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October 15, 2023

INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMA: What Is a Conferred Degree?

What is a conferred degree? When can you say you have a college degree? Is it just about taking college classes or is there more to it than that? Find out what the different terms mean.

What Is a Conferred Degree
Many people have conferred degrees, but not all of them have completed the normal coursework. Others have earned their degree but it hasn’t been conferred yet. Here’s why.

At the most basic level, the phrase “conferred degree” means you’ve finished all the academic and administrative requirements of your education program.

When your degree is conferred, it shows you are a legal and official graduate of your program. There are two ways to earn a conferred degree.

Traditional Degree
university students listening to a lecture in a classroom

The first, and most popular way, is to finish all of the requirements in an educational program, such as a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate curriculum. You finish the work, you attend a graduation ceremony, you get the diploma, and you have a conferred degree.

There may be some steps between completing your coursework and your degree conferral. For example, you may have to pay an outstanding balance on your school account, return materials to the school, or file paperwork to request your diploma.

The degree is not conferred until your school audits (or checks) that you have met all of the requirements.

Honorary Degree
The second way to earn a conferred degree is to accept an honorary diploma. Universities give honorary degrees to people who have made outstanding accomplishments in their field.

For example, Kanye West earned an honorary doctorate from the School Of Art Institute Of Chicago for his work in music, even though he did not finish college.

An honorary degree doesn’t mean you’ve finished (or even started) all of the coursework. It only means that the school gave you a diploma.

Still, the term “conferred degree” applies to both situations. Whether you complete all of the coursework to earn a degree or the school awards you an honorary one, once you have the diploma in hand, it is conferred.

Degree Completed vs Degree Conferred
As we said earlier, there may be some steps between finishing your last class and having your degree conferred. In fact, your graduation date is very likely different from your degree conferred date.

Many graduates walk at a ceremony, and they are handed a piece of paper on stage for a nice photograph. It’s only later that they receive their actual degree in the mail.

This is the case at California State University, where graduates have a commencement (or graduation) ceremony, but get their degree in the mail 6-8 weeks later.

To find your degree conferred date, check your academic transcript. It might say any of the following at the top:
  • In Progress
  • Completed
  • Awarded or Conferred
  • “In progress” could mean that you haven’t finished all of the requirements of the program yet. For example, you might have to take more classes.
“Completed” means you’ve finished all of the academic requirements for your degree, but you don’t have your diploma yet.

Your completion date can be useful. For example, if you want to apply to another educational program or apply to a job and show that you’ll soon have your conferred degree.

Your transcript will most likely say “completed” until you meet all of the other requirements of your school for conferral. You might have to pay fees, file paperwork for a graduation ceremony, or settle any outstanding issues.

Finally, “conferred” or “awarded” means you have a conferred degree. Not all schools use the same terms, so your transcript might say “awarded” instead of “conferred.” Don’t worry; your awarded date is the same as your conferred date.

What Does Degree Completed but Not Conferred Mean?
Let’s go back to the application for your dream job. If you have a transcript that says “conferred” or “awarded,” then you’re set. Write down that date as your degree conferred date.

If your transcript says “complete,” don’t write down the date of completion. That is not the same thing as the date conferred.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, many employers check to make sure degrees are real. An employer might call your school or use a company to verify that your information is accurate.

When Can I Say I Have a Degree?
When your degree is conferred, your official and unofficial transcript will show it. Look for a mark of “awarded” or “conferred.” At this point, and only this point, should you say that you have your degree. It’s okay if your diploma is still in the mail. Your conferred degree means you “have” your degree.

To say you have a degree, you should have at least one of the following:
  • A transcript that says “awarded” or “conferred.”
  • Confirmation from the registrar’s office that your degree has been conferred.
  • A diploma (although this might arrive in the mail after the date of conferral).
Keep in mind that there are some alternative things you can say to potential employers or education programs if your degree is not conferred yet. It’s fine to say your degree is complete but not conferred. Just make sure your transcript is marked “complete” first.

If your transcript says “in progress” or “complete,” it is not okay to say that you have your degree. Remember, employers may check by calling your school.

What Does Conferral Mean?
students walking to stage in a graduation ceremony

To recap, you have a conferred degree when your school officially and legally awards you an undergraduate or graduate degree.

Either you have completed all of the academic work and administrative tasks that your college requires, or you have been awarded an honorary degree. Both count as conferred degrees.

In a typical path, you might talk with your advisor or registrar, finish your last class, and file the necessary paperwork to complete your program. At this point, your transcript will say “complete.”

Then, your paperwork will be audited to make sure you’ve met all of the requirements for conferral. You might attend a ceremony, such as a graduation, to celebrate. You’ll receive a conferred degree and finally receive your diploma, possibly in the mail.

Lastly, there’s no need to wait for your conferred degree to start applying to jobs and other educational programs. Just be clear in communicating that your degree is “in progress,” or “complete but not conferred.”

Conferring a degree can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Employers should understand this. Still, they may check to make sure your statements about your degree are accurate. They may call your school to verify the status of your degree.

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