Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts
M.A. Program

M.A. Program

As a matter of principle, the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences adapts each program of study to the needs of our graduate students. Beyond a few specific requirements, graduate students work with their 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. degree are identical to those of the Graduate School. Each graduate student is responsible for ensuring that he or she meets all Graduate School requirements.

Requirements for the Degree

  • A minimum of 30 credits
    • 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
    • At least 3 credits of research methods relevant to the student’s research area (appropriate coursework to be designated by the student’s committee)
  • 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 as defined by Graduate School policy GCAC-404.

In addition to the above requirements, all graduate students at Penn State are required to complete an instructional sequence relating to scholarship and research integrity, or SARI. In the fall semester following matriculation, M.A. students are required to complete two non-credit online 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.

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. These courses include:

  • CAS 594: Research Topics
  • CAS 596: Individual Studies
  • CAS 600: Thesis Research

M.A. Completion Timeline

Your temporary adviser is appointed prior to the start of your first semester. As noted earlier, the function of the temporary adviser is to help you select courses for your first semester and to answer any questions you may have as you begin your graduate program.

Your attendance is required during the orientation period prior to the start of the fall semester. This program includes teaching assistant training and meetings to discuss the graduate program and departmental policies. You also will register for your first semester of classes during the orientation period.

Prior to, or early in your second semester, you should notify the graduate officer whether you plan to continue with your temporary adviser or choose a new adviser.

With the assistance of your adviser, you will identify a committee of at least three qualified members, and upon the recommendation of the adviser, the head or graduate officer will name those individuals as the committee of record. Once the committee composition is official, you will need to schedule a meeting with the members to conduct a program review no later than your second semester, and preferably early in that semester. Changes in the composition of the committee require approval by the head or graduate officer and should be requested only in such instances as departure of existing members from the faculty, significant alteration in a previously approved program of study, the need for particular expertise not possessed by extant members, and irreconcilable personal differences unrelated to the quality of the candidate’s academic performance.

Complete the SARI training as mentioned above.

During your first year of graduate study, you should have made substantial progress toward determining the kind of research you will do in completing a thesis (or original research project for the non-thesis option) and toward acquiring the special methodological competencies that kind of research requires.

If you plan, through attendance at two summer sessions (preceding and following appointment as a graduate assistant), to complete your degree in one year, you must have a thesis proposal completed and accepted by your committee no later than the spring semester. It is possible for full-time graduate students to complete work for the M.A. in two semesters, but those with appointments as graduate assistants should plan on at least three semesters.

For graduate assistants, the writing of the thesis should be completed early in the spring semester of your second year. Financial support for graduate assistants pursuing the M.A. degree is not typically continued beyond a second year of full-time study.

The defense draft of the thesis must be circulated to all members of the advisory committee for approval a minimum of two weeks in advance of the oral defense. The defense may cover the thesis and the general field of communication. After the committee has approved the thesis, it should be typed in final thesis form. Be sure that you follow the regulations published in the Graduate School Thesis Guide.

When your thesis has received final approval, you should deliver the original copy to the Graduate School, a bound copy to the departmental office for the departmental library, and—as a professional courtesy—a bound copy to your adviser.