Managing Your Graduate Program

While graduate study is unique to every student, there are many similarities in the timeline across programs and departments. We’re outlining the requirements of the most common graduate degrees so you’re aware of how the degree requirements are structured at UNL and who will be able to help you along your way.

Remember that you bring your own experiences with a different college administration along with you; there may be key differences between your former college and UNL. Don’t hesitate to ask for clarification.

When you applied to UNL, you applied to both your department and the Graduate College. The Graduate College oversees all four campuses for the University of Nebraska: the University of Nebraska Omaha, the University of Nebraska Kearney, the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and, finally, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Specific to the UNL campus is the Office of Graduate Studies. The staff in the Office of Graduate Studies support your department and will help you as you work to meet the requirements of the Graduate College.

The Office of Graduate Studies is here to help you keep on track, fulfilling the Graduate College’s requirements so that you can focus on your studies. Other resources include the Graduate Bulletin, which is available online at The Forms and Deadlines webpage at offers a quick overview of the main documents you need to complete your degree.

Support as You Work on Your Degree

There are a number of people who will help you on your way: Your advisor, committee members, graduate chair, graduate support staff, and the Graduate Studies Master’s Degree Specialist and Doctoral Degree Specialist will all help you at different points in your career.

When you begin your studies, you'll most likely meet with your graduate chair. The graduate chair helps you look at the course ahead and will also be a resource when you want additional advice. Once you have an advisor, you’ll be meeting with your graduate chair less, but he or she still plays a vital role in your success in graduate school. The graduate chair is particularly important in the beginning and will be available for clarification of steps as you progress. 

Your advisor will provide supervision as you complete coursework and will be your first contact for working on your thesis or project. It’s helpful to find an advisor in your first year, unless the graduate chair in your department serves as a temporary advisor during the first year for all students (this will be the case in many departments). You may already have an advisor when you entered your program due to receiving an assistantship. If you haven’t already been assigned one, find an advisor who researches in an area that may be interesting to you as a thesis topic, with whom you’ve completed some coursework, who knows your writing and learning style, and with whom you communicate well. Additionally, an advisor must have graduate faculty status. You can check this online through the Graduate Bulletin. Your advisor will continue to advise you on your coursework so that as you narrow down your topic, you are taking the courses that will help you build your general knowledge of your topic.

The graduate support staff person is housed in your department. Introduce yourself early in your first semester (or now, since we’ve told you!) and stop in regularly to see how he or she is doing. This person stays on top of departmental policies and can help you with paperwork or advise you about deadlines. If he or she knows who you are, and you’ve been cordial, it’s easier to get help when you need it so don’t be a stranger.

The Master’s and Doctoral Degree Specialists are housed in the Office of Graduate Studies, not your department. They will work with you one-on-one to make sure that you are meeting the requirements of the Graduate College. Additionally, they help you stay on track filing required documents with the Graduate College and can also help navigate the rules of the Graduate College and your department. 

Master’s Degree: Specific Steps

Before you finish half of your coursework, work with your advisor to complete a “Memorandum of Courses.” In this document you'll outline the coursework required for your degree program. You'll want to consider your interests, the things you need to learn to complete your degree, and the requirements of your degree.

You'll also need to determine which degree option is right for you. Each option has specific requirements; speak with your advisor and consult the Graduate Bulletin for details. Coursework can help you establish proficiencies for your thesis or project, and also for your future employment.

In your final semester, you will file an Application for Degree that should be completed in consultation with your advisor or graduate chair. Make sure that your thesis or requirements will be completed before the deadlines specified on the Forms and Deadlines page of the Graduate Studies Current Student site. The “Guidelines for Preparation and Submission of an Electronic Thesis” provides information about preparing and submitting your thesis.

You'll also complete the Final Examination Report Form four weeks prior to the oral defense or the deadline listed on the calendar of deadlines, whichever comes first. Visit the Graduate Studies Forms and Deadlines page to see the deadlines for the semester.

Doctoral Degrees: Specific Steps

Establish your committee before you have accumulated 45 credit hours by working with your advisor and completing the Appointment of Supervisory Committee Form. If necessary, you can amend this form later.

In the same semester you form your committee, complete a Program of Studies. This document outlines your coursework, which makes up your first few years at UNL. This document is not final—you can change it as needed. Check with your graduate chair about department-specific requirements.

In your second or third year you'll be completely (or nearly) done with your coursework, so you'll take your Comprehensive Exams (Comps) and apply for Candidacy. Comps look very different across departments, but the Graduate College requires a written element to the exams. Your department likely requires an oral component too, but check with your advisor or graduate chair for details. Your entire committee evaluates your performance on Comps.

Once you pass your Comps, you'll focus on your dissertation. Remember that while you research and write your dissertation, you must register for at least 1 credit hour each semester until graduation, or your program will be terminated. Begin properly formatting your dissertation early; this makes edits at the end much easier.

File the Application for Degree at the beginning of the semester you will graduate. You don't need to have your dissertation done before applying for graduation.

After your dissertation has been accepted for defense, you'll file the Application for Final Oral Exam. You must file this form more than two weeks before your defense, with signatures of at least three of your readers on it. Remember that your committee will need time to read your dissertation first. Communicate with your committee to know how much time each reader will need.

Expect to make some corrections and additions to your dissertation following your defense, and then deposit your dissertation according to the instructions given when you filed your “Application for Final Exam.”


While the road ahead has a number of steps, by becoming acquainted with it now, you have helped set yourself up for success. Should you ever feel off course, remember to check in with your advisor, graduate chair, or the Degree Specialist. They can each offer unique support and help you achieve your goal—earning a degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.