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Graduate Student Handbook

Section 3. Degree Certification

Master's Degree Requirements | Sample Forms

Doctoral Degree Requirements | Sample Forms

The University of Massachusetts Amherst awards graduate degrees three times each year: 1 September, 1 February, and at the May Commencement. Deadlines for completing all degree requirements and submitting required forms to the Graduate Student Service Center are 31 August, 15 December (or the next workday), and 15 April (or the last work day prior to these dates) for the respective award dates. Actual degrees are recorded upon the Graduate School's verification of degree completion, with diplomas being mailed to degree recipients approximately two months following the degree date. Prior to the formal awarding or posting of an advanced degree, the Graduate School can furnish a certification attesting to the completion of all degree requirements, provided all academic requirements and financial obligations to the University have been met. Requests for this certification must be made in writing, noting the person/agency to whom such a document should be sent. These requests will be handled in the order received; please allow sufficient time for processing, especially immediately following the filing deadline. The annual University Commencement ceremony takes place at the end of the spring semester (the exact date is published in the University Calendar and in the Graduate School Bulletin). Doctoral candidates must have completed all degree requirements by the April deadline to participate in the ceremony. Master's degree candidates may attend Commencement if they have submitted the Degree Eligibility Form by the April deadline, completed thesis and program examination requirements, and anticipate completing all courses by the end of the spring semester. Students who were awarded degrees the previous September or February are also invited to attend Commencement. Information regarding Commencement activities is sent to prior degree recipients in March. Any questions regarding Commencement should be directed to the Graduate Student Service Center.

a. Master's Degree Requirements

1. Credit Requirement:
A minimum of 30 graduate credits are required for a master's degree; 21 must be in the student's major field unless a higher number is required by the student's program. A minimum of one-half of the total required credits must be on a letter-graded basis. Any portion of the remaining credits may be graded Satisfactory subject to prior approval by the student's department/program. Credits transferred from another institution cannot be used to satisfy the University's requirement for graded credits nor the 600-800 course level requirement. Graduate courses which have been applied toward any baccalaureate or advanced degree may not be used for fulfilling requirements for any other master's degree at the University.

A. Thesis Option: Graduate students who write a thesis cannot count more than ten (10) thesis credits toward the master's degree. The number of Special Problems (Independent Study) credits is limited to six (6), except for M.F.A. students who are allowed 12 credits. Excluding thesis credits, graduate students must earn an additional six (6) credits in the 600-800 course level range.

B. Non-Thesis Option: Graduate students who do not write a master's thesis must earn a minimum of twelve (12) credits in the 600-800 course level range.

2. Language Requirement:
No foreign language is required by the Graduate School; however, some programs do require a language proficiency. Refer to the Graduate School Bulletin and program literature for foreign language requirements and the competency levels.

3. General Examination:
Although the Graduate School does not require a general master's examination, some programs do. In programs which do require a final examination, the examination is not optional to individual students; all students must take it. For students choosing the thesis option, a final examination is required, and it may not necessarily be limited to the thesis topic. The result of the examination should be forwarded to the Graduate Student Service Center.

4. Thesis Option:
In addition to the requirements which apply to all master's degree candidates, the following requirements apply specifically to graduate students who anticipate submitting a master's thesis. A terminal project does not constitute a thesis and is, therefore, not covered by the following requirements:

A. Committee: Preparation of the master's thesis shall be under the direct supervision of a Thesis Committee. That Committee shall consist of one or more members of the Graduate Faculty recommended by the Graduate Program Director (GPD) and/or Department Head/Chair of the student's major program. A thesis committee has been officially constituted when the Graduate Dean sends formal notification of its formation to all members, to the Graduate Program Director, and to the student. Members of the Thesis Committee must agree to, not only assist in the supervision of the thesis project, but also attend the defense. Selection of the committee is a matter of "academic judgement" which should be made by the GPD and the Department Chair, and approved by the Graduate Dean. Students should be reminded that most faculty are on nine-month contracts and should not necessarily assume that committee members will be available during the summer months.

B. Outline: A master's candidate must prepare a suitable thesis outline to be approved and signed on the cover sheet, by each member of the approved Thesis Committee and the Graduate Program Director or Department Head/Chair. The signed copy of the thesis outline is forwarded to the Graduate Student Service Center for inclusion in the candidate's file, at least four (4) months prior to the date that the thesis defense is scheduled.

C. Master's Thesis: A master's thesis must be typed in a prescribed style (see the Typing Guidelines for Master's Theses and Doctoral Dissertations) and submitted electronically through the University of Massachusetts Amherst ScholarWorks for M.A. and M.S. or ScholarWorks for M.F.A. website. The thesis must be approved and signed by all members of the thesis committee and the Department Head/Chair. One original of the thesis signature page is required to be submitted on acid free paper to the Graduate Student Service Center. Some departments require an additional copy of the thesis for their own files. As a service for students, we have a list of binderies available at the Graduate Student Service Center for interested students.

D. Thesis Credit: A master's candidate must register for one (1) to ten (10) credits of thesis (699). (See department requirements in the Graduate School Bulletin for the specific number in each program.) There is no maximum number of thesis credits allowed; however, a student may use no more than ten (10) thesis credits (18 credits for M.F.A. students) to meet the total number of degree credits required for the degree.

E. Thesis Defense: The result of the Thesis Defense is forwarded to the Graduate Student Service Center directly following the Examination.

5. Degree Eligibility Form:
The Degree Eligibility Form (available online and in the Graduate Student Service Center) must be completed by all master's candidates and signed by the Graduate Program Director and the Department Head/Chair. The graduate student should verify the accuracy of the information which is put on this form from his/her permanent record (an unofficial copy of the student's record is available on SPIRE). The completed form, with appropriate signatures, must be received by the Graduate Student Service Center by the posted deadline. (See Check List for Master's Degree). These deadlines are strictly observed and will not be extended. Degrees cannot and will not be awarded retroactively.

6. Requirements for a Dual Master's Degree :
The intent of a dual master's degree option is to encourage students to pursue interdisciplinary studies in two clearly related programs. By undertaking this simultaneous pursuit, the student earns a master's degree in each of the two programs, while completing somewhat fewer credits than would be required to complete the programs separately.

  1. All degree requirements of each of the two degrees must be completed. In particular, the core courses in each program must be completed. However, courses in one program may be used to satisfy elective requirements in the cooperating program, and visa versa .
  2. The total number of degree credits will be at least equal to 60 credits of which no fewer than 30 credits must come from each of the two programs.
  3. If either of the cooperating degree programs requires a thesis, a thesis will be required under the dual degree option. The thesis should address a topic which is derived from the rationale for the dual degree.
  4. In order for a student to be permitted to exercise the dual degree option, the student must meet the entrance requirements of each individual program and be admitted by both programs.
  5. Both degrees must be awarded concurrently. Neither of the two degrees awarded under the dual degree option shall be awarded retroactively.
  6. The Statute of Limitations for completion of a dual degree option shall be five (5) years.
  7. A student who does not complete both courses of study required by the cooperating programs may be awarded one Master's degree upon completion of the program requirements for one of the two programs.

A dual master's degree option can be approved at the request of two cooperating master's degree programs, and with the agreement of the Graduate School, provided certain requirements are met. There are no new degrees or programs associated with adding a dual degree option to the offerings of each of the cooperating programs. However, the addition of this option will be subject to Graduate Council and Faculty Senate approval.

7. Master of Arts in Teaching
The Master of Arts in Teaching program is primarily for those who do not have adequate academic preparation nor appropriate teaching experience, but who do hold a bachelor's degree to become effective teachers either at the secondary school or community/junior college level. The M.A.T. program leads to a terminal degree combining professional aspects of the M.Ed. degree with the academic tradition of the M.S./M.A. degree. Thirty-nine credits are required for the secondary school option, and 45 credits for the community/junior college option. A maximum of nine graduate credits of grade B or better from another accredited institution may be applied toward the degree, upon recommendation by one of the participating programs (Spanish, Classics, French and Italian) and approval by the Graduate Dean.

8. Master of Fine Arts
The Master of Fine Arts degree program is designed particularly for those interested in the creative aspects of the arts and may be obtained in the Department of Art for work in the visual arts, the Department of English for work in creative writing, or the Department of Theater for work in dramatic art. The basic requirements for the degree are:

1. Sixty credits at the graduate level. Not more than 12 credits may be transferred from other institutions upon recommendation of the department and approval of the Graduate Dean. No more than 18 credits may be earned for the thesis.

2. The exact nature of the thesis project will be determined by the student's major adviser in conference with the student. It is to be understood that the student will produce a work in the creative arts. A written analysis of the work itself and of the procedures used in producing it is required. The candidate will be asked to pass an examination in the major field in addition to presenting the thesis project publicly.

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b. Doctoral Degree Requirements

1. Credit Requirements:
The number of courses required prior to a student taking his/her Preliminary Comprehensive Examination is determined by the student's adviser/guidance committee/Graduate Program Director. The Graduate School requires no minimum number of credits for a doctoral program, with the exception of dissertation credits.

2. Residency Requirement:
A doctoral candidate must spend the equivalent of at least one continuous academic year of full-time graduate work (nine credits per semester) in residence at the University. The residency year must be either in a Fall/Spring or Spring/Fall sequence. During this year, the student must spend some part of each week physically on campus. Doctoral students enrolled in recognized off-campus programs may satisfy this regulation at their off-campus site.

3. Language Requirement:
No foreign language is required by the Graduate School; however, some departments do require language proficiency. Refer to the Graduate School Bulletin and program literature for foreign language requirements and competency levels.

4. Preliminary Comprehensive Examination:
The Preliminary Comprehensive Examination is prepared and administered by the candidate's department/program. Notification of the result of the examination should be forwarded to the Graduate Student Service Center.

5. Doctoral Dissertation Committee:
As soon as the student has passed the Preliminary Comprehensive Examination, the Doctoral Dissertation Committee is appointed by the Graduate Dean upon nomination and recommendation by the Graduate Program Director or Department Head/Chair. The Committee is composed of at least three (3) graduate faculty members: the chairperson, at least one other member from the candidate's department/program, and one member from outside the candidate's department/program. The committee has been officially constituted when the Graduate Dean sends formal notification of its formation to each committee member, the Graduate Program Director, and to the student. Members of the Dissertation Committee must agree to not only assist in the supervision of the dissertation project, but also conduct the Final Oral Examination. Selection of the committee is a matter of "academic judgement" which should be made by the Graduate Program Director and/or Department Chair and/or Adviser, and approved by the Graduate Dean. Students should be reminded that most faculty are on nine-month contracts and should not necessarily assume that committee members will be available during the summer months.

6. Dissertation Credit Requirement:
The total number of dissertation credits required varies, by department/program, from 10 to 18 graduate credits. See course number 899 in the Graduate School Bulletin under the appropriate program for the required minimum number of dissertation credits. There is no maximum number of credits to which a student is limited; however, a student can register for only a maximum of nine (9) credits per semester/session. Doctoral candidates will not be recommended to the Board of Trustees for the doctoral degree unless they have the requisite number of dissertation credits.

7. Dissertation Prospectus/Outline:
After passing the Preliminary Comprehensive Examination, the graduate degree candidate must prepare a dissertation prospectus/outline describing the research to be conducted, analyzed, and presented in the dissertation. The cover sheet must be signed by each member of the Dissertation Committee to indicate approval of the topic and its plan of execution. The Graduate Program Director or Department Head/Chair signs and forwards the prospectus to the Graduate Student Service Center. This copy must be received at least seven (7) months prior to the Final Oral Examination.

8. Announcement of Final Oral Examination:
All Final Oral Examinations/Dissertation Defenses must be announced In the Loop to allow interested Graduate Faculty and others to attend. The Graduate Student Service Center must receive written notification of the scheduling of a Final Oral Examination at least four weeks prior to the date of the defense. An examination cannot be held unless it has been publicly announced In the Loop . The examination must be held on the Amherst campus. All members of the Dissertation Committee must be present at the defense. (Note: All Graduate Faculty are invited to attend and cannot be excluded from a Final Oral Examination. Departments differ in allowing others to attend. Courtesy suggests that the Chair of the Committee, whose name is published In the Loop , be consulted by others attending the Defense, with the stipulation above.)

9. Final Oral Examination Results:
The result of a Final Oral Examination is forwarded to the Graduate Student Service Center directly following the examination.

10. Dissertation:
The dissertation must be typed in a prescribed style (see the Typing Guidelines for Master's Theses and Doctoral Dissertations) and submitted electronically through the University of Massachusetts Amherst dissertation submission site at ScholarWorks@UMass Amherst. The dissertation must be approved and signed by all members of the dissertation committee and the Department Head/Chair. The Graduate School is the final and only arbitrator of what is an acceptable dissertation. Inclusion of a copyright statement is required by the Graduate School, but registration of the copyright is optional.  If registration of the copyright is chosen, the copyright registration fee must be paid to the U.S. Copyright Office. The dissertation will be cataloged in the Library of Congress and in the W.E.B. Du Bois Library. Publication by ScholarWorks does not preclude the printing of the dissertation in whole or in part in a journal or as a monograph. As a service for students, we also have a list of binderies available at the Graduate Student Service Center for interested students.

11. Degree Eligibility Form:
The Degree Eligibility Form (available online or at the Graduate Student Service Center) must be completed by all doctoral degree candidates and signed by the Graduate Program Director and the Department Head/Chair. The candidate should verify the accuracy of the information on this form with his/her permanent record. The completed form, along with all materials (see Checklist for Doctoral Degrees) must be received at the Graduate Student Service Center by the posted deadline. These deadlines are strictly observed and will not be extended. Degrees cannot and will not be awarded retroactively.

12. Requirements for a Joint Doctor of Philosophy Degree:
A joint Ph.D. program can be approved in the Graduate Council at the request of two cooperating programs, providing the following requirements are met:

A. Students will apply for admission to a single doctoral program of their choice.

B. Following residence on campus for at least one semester, a student interested in a joint degree will apply for admission to the second program, provided that the Graduate Council has approved the specific joint degree program.

C. If the student is admitted to the second program, the original admitting program will still be credited for that student and the transcript will read "Program 1" for the original admitting department, and "Program 2" for the second program.

D. When the student is accepted into the second program, the statute of limitations will automatically be extended by two years.

E. The requirements of the Graduate School and all requirements of both graduate programs must be met, including passing preliminary comprehensive examinations in both programs.

F. Only one dissertation and one dissertation defense are required. There must be at least one member of the dissertation committee from each program and the outside member must be from outside both programs.

G. A joint degree means one Ph.D. in Programs 1 and 2, not two separate Ph.D. degrees. Such joint degrees will not establish any new degrees and are not new programs. The spirit of the joint doctoral degree is to foster cooperation among degree-granting units. Each program involved in any given joint degree retains, through its Graduate Program Director, full responsibility for ensuring that joint degree students fulfill all course and examination requirements relevant to its own program. A joint Ph.D. degree will be awarded only when all requirements have been met for both graduate programs.

13. Five College Cooperative Ph.D. Program
A cooperative Ph.D. program is offered by Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith Colleges, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The degree is awarded by this University, but in exceptional cases much of the work leading to it may be taken at one or another of the participating institutions. Departments authorized to offer the cooperative Ph.D. degree are: all departments in the biological sciences, Chemistry, Geology, Physics, and Astronomy.

An applicant must apply for the Five College Cooperative Ph.D. Program through the Graduate School of the University of Massachusetts. The applicant must then secure the approval of the appropriate academic department at the University. The application then will be forwarded to the appropriate Five College institution for its evaluation. The letter of acceptance to the applicant is sent only by the Dean of the Graduate School of the University of Massachusetts, not by the other cooperating institution.

Registration for the Five College Cooperative Ph.D. students is handled only through the Graduate School of the University of Massachusetts. Degrees awarded in this program will be appropriately indicated on the diploma and the permanent record. All requirements for the Five College Cooperative Ph.D. degree are similar to those for the Ph.D. degree at the University except for the residency requirement. Residence in this program will apply to the institution where the dissertation work is done. The names of the Graduate Faculty at cooperating institutions are listed in the Graduate Bulletin.