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Graduate Degrees and Requirements

As a matter of principle, the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences undertakes to adapt each program of study to the needs of each graduate student.  Beyond a few specific requirements, graduate students work with their graduate committees to determine the program of study that will best prepare them for their scholarly and professional careers.

With few exceptions, the requirements of the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences for the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees are identical to those of the Graduate School.  In no instance do departmental requirements supersede those of the Graduate School.  Each graduate student is responsible for ensuring that he or she meets all Graduate School requirements.

Explore the links below to learn about the courses offered by faculty in the Department and to locate details on the requirements for the M.A. and Ph.D. Degrees.

Program Requirements

Penn State’s Scholarship and Research Integrity (SARI) Training

All graduate students at Penn State are required to complete an instructional sequence relating to scholarship and research integrity. In the fall semester following matriculation, M.A. and Ph.D. students are required to complete two non-credit on-line courses offered by the Graduate School, one on human subjects research and the other on the responsible conduct of research. Students receive information concerning enrollment and the content of the two courses, and the required date of completion, before the beginning of the Fall semester.

Students also take part in five additional hours of instruction concerning the responsible conduct of research and research integrity, with one hour completed outside the Department and offered by the Graduate School. The Department complements and facilitates completion of this requirement through a 1-hour discussion during orientation as well as two 1.5-hour discussion sessions focused on topics related to scholarship and research integrity. 

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Independent Study and Research Credits

What are the options for independent study or research credits?

There are several options at the graduate level to earn credit for devoting time to research activities, including work on the master’s thesis or the doctoral dissertation.

CAS 594: Research Topics

CAS 594 allows students to earn credit for supervised activities on research projects conducted either individually or as part of a research team under the direction of a member of the faculty.  594 credits generally do not count toward fulfilling degree requirements, but may be taken in addition to required credits to maintain appropriate enrollment status. 

CAS 596: Individual Studies

CAS 596 involves creative projects, including non-thesis research, which are supervised on an individual basis and which fall outside the scope of formal courses.  In order for 596 to count toward degree requirements, it must be taken as the equivalent of a regular course, including a provided syllabus and reading list.

CAS 600: Thesis Research

CAS 600 allows students to earn credit for time and effort devoted to their thesis research.

CAS 601: Ph.D. Dissertation Full-Time

CAS 601 allows students to earn credit for time and effort devoted to their dissertation research.  Enrolling in CAS 601 also allows students to meet The Graduate School’s requirement that students be continuously enrolled through the completion of their degree.

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M.A. Requirements

What are the requirements for the M.A.?

  • A minimum of 30 credits
  • At least 3 credits of Research Methods relevant to the student’s research area (appropriate course work to be designated by the student's committee)
  • A maximum of 6 credits of CAS 596 (Individual Studies) may count toward the 30 credit minimum 
  • A total of 6 hours of CAS 600 within the minimum of 30 for the M.A. degree
  • An M.A. thesis
  • An oral examination in defense of the thesis. The candidate and at least two members of the M.A. committee (including the chair) must be present at the thesis defense. A favorable vote of at least two-thirds of the members of the committee is required for passing.
  • Satisfactory academic progress. Consistent with Graduate School regulations, a graduate student who fails to maintain satisfactory scholarship or to make acceptable progress in a degree program will be dropped from the program. Satisfactory progress for full-time students normally implies the completion of all degree requirements within a period not to exceed two consecutive calendar years. A cumulative grade-point average below 3.00 for any semester may be considered as evidence of unsatisfactory scholarship. Action to address this situation may be initiated by the department Head, the Graduate Officer, or by the chair of the student's committee.

Download the M.A. Thesis Option outline here (DOCX).

Download the M.A. Thesis Option outline here (PDF).

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What are the requirements for the Ph.D.?

  • A total of at least 36 course credits beyond the M.A. If credits were earned beyond the 30 credits required for the M.A. degree, they may be counted toward the Ph.D. 
  • At least 3 credits of Research Methods relevant to the student’s research area (appropriate course work to be designated by the student's committee)
  • At least 9 of these 36 total credits should be taken outside of the Communication Arts and Sciences Department. Credits earned with a member of the approved CAS Graduate Faculty who resides in a different department may be counted as "internal" or "external" credits at the discretion of an advisor and committee.
  • A minimum of 21 credits in Communication Arts and Sciences beyond the M.A. degree. A maximum of 6 credits of CAS 596 (Individual Studies) may count toward the 21-credit minimum
  • A qualifying examination in the student's second or third semester
  • A written and oral comprehensive examination
  • A dissertation (click here for more information)
  • An oral examination in defense of the dissertation
  • Satisfactory academic progress. Consistent with Graduate School regulations, a graduate student who fails to maintain satisfactory scholarship or to make acceptable progress in a degree program will be dropped from the program. Satisfactory progress for full-time students normally implies the completion of all degree requirements within the period specified by Grad School policy. A cumulative grade-point average below 3.00 for any semester may be considered as evidence of unsatisfactory scholarship. Action to address this situation may be initiated by the department Head, the student's committee, or by the chairperson of the student's committee.

Download the Ph. D. option outline form here (DOC).

Download the Ph. D. option outline form here (PDF).

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Dual-Title Ph.D. in CAS and Bioethics

What is the Dual-Title Ph.D. in CAS and Bioethics?

Issues of ethical concern arise frequently regarding communication about scientific, technological, and medical pursuits. The Dual-Title Ph.D. in Communication Arts & Sciences and Bioethics—the only one of its kind in the United States—provides communication arts & sciences graduate students with the theoretical and applied knowledge necessary to address ethical issues within the field of health communication as well as to conduct original bioethics research and to produce bioethics-related scholarship.

Students earning the dual degree would have access to growing employment opportunities that require expertise in bioethics (e.g., in addition to the same job markets available to other communication arts & sciences graduates).

Admission Requirements

Students who have been admitted to the CAS Ph.D. Program prepare a statement of purpose for why they wish to pursue the Dual-Title degree as part of their program planning process. The student’s doctoral committee will then consult with the student regarding the plan.

Doctoral Committee Composition

Students in the program are required to have an advisor from the Bioethics faculty. If the primary advisor in Communication Arts & Sciences is not a member of the Bioethics faculty, a second advisor from the Bioethics faculty will be required.

For more information on this degree, read about:

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Dual-Title Ph.D. in CAS and African American and Diaspora Studies

What is the Dual-Title Ph.D. in CAS and African American and Diaspora Studies?

The goal of the dual title partnership between CAS and AFAMD is to create a new pathway for graduate students to develop scholarly and professional expertise in the study of the communicative aspects of African American life and the African diaspora. This dual title will be important for graduate students who investigate how communication influences attitudes and behavior, relationship development and family dynamics, public life and public memory, democratic decision-making, social transformation and political/economic justice as these various areas intersect not only with communities of color but also the broader array of institutions, organizations, and policies that comprise distinct systems of human identity, racism, and the struggle for racial justice.

Students earning the dual degree would have access to growing employment opportunities that require expertise in African American studies (e.g., in addition to the same job markets available to other communication arts & sciences graduates).

Admission Requirements

Students who have been admitted to the CAS Ph.D. Program prepare a statement of purpose for why they wish to pursue the Dual-Title degree as part of their program planning process. The student’s doctoral committee will then consult with the student regarding the plan.  Doctoral students must be admitted into the dual-title degree program in AFAMD prior to taking the qualifying examination in their primary graduate program.

Doctoral Committee Composition

Students in the program are required to have an advisor from the AFAMD faculty. If the primary advisor in Communication Arts & Sciences is not a member of the AFAMD faculty, a second advisor from the AFAMD faculty will be required.

For more information on this degree, read about:

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Dual-Title Ph.D. in CAS and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

What is the Dual-Title Ph.D. in CAS and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies?

The dual-title Ph.D. in CAS and WGSS will address all aspects of communication pertaining to gender, sexuality, and identity. Emphasizing the rich history of such communication, placing that history within appropriate theoretical frames, and focusing on its contemporary manifestations in politics and culture, this program will add to on-going conversations about citizenship, inclusion, and national identity. 

Students earning the dual degree would have access to growing employment opportunities that require expertise in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality studies (e.g., in addition to the same job markets available to other communication arts & sciences graduates).

For more information, see WGSS Graduate Program.

Admission Requirements

Students who have been admitted to the CAS Ph.D. Program prepare a statement of purpose for why they wish to pursue the Dual-Title degree as part of their program planning process. The student’s doctoral committee will then consult with the student regarding the plan.  Doctoral students must be admitted into the dual-title degree program in WGSS prior to taking the qualifying examination in their primary graduate program.

Doctoral Committee Composition

Students in the program are required to have an advisor from the WGSS faculty. If the primary advisor in Communication Arts & Sciences is not a member of the WGSS faculty, a second advisor from the WGSS faculty will be required. 

For more information on this degree, read about:

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