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Suppose that someone enrolls in a master's program but then fails out. Will future employers be able to find out about this? Or can this person just pretend it never happened, and there will be no blemish on their record.

If this person applies to other master's degree programs (in a different, better-fitting field) in the future, would those programs be able to find out?

A little context: this person has the option to withdraw by a certain deadline, and needs to decide whether remaining in the program is worth the risk of potentially failing out.

  • In at least one country (UK), it is possible to get a qualification if you've completed a certain number of credits at master's level, even if you don't then go on to get the full master's degree. I'd argue that even though this is something of a give away about not getting a full master's degree, it does at least show you've achieved something in that time period, so it's worth looking in to. – Emma Jul 19 at 7:22
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It may be that they would learn of it, or possibly not, but the consequences of them learning that you omitted something that they considered important could be dire. It would be treated as a mark of dishonesty and neither employers nor universities generally value dishonesty.

The record exist and might come to view at some point, though they would, in most cases, not be sought. But you need an explanation for the time you have spent. If it is a black hole it looks pretty bad on your record, both for an employer and for a future degree.

You are probably safer to just be honest. There may be reasons for failing out that others would consider valid. Academia isn't for everyone and many people have various struggles that make success difficult.

If you have access to an academic counsellor, you should make an appointment and go. You may get good advice there about withdrawal and your future plans.

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Will anyone know if you fail out of a Masters program? Maybe.

The point is that when you write a CV (necessary for almost all employers) you'll have to include details about what you've been doing. If you did your Bachelor's degree from 2013-2017, and then the next meaningful thing in your CV is in 2018, an astute reader is going to recognize that there's a missing year. She might ask you what's in that missing year, which would force you to reveal that you failed out of a Masters program (or outright lie). Even if she doesn't ask you, she'll have her doubts: whatever you did was not something you wanted her to know about. What could it be? Remember failing out of a Masters program isn't the worst possible explanation for a gap year: perhaps you were in prison, for example. Should she hire someone who's clearly keeping secrets from her?

Having said that, she is not likely to know what actually happened unless you tell her. She could guess that you were doing a Masters degree somewhere, but there are thousands upon thousands of universities in the world and one cannot realistically query them all.

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