MS and PhD Milestones and Steps to Graduation


Rolled diploma and confetti.


Are you reaching a milestone of graduate study this semester? If so, congratulations! The UW Madison Graduate School requires a “warrant” for the following milestones:


  • completing your preliminary exams (doctoral students only)
  • reaching dissertator status (doctoral students only)
  • defending your MS thesis or doctoral dissertation


If and when any of the above situations apply, it is important to follow these steps:

Step One – Make sure you have submitted your “Certification” Form

  • After forming your thesis/dissertation committee, completing this form should be your first milestone of graduate study. It should be completed after you have held your first committee meeting, generally by the end of your first year as a graduate student. Your faculty advisor and committee members are responsible for advising you on program requirements and course selection.



  • The “Certification Form”, otherwise known as a Program of Study, is a document signed by your committee certifying that your program of study meets minimum requirements set by the program and that we are documenting the approval of any prior coursework with the UW Graduate School. You can find links to relevant forms on the department website.

Note: some programs also require approval and signatures from the department’s Curriculum Committee. Be sure to follow the instructions on the form and reach out to Russell Labs Hub staff and/or your department’s Curriculum Committee for details.


Unsure of which credits count for what?

Try using the Graduate School Tracking System (GSTS) to see if you’re on track.

  • This tool is especially helpful for identifying courses that count for minimum graduate school requirements based on courses you have taken at UW-Madison, but note that it does not reflect prior coursework or courses used to meet admission requirements (aka “foundational courses”). Any courses taken prior to admission cannot be tracked by this tool. Be sure to check with your faculty advisor and committee members to ensure you are completing requirements for the degree. If you or your committee members have questions about policies or requirements, please consult with appropriate Russell Labs Hub staff.

Once your Certification form is completed and signed

  • Please submit it via email to
  • Russell Labs Hub staff will then upload your Certification Form to your digital file. Please keep a copy for your own records as well.
    • Extra credit: you can also upload forms to your Grad Portal at – add them to the “other documents” section in the portal. 

Step Two – Request your warrant

  • Request warrants (MS, prelim, or final PhD) using the Warrant request form (online)
    • Try to do this a minimum of 4 weeks before your defense date!
  • The web form initially comes to the Russell Labs Hub staff.
  • Hub staff will then request your warrant from the Graduate School.
  • Once the Grad School generates the warrant, you will be able to circulate it for signatures digitally.

For doctoral students 

If you are a doctoral student requesting your prelim warrant, please be sure to review and familiarize yourself with the requirements for dissertator status.


Step Three – Consult with Your Faculty Advisor(s) and the Grad School’s Website for Final Steps and Resources

Please consult with your faculty advisor(s) and the Graduate School’s Completing Your Master’s or Doctoral Degree website for additional steps and information to complete your degree. Your advisor(s) and committee members should be knowledgeable and able to advise in regards to internal department requirements. 


Dissertation Support

Campus offers dissertator support groups, dissertation writing camps, writing guides, and other resources. Find information and resources on the Graduate School’s Dissertation Help page. 

Best of luck on nearing or reaching your next milestone of graduate study! We are proud of your accomplishments and wish you well.


Milestones FAQ

What happens if I request my warrant late?

There are no consequences for not having your warrant created by your defense date – so no need to panic! Warrants can be created and signed after the date of your defense. We only ask that it be requested 4 weeks prior to the defense date so that Russell Labs staff can accurately keep track of student degree completion.

Why is it called a “warrant” anyway? That sounds intimidating!

Agreed! It’s an antiquated term for a form indicating something momentous or important is “warranted”. Rest assured this type of warrant has no legal significance.