Guidelines for the Qualifying Paper

The Qualifying Paper is produced in conjunction with a course (or independent study) taken at the GSD during the first year of the MDes program. The course should be one that already requires a graded term paper of longer length and depth. Then, during the third semester, the course paper will be further developed and expanded into a robust research paper that meets the MDes program standards. There is no course credit for the Qualifying Paper, but it is a requirement of graduation.

At the start of the final semester the student must meet with the course instructor (or faculty member who you would like to do an independent study with) to discuss their intent to pursue the Qualifying Paper and request that the professor review and grade the Paper. If the faculty member agrees, the student should then complete and submit the Qualifying Paper Confirmation Form to the ASP Program Coordinator, or send an email to Liz Thorstenson, CC’ing the faculty member to confirm the arrangement.

Does the paper have to be read by the instructor teaching the course?
No, but the professor must have some related expertise in the subject matter of the paper and must sign the Confirmation Form.

Can the paper be written in conjunction with a course offered at another Harvard Graduate school?
This requires special permission from the area coordinators, and the student must also have a GSD faculty member agree to read and grade the paper. In this case, both professors would need to sign the Qualifying Paper Confirmation Form.


The Qualifying Paper should be no fewer than 60 pages in length (excluding exhibitions, images, proformas, diagrams, images, figures, tables, and the list of references, etc.) Papers should be written in 11 size font with 1” margins and 1.5 line spacing. Other formats or media are possible, to be confirmed with the grading instructor and the program directors.

Submission Dates

The student is responsible for writing the Qualifying Paper by the end of the final semester. The student should agree with the faculty reader upon a date for submitting final manuscripts for review and comment, e.g., at least two weeks before final submission dates so that there is time for review and suggested revisions. Again, this submission must occur before the final grades are due. Once the paper is graded and satisfactorily meets the terms of the Qualifying Paper, the student must obtain the faculty member’s signature on a standardized cover sheet to fulfill the MDes graduation requirement. A PDF/A must be provided to the program office that includes the signed cover sheet. Details regarding file creation and templates for the cover sheet can be found in the For Current Students section of the MDes website.

All signed cover pages and files must be submitted to the MDes office no later than the Friday of the week before degree vote week.
For Academic Year 2016-2017: February 3, 2017; for Fall Graduates, May 12, 2017 for Spring Graduates.
For Academic Year 2017-2018: February 2, 2018; for Fall Graduates, May 11, 2018 for Spring Graduates.

Contact Liz Thorstenson, Program Coordinator, with any questions.