Skip to main content

Registration Units

The Graduate School requires that each student in a research degree program complete a certain number of registration units or semesters of successful full-time study or research.

Registration Units (RUs) and Related Requirements

A registration unit (RU) represents the satisfactory completion of one academic semester of full-time study or research.   Registration units measure student progress by the length of time spent in pursuit of the degree. 

Graduate School degrees require a certain number of registration units.

  • For the research master’s degree, two registration units are the minimum requirement. Exception:  One registration unit is the exception for the M.Eng. degree.
  • For doctoral candidates, a minimum of six registration units is required with at least two coming after the A Exam. (See “Examinations”)
  •  Special or terminal master’s degree programs (See “Exams Required for the Ph.D.”) require at least four registration units.

For all research degrees, at least half of the registration units must be earned from full-time academic-year study on the Ithaca campus or satellite locations. (Part-time students are exempt from this requirement.)


Professional degree and non-degree programs do not require registration units. If you transfer from such a program to another that requires registration units, you may petition to earn registration units for the time spent in the prior program.

Applying Study at Other Universities to Cornell RU Requirements

As a doctoral candidate, you can petition to receive up to two registration units for master’s work completed in a relevant non-Cornell program. This is accomplished by completing the “Request for Transfer of Registration Units” form, available online or in 143 Caldwell Hall.

Master’s degree students cannot receive registration credits for previous study at other graduate schools.

Applying Prior Study at Cornell to Your Current RU Requirements

If you transfer from a program that does not require registration units (e.g., M.Eng. or nondegree students) to one that does, you may petition to receive registration units for the time spent in the prior program.

Earning RUs for Summer or Extramural Study

If you enroll in regularly scheduled Cornell courses or extramural study (commonly known as ExMu) and register in both the Graduate School and Cornell’s School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions, you may be awarded registration units. Six credit hours are worth one-half a registration unit; eleven credit hours equal one registration unit. To be eligible for summer study registration units, you must pay summer tuition.

Earning RUs for Summer Research

If you conduct full-time research for a six-week period under the direction of a member of the graduate faculty and with prior approval of the dean, you may earn a maximum of one-half of a registration unit. Under unusual circumstances, after an additional six weeks of study, you may petition to be granted one registration unit for the 12-week session. In exceptional cases, registration units for summer research may be allowed for the summer prior to your first year of registration. Under all circumstances, summer tuition must be paid to receive registration units for summer research.

Earning RUs for Study In Absentia

If you’re a regular registered student, you may register in absentia with approval from the Graduate School and your Special Committee. This allows you to study away from the university during the academic year. When in absentia, you continue to earn registration units under the direction of the Special Committee, though the work should be under the immediate supervision of a qualified director designated by the committee and acting on its behalf.

Earning an Entire Degree In Absentia

Cornell does not allow nor encourage students to earn degrees without completing work on the Cornell campus. Under certain conditions, the dean may regard a period of study in absentia under the guidance of a graduate faculty member as if it were study on campus, rather than in absentia. However, during this time, full regular tuition, rather than in absentia tuition, must be paid. No more than two registration units for the Ph.D. or one for the master’s degree may be used to satisfy the minimum registration requirements in this way. In addition, you may register for no more than eight semesters in absentia with the same limitations on employment as on-campus students.