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Granting credit for MA classes completed elsewhere?

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Apologies if this has been asked previously. I am a PhD student asking this question for concerned grad students in my department. Our dept chair has been very vague about granting credit for MA classes completed at a previous university towards fulfillment of course requirements for the PhD. Our department handbook has nothing pertaining to this issue. I have been in the program for some time and watched certain students receive credits on what seemed to be an ad hoc basis (I came straight from BA so I never pursued this). 

We are a small humanities department, and the faculty have suggested that they won't be able to grant those credits from prior MA's because if they did, enrollment by grad students in our own department's seminars would be too low and would threaten our department's stability. Hence, grad students have offered to take those courses as audits to keep up enrollment, but also to reduce stress so that they can pursue coursework that may be more relevant to them. 

What is it like in your department? I get that this varies very much by dept and uni. Any suggestions for counter-arguments to the faculty's reasoning (re: low enrollment)? I think grad students should be able to take the most relevant courses for them, as humanities PhD's are taking longer and longer, and any time that can be applied to one's own research interests should be seized. Also, MAs in the US are very expensive, and continuing to ignore MA credits will continue to deter students from joining. I would really appreciate any advice. Thanks for your time. 

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This is a good question and some students and I actually talked to our own department head about this a few months ago as well, in order to clarify some things. 

The official course requirements in my department are 6 core classes and 5 elective classes that form some sort of theme. We are on the quarter system, so these are 10-week classes (3 quarters per academic year, typically you take 2-3 classes per quarter). The core classes are fundamental classes and we are a multi-disciplinary department, so depending on your background, you may have taken equivalent material during your undergrad or Masters program. If you did meet these requirements, you are to talk to the instructor and department head, who will grant you a waiver from the core class if they determine that you already know the material. The elective classes cannot be waived in this way---no matter how many classes you've taken elsewhere, you must do 5 elective classes (graduate-level) at my school (can be from outside the department) while you are here.

The clarification we asked for was that in the past, some people were granted credit for the core classes that were waived and others were "suggested" to take an extra elective class instead (e.g. if you were waived out of Intro to Geology, you would take Mineralogy instead). But it wasn't clear if this suggestion was a requirement. The recent clarification states that you are indeed exempt from taking the class and you don't have to replace it if you don't want to (i.e. getting a waiver does reduce your courseload). 

For another data point, at another school I visited, I asked similar questions. I also have a Masters (from Canada, where our system is different) so I asked this of all the schools I visited. At this school, there were a LOT more courses required. 16 semester-length (16-week) courses which would take 2 full years to complete at 4 courses per semester. Part of these requirements are a "minor" in a related field (can be the same field as your major, for some reason). Anyways, this is 4 courses in a different field. However if you have a Masters, then you are exempt from this "minor" requirement.

At yet another school, there are no official course requirements at all. Instead, when you start, you have a Graduate Advising Committee and this committee reviews your background and decides what courses you must take. So everyone gets a personalized/customized course listing.

And finally, at a 4th school, there are 12 required semester-length courses (3 per semester for 2 years). These courses make up the qualifying exam at the end of the 2 years. If you have prior knowledge due to Masters courses, you can challenge these courses and take an exam and get the course waived (you still have to pass the qualifying exam based on the course material that you skipped though).

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To answer your last question: How to convince the department to waive courses for Masters experience? I don't really know what will work best for your department. I am not sure what they mean by "low enrollment". To me, this sounds like the department gets money for number of students enrolled and losing this money would be bad. Alternatively, they could mean that the Department is audited by the University and if enrollment is low, they might cancel programs. So, I think whatever counter-argument you propose must address the concern for low-enrollment. 

For example, does your school offer a pass-fail system instead of letter grades? One idea would be to have students with MA classes take the seminar classes on a pass-fail system. This requires them to still do the work and they get officially counted as students. But this reduces the stress a lot. Often a "B" level work is considered a "pass" in a graduate pass/fail class. So, there's no worry of getting a poor grade etc.

However, I am a little confused still---in all of the above examples I gave, students with Masters are only exempt from PhD classes that are directly related to previous Masters coursework. Things like seminar classes usually vary greatly from dept to dept, even if the topic is the same, right? So I think it's actually a good thing to take them again even if you already have a previous version of the class. It's also a good way to get to know your colleagues and professors. I also think that PhD programs have the right to require all classes to count towards their degree to be from their departments because they are "certifying" you when they grant your PhD so it makes sense that they want to ensure a MA applicant meets their standard. But I don't know how many courses you are talking about---if there's more than 1.5 years of required classes, then yeah I can see how it eats into your research time. 

One last caveat: the last paragraph was written from the point of view of a science PhD, which are 5-6 years and usually have 1.5-2 years of classes. Not many science PhD students have Masters. Most people with Masters in my school/program are international students that come from different systems or Americans who studied abroad. 

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In my department they didn't accept any transfer credits. You had to retake classes even if you had taken a version of the same class before, with the reasoning that you should take the class with current faculty to get their take on the material, because you'll be working with them, not with your old professors. I was initially resentful but after taking the classes (and certainly now that I teach them!) I think that was exactly right. Those classes are an easy way for professors to establish early working relations with students, and for students to get to know their professors. The enrollment issue that your department brings up is also a very real one, and it's hard for me to see you overcoming it with your arguments. If enrollments are low and classes can't open, that would be bad for the department for many reasons, including hiring and maintaining of personnel, and of course accessibility to students who may not have had a parallel class at another institution. I assume this isn't what you wanted to hear, but that's my opinion. 

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In my experience, history departments don't let you transfer credits for required fields of knowledge, even the "outside field." At one school, this practice bothered greatly a classmate who had a J.D. When I "transferred" to another program (after earning a M.A. at the first), the practice didn't bother me at all. 

As an Americanist, I did have a language requirement waived by providing the course materials I used for a statistics class to a professor.

Personally, I wouldn't push on this issue especially since there doesn't seem to be a well defined policy in place. The conversation runs the risk of taking an unfortunate turn in tone if the Powers That Be decide that the answer is "no."

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