I have a PhD from an accreditated university, and actually am an associate professor at one, and was casually looking to apply to a masters program in an unrelated discipline at another university. Mine doesn't offer the program, but it is something I thought would be fun to learn. First question out of the box from the recruitment counselor was: "So did you get an undergraduate degree? How were your grades?"

My response was "I have a PhD. Of course I have an undergraduate degree. Why do you care?" She replied they would need all my undergraduate transcripts because of "accreditation." This includes transcripts from a junior college I attended 40 years ago. Really? And what are they supposed to prove that can't be demonstrated from my (more recent by a couple of decades) graduate transcripts already?

I have dealt with accreditation on the major courses side, but not the admissions side (if such a thing exists.) Is there no one at these places that recognizes a PhD kind of implies I had at least a modicum of success as an undergrad?

Frankly, it's not a big deal; after all, I had to do it before when I applied to graduate schools in the past. But I am an old codger and find it rather irksome that institutions can be so mind-numbingly inflexible when faced with situations that don't easily fit the template: that of being a young, recent graduate with no post-graduate education. I actually find it hard to believe (because it IS so dumb) but can't find anything posted anywhere that directly addresses this.

So what's the word from anyone who actually serves on one of the various accreditation bodies. If I am a university, am I at risk of some sort of violation if I accept someone into a graduate program who already has a terminal degree from an accredited institution without first receiving all of their undergraduate transcripts? What is the possible justification for this?

Note: It just occurred to me our registrar might have somebody who knows about this (since we are accreditated too) but I am going to post just to have it here and will answer if I find something and no one else answers.

2nd Note: Excuse the rant. After talking to the registrar it occurred to me that a college may want to see what prior courses you took that were relevant to the degree. The line of questioning is what threw me. It makes sense that a program would want to know you are somewhat qualified to pursue a graduate line of study. I suppose your undergraduate courses, albeit from decades ago, would be a reasonable line of inquiry.

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    "Do accreditation bodies require masters programs in the US to assess undergraduate records of applicants?" seems like an answerable question, ds, but is it possible to cut back on the rant? I understand and sympathize with the frustration, but this is a Q&A site not a forum.
    – user137975
    May 9, 2023 at 17:34
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    Sorry about the rant, but that isn't the question: Rather it is why doesn't a graduate, especially terminal, degree suffice in lieu of an undergraduate one? May 9, 2023 at 17:47
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    Because somebody made a process that requires that information. Never underestimate the ability of a bureaucracy to insist on mindless rules. Now, that said, not all PhDs have a background suitable for a given Masters degree. Next, you may find that any 'required for the Masters' undergraduate courses you took are now too old to count...
    – Jon Custer
    May 9, 2023 at 18:03
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    I do not remember where it was (Germany? Poland?) where a member of the government decided, after having retired, to move into agriculture. In order to get a "license" of sorts, he needed to provide his record of primary education. He provided his PhD but this was not accepted (at least initially) because the rules said "primary education".
    – WoJ
    May 10, 2023 at 9:19
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    It's hard for me to say whether providing the required degree would actually be a problem (things may be hard to find after 40 years) or whether this is just opposition out of principle. Perhaps you can edit the question to clarify? May 10, 2023 at 12:00

5 Answers 5


Look, you're in an unusual situation: a PhD holder and current professor going back for a lower degree in an unrelated field just for fun. You're going to run up against a bunch of apparently frustrating protocols, because the system was never designed to handle your case. You're just going to have to deal with some of that.

My partner is actually in a very similar situation. She has a terminal degree (Master of Fine Arts) and worked as adjunct faculty for a number of years. She decided it would be fun to pick up a Culinary Arts degree at the community college where I'm a full-time faculty member (in a different department). She's likewise had to get past a slew of aggravating complications -- mandatory advisement with people that don't know what to do with her, transcripts from higher institutions that this college doesn't know how to process, months-long delays, expectation she take a basic English course, being dropped from active registration twice, etc.

There's practically no sense in trying to reason out why any particular procedural hurdle is in place for your case; it simply isn't going to make sense (from the institution's perspective, possibly, your being there doesn't make sense, i.e., is undefined behavior). Every staffer or office you deal with is going to have a checklist of items in their workflow, and many of the boxes are incoherent in your case, but the staffers are directed to get them checked off. Most of the time they won't know why it was set up that way.

Frankly, the justification about accreditation is most likely pure bullshit made up to end that conversation. I wouldn't spend a single second trying to confirm, argue, or rationalize that. In our experience (incl. me being a faculty member at the institution in question), there's nothing you can do except get those boxes checked as per the standard process requirement. It's going to be dumb at times.

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    In support of the statement "There's practically no sense in trying to reason": I was once asked to perform some advising task on a Saturday as part of an outreach program at my university, where I work as a full professor. They offered a $100 honorarium (or whatever they called it). Because the pay was separate from my salary, that made me a contractor and so to get the $100 I had to submit a full employment application, including undergrad transcripts. At the same university where work as a full professor.
    – Cheery
    May 10, 2023 at 13:28
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    +1 for "possibly your being there doesn't make sense". There is nothing wrong with degree collecting per se, but people who do it need to accept that often they will be viewed as an unwanted distraction by the people who run the degree programs.
    – Nobody
    May 10, 2023 at 16:11
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    I’ve gone back to school for a second bachelor’s in an unrelated field and because of my 120+ hours of "transfer" credits, the registrar’s system thinks I’m about to graduate and sends me endless emails about applying for graduation and job searches. Upside is I get to register for classes early. But yeah, there’s a lot of stuff I have to do that doesn’t make sense but I have to do it anyway. May 10, 2023 at 18:06
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    +1; and I would add another +1 if I could just for your " your being there doesn't make sense, i.e., is undefined behavior" (you made me ROFL). Now I can't stop visualizing nasal demons and dragons haunting the poor employees that have to process OP's application paperwork! :-D May 10, 2023 at 20:22
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    @cheery.beach7701: ... so to get the $100 I had to submit a full employment application, including undergrad transcripts. At the same university where work as a full professor. -- I'm reminded of the section "Thirteen Times" in Feynman's 1985 book "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman" -- see the lower portion of this web page (then go to p. 63, at top). In Feynman's case, the money wasn't from where he taught, but the number of hoops he had to jump through makes up for it. May 11, 2023 at 8:25

A rule that says "you must provide all academic transcripts" is far, far simpler than a rule "you sometimes must provide all academic transcripts".

We get a lot of questions here, usually by people who are unhappy with some part of their academic record, wondering if they can leave these parts off of various applications. It's very simple to tell them: well, if you're applying in the US, they're probably going to say you need to provide your entire academic record, transcripts from everywhere you've attended, so you'll need to provide them all. No, there is not a way to argue around or find some trick or gap in the language to omit that time you took a semester of coursework and flunked out, just like someone who flunked a single semester of their primary degree, you have to include that.

Now, I'm not saying that's your case at all, but I'm suggesting that rules that accommodate your special case would need to also consider all the other possible cases that would possibly allow someone to skip providing some of their transcripts. Let's say someone else has a non-traditional background, and somehow got a PhD without ever completing an undergraduate degree. That decision is up to the program granting the PhD, but it doesn't necessarily "carry over" to everyone else: they get to make their own decisions about whether an undergraduate degree is actually necessary for their own program, and whether possessing a PhD degree could somehow act as evidence in support.

The simpler rule is simpler for almost everyone. If it's necessary, rather than merely convenient, to obtain some sort of exception based on other work you've done, you could pursue that (for example: your undergraduate institution is defunct and it's not possible to obtain a transcript anymore). Otherwise, you already landed on the other good reason:

It makes sense that a program would want to know you are somewhat qualified to pursue a graduate line of study. I suppose your undergraduate courses, albeit from decades ago, would be a reasonable line of inquiry.

It's certainly possible to obtain a PhD in some field without completing the necessary coursework to prepare you for some other masters degree, especially in an unrelated discipline. I have a PhD, too, even in a quantitative field with a fair amount of math, but there's absolutely no way I could succeed in a math masters program, I haven't taken any of the upper class math courses that an undergraduate math major would be expected to take.


(a) Some schools fear an audit by an accreditation body and want to see transcripts of all previous school work.

(b) Some other schools have automatized / partially outsourced to another internal entity the M.S. admissions process and those people are not able to deviate from the process, be that because of lack of willingness to adjust rules or because they obliged themselves to follow certain rules.

(c) There might actually be restrictions on the profile of the incoming student. (E.g. you need to have had a second course in calculus.)

(d) The program is competitive and the assessment of fitness is based on a formula that looks at the undergraduate education.

(e) Many more reasons I cannot think of at the moment.

In short, a program director might end up having to enforce mindless rules with the best of intentions. If you think that bureaucracy is bad, think about how things worked before bureaucracy was invented. But I enjoyed your rant.

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    But I enjoyed your rant. -- See my comments to this MSE question for another you may enjoy. Also @Daniel R. Collins. May 10, 2023 at 11:07

Because people at these institutions have an actual job to do. Making exceptions for unlikely cases that still fit the usual case is literally nothing but trouble.

If your PhD and professorship is a sign you have the required credentials because you actually have them – just hand them in. That's it, case closed, no trouble for anyone involved.

So what if you don't have these credentials? Now they have to make an exception. And that includes dealing with an entire can of worms, both before and after the fact.
Someone has to find out whether your credentials actually are sufficient. Someone has to find out how to formally recognise your credentials actually are sufficient. Someone has to find out which other credentials then too may be equivalent by this precedent. … Someone down the line in X years from now has to find out what to do with this mess when administration gets retooled formally, technically or otherwise.

So yes, they will ask you first whether you can make everyone's life easier and just hand in the standard paperwork. If you cannot, things will depend on their processes and discretion but also whether you bluntly blow them off with "Why do you care?".


You don't say what country are you from, but the ways and the set of prerequisites to get into a study may be well defined in law or other hard rule. For example, there are several ways to get in an undergraduate degree in Catalonia, like having completed high school and a dedicated test or having another undergraduate degree. However, none of them is having a PhD. Therefore, the admission paperwork is focused in one of the established ways, that are unrelated to your PhD. Additionally, if they need to select students, the way to select them may also be set in the books, and it may be by using the high school or undergrad grades, and it may not even be possible to make an exception o that.

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