A single grading system is used in all courses at the GSD.

Distinction & High Pass work of exceptional merit
Pass satisfactory work
Low Pass performance deficient in some respects but meets minimal course standards
Fail work that is unsatisfactory and a student receives no credit for that course
Incomplete incomplete course work
Withdrawal assigned for courses dropped after the add/drop deadline
Satisfactory indicates that the doctoral thesis is in progress

Overview

The GSD utilizes a system of deficiency units based on a student’s grades and the number of semesters completed in order to determine satisfactory progress and whether the termination process is initiated.  Receipt of an excessive number of incompletes, low passes, or failures may result in action under the policy on Satisfactory Progress and Termination (see below). The GSD does not use a grade-point average or rank-in-class system. Non-GSD students who cross-register into a GSD course are evaluated on the same grading system as are GSD students, with the exception of PhD students who may submit a Request to the Office of the Registrar.

Grade Changes and Appeals

Evaluation of a student's performance in each course is the responsibility of the instructor of record for that course. Normally, the instructor's decision is final. For grades other than ‘Incomplete' grade changes can be made by the instructor of record and with the approval of the department chair only for the purpose of correcting an error made in calculating the grade. Whether or not a student decides to invoke the formal appeal process, a student always has the right to request in writing, informally, an explanation of an assigned grade by the instructor. A copy must be sent to the Dean of Students. Instructors are required to respond.

However, a student who feels that a grade is unfair due to negligence or discrimination on the part of the instructor has the right to appeal formally. This appeal must be filed within the first 30 days of the academic term immediately following the term for which the grade was given or within 30 days of the date grades are distributed by the registrar, whichever is later. If, after receiving the instructor's response, the student still believes that a grade has been assigned unfairly, the student should discuss the matter with the Dean of Students. If the student decides to pursue the appeal, he or she must submit a written petition to the dean of the Faculty of Design, stating the reasons for appeal of the grade. This petition must be filed within the first 60 days of the academic term immediately following the term for which the grade was given or within 60 days of the date grades are distributed by the registrar, whichever is later. If the dean believes the petition demonstrates evidence of negligence or discriminatory behavior, an advisory committee will be formed to review the appeal and make recommendations to the dean. The dean's decision concerning the appeal of a grade is final. If a student appeals a grade assigned in his or her last term at the school, the appeal process may take place after his or her graduation. No grade may be changed after graduation for any reason other than as the result of a formal appeal as described above. Additional information on procedures related to grade appeals is available from the Dean of Students.

Petition for Incomplete

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Non-GSD students who cross-register into a GSD course are evaluated on the same grading system as are GSD students. Cross-registered courses will have a different grading system so check out information about Cross-Registration or the Harvard Cross-Registration site.  Information on grade changes, appeals and incompletes can be directed to the Instructor and if necessary, the Registrar.

Incomplete or Unsatisfactory Thesis

A student whose thesis is not accepted must extend work by registering for additional terms. A maximum of one additional term will be granted for completion of a master's thesis. A student who has to repeat the thesis because of failure may also be required to repeat the thesis preparation period, in which case it would be necessary to register for two additional terms. Doctor of Design students will be allowed to register for additional terms for thesis completion only with advisor and ASP committee approval.

Warning Letters

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Satisfactory Progress

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  1. Continuous full-time enrollment (except for approved part-time status and leaves of absence)
  2. Completion of the degree requirements of their program within two terms beyond the prescribed number of terms for that program (plus extensions due to approved part-time status and leaves of absence)
  3. Achievement of a satisfactory grade record. A grade record is considered to be satisfactory until deficiency units are accumulated to the extent that the student has reached the dismissal threshold.

Deficiency units are calculated as follows:

  • Fail = one deficiency unit per unit of course (for example, a Fail in a 4-unit course is the equivalent of 4 deficiency units)
  • Incomplete (past deadline) = like Fail, one deficiency unit per unit of course
  • Low Pass = one half deficiency unit per unit of course (for example, a low pass in an 8-unit course is calculated as follows: 8 units x 0.5 = 4 deficiency units). For courses taken outside the GSD, passing grades below “B” or “satisfactory” will be considered equivalent to a low pass.

The following are numbers of deficiency units in each degree program that, upon accumulation, will put a student at the warning or dismissal threshold

Semester Completed  Warning Threshold (Deficiency Units)  Dismissal Threshold (Deficiency Units) 
1, 2 4 8
3, 4 6 12
5 or more 8 16

*Semesters are counted as completed in accordance with the specific requirements for award of degree for each program.

Warning and Dismissal Thresholds

At the completion of each semester once all grades have been submitted, the registrar calculates students who have reached or exceeded the “warning” or “dismissal” threshold due to deficiency units accrued that semester.  Those on or over the “warning threshold” receive a letter which is also sent to the academic advisor, program director, registrar and dean of students.  It is an opportunity for the student to meet with his/her academic advisor and anyone else who might provide academic support.

In the case of a student who has not maintained satisfactory progress, the department or ASP faculty will review the situation at the beginning of the semester following that in which the dismissal threshold was reached, and a letter will be sent to the student explaining the process. The student should meet with the program director, academic advisor and dean of students.  The student is given an opportunity to provide any pertinent information to be presented at the departmental or ASP meeting. Unless the department or ASP faculty votes by a majority to halt the dismissal process, the case will automatically be referred to the full Faculty of Design. The possession of deficiency units at the dismissal threshold will normally result in a faculty action to dismiss the student. No student shall be dismissed except by a vote of at least two-thirds of the voting members of the faculty present and voting thereon. A student may withdraw voluntarily at any time prior to the vote of the full faculty. The decision of the faculty will be final. The transcript will note the dismissal or withdrawal. While a student dismissed for academic reasons is eligible to reapply for admission to the GSD at a later date, the application is unlikely to be approved.

Doctor of Design students must satisfactorily complete 32 units of course work and pass a general examination based on an approved thesis proposal before the beginning of the third semester of study. Failure to do so will initiate termination procedures.

Financial Aid recipients should also review the policy as it related to financial aid eligibility.