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General Registration Policies

Only students who have been officially admitted and matriculated into a degree program approved by The Graduate School may register for courses to earn credits toward a Graduate School degree. Students may not simultaneously pursue any other degree programs at Northwestern or elsewhere unless part of an approved dual degree or approved ad hoc combined degree. The Office of the Registrar maintains a complete, up-to-date online class schedule, which can be found by selecting the "View the Quarterly Class Schedule" link on CAESAR. A quarterly reference copy is also available.

On this page:

Full Time Study

Full-time study is defined as no fewer than three and no more than four course units of credit  per quarter. Most courses carry one unit of credit.

Part Time Study

PhD students who, in exceptional cases, have received written approval of the program and Dean of The Graduate School to study on a part time basis must meet the continuous registration requirement as well as all degree requirements, including coursework and milestones. 

Master's students who have the program's approval to study on a part-time basis may meet the minimum coursework requirement by registering in one or two course units per quarter. 


All students register online through CAESAR by the published registration deadlines. Registration deadlines are listed on the University Academic Calendar. For courses requiring program consent, students should contact the department offering the course to obtain permission numbers.

Authorized Courses

Only courses listed in CAESAR with a career of "The Graduate School” are authorized for graduate credit and only those courses can be used to meet the minimum coursework requirement of nine quality letter-graded, graduate level course units (i.e., ABC grading, not P/NP or S/U). Courses are arranged in levels designated by number:

  • 300-level courses are primarily for advanced undergraduate students; some 300 level courses are approved for graduate credit.
  • 400-level courses or seminars are primarily for graduate students, but the major part of the work is not research.
  • 500-level courses are graduate courses in which the work is primarily research done by an individual student under faculty direction.

The number following the three-digit course number indicates whether the course is part of a sequence:

  • 0 = one-quarter course
  • 1,2 = two-quarter sequence
  • 1,2,3 = three-quarter sequence

The number of units for which a student is registered determines if a student is in full-time status. Most courses carry one unit. Students are considered to be full-time if they are registered for at least three units of credit.

Some registrations (e.g., 499 Independent Study or Projects and 590 Research courses) allow the student to register for anywhere from one to four units for the course. By registering for such courses for a total of three to four units, it is possible for a student to take only one or two courses and still be considered full-time.

TGS General Registrations

General courses of The Graduate School are designated with a subject code, "TGS." These TGS General Registrations are not graded and do not carry academic credit. 

TGS 500-0 Advanced Doctoral Study

Available to doctoral students who are primarily doing research and are receiving funding. Provides full-time status. Students may register for TGS 500-0 Funded Doctoral Study via CAESAR when they have completed coursework requirements or during summer quarters. TGS 500 is not graded.

TGS 512-0 Continuous Registration

Available to students who have completed the program coursework and are continuing in their degree program (writing a thesis or dissertation and/or performing research required for the degree), but not receiving funding. TGS 512-0 Continuous Registration is a full time, ungraded registration intended for students who are continuing to work in a full-time capacity toward degree completion.

TGS 512-0 Continuous Registration is $100/quarter and allows for:

  • Continuation of the student's Net ID and email account
  • Access to University facilities such as libraries, labs, and sports facilities
  • Maintenance of one's visa status
  • The ability to defer student loans
  • The ability to take additional cost-of-living loans (federal and alternative) as determined by their financial state; and
  • Ability to enroll in NU-SHIP (Northwestern University Student Health Insurance) and be charged the annual premium

Note that students enrolled in TGS 512-0 Continuous Registration:

  • are not eligible for TGS Activity Fee or its attendant services, including legal services and U-Pass
  • are not eligible for the health insurance subsidy and will be responsible for the full NU-SHIP premium unless a waiver is successfully submitted online in CAESAR by the applicable open enrollment deadline
  • may not register for any additional units of study
  • must be making progress toward degree completion

TGS 588-0 Resident Master's Study

Available to master's degree students who are primarily doing research related to a master's thesis or project. Provides full-time status, but allows no accumulation of credit or residency toward the master's degree. This registration requires The Graduate School's permission. To request TGS 588-0 Resident Masters Study enrollment students should first consult with the program Director of Graduate Studies or adviser, then email

Non-TGS Courses

Students may take courses outside of The Graduate School career. Courses not authorized for TGS credit do not count toward The Graduate School's minimum coursework requirement.

  • Students taking non-TGS graduate classes in the School of Education and Social Policy, McCormick School of Engineering, Bienen School of Music, School of Communication, or taking undergraduate classes may register using CAESAR by obtaining a permission number from the program offering the class.
  • Registration for classes in other schools, including Kellogg School of Management and School of Professional Studies, are handled through the respective schools' registrars. To request enrollments in other schools, students should contact Student Services.

Change of Registration

Course Withdrawal

  • A student may request permission from The Graduate School to withdraw from a course or courses after the published drop deadline (the end of the sixth week of the quarter) until 5pm two Fridays before the published last day of classes (per the University Academic Calendar), and before the due date of the final assessment in the class(es) in question. When the Thanksgiving or other University holidays conflict with this deadline, withdrawal petitions must be submitted by the last class/business day of that same week. The University Academic Calendar lists the withdrawal deadline for each quarter.
  • Students will be asked to attest that the due date for the final assessment (exam, paper, project, etc.) in the particular course(s) has not been reached, as that may fall before the deadline for withdrawal. Students who request withdrawal after the final assessment date has been reached will be in violation of the policy on academic integrity.
  • All approved withdrawals will result in a W (withdrawal) grade being posted to the transcript. A grade of W does not factor into the GPA, but remains permanently on the transcript. In no case will tuition be refunded when a student withdraws from a course or courses.
  • If the deadline to withdraw has passed, students should consult with the class instructor about the option of taking an incomplete or how to best complete the course.
  • To submit a request to withdraw from a course after the drop deadline students should submit the Course Withdrawal Request (Graduate). This form is only available after the self-service drop period has ended.
  • This process is distinct from requesting to withdraw entirely from the University. Students in The Graduate School who wish to withdraw from their program and the University must submit the Program Withdrawal Request form via TGS Forms in GSTS.

Summer Registration

Students must register for summer quarter if they are:


Students in The Graduate School do not have the option to register for courses as auditors.

Continuous Registration Policy

All active students in The Graduate School must be registered at Northwestern University in each of the fall, winter and spring quarters until all degree requirements have been completed. (See the master's and PhD sections of this catalog for information about degree completion.) Students who are working toward degree completion but are not required to enroll in coursework may register for the appropriate TGS general registration. Students on an approved leave of absence are not subject to the continuous registration policy during the leave period. 

Taking Courses at Other Universities (Traveling Scholar Program)

Students who wish to register at other universities for classes that are not available at their home institution may do so via two programs:

General Rules and Procedures for Traveling Scholars

  • Students who wish to take courses at other universities through the CME or BTAA programs must be enrolled full-time in a PhD program at Northwestern.
  • Students may only take classes at host institutions that are not offered at the home institution.
  • Eligible students must first consult with their adviser who will determine whether the off-campus opportunity is likely to enhance the student's course of study and ascertain that it is not, in fact, available on the home campus.
  • The student's home adviser and the host campus faculty contact must agree to allow the student to enroll in a course via the Traveling Scholar Program before the student submits the online application.
  • Traveling scholars remain registered at their home universities, paying the regular tuition and fees charged by their home institution. Traveling scholars are not billed tuition by the host institution, but may be assessed fees for certain services or benefits.
  • Credit earned by traveling scholars is accepted by Northwestern University for the equivalent level credit upon receipt of grade reports or transcripts from the host university. Credit toward a degree will be at the discretion of the student’s academic program.
  • Visits of traveling scholars may not exceed two semesters or three quarters regardless of the number of courses taken.
  • Students must submit the appropriate application form at least six weeks before the start of the course:
  • Applications must be approved by:
    • Student’s academic adviser
    • Student's Director of Graduate Studies or Department Chair
    • The Graduate School
    • Host institution
  • If approved, students will receive information about next steps in order be enrolled at the host institution. If enrolled at the host institution, the student will be enrolled in the corresponding traveling scholar registration status at Northwestern University.
    • Once the course is completed at the host institution and a grade assigned, a final, official transcript will be provided to Northwestern University. The Northwestern University transcript will be updated to reflect the host institution course information and final grade.
  • Students who need to drop a course at a host institution must:
    • Consult with the host school contact to determine if a drop is allowed
    • If permitted, make a formal request to the host institution to drop the course
    • Notify that the course at the host institution has been dropped (only after the drop is confirmed by the host institution)

Grades and Grade Requirements

Grading is the purview of course instructors. Students in The Graduate School must maintain a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0. Grades given for completed, credit-bearing graduate courses not taken on a pass/no credit (P/N) basis are:

Grade Grade Points
A 4.0
A- 3.7
B+ 3.3
B 3.0
B- 2.7
C+ 2.3
C 2.0
C- 1.7
F1 0
X1 Failed to earn credit: missed final examination
Y1 Failed to earn credit: work incomplete
PY1 Permanent incomplete

Note that X, Y, NR, PY and F grades do not award credit and do not count toward the minimum coursework required for a degree.

The following notations are ignored in computing the grade point average:

  • P: Pass with credit
  • N: No grade, no credit
  • K: In progress
  • S: Satisfactory: noncredit course
  • U: Unsatisfactory: noncredit course
  • W: Withdrawn by permission
  • NR: No grade reported by instructor
  • X, Y: Incomplete
  • PY: Permanent incomplete

Pass/No Credit Option

Students will follow individual program requirements regarding graded coursework. Courses may be taken Pass/No Pass (P/N) only when this grading basis is available for selection in CAESAR. No individual exceptions will be allowed.

  • 590 research registrations must be taken on a P/N basis. A grade of K (in progress), not a Y (incomplete), is given when the work for 590 is in progress. 

Incomplete Grades

A grade of Y may be given when a student does not submit all assigned work in a course; a grade of X may be given when a student fails to take the final examination. It is up to the course instructor to determine whether an incomplete (X or Y) grade is appropriate. Typically, a grade of Y or X is reserved for students who experience extraordinary, catastrophic events beyond their control and is assigned only in extreme and unusual cases.

Students should make up incomplete work within one calendar year for a class in which an X or Y grade has been assigned. Course instructors and/or individual academic programs may impose stricter timelines for completing work. Outstanding incomplete (X or Y) grades may lead to probation and/or may prevent graduation. Students may not graduate with X,Y, K, or NR (Not Reported) grades on the transcript.

A permanent incomplete (PY) may be recorded for a student in The Graduate School in extraordinary circumstances as determined by the instructor (or their proxy) and with approval from the Director of Graduate Studies, adviser and The Graduate School.  For The Graduate School to consider a request for a PY, the following must be submitted to

  • A Change of Grade form signed by the course instructor. In unusual circumstances wherein the course instructor is no longer available, the Director of Graduate Studies may sign.
  • A General Petition form signed by the student, adviser, and Director of Graduate Studies that outlines the reason(s) for the request.  

A permanent incomplete has no impact on the GPA and may not be changed once assigned.

Grading is the purview of course instructors, who may choose to deny requests for incomplete (X, Y) or permanent incomplete (PY) grades.

Last Updated: September 12, 2023
Questions? Contact Student Services