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I've done all my undergraduate and MS in a country that I'm not a citizen of. After my MS, I did not want to continue studying at the school I was in and even wanted to switch my studies. However, I opted to stay a bit longer to see if I could publish off of the research I was doing with my MS. For this, I needed to get a new status for my visa for staying, and the easiest option was to continue being registered as a student which I did for half a year or so as a PhD student. I had to register for a course and since I had no intention of continuing the program I just registered and didn't bother with the course. As it turns out, I have an academic record for that one semester's worth of PhD program I was in with a failed course.

At the moment I'm applying for other schools in Europe (both MS and PhD), and the application for MS asks me to provide full academic records. Well technically speaking, I have that record of this PhD, with a failed course and a dropout. But obviously, this does not correctly interpret my academic history, where I had never actually failed any course. I'm afraid that the inclusion of this would weaken my chances.

What do you suggest I do? Do the universities really go through and verify the details? If I didn't include this part of the record would it be a serious problem? Or if I did include it, how would I make this clearly understood?

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Verification of details may not be common but can definitely happen. If they ask for EVERY record, then it should be on the CV. (otherwise, I believe you are usually under no obligation to report all your life in your CV, just experience that you think is relevant and useful)

However, you are also allowed to not put emphasis on something you think is not beneficial. In this case, can you just briefly mention it in an unremarkable sentence that will likely be ignored?

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  • I have it as a research experience, as an RA rather than my education part. Would this be a problem?
    – memberB
    Nov 30, 2023 at 12:18
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So I'll try to get through all your questions. Take this all with a grain of salt, I've never personally dealt with something like this before...

Do the universities really go through and verify the details?

Usually no, but that's why most schools request official transcripts - so they don't have to. Every transcript I have seen lists all classes and degrees. So if you sent your transcript, by default it will show the failed class and the fact that it was for a second degree (that was obviously never completed). I don't see any way around this since most places, even if they initially take self-reported/unofficial transcripts, will expect an official record directly from your prior institution once you are accepted.

If I didn't include this part of the record would it be a serious problem?

Down the line, maybe not. This is not something you need to include on a resume or CV in 10 years. But on a university application that explicitly asks for all academic records, yes. I have never seen a university not explicitly ask for this. And I think the chances of being discovered are high (re the first part of this answer). So you'd likely end up in hot water if you omit this information.

Or if I did include it, how would I make this clearly understood?

I would explain as little as possible to get the point across that you didn't fail out of the program. I say this because this situation makes me a little nervous. I'm not familiar with immigration laws, but this feels...off. You were clearly gaming the system by working when you were (falsely?) registered as a student. I don't know if this would have any negative repercussions, but I don't know that I would go around announcing (especially if you need another visa for school).

But obviously, this does not correctly interpret my academic history, where I had never actually failed any course.

Also want to address this - you did actually fail a course. It's no different than if you failed a class during undergrad or your masters because you didn't show up... If you could rewind the clock, I would have told you to just take the class and pass. That would have been much easier to explain. As it stands now, your best bet is to address it as briefly as possible and move on. Send the transcript, answer the inevitable follow-up questions honestly but vaguely, and hope for the best.

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  • Thanks for your detailed input. To clarify some info, I can submit official transcript documents by selecting my degrees - I can separately submit my official transcripts of my BS and MS, and the PhD part also. I was not like an unofficial PhD student, but in fact, a number of students do this after masters at the school I was in - temporarily register themselves as a PhD and transition to other places. But I get your general input. Yes, if I knew this I wouldn't have registered as a PhD or just attended the course. Also your point of saying that mentioning visa stuff is potentially bad.
    – memberB
    Nov 30, 2023 at 12:11
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I don't know where you want to apply to exactly, but in Germany, you are required to list EVERY academic enrollment and transcript. They check e.g. if you failed a course three times, which would automatically disqualify for any further studies that require this course (or a course with similar content). I am sure this is not the only reason why they ask this, but one of the most important ones.

The thing is, they might not be able to check with every single uni in the world if you have been enrolled there. But if somehow someone found out afterwards, this could be grounds for having your degree revoked afterwards as you are obligated to disclose your full academic history and actively lied and withheld information. Don't hold this info back. If you think that it might hurt your chances, a short info how it came about never hurts.

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    I believe the same is true in the US.
    – Buffy
    Nov 29, 2023 at 13:39
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    "if you failed a course three times, which would automatically disqualify for any further studies that require this course (or a course with similar content)" That is claim doesn't seem to be correct, in general (although it might apply in some cases). Nov 29, 2023 at 14:28
  • Not only might a lie (by omission) on the application be grounds for revoking a degree, at all the institutions with which I am familiar, it is grounds for dismissal from the program.
    – Bob Brown
    Nov 29, 2023 at 17:14
  • Thank you. Where do you suggest I mention it? It feels a bit off the topic to mention it on SOP, and awkward to write it in a sentence on CV. Perhaps in my education experience section mentioning it as a research assistant? Or just on the application window, I can write as additional information, though I'm worried that the reviewers would miss this part.
    – memberB
    Nov 30, 2023 at 12:17

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