Transfer of Course Credit
Can a student transfer courses to the Ph.D. program that were
originally counted for an MSU master's degree?
How about courses taken at another university, whether or not a degree was received?
There is no fixed limit for transfer courses for other institutions.
However, all transfer credits must be approved as part of the student's
program plan by his or her guidance committee and confirmed by the program
coordinator and associate dean for student affairs. This means that
the question of whether transfer courses will count cannot be firmly
resolved until the second year of a student's enrollment, when the program
planning process occurs within a guidance committee. The central question
is always: what courses will best serve the student's program needs.
Realistically, students should not expect to transfer in a large number
of courses from another institution, since they will need to construct
a course of study that reflects MSU's concentrations and strengths in
educational policy. There is one set of requirements that is more often
open to transfer proposals: the inquiry and research methods requirement.
It is difficult, nevertheless, to imagine an appropriate program plan
that would include more than three transfer courses.
Are there any other limitations on transfer credit?
order to count toward the Ph.D. degree, a course must be less than
eight years old at the time when the degree is to be conferred. That
means, for example, that if a student took courses in 1998, then
entered the doctoral program here in 2003, was here for six years and
was getting the degree in 2009, credit for the pre-admission courses
would not count since they were taken more than eight years prior to
Can a student apply MSU courses taken through Lifelong Learning
toward doctoral program requirements? (Typically this arises in cases
where the student took doctoral courses prior to enrollment in the
Yes, but only as part of an approved program plan.The procedure
is this: First, the student and guidance committee develop an appropriate
program plan that includes one or more Lifelong Learning courses. Then,
once this plan has received approval, the advisor needs to file an Administrative
Action form. According to the Academic Programs book, “No more
than 10 credits earned while under the Lifelong Education status may
be applied to the graduate degree program. Courses earned under the
Undergraduate Lifelong Education status may not be applied to a graduate
Can 800-level courses count towards the Ph.D.?
Yes, you can even take undergraduate courses for Ph.D. credit. However,
only a very limited number of such courses are generally appropriate,
and they must be approved as part of a program plan by the guidance
committee, program coordinator, and associate dean for student affairs.
Most master’s courses in education focus on meeting the professional
development needs of educational practitioners and are not well suited
to a research-oriented, academic doctoral program. But, as in the case
of transfer credit, the central question is what classes a guidance
committee feels are appropriate for a student’s doctoral program.
The same holds true for independent studies.
Can a student take courses offered in other colleges and other departments within the College of Education and have them count towards his/her program?
Yes. We encourage students to draw widely from the resources in
the college and university when planning their programs. In addition
you can take courses through the "traveling scholars" program
at any of the Big Ten universities. Check out the Graduate
School's website description of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation
Does course sequence matter? Can students take courses in any
order that suits them?
It is worth asking course instructors if they think prior and particular
coursework is assumed for their course. While prerequisites may not
appear in the course book, it may be that the instructor in some cases
is assuming that students in the class will have a particular kind of
academic background. One way of getting such insight it so examine the
syllabus to see if some prior reading would be necessary for the course.
The educational policy core and the required inquiry course are often used as background for subsequent courses.
How do you sign up for independent studies (i.e., CEP/EAD/TE990)?
are two steps required in signing up for an independent study. First,
the student and professor need to fill out the college’s independent
study Project Agreement form. This requires both parties to agree to a
title and brief description of the project, including whatever
requirements must be fulfilled in order to complete the project (such
as submitting a 20-page paper on a particular topic, for example). This
form must be signed by the student, the professor directing the
project, and the student’s academic advisor. Once completed, it should
be approved by the graduate program secretary in the Student Affairs
Office (134 Erickson). Second, the student needs to sign up for the
agreed upon number of credits of 990 on the computer during the desired
semester. In general, enrollment in 990 requires the department to
create a unique section of 990, which occurs once the project agreement
form is on file in Student Affairs.
How many credits should you sign up for when you take an independent study?
the amount of effort involved, for both student and professor, is
similar to what might be expected in a regular course, then the 990
should be treated as such and recorded at three credits. If the effort
is more or less than this amount, then the number of credits should be
What is the limit on the number of independent studies a student can take?
is no fixed limit on the number of these that a student can take at the
doctoral level. However, these 990 courses should be limited to
specialized pursuits that cannot be carried out within an existing
university course and must be part of an approved program plan. It is
difficult to imagine circumstances that would require more than three
990s in a particular program plan.
Doctoral Dissertation Credits (i.e., CEP/EAD/TE999)
Can a student sign up for 999 credits before taking the comprehensive examination?
Yes, and this often makes sense. For example, there are times when
a student’s assistantship or fellowship will pay for more credits
than he or she is either willing or able to take during a semester.
In that case it is worthwhile to use that support for dissertation credits
rather than losing it, since students will need to buy a minimum of
24 credits at some point in order to graduate. It is not a good idea,
however, to accumulate a large number of 999 credits before taking comprehensive
exams. A student can gain approval for a dissertation proposal only
after passing the examinations. In general, the university expects that
students will purchase dissertation credits at the time they are consuming
faculty and facility resources to complete the dissertation.
When should a student put together a guidance committee and develop a program plan?
Very few students know enough faculty members or enough about the
possibilities inherent in the program to assemble a guidance committee
and develop a program plan during their first year of doctoral study.
However, by the start of the second year in the program, they
can and should begin this process in earnest. Waiting longer than this
leaves both the student and the guidance committee in a difficult position.
Students who wait until the third year have usually already made most
of the significant decisions about their program, leaving the guidance
committee with little remaining space for giving guidance. The risks
for the student are high, since the guidance committee may determine
that some of the courses already taken are not appropriate for the student’s
program of study.
How limiting is the university’s limit of eight years to
complete a doctoral program? What happens if a student leaves the
program for several years and then comes back?
Students have eight years to complete the program – including
courses, examinations, dissertation, defense, and graduation. That means
eight years from the start of the semester in which they first enrolled
in the program all the way through to the day they graduate, no matter
what the reasons for delay along the way. If additional time is needed
beyond the eight years, the Graduate School requires that students request
an extension. Extensions
are handled through the associate dean for student affairs, who makes
a recommendation to the dean of the Graduate School. The advisor needs
to fill out a time-extension form andwrite an accompanying letter requesting
the extension. In this letter, the advisor has to make a case that the
student is now making satisfactory progress, laying out a timeline for
completing the remaining work (with appropriate benchmarks all the way
through to graduation), and providing reasons for confidence that the
What is the university residency requirement for doctoral students and how can it be fulfilled?
university’s Academic Programs book says the following: “One year of
residence on the campus after first enrollment for doctoral degree
credit is required to permit the student to work with and under the
direction of the faculty, and to engage in independent and cooperative
research utilizing University facilities. A year of residence will be
made up of at least six credits of graduate work each semester.”
practice this means that sometime prior to graduation a doctoral
student must enroll for at least 6 credits during each of two
consecutive semesters. This can include a summer semester (for example,
six credits in the summer and six more the following fall).
Deferred and Incomplete Grades
How does a “deferred” (DF) grade work?
A deferred grade gives a student as long as two years to complete
the work for the course. Work needs to be presented to the faculty member
in time to evaluate it and make a grade change for the student before
the two-year deadline is up, which is the day grades are due at the
end of the semester two years after the semester in which the course
was taken. Changing a “DF” to a regular grade is done
with an Administrative Action form, requiring only the faculty member’s
signature. If a “DF” grade is not made up during the two-year
period, it automatically converts to the grade of “DF/U”
on the student’s transcript. This grade is not counted in a student’s
grade point average.
How does an “incomplete” (I) grade work?
incomplete grade lasts only until the mid-point of the semester
following the semester in which the course was taken. At this point,
the grade turns to 0.0, which counts towards a student’s grade point
average. For courses taken in the spring and summer, this would be the
middle of the fall semester; for courses taken in the fall, it would be
the middle of the spring semester. Work needs to be presented to the
faculty member in time to evaluate it and make a grade change before
this deadline. The midpoint of the semester is announced as part of the
university calendar each year. Changing an “I” to a regular grade is
done with an Administrative Action form, requiring only the faculty
Can deferred or incomplete grades be extended?
but only under extraordinary circumstances. The reasons must be spelled
out on an Administrative Action form and must be approved by both the
program coordinator and the associate dean for student affairs.
What problems arise from having deferred and/or incomplete grades on your record?
The university, college and program want to see students make steady
progress through their academic program. A DF or I grade on your record
is a sign that you are having trouble making such progress. If you accumulate
more than one, you will come under the program’s policy for tracking
students who are not making adequate progress in their programs. Such
a record will also work against you if you seek a waiver in order to
take on a graduate assistantship of more than half-time or after more
than five years in the program, or if you seek to extend the time required
for completion of degree. It will also make it difficult to qualify
many of the competitive awards available to doctoral students (such
as a Dissertation Completion Fellowship or Spencer Research Training
Fellowship). In short, it is best to avoid deferred or incomplete grades
if at all possible and to give top priority to completing these obligations
before taking on new responsibilities.
What is the difference between an advisor and a committee chair, or a committee chair and a dissertation director?
Very little. An advisor also becomes a committee chair at the point
when a student forms a guidance committee. At that point, the two titles
are interchangeable. A dissertation director is the primary guide for
a student writing a dissertation. This may be the same person as the
advisor/chairperson, or the student may elect to have different faculty
member occupy these two positions.
What is the difference between a guidance committee and a dissertation committee?
It’s all a matter of timing. The committee is called a guidance
committee during the period when the student is forming a program, taking
courses, and completing comprehensive examinations. The dissertation
committee is the group that helps the student through the dissertation
stage. A guidance committee may simply evolve into a dissertation committee,
if the student wishes to continue working with the same group of faculty
members. Or the student may wish to replace some or all of the members
(including the advisor/chair) at the point when he/she begins working
on a dissertation proposal. It all depends on which faculty members
can be most helpful at particular stages of a student’s academic
career in the program.
What is the difference between an oral examination and a doctoral defense?
These are two names for the same thing. They both refer to the meeting
of the dissertation committee at the end of the dissertation process at
which the candidate defends his or her dissertation draft.