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Master’s Degree Regulations

Master of Arts/Master of Science


For graduate study in master’s degree programs, applicants must have completed a baccalaureate degree program at an accredited institution and have met the academic prerequisites and other admissions criteria of the program. Students should read carefully the special requirements listed by their major departments. If special master’s requirements are not specified, and there is a question about prerequisites, prospective students should write directly to the appropriate director of graduate studies.

Language Requirements

The Graduate School requires no foreign language for the master’s degree. Certain departments, however, do have language requirements, and these must be satisfied before the final master’s examination can be taken.

All master’s theses must be written in English. The only exception is that short passages and quotations may be written in another language in the research chapter(s) if deemed appropriate by a student’s thesis examination committee.

Major and Related Subjects

Thirty course credits at Duke is the minimum necessary for the completion of most master of arts and master of science degrees. Students must present acceptable grades for a minimum of 24 course credits of graded coursework, at least twelve of which must be in the major subject. Master’s students must complete additional coursework up to at least 30 credits, as well as six hours of approved Responsible Conduct of Research training. Some master’s programs require additional course credits beyond the minimum of at least 24 graded and 30 overall course credits, as approved by The Graduate School. Individual programs and departments decide whether any given MA, MS, or MFA program of study may be completed by submission of an approved thesis or by other academic exercises in lieu of the thesis, as previously approved for a specific degree program by The Graduate School. In either case, a maximum of 6 course credits may be earned by the completion exercises (such as thesis research) and the final examination.

Thesis Requirements

The master’s thesis should demonstrate the student’s ability to collect, arrange, interpret, and report pertinent material on a research problem. The thesis must be written by the degree candidate in an acceptable style for the disciplinary field and should exhibit the student’s competence in scholarly procedures. Requirements of form are set forth in the Duke University "Guide for Electronic Submission of Thesis and Dissertations," which is available on The Graduate School Theses and Dissertations website. The thesis advisor must examine and approve the master’s thesis prior to submission to The Graduate School, as indicated by a letter stating this approval. The thesis must be submitted electronically in an approved form to ProQuest at least two weeks prior to defense (see deadlines for submission and defense posted on The Graduate School Graduation Deadlines website). Electronic copies of the thesis will be distributed by the student at least two weeks before the final examination to the approved members of the examining committee. Deadlines for submission are posted on The Graduate School website and must be respected if the student wishes to receive the degree in the semester when the intention to graduate has been declared. If a student misses deadlines for completion of all requirements during a term, including submission of an approved and correctly formatted thesis document, then the student must register and pay for a subsequent term in which the degree will be awarded. All master’s theses must be submitted electronically to ProQuest and to DukeSpace, where they are openly and publicly accessible online after any approved embargo period. See The Graduate School Theses and Dissertations website for information about electronic submission and procedures for obtaining copyright.

The Master’s Examining Committee and the Examination

In consultation with a student and their major advisor, the program or department’s director of graduate studies recommends an examining committee composed of at least three members of the Duke Graduate Faculty. Membership for service on a student milestone committee requires a degree that is at least the same level for which the student is a degree candidate (e.g., a master’s degree for a master’s committee). Any request for an exception by the academic dean must be based on the research expertise and the necessity of adding another member without such a degree. A majority of the committee, including the chair, must be a faculty member of the degree-sponsoring department or program, or, in the case of interdisciplinary programs, a university faculty member who has been designated specifically as faculty in the program. Another member (the minor area representative, MAR) must be from a research or scholarly area that is relevant to, but distinct from, the topic of the student’s research. Normally only full graduate faculty members may chair master’s examination committees unless a term member has received explicit approval from the academic dean of The Graduate School for this role. The committee and its chair must be approved by the academic dean of The Graduate School at least thirty days before the student takes the final examination. Students must be registered in the term during which they take the final examination. However, the examination may also occur during breaks between terms if the student is registered for the term on either side of the break when the exam is to occur.

Master’s examinations take several forms within The Graduate School. The thesis examination is an oral defense of the written thesis that has been read and evaluated by the student’s examining committee. The most common non-thesis examinations are written or oral exams on a prescribed reading list or body of material; oral exams on a paper or a set of papers submitted by the student; or an oral exam on a research project or memorandum. The doctoral preliminary examination may also serve as the final examination for the master’s degree when it is in the same field and department, with the approval of the examining committee and DGS.

The master’s committee will conduct the examination and certify the student’s success or failure by signing an examination certificate provided by The Graduate School. Each member of the approved committee must participate in the examination and must vote as to whether the student passed or failed the exam. Remote participation in the examination is permitted via videoconferencing tools such as Zoom, provided that the student and all committee members participate synchronously in the examination throughout the entire scheduled examination period.

Successful completion of the master’s examination requires at least three affirmative votes and no more than one negative vote. The sole exception to this policy is that a negative vote cast by the chair or co-chair of the examining committee will mean a failure on the examination. The committee may vote to extend to the student the privilege of taking the examination a second time, in a subsequent term, in case of failure. The action of the committee to pass or fail the student is confirmed by the DGS, who also must sign the exam certificate, which must then be submitted to The Graduate School. If the student passes the examination, the signed certificate indicates completion of the final examination and program requirements for the degree. Any required changes to a master's thesis must be incorporated in the correct format and the final document successfully uploaded to ProQuest before the relevant deadline.

Master of Arts in Teaching, Master of Arts in Liberal Studies, Master of Fine Arts

Descriptions of the MAT, MALS and MFA programs are available on their program pages:

Additional Master’s Regulations

Applying to Graduate

On or before February 1 for a May degree, June 15 for a September degree, and October 15 for a December degree, students must apply for graduation electronically by going to their student record in DukeHub. The declaration of intention to graduate presents the title of the thesis or specifies the approved alternative academic exercise on which the degree candidate will be examined. A separate application to graduate must be submitted for each degree or certificate a student intends to earn. The application is not valid for more than one semester. Students who will not meet degree requirements in the semester for which they have applied to graduate must contact the Graduate School registrar to cancel the current application so that they can be activated for registration and be granted access to submit a new application in DukeHub for completion of any degree or certificate in a subsequent term.

Transfer of Credits from Another School

A maximum of two graduate courses or six graduate course credits may be transferred for graduate courses completed at other schools after the bachelor’s degree has been conferred. Such credits will be transferred only if the student has received a grade of B (or its equivalent) or better. The transfer of graduate credit does not reduce the required minimum registration of 30 course credits for a master’s degree at Duke, even though it may relieve the student of specific courses otherwise required by the major department. Requests for transfer should be submitted on the approved graduate school form. For courses to count toward degree requirements, they must be no older than six years at the time of graduation from the Duke master's program in which the student is a degree candidate.

Non-degree Students

Individuals who are not Duke degree candidates may apply for non-degree status to take courses at the graduate level outside the context of a degree program. They nonetheless must apply for admission as a non-degree student via the standard admission application (see webpage on Admissions).

Credit for graduate courses taken at Duke by a post-baccalaureate student before formal degree admission to The Graduate School or while registered as a non-degree student through Duke Continuing Studies or The Graduate School may be carried over into a graduate degree program if (1) the action is recommended by the student’s DGS and approved by the academic dean, (2) the amount of such credit does not exceed 12 course credits, (3) the work has received grades of B or better, (4) the work is not more than two years old, and (5) the student applies for and is granted formal admission into a degree program.

Time Limits for Completion of Master’s Degrees

Master’s degree candidates who are in residence for consecutive academic years normally complete all requirements for the degree within two calendar years from the date of their first registration in The Graduate School. Candidates enrolled in full-time programs of study must complete all requirements within four calendar years of their first registration. Part-time students must complete all requirements within six calendar years of their first registration. Courses older than six years cannot count toward the fulfillment of degree requirements.

To be awarded a degree in May, the recording of transfer credit must be completed by the first day of the final examination period. If a thesis is one of the requirements, it must be submitted to The Graduate School by the deadline posted on The Graduate School website. Candidates desiring to have their degrees conferred in September must have completed all requirements, including the recording of transfer of credit, by the last weekday of the Duke University summer session. Candidates completing degree requirements after that date and during the fall will have their degrees conferred in December.

Training in Academic and Research Integrity

Incoming master’s students enrolled in all degree programs of The Graduate School must complete a training course in academic integrity and Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR). This will consist of four hours at the start of their first term during Orientation week, offered by The Graduate School staff and associates, and an additional two-hour RCR forum later in their studies. Completion of this training is a requirement for graduation. The initial, Orientation training for Duke Kunshan University master of science candidates is customized and offered for them at the Kunshan campus but is also an absolute degree requirement.

Master’s Degree en Route to a PhD

Doctoral students in Duke PhD programs may obtain one master’s degree en route to the PhD without additional tuition charges beyond those of the PhD. This master’s degree may be in the same department, if the department permits this, or may be in a different department, if that department offers concurrent master’s degrees and the request is approved by the DGS of the second department and the academic dean of The Graduate School. In either case, the student must complete all requirements for the relevant master’s degree. A master’s degree in a different department or field en route to the PhD will be awarded only concomitant with the PhD. If, for whatever reason, the student does not complete the PhD, and would like to receive the master’s degree nonetheless, master's tuition will be charged for the terms during which the master’s degree was pursued. Tuition and any other balances due must be paid to receive the master's degree.