My story is that the research in my department did not match with my background. I worked hard and my GPA is 3.5+, but the research topic was hard to develop. Unfortunately, I was dismissed from the program but was approved to get a master's degree before I leave the university. I do not have any misconduct.

Now I am applying to another PhD program which could be a good match with my research interest. However, I am facing a question from most universities that I am applying to.

The questions is:

"Have you ever been expelled, dismissed, suspended or otherwise subject to disciplinary sanction by(at or from) any college or university".

I need to select yes or no.

In my case, it is not a disciplinary sanction. I was dismissed from the PhD program only due to misfit in research. I stayed at the university for my Master's degree and I was not dismissed directly from the university. As an international student, I am not quite sure how to answer this question.

I am nervous about this application. Can anyone help me figure out how to deal with this issue in a proper way?

Thank you so much!

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    The three answers provided are all correct. The solution the department came up with was a graceful exit. Now, take it with grace, with your head held high. All the best for your future studies! Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 20:45
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    Were you dismissed (i.e. did they kick you out), or did you withdraw on your own (or, say, did they just say change your curriculum from Doctoral to Master's and then graduate you normally)? I expect this should not be ambiguous at all; it should be quite obvious since you would have to be the one filing for withdrawal or graduation.
    – user541686
    Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 21:28
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    @Alex123456: Wow, that's way more tricky than I thought. I think that paragraph should be included in your question. It honestly sounds like you were dismissed from the Ph.D., but I'm no expert in this matter. I would be hesitant to follow everyone else's advice, since you got an official letter saying you were dismissed. Perhaps go ask a counselor/registrar at the school that gave you the latter and explain & ask them? I'd make sure to get back something in writing if they say you weren't dismissed, just to cover your butt in case someone later accuses you of lying.
    – user541686
    Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 21:54
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    @Alex123456: You're welcome! One note: just make sure you ask someone who has some authority on the matter. I can only guess who this might be, but my guess is that this would have to be someone at the university level, not at a departmental level -- not just because that's what the question asks, but because I would expect that if this were to be ever verified, the person whom would be asked this question would be someone in the university administration. Possibly the registrar? I'm not sure. But e.g. your research adviser or ombudsperson would probably be the wrong person to ask.
    – user541686
    Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 22:13
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    I just wanted to take a moment to bring up something that I think will help from a non-academic standpoint: I feel you should stop using the word "misfit" as it has a negative connotation with it, I would say it was a "bad fit" or "misaligned", but misfit (at least in American English) typically means that you're a troublemaker
    – Taegost
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 14:47

4 Answers 4


The fact that you were not allowed to continue toward the Ph.D. is not "dismissal" in the sense that that question means. (I can certainly see how the terminology could be confusing though.) The question is there to identify students who have been involved in academic (or other) misconduct. Academic failure does not fall into the misconduct category, so you should answer "No" to the question. Doing so will not imperil your application in any way.

  • That's correct. A student could be dismissed or expelled if he or she didn't maintain a certain grade point average, or stopped attending or registering for classes.
    – mkennedy
    Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 18:57
  • Thank you for your answer. I am also wondering the purpose of universities to ask this question. If we are pretty sure that the question is only to identify students who have misconduct, then my case of PhD dismissal does not belong to this category. But since finally I still received PhD program dismissal, as the question includes "dismiss", will the university admission officer consider that I did not tell the truth if I answer "No"?
    – Alex123456
    Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 22:14
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    The question is meant to catch people with some kind of academic misconduct on their record. If somebody lies about it, the university can kick them out of the program if they do manage to find out, since they lied on their application.
    – Buzz
    Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 22:30
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    @Buzz I see. But I have an official letter from the department chair which states that I was dismissed from the PhD program. As different people may have different understanding on this "dismissal", I think it might be risky to answer "no", if somebody in the future know that I have a PhD dismissal history and then accuse me of lying in the application. Next week I will ask an official person in my college for further suggestions. Thank you very much!
    – Alex123456
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 1:18

Obtain a copy of your transcript. It should say there whether you were dismissed or expelled. To be on the safe side, you should ask your former advisor.

At my program, a few students who we do not have confidence in might be asked to leave the program prior to advancing to candidacy. If they've passed their quals, they can leave with a MA if the department approves it.

This is a mutually agreed form of separation in lieu of the proceedings for formal expulsion so it does not count as a dismissal.

  • 8
    Thank you RoboKaren. Since I successfully switched to the master program, on my current transcript there is no "dismiss" or "expel". My department said after I finish this master's degree, on my final version of transcript, it will say "the student withdrew the PhD after he/she received master's degree". I think my case is a mutually agreed form of separation, as both my advisor and myself think that we are not matched and it could be good for me to stop the research that I don't like and find a better match.
    – Alex123456
    Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 18:53
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    @Alex123456: That is a crucial point, and I think you should edit your question to take out the word "dismissed". According to the official record, you weren't dismissed; you withdrew. That makes it absolutely clear that you should answer the question "no". Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 23:13

This is simple. Your answer to their question should be NO. The question they are asking is designed to identify people who have a history of misconduct, and whose past institutions have taken action against them. Your situation has nothing to do with that. You were not invited to continue on to the PhD, because of the lack of research fit. This is not the same thing as being expelled, dismissed, suspended, or any other situation involving disciplinary action.

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    "Expelled" and "dismissed" aren't restricted to cases of misconduct; they can also happen because of failure to make satisfactory academic progress. Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 19:17
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    @NateEldredge In this case the question itself states that it is asking for past disciplinary actions taken. As OPs dismissal was not disciplinary, this question should be answered with a no. The place to bring up this dismissal would be if it is brought up in a letter or email after the application, or during an interview setting if the question itself is brought up. Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 18:55

Lets parse your question:

1) As the above respondents have indicated your answer to that particular question should be no.

2) Let's dwell on why and how. In Physics for example,there are two broad types of departments. Those that are very difficult to get in, but once you are in and you don't have a major league screw up, you generally will complete a Phd. At the other end of the spectrum, a department will let in a bunch and then do the screening at the qualifier exam allowing the people who didn't pass the qual to get a terminal master and move on.

3) Typically again in physics, it's possible to get a master's from passing the qual and transfer to a department which has a strong program in your area of interest.

The tradeoff in grad school is finding an available professor whose Phd subject you like the most. Most people are not that picky because to transfer lengthens the time in grad school, plus you have a whole new set of departmental politics to bone up on. The thinking here is that you might have some wiggle room on the topic area when you do a postdoc or your 1st Phd job.

Here is my grad school advice to you.

In general you are not just picking a research topic but also a thesis professor. There are three general attributes in picking a professor:

They work in a topic area that you like, they have funding to support you, and you can get along or work with this professor. I think a grad student is fortunate to find a professor that meets 2 out of 3 of the above.

  • 6
    This... doesn't actually answer the question other than to say "I agree with the other answers that say 'no'" before going on an off-topic expose about choosing graduate programs....
    – Roddy
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 18:49
  • To be more specific and to the point that @RoddyoftheFrozenPeas : Comments are restricted to those who have 50+ reputation. Try asking questions of your own, or answering questions of others with real answers mind you Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 18:56
  • Changing graduate programs is a very serious decision. The fact that this person had to come here to ask a simple paperwork question says a lot. Did they not have a professor, grad adviser, or senior grad student that they could talk to? What is the the "underlying issue" is very relevant.
    – Piedmont
    Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 15:08

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