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MA/MS Degree Requirements

Formal Requirements

The formal requirements for the master of arts and master of science are as follows:

  • A minimum of 30 units of credit registration, at least 24 of which must be graded. Some programs require more graded units.
  • Continuous registration.
  • A master’s exam. In addition, many departments have further requirements, such as a thesis or other formal written exercise.

Language Requirements

The Graduate School requires no foreign language for the master’s degree, but certain departments do, and these must be satisfied before the master’s examination can be taken.

English Language Proficiency

All international students whose native language is not English must enroll in English language courses as determined by the English language placement exams administered during orientation, unless formally waived from this requirement by The Graduate School upon certification of competency in English. These courses must be taken during students’ initial year at Duke. For more information, see the English for International Students section.

Course Requirements

Thirty units of graduate credit at Duke constitute minimum enrollment for the master of arts and the master of science degrees. Students must present acceptable grades for a minimum of 24 units of graded course work, 12 of which must be in the major subject. A minimum of 6 units of the required 24 is normally in a minor subject or in a related field which is approved by the student’s major department (some programs will require more course work). Consult your department for requirements on major and minor courses.

Thesis Requirements

Individual departments decide whether the MA or MS program may be completed by submission of an approved thesis or by other academic exercises. The thesis should demonstrate the student’s ability to collect, arrange, interpret, and report pertinent material on a research problem. The thesis must be written in an acceptable style and should exhibit the student’s competence in scholarly procedures. Requirements of form are set forth in the Guide for Electronic Submission of Thesis and Dissertation (PDF).

The thesis must be submitted in an approved form to The Graduate School at least two weeks before the scheduled date of the final examination or no later than the initial submission deadline for that semester. The copies of the thesis will be distributed by the student to the several members of the examining committee.

The Examining Committee and the Examination

The department’s director of graduate studies recommends an examining committee normally composed of three members of the graduate faculty. One of the three is usually from a department other than the major department or from an approved minor area within the major department. Nominations for membership on this committee are submitted to the dean of Academic Affairs for approval at least one month preceding the final examination.

The committee will conduct the examination and certify the student’s success or failure by signing the card provided by Academic Affairs. This card indicates completion of all requirements for the degree. If a thesis is presented, the committee members also sign all copies of the thesis, and the candidate then returns the original and first two copies to circulation desk in Perkins Library.

Completing the Apply to Graduate process

The student must complete the Apply for Graduation form in ACES at least one month before the final examination and on or before the following dates:

  • January 25 to receive the degree in May
  • June 15 to receive the degree in September
  • October 15 to receive the degree in December

The declaration of intention presents the title of the thesis or specifies alternative academic exercises on which the degree candidate will be examined. The declaration must have the approval of both the director of graduate studies in the major department and the chair of the student’s advisory committee.

Transfer of Credits

A maximum of six units of graduate credit may be transferred for graduate courses completed at other schools. Such units will be transferred only if the student has received a grade of B (or the equivalent) or better. The transfer of graduate credit does not reduce the required minimum registration of 30 units for a master’s degree at Duke.

Credit transfer request form (PDF)

Credits from Non-degree Courses

Credits for graduate courses taken at Duke by a student (not undergraduate) before degree admission to The Graduate School or while registered as a non-degree student through the Office of Continuing Education or The Graduate School may be carried over into a graduate degree program if

  • the action is recommended by the student’s director of graduate studies and approved by the dean,
  • the amount of such credit does not exceed 12 units,
  • the work has received grades of B or better,
  • the work is not more than two years old, and
  • the student applies for and is granted formal admission into a degree program.

Time Limits for Completing Master’s Degrees

Master’s degree candidates who are in residence for consecutive academic years should complete all requirements for the degree within two calendar years from the date of their first registration in The Graduate School. Candidates must complete all requirements within six calendar years of their first registration.

To be awarded a degree in May, the recording of transfer credit must be completed by the first day of the final examination period. Candidates desiring to have their degrees conferred in September must have completed all requirements, including the recording of transfer of credit, by the final day of the Duke University summer session. Candidates completing degree requirements after that date and during the fall will have their degrees conferred on December 30.