Academic Policy Regarding Approved Substitutes for Master’s Degree Comprehensive Exam and Thesis Requirements

Updated: Fall 2004

A hallmark of graduate education at the master’s level is broad exposure to a specific discipline, culminating in an independent project that assesses student competence in their field. For the master’s degree, a written or oral comprehensive examination (or both) and a thesis are required; however, programs have the authority to request approved substitutes in meeting these requirements, normally within the guidelines of its field or accreditation requirements.

Examples of approved substitutes are capstone courses, technical reports or independent research projects. Typically, capstone courses can only substitute for comprehensive exams, not for a formal thesis. These capstone courses should synthesize all material studied in the program – not just in a review format but through a set of discussions and assignments where all material from the program is brought together to complete the students' learning. Variations on research papers and projects should be similar to a traditional research thesis but may be more targeted or practical as suited to the discipline. The Graduate School will provide examples of approved substitutes on request.

Programs are urged to develop strenuous alternatives that show mastery of the program subject matter and independent learning experiences and/or presentation experiences. The Graduate School also urges programs to review any accreditation requirements prior to making any significant curriculum changes.

Proposal Submission Process

Proposals for substitutes are taken to the Academic Policy Committee of The Graduate School for feedback and approval. Senior Staff (dean, associate, and assistant deans) of The Graduate School should be involved as early as possible to provide guidance in the planning process. While there is no standard format for requesting a substitute, programs should address the following issues in submitting their proposal to The Graduate School:

When students complete an approved substitute, the appropriate forms to be filled out and submitted to The Graduate School can be found at: Master’s Comprehensive Exam or Approved Substitute Report and Report of Approved Substitute for a Master’s Thesis.

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