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Friday, April 19, 2024
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Opinion: Ambitious students are let down by restrictive regulations for Combined Degree Programs

Advising on the Combined Bachelor’s and Master’s programs is often conflicting, leaving students confused on policies and rules

The combined bachelor’s/master’s degree program is confusing. It’s a program offered between American University’s undergraduate and graduate schools, and it has many great perks. However, the process of understanding the rules and regulations required for undergraduate students to participate in the program is far more difficult than it should be. This is due to a lack of clear communication between advisors and students on rules surrounding undergraduate credit limits. 

The program itself allows students to take graduate-level courses once accepted, which is usually during their senior year of undergraduate education. By the end of their undergraduate graduation, students can fulfill up to half of the requirements for a master’s degree. 

For a traditional four-year undergraduate student, this program would mean that they would receive their master’s degree only one year after receiving their bachelor’s degree. This both shaves a year off of school time and saves students considerable amounts of money by taking graduate courses at the cheaper undergraduate tuition prices. 

The issue for students, especially those with transferred credits, double majors, minors or other academic programs, are the program’s regulations around how many credits an undergraduate student can take. If that sounds vague, that’s because it is. According to the current graduate school academic regulations, combined program master’s classes may only be shared with classes already required for the participating student’s bachelor’s degree, either through major requirements or free electives. 

This makes sense; it functions like a dual enrollment program for high school students. However, the regulations become muddied when factoring in undergraduate credit limits. The graduate regulations elaborate that “students who complete their bachelor's degree with over 120 credits may be limited in the number of graduate credits shared through free electives.”

What this actually means for students interested in the program is wildly different depending on who you ask. I have been told by certain advisors and faculty that this rule only applies to courses shared through free electives and going over this 122 credit limit does not apply to courses shared through major requirements — which is what the graduate requirements seem to reflect. 

On the other hand, I have received many contrary explanations that if a student goes over 122 credits, a number often discussed by advisors but not stipulated specifically within online resources, they would not be able to share credits at all. This is true regardless of if the graduate classes were shared through undergraduate major requirements or free electives. 

These answers are wildly conflicting; they make the difference between being able to do the program and not. Operating under the latter interpretation, I would not be able to do the program.

Even the recruitment advisor for the School of Public Affairs combined programs was unclear on the interpretation of these regulations and how they might affect potential students. 

As someone who transferred many credits from Advanced Placement and community college courses, my free electives are already accounted for, and I cannot graduate with under 122 credits. This is because most did not count for core or major requirements, and many transferred into the University as two courses each, resulting in six credits transferred per AP class.

I had been operating under the assumption I could not do the program until some students and myself contacted the Associate Dean of Education in the SPA for clarity. Here, we were referred to the graduate regulations and were told this credit maximum only applied to sharing via elective courses. 

However, after learning this and sending follow up communications, the dean referred us back to undergraduate advising, whose conflicting information prompted us to contact higher administrative advice in the first place. 

The credit requirement to graduate with an undergraduate degree alone is 120 — this being the minimum, not the maximum. Offering a measly two-credit leeway, the combined program turns away ambitious students of all kinds for taking on heavy undergraduate course loads or transferring college-level classes from high school. 

By the time students are informed of this policy — which is not clearly stated in advertising material — they cannot un-transfer credits and often do not want to drop double majors, minors or other academic programs. 

It seems ironic that some of the most academically ambitious students at American University are possibly locked out of a program supposedly built for them. The limitations for students graduating with over 122 credits is egregious if true, and unclear if not. The combined programs at AU need to reevaluate their rules and consider why this policy and communication around it is harmful to many prospective students.

Jelinda Montes is a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs and School of Communication and a columnist for The Eagle. 

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