I started my terminal Master’s degree program in Fall 2017. My plan was to graduate Spring 2019, and if successful, enter a Ph.D. program Fall 2019. My Master’s program is a more general program and not one that is necessary to obtain in order to proceed to my specific Ph.D. program, however, some like myself, use it as a stepping stone especially if we come from other fields (I hold a B.S. in biology which is not my current field).

In short, I did not obtain my Master’s. Due to the fact that I was immersed in a highly toxic, dysfunctional (no one has integrity and conducts unethical research) and borderline abusive department, and that both my thesis chairs left in the process, my graduation date was delayed. There were also 3 others in my cohort who didn’t graduate, and many others dropped out along the way—all for similar reasons as I. I was accepted to my top choice Ph.D. program in a different state, and thus decided to not stay behind and try to complete my Master’s (which was my back up plan). My new school does not expect me to complete my Master’s; in fact, I’d almost say that they don’t care, as they did not ask 1 single question about my program nor seemed remotely interested about it during my interview. Not needing my Master’s was confirmed by both the Admissions Department and the Records Office at my new school, and after this, I formally withdrew from my former school. My experience was so negative that I have zero plans to return to complete the Master’s at a different time. Also, at my new school, you earn a Master’s (which is in my specific field and credit based) along the way, which is nice.

My question is, is it necessary to mention my Master’s program on my CV? I’m assuming the answer is ‘yes,’ but I am unsure of how I would go about mentioning it on my CV. I was 3 credits away from getting my Master’s, and while I’m not ashamed of it, I am unsure of how I should handle it when it comes up in convos, esp. when applying to internships, etc. Do I say “degree not conferred” or is there a better way to convey this?

I’d appreciate any tips and advice. Thank you!

  • "I guess my question is" If you are still guessing what your question is, how would you expect that some strangers will understand your question... Sep 14, 2019 at 21:35
  • why the need to be so bitter, alone programmer? not necessary at all
    – flyfroggy
    Sep 14, 2019 at 22:24
  • 3
    Possible duplicate of Academic dismissal from PhD program. What next?
    – Bryan Krause
    Sep 14, 2019 at 22:26
  • @flyfroggy don't take it personally... I'm just asking about the way that you described the question. My main purpose is to keep it short and informative and as clear as possible. Sep 14, 2019 at 22:26
  • 1
    (I know the duplicate is about a PhD, but it covers the general case of a failed graduate program in applications to further programs)
    – Bryan Krause
    Sep 14, 2019 at 22:26

3 Answers 3


You don't need to emphasize or even mention such things unless asked to account for the time you spent. In general, it is a poor choice to mention things you think are failures. In any application you want to emphasize your suitability for the position and the high likelihood that you will be a success at it. Stress the positive.

But be prepared to give an honest and sensible answer if asked what you were doing for a period of time longer than a few months. It is probably fine to say that you pursued a dead end and changed course, which sounds accurate. It is also fine to say that you escaped a dysfunctional environment after being caught up in it for a while. But that isn't something for your CV or your SOP.

You will probably be asked to supply transcripts of all academic programs in some applications. You need to do that, of course. But you don't need to characterize the situation as a failure unless the institution considered it so.


I agree with Buffy that there's no need to list/mention incomplete studies unless specifically asked; I'd only add that it might seem worth mentioning if you had any relevant and unique training while you were at that program that you might like to acknowledge for job applications down the line. If that's the case, you could always put a line on your CV (below and separate from your EDUCATION section) that says ADDITIONAL STUDIES, and maybe list a few relevant courses that you took. But I'd only suggest this if such training significantly adds value to your CV/you'd like to be able to reference that training in the future, like in a cover letter or job interview. If not, I wouldn't worry about it. At the end of the day, job search committees (academic ones anyway) are most interested in the terminal degree.


I would treat it like a transfer from one program to another. Once you were accepted into a new doctoral program that includes a masters along the way, the only sensible thing to do was to get started as quickly as possible. That would be the case even if your original masters program was great, and not dysfunctional.

Transfers are fairly common and happen for a lot reasons. When it involves going to a stronger program, though, it does not need much explanation on its face, so there is no reason to feel uncomfortable about not finishing the first program.

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