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University Bulletin
Graduate Degree Programs

Master's Degrees

The Graduate School recognizes a difference in purpose, which is reflected in the requirements, for two types of advanced degrees: academic and professional. Of the master's degrees conferred at the University, the Master of Arts and Master of Science are academic in nature. The Master of Arts and the Master of Science degrees have similar requirements, the general major area determining which degree is conferred. Programs for both degrees are strongly oriented towards research and the creation of new knowledge.

The professional master's degree emphasizes practical application of knowledge for solving problems. The professional graduate degrees currently conferred are Master of Accounting, Master of Applied Statistics, Master of Architectural Engineering, Master of Architecture, Master of Biotechnology, Master of Business Administration, Master of Education, Master of Engineering, Master of Engineering Management, Master of Environmental Pollution Control, Master of Finance, Master of Fine Arts, Master of Geographic Information Systems, Master of Health Administration, Master of International Affairs, Master of Landscape Architecture, Master of Leadership Development, Master of Manufacturing Management, Master of Music, Master of Music Education, Master of Professional Accounting, Master of Professional Studies, Master of Project Management, Master of Public Administration, Master of Public Health, Master of Science in Nursing, and Master of Software Engineering.

For all master's degrees, a minimum of 30 credits is required. At least 18 credits at the 500-level or above (with at least 6 credits of 500-level in professional master's programs) must be included in the program and a significant culminating or "capstone" experience or other mechanism to demonstrate evidence of analytical ability and synthesis of material is required.

  • For academic degrees, this culminating experience must include the completion of either: a thesis based upon original research in the field; a scholarly paper or essay that is research-oriented; or a capstone course that includes a work product which demonstrates evidence of analytical thinking and synthesis of knowledge in the field of study.
  • For professional degrees, the culminating experience may take other forms, including but not limited to an internship, an exhibition, a production, a comprehensive examination, or a capstone course. The specific form of the culminating experience is determined by the major program.

A degree is not conferred for a mere collection of credits. A well-balanced, unified, and complete program of study is required, including the preparation and acceptance of a high-quality, approved culminating experience. The overall program of the student frequently will exceed the minimum requirements as specified under the Additional Specific Requirements for the degree title.

A student may meet the degree requirements by either full- or part-time enrollment and by attendance in any combination of semesters and summer sessions. The student who interrupts the continuity of registration faces the possibility of not being granted permission to return.


A minimum grade-point average of 3.00 for work done at the University is required for graduation and to maintain good academic standing.


All requirements for a master's degree (including acceptance of the culminating experience), whether satisfied on the University Park campus or elsewhere, must be met within eight years of admission to degree status. Individual programs may set shorter time limits. Extensions may be granted by the Director of Graduate Enrollment Services in appropriate circumstances.


In addition to the general University requirements for admission, adequate undergraduate preparation is required in the program in which the applicant expects to pursue advanced work. The specific courses and the total number of undergraduate credits required in various areas will be determined by the choice of program and can be ascertained from the descriptive statement appearing under the graduate program heading in the latter portion of this bulletin. An applicant who meets the necessary grade-point average but is deficient in course preparation may, under certain circumstances, be admitted to the Graduate School and be allowed to make up the undergraduate deficiencies. Under these circumstances the program will require more than the necessary period of residence. An applicant for admission to the M.Ed. program in most major programs is required to have had at least 18 credits in education and related psychology, and in certain major programs may be required to have had practice teaching.

Requirements concerning courses, language proficiency, minors, comprehensive examinations, and other matters are sometimes made by departments or programs in addition to (but not in conflict with) the regulations of the Graduate School. For details the student should consult the head of the major department or program.


After admission to a degree program, a student should confer with the head of the major department or program concerning the appointment of an adviser. The general guidance of a master's candidate is the responsibility of an adviser, who is a member of the Graduate Faculty, or of a committee appointed in a manner to be determined by the major department or program in which the student is specializing. The adviser or the committee assists the student in planning a program of study. Although the adviser is frequently the supervisor of the culminating experience, this is not necessarily the case.


Subject to the limitations given, a maximum of 10 credits of high-quality graduate work done at a regionally accredited institution may be applied toward the requirements for the master's degree. However, credits earned to complete a previous master's degree may not be applied to a second master's degree program at Penn State.

The student should distinguish carefully between the transferability of credit and its applicability in a particular degree program. Approval to apply any transferred credits toward a degree program must be granted by the student's academic adviser and the Graduate School. Transferred academic work must have been completed within five years prior to the date of first degree registration at the Graduate School, must be equivalent to "B" quality (grades of B- are not transferrable) on Penn State's grading system, and must appear on an official graduate transcript. Course work to be transferred must appear on an official graduate transcript of an accredited or recognized degree-granting institution. Credits earned toward a previously completed postbaccalaureate professional degree program (law, medicine, etc.) are not transferrable. However, up to 10 credits can be transferred from a professional degree program if the degree has not been conferred.

All transfer credit must be substantiated by the former institution as having at least B quality whatever grading system is in place. Pass-fail grades are not transferable to an advanced degree program unless the "Pass" can be substantiated by the former institution as having at least B quality.

Forms for transfer of credit can be obtained from the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services, 114 Kern Building or the graduate program.


Residency requirements have previously been met by a period of enrollment or the completion of a minimum number of credits that are administratively associated with a specific Penn State campus. In some cases this can allow students who never set foot on any Penn State campus to satisfy residency requirements by taking classes offered by distance means. In other cases, it can limit access to graduate education by imposing a burden on students who are location-bound or who can most effectively complete their graduate studies by combining courses offered at different Penn State locations.

For professional degree programs (M.Eng., M.Agr., M.Ed., etc.), it may not always be possible, desirable, or necessary to fulfill residency in the traditional manner. Availability of professional mentors and access to unique facilities at students' work sites or other locales may, in some instances, confer special advantages in well-designed off-campus degree programs. Professional degree programs that are not "off-campus degree programs" (i.e., those in which less than half of the course credits consist of off-campus courses) implicitly have a substantial involvement of the students with the campus responsible for the program, thus fulfilling the majority of the functions of residency. However, professional degree programs that are offered off-campus must incorporate as many of the essential elements of residency as possible, including faculty–student and student–student interaction, access to instructional and other resources, exposure to and socialization in the field of study, and suitable academic advising.

Policies and guidelines pertaining to the offering of "off-campus" graduate degree programs are available through the dean of the Graduate School, 114 Kern Building.


A candidate may be required to pass in a satisfactory manner written or oral examinations designated by the program. A candidate should consult the major department or program for special requirements.

Examinations to establish credit for work done in absentia or without formal class work may be used to remove undergraduate deficiencies, but not to earn credits toward an advanced degree. Arrangements are made by the student directly with the major department head or program chair.


Updated: 7/17/17


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