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Graduate Student Handbook

Section 1. Enrollment

Registration Courses | Billing | Enrollment Status | Statute of Limitations | Statute of Limitations Extensions | Candidacy for Doctoral Students | Leave of Absence | Withdrawal/Dismissal | Absences for Religious Reasons

a. Registration

All graduate students must enroll using SPIRE, the University's online student information system, at every semester, both Spring and Fall, from initial Graduate School enrollment until their degree (or certificate) has been awarded. A graduate student maintains enrollment each semester by either registering for course/thesis/dissertation credits or by registering for Continuous Enrollment (GradSch 999) and paying the Program Fee. Registration begins in mid-April for the fall semester and for the spring semester in mid-November. (Refer to the Academic Calendar or correspondence from the Graduate School for exact beginning and ending dates.) It is important for students to register as early as possible for finanical aid purposes, assistantships, and other university services. Off-campus and online students are required to enroll each semester by contacting their program or the Graduate School (see #8 for additional information).

1. Course Listings:
A Schedule of Course Offerings can be viewed on SPIRE. Course descriptions are listed in the SPIRE Course Catalog and the Graduate Bulletin. Not all courses described in the Catalog and Bulletin are offered every term.

2. Registration Deadline:
The tenth class day of the semester is considered the registration deadline. Registration (Add/Drop) is accomplished by using SPIRE.

3. Course Exceptions/Off-Line (Restricted) Courses:
Some courses are not available for registration through SPIRE either due to manual prerequisite checking or other departmentally set limitations. Permission must be obtained from the academic department/instructor to register for such courses. A student must seek permission and submit the required departmental approval form to the department office prior to the end of the registration deadline, the tenth class day of the semester.

4. Continuous Enrollment/Program Fee:
Graduate students not enrolled for course/thesis/dissertation credits and who are candidates for a degree (or certificate) must register for Continous Enrollment (Gradsch 999), formerly known as the Program Fee, every semester until that degree (or certificate) has been formally awarded, not simply filed for. An incomplete grade (INC/IP) from a previous semester does not maintain a graduate student's enrollment status. Newly admitted graduate students cannot register for Continuous Enrollment to defer entrance into the University, nor is Continuous Enrollment applicable for non-degree graduate students. Before the end of the registration period, graduate students may register for Continuous Enrollment (Gradsch 999) in SPIRE. The student will then receive a bill from the Bursar's Office.

5. Penalty for Not Enrolling by the Deadline:
Any graduate student who has not registered for course/thesis/dissertation credits or continuous enrollment, is routinely withdrawn from the University. Any graduate student wishing to enroll after being withdrawn must be formally readmitted, and pay a $125.00 Readmission Fee, in addition to paying any current tuition and/or fee charges, and any accumulated Program Fees. Readmission is not automatic; the former student's reapplication may be evaluated in competition with those of other current applicants.

6. What to do if My Record is on Hold:
Holds are placed on a student's record when an action by the student is required before the student can register. Registration holds are typically due to missing admissions materials or an outstanding bill. It is necessary to resolve the problem and have the hold removed as quickly as possible as you are not able to register until it is removed. To find out why you have a hold and get it removed, refer to "Hold" on SPIRE listed under "Personal Portfolio." You are responsible for having the hold removed and registering before the registration deadline - no extensions are given.

7. Off-Campus and Online Graduate Program Registration:
Graduate students enrolling in recognized off-campus and online graduate programs must comply with the same registration deadlines as on-campus graduate students. Registration information is distributed to students by each program. Registration methods vary by program. A student admitted to an off-campus or online degree program who does not enroll for course credits must register for Continuous Enrollment/Program Fee.

8. Summer/Winter Session Registration:

  • Summer/Winter Session registration is conducted through the Division of Continuing Education and is optional for graduate students unless it is required for financial aid or a stipend. Continuous Enrollment and payment of the Program Fee is not required for the summer.  
  • Graduate students may elect to enroll in any summer or winter session course offering.
  • The maximum number of dissertation credits which may be earned during a summer session is nine (9).  Registration for thesis and dissertation credits is not permitted in the winter session.
  • To use the University Library during the summer months, an active student identification card from the preceding spring semester is recognized.


b. Courses

1. University of Massachusetts Amherst Course Numbering System:

100 - 199 Introductory lower division (freshman)
200 - 299 Other lower division (sophomore)
300 - 399 Upper division (junior/senior)
400 - 499 Upper division (junior/senior);
graduate credit may be awarded only to candidates outside the department's own graduate program, when taught by a member of the Graduate Faculty.
500 - 599 Combined graduate/undergraduate
600 - 699 Master's or first-year graduate
700 - 899 Doctoral or advanced graduate

2. On-Campus:
Graduate students are eligible to enroll for any regularly scheduled University course, graduate or undergraduate, provided they meet all course prerequisites and space is available. Permission of the course instructor may be necessary. Courses which will be offered, with meeting times, places, and names of the instructors, are listed each semester on SPIRE. For course descriptions, refer to the current Graduate School Bulletin and/or department/school literature. The Bulletin is available from the Graduate School home page: under quick links.

3. Five College Interchange:
Graduate students enrolled in degree programs are eligible to register for most courses offered at Amherst, Smith, Mount Holyoke, and Hampshire colleges through the Five College Interchange Program. Each student must enroll for at least one three-credit University of Massachusetts Amherst course to be eligible to take courses at the cooperating colleges. Note: Most courses offered by the area colleges are undergraduate level and, therefore, are not necessarily applicable toward graduate degree credit at the University.  You may register for five college courses using SPIRE. Each semester there are two registration periods for Five College classes.  You can find these dates listed on the Five College Online Academic Calendar. To search for courses, visit the Five College Course Catalog.

4. Division of Continuing and Professional Education:
Review the course and program offerings on the Division of Continuing and Professional Education website.

5. Off-Campus/Online:
Students enrolled in an approved off-campus or online program will receive course and registration information through their program's off-campus office. An "off-campus" student is generally not permitted to register for on-campus courses without being formally admitted to the on-campus degree program; for further information, contact your off-campus program office or the Graduate Student Service Center.

6. Thesis/Dissertation:
Any student writing a master's thesis or doctoral dissertation must register for thesis (699) or dissertation (899) credits prior to filing for the degree. Most graduate programs require a minimum of six (6) thesis and eighteen (18) dissertation credits (refer to the course listing in the Graduate School Bulletin for any variance). There is no maximum number of thesis/dissertation credits for which a student can register; however, a student can only register for a maximum of ten (10) credits of master's thesis (699) per semester/summer session, or a maximum of nine (9) credits of doctoral dissertation (899) per semester/summer session (see also Degree Requirements).

7. Non-Degree:
A graduate student who enrolls in courses as a non-degree student and is later accepted into a degree program may only apply six (6) graduate credits toward that program, subject to approval by the student's Graduate Program Director and by the Graduate School (see Transfer Credit Policy).

8. Maximum Course/Credit Load:
A graduate student may routinely register for up to sixteen (16) credits each semester and nine (9) credits during the summer session. Any student who wishes to register for an additional course (maximum of 18 credits) must secure the endorsement of his/her Graduate Program Director.

9. Audited Courses:
A graduate student may audit any class; however, such a course cannot be used to complete any degree requirement. A student may register as an auditor through SPIRE. The deadline for registering as an auditor is the tenth class day of the semester. A student may convert an otherwise passing course to an audit up to the last day of classes. Students are assessed full tuition and fees for audited courses, and these courses do not count when calculating status for loan deferment purposes.

10. Course Changes:
A graduate student may make course changes (both add and drop) during the first ten class days of the semester without penalty or any indication on the transcript. Such changes are made using SPIRE. Courses may be dropped following that deadline; however, the grade of Drop (DR) will be recorded from the third to the eigth week of the semester. A grade of Withdraw Passing (WP) or Withdraw Failing (WF) will be recorded after the eigth week of the semester. Course changes from the third week until the end of the semester require the instructor's approval and the date last attended for any course withdrawal.

11. Independent Study/Special Problems:
Independent work may receive credit as Independent Study or Special Problems courses provided that the work is performed under the guidance of a graduate faculty member and the course is properly recorded as part of the student's registration. Grading of such courses follows the standard Graduate School Grading Policies. Students may register for whatever number of independent study courses their adviser recommends; however, a maximum of six (6) credits (12 credits for M.F.A. students) may be used to fulfill master's degree requirements if the student writes a thesis (see also Master's Degree Requirements).


c. Billing

1. Tuition:
Graduate students pay tuition on the basis of credits of enrollment. Audited courses are charged at the same rate as courses taken for credit. The per credit tuition rate is determined by dividing the maximum resident or non-resident tuition (set by the Board of Trustees) by 12. Graduate students who register for 12 or more credits pay the maximum tuition; those registering for less than 12 credits pay at the per credit rate.

2. Fees:
All graduate students registering for credits with the exception of University employees, MA Veterans, and supervisory teachers, are required to pay the Board of Trustees approved fees each semester. Included are the Student Health Fee (if enrolled for 5 or more credits), Graduate Service Fee, Curriculum Support Fee and Graduate Student Senate Fee. The Student Health Insurance Plan fee is required unless the student provides proof of coverage under a major medical insurance plan with the exception of international students. The Students Health Insurance Plan is mandatory for international students and any student who does not provide proof of adequate major medical insurance. Graduate students are required to pay a Graduate Entering Fee each time the student matriculates. Graduate students in the College of Engineering are also required to pay an Engineering Fee each semester. Graduate students who receive a tuition waiver may also receive a waiver of some fees (refer to the current Graduate Employees Organization contract). Graduate students enrolling for four (4) or fewer credits pay reduced fees. For a schedule of current tuition and fees, contact the Bursar's Office or access it from the Bursar's Office homepage.

3. Mailing and Due Dates:
Notification of graduate student tuition/fee bills is generally sent by email several days after the add/drop deadline. The due date for payment is normally the end of the fifth week of the semester. Student charges can be viewed on SPIRE. You are responsible for paying the bill by the deadline indicated even if you do not receive a bill; therefore, you should check SPIRE regularly and pay your bill by the due date indicated.

a. Payment by Payroll Deduction
Students who receive a stipend as graduate assistants may opt to have their charges paid through payroll deduction providing that they complete the required forms by the posted deadline each semester. Contact the Bursar's Office for further information.

b. Failure to Pay by Bill Due Date
If your bill is not paid by the posted due date you will be required to pay a late fee to the Bursar's Office and a hold will be placed on your record. This hold will prevent registration for the upcoming semester. If the bill is not paid and the hold removed by the end of the enrollment period for the upcoming semester you will be administratively withdrawn from your program and must be readmitted (see Penalty for not Enrolling by the Deadline).

4. Refund/Payment Schedule:
Graduate students who withdraw from the University or drop one or more courses will receive a prorated refund based upon the date of the last class attended. Similarly, graduate students who have not paid their bills will be assessed prorated tuition and fees based upon the same schedule and procedure. Students who withdraw after the fifth week of the semester will be responsible for 100 percent of their semester bill and will not be entitled to receive a refund.

5. Tuition Waivers:
The University grants several types of tuition waivers based upon service, scholarship and/or need. See the "General Information" section of the Graduate School Bulletin for information on currently available tuition waivers.

6. Off-Campus Fee Reduction:
Students completing their thesis, dissertation or internship at an "off-campus" site may be eligible for a reduction in mandatory fees (Graduate Service Fee, Graduate Student Senate Fee, Student Health Fee). Contact the Graduate Student Service Center for more information. The Off-Campus Fee Reduction Form can be found on the Graduate School's website under the Students menu item, Forms for Graduate Students.

7. Residency Classification For Tuition Purposes:
Tuition is assessed based upon the student's residency classification. At the time of application, the Graduate Student Service Center determines each applicant's residency classification based upon information in the applicant's Residency Statement and the current Board of Trustees Rules and Regulations Governing the Residency Status of Students For Tuition Purposes. The applicant must submit an affidavit to support his/her claim to Massachusetts residency status.

8. Reclassification of Residency:
Residency for tuition purposes is not acquired by mere physical presence in Massachusetts while a person is carrying on a course of study at the University or other school.  Residence in Massachusetts must be established for a minimum of twelve consecutive months prior to entering or re-entering as a matriculating student.  The Tuition Classification Rules & Regulations should be read in full before submitting the Residency Reclassification Appeal Form.  Contact the Graduate School's Residency Reclassification Officer if you have questions about your residency classification.


d. Enrollment Status

  • The Graduate School defines full-time graduate student status as enrollment for nine (9) or more credits; part-time graduate student status is defined as eight (8) or fewer credits in a semester.
  • Degree candidates working full-time on research for a required theis or dissertation may be considered full-time graduate students regardless of the number of credits for which they register provided their Graduate Program Director or Department Head/Chair certifies that they are working full-time on research. 
  • Audited courses do not count toward enrollment status.
  • Working on incomplete courses from prior semesters cannot count toward enrollment status.
  • For financial aid purposes, half-time is defined as six (6) credits.
  • Immigration law requires that foreign students be enrolled at full-time status.
  • To satisfy the residency requirement for a doctoral degree, doctoral students 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.  A semester in which a department certifies a student as working full-time on research, without the student registering for credits, does not count towards the residency requirement.


e. Statute of Limitations/Expected Graduation Term
The Statute of Limitations (SOL) is the period within which all degree requirements must be completed. It is determined during the acceptance process using the following guidelines:

Master's degrees for students admitted starting Summer 2015:
- SOL's are set to four (4) years with the exceptions noted below;
- for an M.F.A. degree, the SOL is five (5) years;
- for all part-time off-campus programs, the SOL is five (5) years;
- for dual master's degrees, the SOL is five (5) years unless otherwise noted in the program description.

Master's degrees for students admitted prior to Summer 2015:
- SOL's are set to three (3) years with the exceptions noted below;
- for an M.F.A. degree, the SOL is four (4) years;
- for part-time off-campus programs in engineering, labor studies, management, music education, nursing, nutrition, and public health practice, the SOL is four (4) years;
- for dual master's degrees, the SOL is four (4) years unless otherwise noted in the program description.

Doctoral degrees for students admitted starting in Summer 2009:
- for new doctoral students starting in Summer 2009, the SOL is set at six (6) years prior to achieving candidacy and five (5) years once candidacy is achieved.

 Doctoral degrees for students admitted starting Summer 2004 and prior to Summer 2009:
- prior to achieving candidacy, the SOL was set as indicated below;
- after achieving candidacy, the SOL is re-set to five (5) years.

Doctoral degrees for students admitted prior to Summer 2004:
- for doctoral students without an earned master's degree in their major field, the SOL was set at six (6) years;
- for doctoral students with a related master's degree, the SOL was set to four (4) years.

The Expected Graduation Term is the last term during which a student is allowed to register before their statute of limitations expires. Students who submit a Degree Eligibility Form will see their Expected Graduation Term adjusted to the actual expected graduation term.
For example: Expected Grad Term of Summer 2019 means that you are eligible to register through the Summer 2019 semester, and that your Statute of Limitations expires at the end of summer 2019 (August 31, 2019).


f. Statute of Limitations Extensions
A graduate student may be granted additional time to complete his/her degree program by the Graduate Dean provided the student's Graduate Program Director makes such a recommendation and provided satisfactory and reasonable progress is being made.


g. Candidacy for Doctoral Students
Candidacy is recommended for doctoral students by the academic department upon satisfactory completion of coursework and passing the qualifying examination.


h. Leave of Absence

1. Personal Leave of Absence:
Registration for Continuous Enrollment and payment of a Program Fee does not constitute a leave of absence. A student must formally request a leave of absence by petitioning his/her Graduate Program Director who, in turn, provides justification for the request to the Graduate Dean. If the Dean grants a leave of absence, the student's statute of limitations will be appropriately increased. Graduate students on a leave of absence must maintain continuous enrollment by registering for the Continuous Enrollment course and paying the Program Fee every semester during their leave. A student on a leave of absence is not considered to be actively completing a degree program; therefore, loan deferments cannot be signed during this period of time.

2. 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 registering for Continuous Enrollment and paying the Program Fee. Accordingly, the Graduate School will adjust the student's statute of limitations for the duration of the leave of absence. 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.


i. Withdrawal/Dismissal

1. Voluntary Withdrawal:
Graduate students voluntarily withdrawing from the University must send a letter to the Graduate Dean, via their Graduate Program Director, indicating the reasons for the request. The student's Graduate Program Director must endorse the request and attest to the student's current academic standing. The student, or Graduate Program Director on his/her behalf, must still complete Add/Drop forms for all courses in which he or she is enrolled.

2. Failure to Enroll:
Graduate students who have not enrolled will automatically be withdrawn from the University for failure to maintain continuous enrollment (see Penalty for Not Enrolling by the Deadline).

3. Administrative Withdrawal:
Graduate students may be administratively withdrawn from the University, after due notice, for failure to satisfy overdue financial obligations or to comply with administrative requirements of the University. See the "General Information" section of the current Graduate School Bulletin for further information.

4. Academic Dismissal:
A graduate 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 Graduate Program Director and approval by the Dean of the Graduate School.

5. Unsatisfactory or Unreasonable Progress:
Graduate students who are not making satisfactory or reasonable progress toward the completion of their degree program are subject to termination. Upon the recommendation of the Graduate Program Director and the approval of the Dean of the Graduate School, students will be notified of any formal termination by the Graduate School.


j. Absences for Religious Reasons
Chapter 151C of the Massachusetts General Laws as amended guarantees that "any student in an educational or vocational training institution, other than a religious or denominational educational or vocational training institution, who is unable, because of his religious beliefs, to attend classes or to participate in an examination, study, or work requirement on a particular day shall be excused from any such examination or study or work requirement, and shall be provided with an opportunity to make up such examination, study, or work requirement which he may have missed because of such absence on any particular day; provided, however, that such makeup examination or work shall not create an unreasonable burden upon such school. No fees of any kind shall be charged by the institution for making available to the said student such opportunity. No adverse or prejudicial effects shall result to any student because of his availing himself of the provisions of this section."