For MDes students pursuing the three-semester track, the Qualifying Paper is one option to complete the final thesis graduation requirement. 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. The Qualifying Paper may be produced in conjunction with an Independent Study.

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 the MDes Declaration of Advisor form and submit it to the MDes Program Coordinator, Liz Thorstenson, at the MDes office or via email.

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 Declaration of Advisor Form.

Can the paper be written in conjunction with a course offered at another Harvard Graduate school? This requires special permission from the Area Heads, 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 Declaration of Advisor Form.


The Qualifying Paper must 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 reading advisor.

Please refer to the GSD Academic Resources page for writing resources, citation style guides, and academic writing best practices.

Timeline and Submission Dates

  • secure a GSD faculty advisor at the end of the second semester and file a Declaration of Advisor form by the add/drop deadline in September of the third semester (For Academic Year 2018-2019: September 21, 2018);
  • meet periodically with that advisor; and
  • submit the paper to the advisor by the end of fall semester in January (For Academic Year 2018-2019: January 18, 2019);
  • submit the final paper and signed cover sheet by the deadline in February (For Academic Year 2018-2019: February 1, 2019).
  • If the student cannot secure an advisor for the Qualifying Paper/Qualifying Project then he/she must choose the Three-Semester Coursework Option.

Details regarding file creation and the cover sheet template can be found in the Information For Current MDes Students section of the MDes website. No hard copies of the paper are required. PDFs only, please.

Contact Liz Thorstenson, MDes Program Coordinator, with any questions.