Best Practices

Preparing Effective Graduate Program Handbooks

best practices program handbooks
By Tamara Underiner on January 27, 2020

Program handbooks help students understand their program’s mission, visions, requirements and expectations, as well as offer thoughtful and inclusive resources for being a graduate stuudent at ASU. The Graduate College requires all programs to create handbooks and distribute them to students upon enrollment. Handbooks should be made accessible and readily available to download from the program or department websites. We recommend that program handbooks adopt positive, anti-racist language, and allude to, align with and build on the general Graduate College handbook.

 In addition, idividual program handbooks should contain the following elements:


  • ASU Charter.
  • Concrete justice, equity, diversity and inclusion statement.
  • Brief introduction to the program’s vision and mission, including its purpose and unique. characteristics, as well as potential career outlook.

Program General Admissions Information (online and immersion) 

  • Admission requirements and application processes.
  • Tuition costs, fees and residency requirements.
  • Contact information for graduate program coordinators and key advisors.
  • List or overview of faculty.
  • Student statements or testimonials.

Program Requirements 

  • Required coursework and electives.
  • Other elements that constitute the degree program, such as internships, practicum, research credits, language requirement, candidacy guidelines, etc.
  • Options for specializations and certifications.
  • Satisfactory academic progress (e.g., program requirements beyond Graduate College standards). 
  • Provisional acceptance guidelines.
  • GPA and course grade minimums may be stricter than minimums outlined in the Graduate College handbook).
  • Time-to-degree requirements if shorter than Graduate College standards.
  • Details about exams (deadlines, evaluations, etc.).
  • Graduation requirements.

Information About Culminating Events

  • Culminating experience guidelines and deadlines.
  • Procedures and resources for selecting a faculty advisor and master’s or doctoral committee.
  • Roles and responsibilities of graduate students and committee members, including mentoring and evaluations along the way.

Student Code of Conduct and Academic Integrity 

Department and University Procedures and Policies 

  • Registration and withdrawal from program/class.
  • Transferring credits from other programs. 
  • Continuous enrollment policy (forms).
  • Interactive plan of study (iPOS) and other graduation procedures. Policies for leaves of absence from coursework.
  • Dismissal criteria.
  • Arizona Board of Regent’s Code of Conduct.

Financial Assistance Policies and Procedures

  • Graduate fellowships and assistantships (teaching, research).
  • Links to appropriate policy guides for assistantships.
  • Use of departmental resources.
  • Absence and leave policies for assistantships.
  • Performance evaluation processes.

Conduct and Conflict Resolution

Clearly describe all grievance and appeal procedures. Note that these must correspond to school and university policies.

Department and University Resources 

Archiving and Graduate College Standards 

  • Graduate College policy requires programs to:
  • Date the handbook upon each update, notify students about the update and send a copy to the Graduate College.
  • Archive all prior versions of handbooks and make them accessible to students who are under grandfathered clauses.
  • Provide students information about access to archived versions of handbooks.

Program Handbook Exemplars

School of Music, Dance and Theatre, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts

Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Statement of Student Policies 

Computer Science PhD Graduate Handbook 

Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Graduate Program, Graduate Student Handbook

Doctoral/Specialist Inclusive Program in School Psychology, University of Washington

University of Maryland School of Music Academic Handbook


Download the PDF: Preparing Effective Graduate Program Handbooks