What Does All But Dissertation Mean? [2024 Guide]

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While researching doctoral programs, it’s common to wonder, “What does All But Dissertation mean?”

What Does All But Dissertation Mean

All But Dissertation (ABD) status is a common label applied to students who haven’t finished their doctoral programs. A dissertation is a graduation requirement at many colleges and universities. It involves several years of research and writing and is considered one of the most challenging aspects of earning a PhD.

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If you’re hoping to earn your PhD, it’s important to know how ABD status can affect your academic journey and professional goals.

What Does All But Dissertation Mean?

student taking ABD degree

All But Dissertation (ABD) means that a doctoral student has not yet finished their dissertation, but they have completed their required coursework. The dissertation, or final research project, is a core graduation requirement in most doctoral programs.

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While earning a doctorate, a student must meet several criteria to qualify as being ABD. These are the requirements for ABD status:

  • You’ve completed all required coursework.
  • You’ve taken any qualifying or comprehensive exams.
  • You have not finished writing or defending your dissertation.

Students who have ABD degree status are not yet considered doctors. They may plan to complete their dissertations in the future or may have stepped completely away from their doctoral programs.

ABD status is not a term that’s included on your degree or transcript. It’s a way of explaining where you are on your academic journey. If you’re applying for a professional role, you might use ABD to indicate to the company that you have finished your doctoral courses.

If a student fails to finish their dissertation, and it’s required by their doctoral program, they will not be able to complete their PhD.

What Is an ABD Degree?

PhD student taking ABD degree

The term “ABD degree” is not used by any colleges or universities because there is actually no such degree. Stating that you have an ABD degree could be misleading, as you haven’t yet earned your doctorate or PhD.

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ABD status is an indicator that a doctoral student’s degree is still in progress, with the dissertation being the only outstanding requirement. Many people refer to a PhD ABD to explain that they’ve completed the necessary courses and exams for their program. All they have left is to complete their dissertation.

Why PhD Candidates Quit

doctorate student working on her dissertation

In addition to answering the question “What does ABD mean?”, it’s also helpful to address why some students have this status. The most common reasons include:

  • Low confidence. Doctoral programs are often intimidating, and the student may feel that they lack the ability to successfully complete a dissertation. They might also question their selected research focus.
  • Poor time management. The dissertation stage of a doctoral program is unstructured and requires the student to work more independently. Students who struggle with managing their time may procrastinate.
  • Lack of resources. Graduate school is expensive, and students may need to return to full-time employment before finishing their degrees. They may also struggle in schools with inadequate support programs.
  • Personal circumstances. An illness can significantly delay the completion of a dissertation. Some students have to shift their focus to family members or childcare.
  • Writing skills. Dissertations usually require students to write at least 100 pages about their research topic. This process can be especially difficult for those who don’t enjoy writing.

These challenges may cause students to drag out their dissertation projects or drop out of their doctoral programs altogether.

How to Complete Your Doctorate Degree

student taking Doctorate degree doing research for dissertation

Although ABD status can be discouraging to some, doctoral students can still move on and finish their degrees. Following these tips may help you make steadier progress:

  • Set up a designated workspace that minimizes distractions.
  • Choose a dissertation topic that you find engaging.
  • Create a schedule with specific times to conduct research and write.
  • Establish milestones for when you’ll complete certain stages of your dissertation.
  • Reach out to academic and personal support systems for help.
  • Build in breaks to disengage from your dissertation so you don’t suffer from burnout.

How long does it take to write a dissertation? Students aren’t expected to complete their dissertations in a matter of months, so it’s beneficial to give yourself credit for your achievements and pace yourself on the journey.

Earning Your PhD Degree

student completing her PhD degree

Completing a PhD program is an incredible accomplishment, even for online doctoral programs in education without dissertation, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed along the way. Having the status of ABD PhD acknowledges your hard work of completing all of your coursework requirements. All that’s left is to move forward and tackle your dissertation.

Some colleges and universities offer All But Dissertation programs that are designed for students who are struggling to complete their dissertations. They offer a high level of support during the research and writing process.

If you’re ready to finish your PhD, searching for ABD completion programs online could be a strategic next step in your academic journey.

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Kama has a master's degree in English from Virginia Tech and a bachelor's in English from Concord University. She previously taught college-level English composition, literature, and English as a second language courses. She is now a full-time writer in the education field, with a particular focus on educational technology and pedagogical best practices for English language learners.