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Frequently Asked Questions

Educational Records

What addresses are maintained and how are they ?

The Graduate School maintains two addresses for each student:

Mailing address is the address to which all correspondence is directed all year. It may or may not be a local address. (The student's diploma will be mailed to them at this address.)

Permanent Address is the address from which the student entered.

Addresses can be changed by the student on the web at https://spire.umass.edu or by email to gradrec@grad.umass.edu, by mail, in person or by telephone to the Graduate Records Office.

How is the statute of limitations (SOL) determined?

The Statute of Limitations is determined as part of the acceptance process. The rationale for the SOL is based on the constantly changing knowledge base within a discipline. Courses taken at the beginning of a student's graduate enrollment may be outdated by the time s/he finally graduates.

Under Graduate Council policy, the Graduate School determines a student's SOL when the applicant is recommended for admission. The criteria for that determination are as follows:

Master's degrees:

  • SOL's are 3 years, with the exceptions listed below;
  • For MFAs the SOL is 4 years; for part-time off-campus programs in engineering, labor studies, management, music education, nursing, nutrition, and public health practice, the SOL is 4 years.

Doctoral degrees for admission prior to Summer 2004:

  • For doctoral students without a master's degree in the major field, the SOL was set at 6 years.
  • For doctoral students with a master's degree in the major field, the SOL was set at 4 years.

Doctoral degrees for admissions starting Summer 2004 and prior to Summer 2009:

  • For doctoral students without a master's degree in the major field, the SOL was set at 6 years;
  • For doctoral students with a master's degree in the major field, the SOL was set at 4 years;
  • For doctoral students who have achieved Candidacy, the SOL is re-set to 5 years;

Doctoral degrees for admissions starting in Summer 2009:

  • For doctoral students prior to achieving Candidacy, the SOL is set at 6 years;
  • For doctoral students who have achieved Candidacy, the SOL is re-set to 5 years.
How does the GPD request an extension of a student's statute of limitations?

Extensions are possible if a student is making progress but has not yet completed all degree requirements. Only two year extensions for doctoral degrees will be considered. A request for the extension including reasons for the extension must be submitted to the Graduate Dean through SPIRE. Each case is reviewed individually and a new SOL is determined. GPDs are encouraged to request an appropriate new SOL and to set timelines for completing steps along the way so that progress can be judged fairly.

Is there any other way a statute of limitations gets changed?

Statute of Limitations are adjusted only upon recommendation of the GPD or if a student changes from one program to another, a new SOL may be assigned. A SOL will be extended when a Leave of Absence is approved.

What is Candidacy?

When a current doctoral candidate has satisfactorily completed all required coursework and passed a qualifying examination, the academic department can approve Candidacy for the student. There is a standard form available on the Graduate School website for notification to the Graduate School. Candidacy will be noted on the student's official transcript and the SOL will be adjusted to 5 years from the end of the semester that the student achieved Candidacy.

Can doctoral students admitted prior to Summer 2004 receive Candidacy? How would it affect the Statute of Limitations?

Only currently enrolled doctoral students can be granted Candidacy. The standard Candidacy form on the Graduate School's website should be sent to the Graduate School.  Candidacy will be backdated to the point at which it was achieved. For students who started their doctoral career in the Summer of 2004 or later, the SOL will be adjusted to five years after their candidacy date. In no case will a current time limit be shortened.

The student is not proceeding as quickly as the program would like. How can we "light a fire under him/her" to finish the degree?

The program might stipulate specific deadlines to be met for various stages in completing degree requirements as part of the SOL extension process. The GPD may require the student to sign the document as a condition of making the extension request.

When is a leave of absence appropriate? What is the procedure for requesting one?

Personal Leave of Absence: A Leave of Absence is appropriate when a student must take a semester or more away from the program and is not making any progress toward the degree. A GPD can request that a student be placed on leave of absence for generally one year at a time. During the leave a student must pay the program fee. A student is not eligible for a loan deferment when on a leave of absence.

Health Leave of Absence/Withdrawal: When a student's physical health or mental health precludes successful completion of his/her academic course work, the student may receive a health leave of absence or withdrawal from the University, upon recommendation by the appropriate physician or therapist of the University Health Services. Normally, the leave of absence/withdrawal will result from the student's voluntary efforts. In exceptional circumstances involving life-threatening behaviors, a student may be asked to leave the University involuntarily until those serious circumstances have been controlled. During the period of a health leave of absence the student must maintain his/her status by paying the Program Fee. Accordingly, the Graduate School will adjust the student's statute of limitations for the duration of the leave of absence. In order to resume enrollment, the student must obtain approval from the University Health Services. The full policy is available in the Graduate School Bulletin and from the Office of the Graduate Dean or the Office of the Graduate Registrar.

How do students get a transcript?

A student can obtain transcripts at the Graduate Records Office, 534 Goodell. Students must present a valid picture ID (UCard or driver's license) to obtain the transcript. Unofficial transcripts can be accessed immediately on SPIRE; there is an overnight wait for official transcripts.

How can a Graduate Program Director get up-to-date transcripts of their students? Are degree audits available for graduate students?

At the end of the semester and at least every two months, unofficial transcripts are sent to departments and students for students who have had grade changes since the last mailing. Degree audits are not available for graduate students.

What are the basic rules for transferring credits?

Courses from other institutions

  • credits are only transferable toward a master's program
  • graduate level courses only
  • cannot have been used for any other degree
  • grade must be B or better (Satisfactory and Pass grades are not acceptable
  • course(s) cannot have been taken more than 3 years prior to the student enrolling in the degree program at UMass
  • memorandum requesting the transfer from the GPD
  • transferred courses may not be used to satisfy the 600-800 level nor the graded credit requirements

Courses taken at the University of Massachusetts Amherst prior to enrolling in the Graduate School


As a Non-Degree student:

  • no more than 6 graduate level credits
  • course(s) cannot have been taken more than 3 years prior to student enrolling in the degree program
  • memorandum requesting the transfer from the Graduate Program Director

While an undergraduate student:

  • no more than 6 credits
  • course(s) cannot have been taken more than 3 years prior to student enrolling in degree program
  • the courses cannot have been used for the Bachelor's degree. A memorandum from the student's undergraduate department, from the undergraduate dean, and from the Undergraduate Registrar attesting to that fact must accompany the request from the graduate program director to transfer such credits

Through the Division of Continuing Education:

  • such courses are generally not acceptable
  • students in off campus programs should check with the Graduate Records Office to see if any courses could qualify for transfer
How does a currently enrolled graduate student change programs?

To change from one program to another, the student must file a reapplication form with the Graduate Student Service Center, and submit any supporting credentials which are not already on file in the Graduate School. The student/applicant is considered along with all other current applications to that program. Acceptance to on graduate program does not imply or guarantee acceptance to any other program. There is only one exception to this: if a student is changing from one master's program to another within the same department, a memo to the Graduate Dean requesting the change is sufficient. A change from master's to doctoral program within the same program does require a reapplication, but no application fee is charged.

Can graduate students receive simultaneous degrees?

Students may be enrolled in more than one degree program at a time. They must apply to and be accepted by each program. Courses used for one degree may not be used toward any other degree. The Statute of Limitations (SOL) for each degree is calculated separately. The degrees may be received concurrently or at different degree granting periods as long as the requirements for each are met.

Students who are enrolled in the dual master's programs should check with their program coordinator for specific information about SOL and course requirements.

What are the procedures for dismissing a student?

Dismissal is appropriate when the student has failed to meet University and/or departmental criteria for remaining in the program. A memorandum requesting the dismissal should be forwarded to the Graduate Dean. Official notification of this action will be sent by the Graduate Dean to the student.

Academic Dismissal: A student who in any two semesters, consecutive or otherwise, has semester averages of below 2.8 is subject to academic dismissal upon recommendation of the GPD to the Dean of the Graduate School.

Satisfactory or Reasonable Progress: A student must make satisfactory or reasonable progress toward completion of a degree program within the Statute of Limitations for that degree. A student who is not making satisfactory or reasonable progress is subject to termination upon the recommendation of the graduate program to the Dean of the Graduate School.

How does the GPD change the status (level) of a currently enrolled graduate student?

If the change is lateral (master's to master's) or a demotion (doctoral or master's/doctoral to terminal master's), then a memorandum recommending the change is sufficient. If the currently enrolled graduate student wishes to change from master's to master's/doctoral or to doctoral, a Reapplication Form is required, but no application fee will be assessed.

How do you calculate the GPA?

Download the GPA Calculator (Microsoft Excel file) and the GPA Calculation Worksheet (PDF) to determine a student's Grade Point Average.

Faculty Responsibilities

What does the Graduate Program Director's signature mean?

The GPD's signature is an indication of legal approval that your graduate program requirements have been met, whether it be admissions, registration, or degree completion. Your role is vital in assisting the Graduate School in recommending "official action" about a graduate student or applicant. Under no circumstances, should this signatory power be delegated to another person.

What is the "Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974" (FERPA) and how does it impact the manner in which our department deals with requests for student information (including addresses, status, grades, degree earned, etc.)?

"The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974" protects the privacy of student records, ensuring that the University will not release confidential information about a student to a third party without that student's knowledge and consent. (Note that a third party does include a direct relative, spouse, etc.) Only those data items that have been defined by the University as directory information can be released without prior consent. The University defines directory information as a student's name, local address, home address, email address, major, local telephone number, date and place of birth, date(s) of attendance, degrees, certificates, awards received, the most recent previous educational agency or institution attended by the student, and the dollar amount of money earned on the state or trust fund payroll. For graduate students who are teaching/assisting with credit courses and for graduate students who are employed as assistant residence directors, the work department, office address, and employment category will also be considered as directory information. Knowledge of the policy should be passed on to all secretaries and all faculty.

What are the responsibilities of Graduate Faculty members?

Among other duties, membership in the Graduate Faculty includes the responsibility of serving on thesis and dissertation committees. All members have the responsibility for insuring that the academic quality of the program is not compromised and that all students who receive graduate degrees from this institution have attained the academic competency that the degree affords. Faculty are responsible for maintaining and improving the academic excellence of the institution through scholarly research and excellence in education.

How is a faculty member added to the Graduate Faculty?

Graduate Faculty membership is achieved by recommendation from the Personnel Committee of the faculty member's academic department. Each department has specific criteria for Graduate Faculty. The department head/chair or Graduate Program Director should send a memorandum requesting the appointment and a current vita to John McCarthy, Dean of the Graduate School.

Thesis and Dissertation Committees

What are membership requirements for a Dissertation committee? A Master's committee?

A Dissertation committee is composed of a minimum of three graduate faculty members. The chair and one member are from the student's program/department; and one member must be from an outside program/department.

A Master's thesis committee is composed of a minimum of one graduate faculty member.

Many departments have their own requirements. It should be noted that the Graduate Dean or her designee appoints committees. While students and departments can recommend the composition of the committee, the Graduate School retains the responsibility for appointment.

What information do I send the Graduate School to appoint a committee?

The Graduate School requires a memorandum from the Graduate Program Director which includes the name of the student, student ID, whether it is a thesis or dissertation committee, the members of the committee, designating who is chair and outside member for a dissertation committee, and the department of each member.

Can there be co-chairs of a dissertation committee?

While the Graduate School frowns on the practice of more than one chair of a committee, it may be appropriate for some committees where the subject is interdisciplinary or the chair is from another UMass campus. The Graduate Program Director must provide sufficient justification for this practice and co-chairs will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

What is an outside member?

The outside member is a University of Massachusetts Amherst graduate faculty member who has been appointed with graduate faculty status from a different department than that of the student. The purpose of this committee member is to ensure consistency of dissertations across disciplines and serves as the Graduate School's representative on the committee.

What constitutes an outside committee member for an interdisciplinary program?

In the case of interdisciplinary programs, e.g., Molecular and Cellular Biology, Neuroscience and Behavior, etc., membership may come from departments which are included in the program so long as the outside faculty member's primary program/academic department is not the same primary program/academic department as the chair of the committee.

Why can't a faculty member or other person from another school or industry serve as a full voting member?

In some limited cases, another faculty member or industry member may serve as a member of the committee. A memorandum to the Graduate Dean is necessary in justifying why this person should be on the committee. Careful consideration is necessary, especially if the proposed person is a member of industry, and might hold up the dissertation due to nonacademic reasons. At the discretion of the Dean, these persons can be appointed as "Consulting Members" and sign off on the dissertation. A "Consulting Member" does not have voting privileges.

Thesis and Dissertation Writing

What services are available to help students with formatting a thesis/dissertation?

The staff of the Office of Degree Requirements are available for questions in person and on the telephone Monday through Friday, 8:30-5:00 p.m. Typing guidelines are available in print and on the web. There are also workshops available through the Graduate School and OIT.

What are the deadlines for defending a dissertation?

The Office of Degree Requirements must be notified in writing at least four weeks prior to the defense.

When must a thesis/dissertation be submitted for review?

The final thesis/dissertation must be submitted by the deadline for filing for a degree (August 31, December 15, April 15).

Are preliminary reviews (pre-checks) required?

No, the Office of Degree Requirements will do a preliminary review as time allows. (The process of clearing students for graduation takes precedence over preliminary reviews.)

How does the Graduate Student Service Center review a thesis/dissertation?

The staff review page by page to ensure that formatting requirements in the "Typing Guidelines for Theses and Dissertations" are followed.

Will the student still get a degree on time if the thesis is reviewed/problems discovered after the deadline?

Yes, provided the required changes are made within the timeframe given the student.

Why does the ODR find more errors in theses/dissertation after a pre-check has been done?

Generally, errors found are as a result of changes that a student makes in addition to the changes in the pre-check.

Who signs a thesis/dissertation?

Each committee member, the committee chair, and the department head/chair. For interdisciplinary programs, the Director of the program signs instead of the department head/chair.

Why must dissertations/theses be signed in black ink only?

We have been told by archivists that the only ink that meets their criteria is waterproof inks (those that do not smudge when damp). Black is required because it microfilms well.

We feel, or some of our faculty feel, that dissertation/thesis format guidelines are too rigid, and don't really reflect the practices in our discipline. Shouldn't the student follow the discipline's practices?

The thesis/dissertation is written in fulfillment of the degree requirements of the University. Format guidelines have been developed in Spring 1998, to take into account differences among disciplines. A hard-working committee of the Graduate Council has come up with a fairly comprehensive set of guidelines which permits flexibility and reflects current practices. As a dissertation committee member, you are approving as to "style" and content. That "style" is, in part, determined by the dissertation format guidelines. If there are problems with the guidelines, those concerns should be addressed to the Graduate Council.

We forgot to announce the dissertation defense. What do we do?

The Graduate School requires that the Office of Degree Requirements receive a memo from the GPD announcing the dissertation defense four weeks prior to the event. The reason for this regulation is so that knowledge can be disseminated by making all graduate faculty aware of the defense so that they can attend. The defense must be announced in In the Loop . If the defense has not been held, it should be rescheduled. If it cannot be rescheduled, contact the Graduate Dean for alternatives. The defense must occur on-campus. Technically, the Graduate School can require the student to retake the defense. The Graduate Dean should be contacted.

One of the members of the dissertation committee doesn't show up for the dissertation defense. What do we do?

Technically, this is not a legal dissertation defense. The defense should be rescheduled.