This webpage describes steps to completing a PhD degree at UW–Madison, which include:
- Meet the degree requirements
- Complete your preliminary examinations
- Defend and deposit your dissertation
Looking for master's degree requirements?
Click here for guidelines for completing your master's degree.
Want to track your academic progress?
Check your academic progress using the Graduate Student Tracking System (GSTS).
Need support completing your dissertation?
We can help. Campus offers dissertator support groups, dissertation writing camps, writing guides, and other resources.
Steps to Completing the Degree
- Meet the degree requirements
- Complete your preliminary examinations
- Defend and deposit your dissertation
You must meet both the program and the Graduate School requirements for graduation. You should be aware that some programs may have more rigorous requirements than the Graduate School’s minimum requirements. You should visit your program’s website for specific requirements and contact your graduate program coordinator for further information.
Note: The Graduate School does not use honors titles (e.g., Magna Cum Laude, Dean’s List, etc.). Graduate students are not eligible to take courses designated for undergraduate honors students.
Minimum graduate degree credit requirement
51 credits (before or after dissertator status)
A student’s program may decide to accept graduate coursework completed at another institution (earned post-baccalaureate) toward fulfillment of degree credit requirements. To learn more, see Minimum Graduate Degree Credit Requirement and Prior Coursework.
Minimum graduate residence credit requirement
32 credits (completed prior to achieving dissertator status)
The doctoral degree minimum residence credit requirement can be satisfied only with courses numbered 300 and above taken as a graduate student at UW–Madison. To learn more about this requirement, see Minimum Graduate Residence Credit Requirement.
Minimum graduate coursework (50%) requirement
At least 50% of credits applied toward the program’s graduate degree credit requirement must be courses designed for graduate work, including but not limited to online, thesis/research, independent study, and practicum/internship credits. To learn more about this requirement, see Minimum Graduate Coursework (50%) Requirement.
Breadth is a required component of doctoral training at UW–Madison. Given there are multiple paths to breadth, the Graduate School leaves the choice of whether students achieve breadth through a doctoral minor, Graduate/Professional certificate, or other means up to the student’s doctoral major program.
To learn more about meeting this requirement, see Policy on Breadth Requirement in Doctoral Training.
Grade point average (GPA) requirement
The Graduate School requires that students maintain a GPA of 3.00 (on a 4.00 scale) for all graduate courses (excluding research) to receive a degree (though many programs impose higher standards). All incomplete grades must be resolved before a degree is granted. To learn more, see Grade Point Average (GPA) Requirement and Probation.
Preliminary examinations assess knowledge of areas within the academic discipline. The student must obtain approval of the minor if the major program requires it and complete all the major courses.
Your program should arrange a preliminary committee and a dissertation committee with appropriate expertise to afford the breadth and depth needed in degree examinations. These committees may be composed of different members. The executive committee (or its equivalent) of a program/department is responsible for approving the composition of the preliminary exam and the dissertation committee. You should consult your advisor and your program’s student handbook for the specific function of degree committees (preliminary exam and dissertation) in your program.
To learn more about the functions and criteria of doctoral dissertation committees, see Committees. Use this online committee requirements tool to help you determine whether your proposed committee would meet the Graduate School’s minimum requirements for committee members.
Your program determines your eligibility to take the prelim examination(s). The program must notifies the Graduate School of a student’s admission to candidacy and requests the preliminary warrant a minimum of three weeks prior to the exam date.
After passing the preliminary examination, students have 5 years to take the final oral examination and deposit their dissertation. The 5 year clock starts on the first day of instruction of the term (Fall, Spring, or Summer) immediately following the completion of the preliminary examination. Failure to complete their degree within this period may result in students having to retake the preliminary examination and be re-admitted to candidacy.
Time limit extension for dissertators impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic
To offer flexibility amidst the major disruption that COVID-19 may have had on doctoral candidates’ research and scholarship progress, students who achieved dissertator status by the end of the 2020 summer term have automatically had the 5-year time limit extended by 8 months. Dissertators given this 8-month extension who need more time due to continued COVID-related disruption to their progress may request a further extension from the Graduate School. Decisions to extend the deadline beyond the additional 8 months are made on a case-by-case basis upon request of the student and their advisor. Students requesting an extension need to submit the request, along with a letter of support from their advisor, to email@example.com.
Doctoral Student Experience Survey (DSES)
The Doctoral Student Experience Survey (DSES) collects information at the time students make the transition to dissertator status. The survey covers career aspirations, academic experiences, and academic challenges, among other topics. Complete the Doctoral Student Experience Survey online. The Graduate School will use survey data to help identify strategies to improve student services.
After your program requests the preliminary exam warrant, you will receive an email with the link to the survey. All research doctoral students should complete the survey prior to submitting their signed preliminary examination warrant to the Graduate School.
Dissertator status is a unique fee status and is effective at the start of the semester following completion of all dissertator requirements for the doctoral degree except for the dissertation. The Graduate School requires all dissertators to maintain continuous enrollment of exactly three credits (exceptions may apply during the summer). In rare circumstances where this is not possible, a degree completion fee is assessed to recognize the inevitable use of university facilities up to and including the successful defense and submission of the dissertation. To learn more, see Dissertator Status and the Degree Completion Fee.
Step 0: Pre-checks (optional)
Pre-checks are used to answer formatting questions (e.g., use of tables, graphs, and charts), embargo/delayed release questions, or questions related to the degree granting process.
To request a pre-check, you may email a PDF of your entire dissertation to degree coordinator firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would prefer to meet in person, email email@example.com to arrange a time.
Step 1: Request your final warrant and defend your dissertation
Notify your graduate program coordinator to have them request your doctoral degree warrant from the Graduate School at least three weeks before the anticipated date of your final dissertation defense. You must be enrolled during the semester that you defend and deposit; if you want to defend and/or submit your dissertation to the Graduate School in the summer term, you must register for three credits of research for the eight-week summer session. Be very aware of two deadline options for depositing your dissertation. Depositing before the first deadline will result in the degree being awarded at the end of that term. The second deadline, often called the “window period” deadline, provides a little extra time to deposit after a term ends. Dissertations deposited during the window period will result in the degree being awarded at the end of the following term, but will not require enrollment in that term. The deadlines for both are very strict and occur at midnight Central Time. Be aware that failure to submit by the end of the “window” period at the end of each term will require enrollment in the following term in order for a degree to be awarded.
After your graduate program coordinator submits the doctoral degree warrant request, the Graduate School will review this request. The approved warrant will be available in the Grad Portal. If you pass the defense, your program will let you know how and when to collect electronic signatures on the warrant. When signing your warrant electronically, your committee members thereby approve the dissertation. (Note: Advisors no longer have to sign the abstract separately.)
Once the final warrant has been signed, you must upload an electronic copy in the administrative documents section of the ProQuest/UMI ETD Administrator website. Your graduate coordinator will also submit the warrant to the Graduate School in the Graduate Portal.
Step 2: Pay the dissertation deposit fee
Go to Grad Portal to pay the required $90 dissertation deposit fee, which covers the cost of processing the dissertation and publishing the abstract by ProQuest. The fee must be paid before submitting your dissertation electronically. The fee payment site provides an email confirmation with your fee payment receipt. Save this payment receipt as a PDF for the electronic dissertation deposit process. You also have the option to log in to the fee payment site and download a PDF of the receipt once you have paid. The receipt will be uploaded in the administrative documents section of the ProQuest/UMI ETD Administrator website.
Step 3: Complete the doctoral exit surveys
You must complete the following doctoral exit surveys before submitting your dissertation electronically. Each individual survey will provide a certificate of completion once you have submitted the survey. Save the individual certificates of completion as PDF documents to upload in the administrative documents section of the ProQuest/UMI ETD Administrator website.
- Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED): To complete the online Survey of Earned Doctorates you will first provide basic information including your email address. You will then receive an e-mail with a unique PIN and password. Access the SED survey site using the URL, PIN, and password sent to you in this email, and complete the survey. You must advance past the certificate of completion screen in order to submit the survey.
- Graduate School’s Doctoral Exit Survey (DES): The DES obtains information on your academic experience (e.g., program quality, support, advising) in your doctoral program and information about your postdoctoral plans. To complete the Doctoral Exit Survey online, enter your name as it appears in university records and your student ID number (10 digits). At the end of the survey, there is a survey completion screen. If you have problems accessing the survey, contact firstname.lastname@example.org and include your name and student ID number.
Step 4: Electronic deposit of your dissertation
After you complete Steps 1 to 3, you can submit your dissertation electronically to the ProQuest/UMI ETD Administrator website.
ATTENTION: Your submission of the dissertation is final and you are not allowed to make changes once it has been approved by the Graduate School Degree Coordinator. Your submission is not completed until you receive the confirmation email from the Graduate School Degree Coordinator.
Submitting your dissertation electronically has four steps:
- Prepare for submission
- Submit dissertation on ProQuest/UMI ETD
- Submit administrative documents
- Complete the final submit step
Read this section for detailed instructions for each step.
Before you begin the submission steps, decide whether or not you want to delay release of your dissertation. See the Guide to Preparing your Doctoral Dissertation, below, for more information on embargo/delayed release.
Then, be sure you have the following:
- Full text of your dissertation in PDF format. This must be one file. Fonts must be embedded. Security settings must be set to “no security.” Encrypted files cannot be processed for publishing. The maximum file size that can be uploaded is 1000 MB. The PDF file name cannot contain periods (except for the .pdf extension). Instructions for PDF conversion are available at the ProQuest/UMI ETD Administrator site under the “Resources and Guidelines” tab.
- UMI abstract text. This abstract, preferably not more than 350 words, must be in English. You will be asked to copy and paste this text during the electronic submission steps.
- Optional supplementary files. These images, data, etc. are an integral part of the dissertation, but not part of the full text.
- Advisor’s and other committee members’ names. These usually are listed as they appear on your approved warrant.
- Subject category. Choose one to three subject categories from the Subject Category list that best describe your dissertation subject area.
- Receipt confirming payment of the dissertation deposit fee. After you have paid the required $90 dissertation deposit fee, you will receive an e-mail receipt confirming payment.
- An electronic copy of the signed final warrant.
Go to the ProQuest/UMI ETD Administrator site and choose “Submitting Your Dissertation/Thesis.” Select University of Wisconsin-Madison from the list provided. Create an account or login using an existing account.
The ProQuest/UMI ETD Administrator website will walk you through a simple process of accepting the publishing agreement and uploading the files and information about your submission. If you need to finish your submission later, you can save your information and come back to finish.
At the submission step called Dissertation/Thesis Details, you will need to enter the following important information about your dissertation. Accuracy is essential.
- Title: Enter the full title of your dissertation, as it appears on the title page. Only some special characters can be used in this field. The title field does not accept subscript, superscript, or Greek letters; instead, you will need to spell these out. Select the year in which you completed your manuscript.
- Degree/Department Information: Select the year in which your degree will be conferred. If you are depositing during the window period and are uncertain, contact the Graduate School. Select the degree you will receive and your program.
- Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair: Enter your primary advisor’s name exactly as it appears on your warrant. Do not repeat your advisor in the list of committee members.
- Committee Members: Enter your committee members’ names exactly as they appear on your warrant.
- Description of Dissertation/Thesis: Select categories and keywords that identify your work.
- Abstract: Enter the text of your UMI abstract exactly as it was approved by your faculty advisor, preferably no more than 350 words.
At the submission step called Administrative Documents, you will need to upload the following items:
- Dissertation deposit confirmation receipt: Upload a PDF of the email receipt you received from the UW–Madison Graduate School fee payment website.
- The Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) certificate of completion: Upload the survey receipt as a PDF.
- The Graduate School’s Doctoral Exit Survey (DES) certificate of completion: Upload the survey receipt as a PDF.
- Signed PhD warrant: Upload your final signed PhD warrant as a PDF.
At the submission step called Notes to Administrator, indicate if you plan to attend the optional Graduate School final review.
You may choose to order additional copies of your dissertation and register the copyright of your dissertation – both of these items are optional. To learn more, see Copyright Resources.
Be certain to complete the final submit step at the ProQuest/UMI ETD Administrator website. You MUST submit your dissertation to the ProQuest/UMI ETD Administrator website by 11:59 pm CST on the degree deadline date in order to receive your degree in a given term. Keep in mind that submissions are reviewed by the Graduate School Degree Coordinator in the order they were received. After you complete the final submit step, you will receive an email confirming the submission. When you submit your dissertation, it will be reviewed by a Graduate School Degree Coordinator to ensure that you have followed all formatting requirements.
The Graduate School Degree Coordinator will approve and deliver your dissertation to ProQuest/UMI Dissertation Publishing for microfilming and binding. The UW–Madison Library will receive a bound copy and an electronic version of your dissertation shortly thereafter. You will receive an official email notification when the Graduate School has approved your dissertation for publication.
Step 4.0 Graduate School email confirmation
After you have successfully completed steps 1 – 4, please check your email at the address that you entered when you created an account on the ProQuest website. Look for a message from the ETD administrator. If formatting changes are requested, please complete them and reupload your dissertation as soon as possible, as instructed in the email. If your dissertation has been accepted, the email will confirm this fact. Next please make sure that your instructor has or will submit a final grade, which should be S for satisfactory if you are enrolled for 990. Please be aware that no degrees are posted before the degree deadline and it may take 4-6 weeks for your degree to be posted after the degree deadline.
Commencement – December and May
If you want your name to be printed in the commencement program, you must submit an Apply to Graduate application through your MyUW Student Center. This is in addition to contacting your program to request your degree warrant from the Graduate School. You may attend the ceremony even if your name is not included in the commencement program. August does not have a commencement ceremony. If you plan to graduate in August, you may attend either the May or December ceremony by submitting the Apply to Graduate application through MyUW Student Center. Cap and gown rentals are at University Bookstore. Guests can attend without tickets.
Degree completion letter
The Registrar’s Office handles degree completion letters. If you have completed all degree requirements and deposited your thesis or dissertation and are waiting until the next degree conferral date to receive your degree, you may request and receive a letter indicating that all requirements have been completed. All grades from the semester in which you are depositing your dissertation (and all other outstanding grades) must be reported to the Graduate School before you can receive a completion letter. If you need a degree completion letter before the end of the semester, you may bring the completed paper grade change form (signed by the advisor and the chair of the department) to the Graduate School. Allow five business days for the processing of your degree completion letter request.
The Registrar’s Office will send your diploma to your diploma address approximately 12 to 14 weeks after degree conferral. Update your diploma address via the MyUW Student Center prior to the end of the semester in which you are graduating. Students with holds will not receive their diploma until those holds are cleared.
A student’s name will be printed on the diploma as it appears on the student’s official university record. Changes to legal personal information including names can be requested online. For a student’s name change to appear on the diploma, the change must be made before the degree deadline in the semester the student will graduate.
Students who graduated after December 2015 may also access a Certified Electronic Diploma at no cost. A Certified Electronic Diploma is an official, portable, secure PDF version of the diploma that can be shared with anyone.
The Registrar’s Office posts degrees on official transcripts approximately four to six weeks after the end of the semester. You can order your official transcripts online.
Students may also request a campus copy of transcripts of their student record from MyUW Student Center. A campus copy student record is not an official transcript but it does indicate all internal university memoranda. The Registrar’s Office also provides more details on how to request a campus copy student record.
Guide to Preparing your Doctoral Dissertation
We encourage you to read through these requirements before you start writing. These guidelines will help you prepare your dissertation to ensure that it constitutes a permanent document of quality appropriate for a major graduate institution. Your dissertation is required to conform to these standards. It will be fully corrected, complete, and submitted electronically as a single PDF file.
Keep in mind that the formatting must be consistent throughout the dissertation with the exception of the Appendix. Previously published articles can be placed in the Appendix in their published format. If previously published work is included in a chapter, its format must conform to the formatting guidelines.
Dissertations must acknowledge contributions from other individuals, including co-authors of published material that appears in the document, such as designing the research, executing the research, analyzing the data, interpreting the research/data, or writing, proofing, copyediting the manuscript. Contributions can be recognized in an acknowledgements section or at the beginning of a chapter where the contributed material is used.
Electronic and paper copies of approved dissertations are sent to the UW–Madison Memorial Library. They can be found electronically on MadCat and the ProQuest database. ProQuest/UMI Dissertation Publishing archives all accepted dissertations.
View the Formatting Requirements for your Doctoral Dissertation as a PDF checklist.
In addition to support and feedback that your faculty advisor, mentor, and committee members will provide, be sure to take full advantage of the dissertation support opportunities at UW–Madison.
For more information
Doctoral Degree Coordinator
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You may put unusual or supplementary materials (such as questionnaires or photos) into appendices. Number the appendices consecutively with the text of the dissertation. The formatting of the appendices must meet the standards for the rest of the dissertation. However, the text in the appendices can be single-spaced.
The bibliography should meet your major program’s style requirements, which often conform to the leading journals or book series of the field. They may be single-spaced with an additional space between entries.
Equations, superscripts, and subscripts
Equations, superscripts, and subscripts are acceptable in your dissertation provided they are legible when microfilmed. Generally, superscripts and subscripts may be one size smaller than the text. To identify each equation clearly, please isolate it with double spacing.
Footnotes and endnotes
Footnotes and endnotes may be single-spaced with an extra space between notes. The font size can be one size smaller but must be legible. Please follow the preference of your major program when deciding where footnotes or endnotes should be placed in your text.
Figures and graphs must meet the same standards as the rest of the dissertation. Headings, keys, and all other identifying information must be of the same quality and format as the text. The font size can be one size smaller but must be legible. If graphics, tables, or figures are in landscape mode, orient the top of the printed page at the dissertation binding edge (left side of the paper) with the page number in the upper right-hand corner in the portrait page setup. Images may be submitted in black and white or color.
You may include quotations in languages other than English in your dissertation. However, the dissertation itself must be in English unless your program certifies that one or both of the following conditions have been met: the foreign language is that of the readers to whom the work is addressed; or translation into English would make the study obscure and imprecise. Dissertations submitted by students from a language program are acceptable in the language of that program.
- Use a minimum of 1″ margin on all four sides.
- Page numbers must be in the upper right-hand corner at least a half inch from the top and one inch from the side of the page.
- Page headers: Do NOT use page headers (except for page numbers) or decorative borders.
The title page and copyright page (if you are retaining and registering copyright) are not counted in the numbering of pages. The other pages are counted in the numbering of pages.
- Number the preliminary pages (for example, dedication page, acknowledgments page, table of contents, and abstract) that precede the main text with lower case Roman numerals beginning with i. Put page numbers in the right-hand corner one inch from both top and side of the page. Page numbers half an inch from the top of the page are also acceptable.
- Number the main text consecutively beginning with Arabic numeral 1 in the upper right-hand corner one inch from both top and side of the page. Check your dissertation to ensure that all pages are present and in numerical order.
- If you are using Microsoft Word, find directions about how to start page numbering later in your document.
- Number appendices consecutively with the text, continuing the Arabic numeral sequence.
- Landscaped pages must have page numbers in portrait position and the top of the page must be on the left-hand, binding side of the page when it is rotated. If the page is *not* rotated, then the page numbers must be on the bottom, right-hand side of the page and sideways, so that when the pages are rotated, the page numbers are in portrait position. There are a number of ways to do this. For methods using Microsoft Word, such as text boxes, see instructions and examples of rotating page numbers. Note that if you do not rotate the landscaped pages, you want page numbers to appear in the same position as the highlighted number 3 in the second row of examples.
Production of document
- Use 10 to 12 point type.
- Double-space the main text of the dissertation.
- Lengthy quotations, footnotes, and bibliographies may be single-spaced with a double space between entries or paragraphs.
- Maps, charts, etc. are acceptable.
The title page is the very first page of your dissertation. Do not number the title page. At the bottom of the title page, you must indicate the date you passed your final defense (final oral examination) and list your committee members’ names, titles, and programs. Follow this sample title page format exactly.
If you are depositing your thesis in the window period then your title page should reflect the year in which your degree will be granted.
When you deposit your dissertation electronically, ProQuest/UMI will require you to provide the text of your UMI abstract. Please have this text ready when you begin the online submission process. The abstract must be in English and should preferably be no more than 350 words. When your advisor signs the warrant, they approve the dissertation and the abstract.
Abstract within dissertation
Your program may require an abstract to be part of the dissertation. Please follow your program’s style requirements, and number all of these pages as part of the preliminary material (use lower case Roman numerals). This abstract must be included in the table of contents.
Copyright page (optional)
You may include a copyright page; if you do, insert it directly after the title page. Do not number the copyright page. View a sample copyright page. Center the text in the bottom third of the page within the dissertation margins.
Registration of copyright (optional)
You are automatically protected by copyright law, and you do not have to pay in order to retain copyright.
There is an additional fee of $75 for registering your copyright, which is a public record, and is payable to ProQuest/UMI at the time of electronic submission. If you register your copyright, ProQuest/UMI will send a digital copy of your dissertation to the Library of Congress. You are not required to register your copyright through ProQuest/UMI; you may choose to do it on your own. More information is available online at www.copyright.gov and from UW Libraries.
After you submit the PDF of your dissertation electronically, you will not be permitted to make any additional corrections. Therefore, make sure the PDF is completely accurate before you submit.
Reprints and use of copyrighted material
You are responsible for appropriate use of copyrighted materials in your thesis. Some material may be available for use without restriction while other material may require written permission from the rights holder. Other material may be appropriately used without written permission under the “fair use” provisions of the copyright law. General guidance regarding use of copyrighted materials is available from ProQuest/ UMI or from the UW–Madison Libraries.
- Fair Use: Read general information regarding how to determine if your use of copyrighted materials constitutes fair use. Additionally, your own professional or disciplinary societies may have fair use statements to help you negotiate disciplinary specialties.
- Written Permission: If written permission is required, you are responsible for obtaining such permission and maintaining records of the written permission to use the copyrighted material in your thesis. You can usually get permission by sending a letter of request to the copyright holder. Normally, your letter will be returned with an approval stamp or signature. Some copyright holders require a specific form of acknowledgment. A sample permission request letter is offered by ProQuest/UMI. Note that obtaining written permission can be a lengthy process. Plan ahead and budget ample time to obtain all required permissions.
Producing copies of your dissertation (optional)
There are many options available in terms of producing copies of your dissertation. You do NOT have to order copies through the UMI/ProQuest ETD Administrator site but that option is available. Some other ways to produce copies of your dissertation include:
- UMI/ProQuest ETD Administrator site: order copies
- Printing shop (FedEx Office, Bob’s Copy Shop, etc.)
- Local book bindery (Grimm Book Bindery, Mc Ginn Bindery, etc.)
As a public research university, the University of Wisconsin–Madison considers the commitment to research a central part of its mission. As such, there is an expectation that research conducted by graduate students is made available to the public. Therefore, dissertations are normally open and searchable online shortly after they are deposited with ProQuest.
However, if a publication or a patent is pending, an embargo, or delayed release, may be requested during the submission process, in which case the citation and abstract will be available in ProQuest while the full text is under an embargo.
Please decide whether or not to delay release before you submit your dissertation. All decisions are final. Once your dissertation has been delivered to ProQuest, it is too late to delay release.
The only way to delay release is to make the appropriate selection during the submission process. You will have the option to select “No” to the Publishing Options question: “I want my work to be available in ProQuest as soon as it is published.” Next you will choose a time period of 6 months, 1 year, or 2 years for embargo. If you would like to select 3 years, select “other” and then write a note to the administrator in the text box below your selection, explaining that you would like 3 years. These options do not require special permission, but you should have discussed this with your advisor in advance.
Any request for more than a 3-year embargo or an extension of the original embargo request will be reviewed by the Graduate School Associate Dean. Such a request requires a letter to be signed by the student and the advisor in advance.
In order to qualify for an embargo extension, you are required to contact the degree coordinator prior to the expiration date of your embargo. Again, it is your responsibility to contact the Graduate School before your dissertation is released. Once a dissertation embargo has been lifted, it will not be reinstated.
Steps to prepare for commencement
Once you have met your degree requirements, you may choose to attend a commencement ceremony. Commencement occurs in May and December each year and is coordinated by the Office of the Chancellor. There is no summer commencement ceremony. If you plan to graduate in August, you may attend either the May or the December ceremony. If you want your name to be printed in the commencement program, you must apply to graduate through your MyUW Student Center by the deadline each semester in addition to contacting your major program to request a degree warrant from the Graduate School. The deadline to request your warrant can be found in the Degree Deadlines, below. You may attend the commencement ceremony even if your name is not included in the commencement program. Academic attire is required to participate in the commencement ceremony. Attire can be purchase or rented from the University Book Store. Your school/college or program may also have its own commencement activities.
Doctoral degree deadlines
- April 21
- May 14
- June 18
- August 4
- August 27