What Is a Conferred Degree? [2024 Guide]

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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

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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.

What Is a Conferred Degree?

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 course work 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

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 course work. It only means that the school gave you a diploma. For example, Kanye West is not considered a “doctor” and isn’t accepted academically for his doctorate.

Still, the term “conferred degree” applies to both situations. Whether you complete all of the course work 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

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.

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“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?

human resource manager interviewing a job applicant

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. Employers can check your information. You don’t want to have to explain why the dates don’t match up.

A better option is to check a box for (or write) “degree completed but not conferred.” This shows that you’ve finished all of the academic requirements for your degree. You just don’t have your diploma yet.

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.

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An application may ask for a copy of your official, sealed transcript. This will also reveal if your conferral date is accurate or not.

There is no shame in writing “degree completed but not conferred.” It’s accurate, it shows you will soon have your degree conferred, and it will match your school’s records in case someone verifies your information.

There’s no need to wait until you have a conferred degree to apply for your next education program or dream job. “Degree completed but not conferred” can help you move forward. You can always update the application later when your degree is conferred.

How Long Does It Take for a Degree to Be Conferred?

group of people waiting in a long line

A typical progression for finishing an education program might look something like this:

  • You finish your last class.
  • You file paperwork with your registrar.
  • You attend a commencement (graduation) ceremony.
  • The school audits your paperwork to make sure you’ve completed all the requirements.
  • The school officially awards (confers) your degree.
  • You receive your diploma in the mail.

There is no standard time between finishing the last class and receiving a diploma. Some schools process paperwork faster than others.

Make sure to check with your registrar’s office for their specific timeline for conferring your degree.

How Do You Confer Graduates?

professional man talking to an employee in a college registrar

One question to ask your school’s registrar is, “How do you confer graduates?” Some schools automatically mark transcripts “complete” once the last class is finished. As we discussed, complete isn’t the same as conferred.

You might need to fill out a form to ask to graduate. This will trigger the audit of your classes and accounts with the school that is needed for conferral.

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Every school’s process is unique, so check with the registrar. Don’t wait for a degree to show up in the mail. Chances are if you don’t tell your registrar, or at least your academic advisor, that you’re interested in graduating, nothing will happen.

In some cases, your transcript might not even be marked “complete” unless you alert the registrar that you have finished your program. To avoid delays, communicate with your advisor and registrar.

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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Jordan Meeks
Jordan is pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Policy and earned her Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management and her Bachelor's in Business Administration. Jordan's research focuses on adults returning to college and online degree programs.