Live from #AACRAO2023: When is a Degree Not a Degree?

March 31, 2023
  • AACRAO Annual Meeting
  • International Admissions and Credential Evaluation
Open book, laptop, and diploma on table in foreground with library in background.

By David Mihalyi, Associate Director AACRAO International

This session covered examples of qualifications issued by recognized HEI’s in various countries but without official recognition as formal academic degrees from the authorities governing education in those countries. 

United Kingdom

The first example presented was the honorary Master of Arts, awarded by examination by most universities in the UK, but as honorary degrees – representing completion of no academic work - by the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford, which award the MLitt as a research degree instead of the MA.


The discussion turned next to the differences between the more theoretical, multidisciplinary university degrees under the Licence/Master/Doctorat (LMD) structure and more practical, technical qualifications awarded by the Grandes Écoles in business, civil service & administration, communications, engineering, media, architecture, and teaching.

Pathways to admission to the grandes Écoles is most often achieved via the Classes préparatoires aux grandes écoles (CPGE), referred to as prépas, leading to competitive examinations (concours) after two years of intensive preparation during the school day plus tutoring in the evenings. No qualification is awarded upon completion of classes préparatoires. Rarely, students are admitted directly into a 5-year program after the Baccalauréat. Students who fail Prépas are still highly recruited by the universities (only 20% pass). 

The qualification awarded by the grandes écoles take the form of “Diplôme de (the name of the grande école). In addition, the official national university degree of Master may be awarded on the same diploma. Programmatic recognition, via the Commission d'évaluation des formations et diplômes de gestion (CEFDG) for business degrees, is important. Without this recognition, the qualification is an institution-specific degree and not comparable to a US degree. Recognition of a diploma as a Ministry-approved diploma (diplôme visé or “sealed diploma”) is another way to recognize a Ministry-approved qualification comparable to a US degree. A diplôme visé grants access to doctoral-level studies whereas a diploma without such recognition does not.

The diplomas not under the Ministry of Education lack the references to acts and degrees found on the left-hand side and may have the – potentially misleading – language “Accredited by the Conférence des Grandes Écoles” on them. The Conférence des Grandes Écoles, however, is not a regulatory body in France. These diplomas are valued for employment purposes in France and abroad, but are not comparable to academic degrees in France.

The degree of Magistère presents a nuanced situation in terms of recognition and was presented as an “it depends” situation. It follows the Baccalauréat + 2 + 3 model of the grandes écoles and in the present day is often accessed after completion of two years of a LIcence degree. It was designed to emulate the offerings of the grandes Écoles and is more professionally oriented. Its primary intent is not to provide access to further graduate study, although graduates may be admissible to doctoral study. 

Magistère programs were to have a separate accreditation process, but no recertification mechanism was retained after 2005. Upon introduction of the LMD model, it became officially outside of the national degree structure in France. The AACRAO EDGE credential advice will reflect the duality and recommend recognition of these degrees pre-2005 only. Post 2005 Magistère degrees will be treated as non-degree study.

Take-away: The term “Master” or a derivative on a diploma doesn’t mean it’s a recognized degree.


Specialization (especialização)/MBA diplomas issued by recognized universities upon completion of lato sensu (broad sense) programs may represent completion of 360 hours to 2 years of study after an undergraduate Bacharelado degree program. These programs differ from stricto sensu (strict or narrow sense) programs leading to the award of the degrees of Mestre or Doutor. They are not under Ministry of Education control, and Brazilian universities do not typically grant credit toward stricto sensu degree programs for them.

Takeaway: Not all MBAs are created equal.

Examples from Other Countries


The Master Universitario de I⁰ Livello is a post-Laurea, but not ministry-approved degree and provides no access to further graduate study.


 In contrast with Italy, the terminology Master Universitario or título oficial universitario in Spain refers to a Ministry-recognized degree issued by the Ministry of Education in the name of the King of Spain. Spanish University may issue Título Propio qualifications of Master, Expert, and Especialista without mention of the Ministry or the king on the diploma.

Whatever the country, it is of paramount importance to request documentation in the original language to avoid the “helpful” translations or English versions of credentials that often cross the desk of international educational credential evaluators. 

If you are interested in learning more about international credentials, international credential evaluation, or simply curious about foreign education systems and ladders, visit AACRAO's Electronic Database for Global Education (EDGE).


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