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Master's Degree Requirements

Credit and Residence Requirements

The Graduate School requires a minimum of 30 credit hours of graduate course credit, 24 of which must be taken in residence. Individual program credit hour requirements may be higher, and must be satisfied.

Master's students are required to complete a minimum program residence credit of two full semesters either by full-time registration or by part-time registration over several semesters.

See Residence Credit.

Transfer Credit

Please refer to the general guidelines for Transferring Course Credit and the 20 Percent Rule for Master's students.

Major Course Requirements

Course requirements in the major field must be fulfilled as specified by the student's academic program. The student is expected to complete a program of study that will provide mastery of his or her field, with at least 18 course credit hours in the major field. It is recommended that at least half of the courses taken for a graduate degree be numbered 700 and above.

Major courses must also include a minimum of three credit hours of thesis substitute (992) or thesis (993) registration.

Electing a Minor

With the approval of the major and minor academic programs, a student may elect to declare a formal minor in any program that offers a graduate degree. The student should submit an approved Minor Declaration Formpdf icon to The Graduate School.

The minor must comprise at least nine credit hours beyond the major. All credits must be for courses listed (or cross-listed) in programs other than that of the major, and cannot also be counted toward the major. A minor may consist of a set of related courses, some of which are listed by one program and some of which are listed by another. In most cases, the minor would not include courses from more than two programs. Only one program name will be listed as granting the minor, and the director of graduate studies in the minor program must agree to accept any courses from outside the minor program offerings.

The minor must be approved in advance by the director of graduate studies in both the major and minor programs. When a satisfactory minor has been planned and approved by both programs, a copy of the proposed minor course of study should be signed by the director of graduate studies in the major and minor programs and sent to The Graduate School to become a permanent part of the student's record.

Foreign Language or Research Requirement

Language and research skill requirements differ for each academic program. Students must acquire competence in those foreign languages needed for research or teaching in their disciplines. At an early stage, a student should consult his or her academic program advisor concerning what foreign languages, if any, will be required.

Graduate students must satisfy the foreign language requirement from a list of acceptable languages other than English as approved by their academic program.

Foreign Language Proficiency Assessments are offered as an alternative to special language courses offered on campus. For more information, see Foreign Language Proficiency Assessmentnew window icon.

Each academic program determines at what point a student must fulfill language or research skill requirements, provided that all such requirements are satisfied before a student graduates. The student's director of graduate studies will need to certify on the Program Certification of Degree Requirements formpdf icon that all such requirements have been met

Examinations

A written or an oral examination (or both) is required for degree completion. Only academic programs have the authority to request approved substitutes in meeting these requirements, normally within the guidelines of field or accreditation requirements. Programs should reference the Academic Policy Regarding Approved Substitutes for Master's Degree Comprehensive Exam Requirementspdf icon.

The definition of “comprehensive” varies by academic program, but here means an examination whose thoroughness in all ways conforms to the best accepted practices within the discipline.

Neither examination may be taken until all courses are completed or until the final courses are in progress. The examination(s) must be scheduled in conformance with deadlines shown in the University Registrar's Calendarnew window icon.

Registration Requirement
Students must be registered during the semester(s) in which exams are taken.

See Required Registration.

Examining Committee
A student passes an examination only after the approval of at least two-thirds of the examining committee members. The Graduate School considers the examining committee's vote to be final. Signatures of the committee chair (or Director of Graduate Studies/program director as appropriate) should be submitted on the Master's Comprehensive Exam or Approved Substitute Formpdf icon. Typically, the examining committee is the same as the student's thesis committee.

Final Oral Defense
If a thesis is required, a final oral defense may be required in addition to the examination(s) or as part of an oral examination. Any written or oral examination must be successfully completed prior to the final defense. If a final oral defense is required, it should be held only after all members of the committee have had adequate opportunity to review a draft of the master's thesis. The thesis advisor is responsible for determining that the draft is in an appropriate form for committee evaluation. If substantial revisions are necessary, they should be completed before the final oral defense is scheduled.

All committee members are expected to be present at the defense. When necessary, participation via distance-based capabilities is appropriate and should be mutually agreeable to the student and other committee members.

The final oral defense may be open to the public or limited in attendance to the candidate and the committee. Questions that relate the thesis to the field are appropriate. A thesis is accepted only after the approval of at least two-thirds of the committee members. At the conclusion of the final oral defense, all committee members should sign Part III, and if appropriate Part IV, of the Master's Comprehensive Exam or Approved Substitute Formpdf icon.

At the time of the final oral defense, but no later than the oral, the committee may require alterations and corrections, but these should constitute relatively minor changes agreed to by a majority of the committee members. The thesis advisor is responsible for verifying that the changes required by the committee have been made. If not done already, all committee members should sign Part IV of the Master's Comprehensive Exam or Approved Substitute Formpdf icon. When all changes have been verified, the committee chair should initial Part IV.

The student should submit the thesis in final form designed to meet the standards as defined in The Graduate School's Thesis and Dissertation Guide.new window icon The program should submit the Master's Comprehensive Exam or Approved Substitute Formpdf icon to The Graduate School for final processing.

Failure of Examinations
A graduate student who fails either a written or oral examination may not take the examination a second time until at least three months after the first attempt. The student should work with his or her academic program to identify areas needing additional emphasis and to establish an action plan to prepare for taking the exam a second time.

A student who fails an examination for the second time becomes academically ineligible to continue in The Graduate School. See Academic Eligibility.

Rescheduled or Remote Examinations
The Graduate School permits examinations to be rescheduled or held via distance-based capabilities in cases of extreme hardship. This applies both to course examinations and to written and oral examinations.

Before scheduling remote examinations, the student and program should consider the logistics, technology, and back-up plans for the event, including how final approval signatures will be obtained.

The Honor Code remains in effect for any examination taken outside the regularly scheduled time or off campus.

The student and faculty should work together to find a mutually agreeable time for the examination and ensure all participants are in agreement with the chosen format.

Thesis or Approved Substitute Requirements

For the master's degree, a thesis or an approved substitute is required. A minimum of three credit hours of thesis substitute (992) or thesis (993) registration is required. A maximum of six such credit hours may be counted as part of the required 30 credit hour minimum for the degree.

Only academic programs have the authority to request approved substitutes in meeting these requirements, normally within the guidelines of its field or accreditation requirements. Programs should reference the Academic Policy Regarding Approved Substitutes for Master's Degree Thesis Requirementspdf icon. Once a student completes the approved substitute, the academic program must submit the Report of Approved Substitute for a Master's Thesis Formpdf icon to The Graduate School.

Registration Requirement
Students must be registered for a minimum of three credit hours of thesis (993) or thesis substitute (992) during the semester in which they propose and defend the thesis or complete the thesis substitute. Once students successfully defend their thesis or complete their thesis substitute, no further research enrollments are necessary or permissible, and graduation should not be delayed.

See Required Registration.

Committee Composition
A committee of at least three members approves any thesis required and administers any oral examination that may be given. A majority of the persons signing a master's thesis must be regular members of the UNC-Chapel Hill Graduate Faculty from the student's major academic program. Other members may be special appointees to the Graduate Faculty. The committee is approved by the academic program's director of graduate studies, after consultation with the student.

A student should have a faculty research advisor and a committee chair. One individual faculty member may serve in both roles if approved by the academic program. Both roles should be filled by regular members of the Graduate Faculty in the student's major academic program; however, at the request of the program and approval of The Graduate School, they may be fixed-term graduate faculty members or from another UNC-Chapel Hill program.

The advisor typically oversees the research progress and serves as the primary mentor. A student may elect to have co-advisors as long as one is from the student's major academic program.

The committee chair typically oversees committee meetings and the associated documentation.

If the student has a minor field of study, at least one member of the committee must represent the minor field. In the case of a joint minor involving two academic programs, one faculty representative on the committee for both minors is sufficient, provided that both minor programs agree that the faculty member can adequately represent each minor course of study.

Preparation

The Graduate School will accept only theses and dissertations produced according to the standards in The Graduate School's Thesis and Dissertation Guidenew window icon. Documents must be prepared in a form consistent with approved methods of scholarly writing and research. On matters of form, the student should also consult published manuals of style. Sample draft pages of the document may be pre-approved by Graduate School staff before the submission deadline, but final approvals will occur only after the student has submitted the final document.

The document is expected to be written in English. In special cases, languages other than English may be used; the substitution is not permitted for the student's convenience but may be allowed when the student has sufficient skill at composition and has a topic that is, in the advisor's judgment, especially suited to treatment in the second language. Approval to use a language other than English must be obtained in advance from The Graduate School, and a title page must be submitted in English.

Submission of Theses
Theses must be submitted to The Graduate School according to the schedule in the University Registrar's Calendarnew window icon in final form designed to meet the standards defined in The Graduate School's Thesis and Dissertation Guidenew window icon. Documents submitted electronically will not require front page signatures.

It is strongly suggested that every document be submitted well before the deadline to ensure ample time for format revisions.

Publication
The Graduate School's Thesis and Dissertation Guide should be reviewed for all publication and submission matters, including formatting requirements, copyright questions, a checklist of submission steps, and sample pages. Students may also find this thesis and dissertation website useful.

Permission to Proceed

A student admitted to The Graduate School to pursue a master's degree in an academic program where doctoral studies are available is not automatically advanced to doctoral-level studies upon completion of the requirements for a master's degree. Upon completion of all requirements for a master's degree, the academic program must evaluate each student and submit the Recommendation to Proceed Beyond Master's Degree Formpdf icon to The Graduate School for each student who is considered qualified and recommended for doctoral study.

Upon award of the master's degree, the student's eight-year doctoral time limit begins. Students must register in the following fall or spring semester. A leave of absence between degrees is not allowed.

Time Limits

A master's student has five calendar years from the date of first registration in the master's program to complete the master's degree (Example: if the date of first registration is August 2010, the five-year time limit expires at Commencement, August 2015). Reapplication is required to continue pursuit of the degree if the five-year limit expires.

Extension of the Time Limit
When extenuating circumstances warrant, a student in good academic standing may request one extension of the degree time limit for a definite, stated period of time (up to one year). The student must first complete the Request for Extension of Time Formpdf icon and receive approval from their academic program, after which time the program's director of graduate studies should forward a petition for extension to The Graduate School. Ordinarily, an extension of the degree time limit may not be extended.

Interruption of Study
If graduate study is interrupted by active military service, or service in the Peace Corps, VISTA, or the equivalent, as much as two years of that time will not count toward the time limit for the degree. In such an event, an official letter from the appropriate agency should be sent to The Graduate School to document the interruption.

Leave of Absence
Within the five-year limit, a student in good academic standing may request one leave of absence from graduate study for a definite, stated period of time (up to one year) during which the student does not plan to make academic progress. To be eligible for a leave of absence, a student should not have received an extension of the degree time limit and not have temporary grades of IN or AB on courses taken. A leave of absence between degrees is not allowed.

In advance of the leave period, the student must complete and submit a Request for Leave of Absence Formpdf icon to The Graduate School. This form requires approval by the academic program. If The Graduate School approves the leave of absence, the time of that leave will not count against the total time allowed for the degree. Readmission to The Graduate School after an approved leave of absence is generally a formality. Ordinarily, a leave of absence may not be renewed.

Students should be aware that while on leave, they cannot be considered enrolled students and therefore will not have access to campus services and benefits afforded to enrolled students, including eligibility for holding student employment positions (e.g., TA or RA) or student health insurance, among other services.

Students taking advantage of the Parental Leave Policy do not need to file a separate Leave of Absence request.