student, so I wasn't familiar with that principle and I don't know if the above apply for my case. I am mostly searching for Biology PhDs and seem surprised as the FAQs that I've came across mention holding a primary degree as a requirement. – civy May 3 '16 at 13:24
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    @civy, you typically need to hold the degree to start the program not to be admitted. Otherwise there would be a major stall, as you note, in the pipeline of students all taking a year off and letting their skills go stale between undergraduate and graduate work. – Bill Barth May 3 '16 at 13:34
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    Postdocs sometimes start before their degree is officially "conferred", though typically the dissertation and defense have already been completed. The postdoc dates depend a lot on the field and even the particular lab's funding source. The same lab might even have one position tied to a specific grant/project (with a specified start date) and another "open" position with more flexibility on the work and start date. – Matt May 3 '16 at 16:39
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    @Dennis Jaheruddin: Yes, typically that is true. As long as you graduate, you can enter a program at the next level that you have been accepted into. There are exceptions, however. (It seems like Princeton wanted an update on my final grades when I considered applying there as an undergrad.) – Buzz May 4 '16 at 0:07

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