Successfully Complete My Master's Degree
Students selecting the non-thesis concentration must complete 36 credits of coursework, which must include HIST 601 and two research seminars. For the remainder of the coursework, students may choose any other history graduate courses, as well as up to six total credit hours in related graduate programs around the university. Permission for the latter must first be secured from the graduate director.
The culmination of the non-thesis concentration is a two-hour oral examination in the final semester of study. Students wishing to sit for the oral exam should notify the director of graduate studies at least six weeks prior to the last day of class for the semester. The student and the director will consult with each other to form an examination committee, which shall consist of three faculty from the history department (though in some cases an external person may serve on the committee). All final decisions about the composition of the committee shall rest with the director, however.
Students preparing for the oral examination should consult with the committee members in advance of the exam. Students who fail the examination on their first attempt shall have one additional chance to sit for it.
Students selecting the thesis concentration must complete and successfully defend a thesis, a work that is grounded in primary sources and typically around 100 pages in length. Students with this concentration must complete 30 credits of coursework, including HIST 601 and 6 thesis credits of HIST 698. For the remainder of the coursework, students may choose any other history graduate courses, as well as up to six total credit hours in related graduate programs around the university. Permission for the latter must first be secured from the graduate director.
A student wishing to begin thesis work in the fall semester must declare their intention to pursue the thesis track by April 1. The student must then submit the prospectus to the director of graduate studies by June 15. A student wishing to begin thesis work in the spring semester must submit the prospectus to the graduate director by November 26.
The Graduate Affairs Committee will then review the prospectus and evaluate the student’s ability to complete a thesis. The Committee may approve the prospectus, ask the student to revise and resubmit it, or determine that the student may not proceed to the thesis concentration. A student may not enroll for thesis credits, HIST 698, until he/she has completed 18 semester hours and obtained the Graduate Affairs Committee’s approval.
Once the prospectus has been approved, the student may enroll in HIST 698 and begin work on the thesis. Throughout the research and writing of the thesis, the student should consult regularly with his/her adviser and thesis committee members.
A student may count no more than six hours of HIST 698 toward the M.A. degree, but he/she may take more than six hours if necessary. A student must be enrolled in at least one credit of HIST 698 the semester he/she graduates.
Once a thesis is near completion, the student and the adviser should determine a date for a thesis defense. A defense consists of three faculty members (the thesis committee) examining the student on various aspects of the work.
A thesis defense should take place approximately two weeks or more before the Graduate School’s deadline for submission of a thesis and the obtaining of all necessary signatures for final approval. As the defense nears, the student should provide each member of the committee with a copy of the entire thesis. Students must take into account that faculty might not always be able to read the thesis on short notice; plan ahead and allow sufficient time for all involved to prepare for the defense.
- Choose a topic of interest that can be completed in a timely manner
- Make sure there are enough primary sources available for your research topic
- See Thesis Advice from Students by former M.A. students Meika Downey and Peighton Young
Once a topic has been selected and at least two committee members (the adviser and the second reader) have been identified, the student must complete a prospectus. Typically around 12 pages in length, a prospectus provides an overview of the thesis.
- briefly describe the topic
- outline the core questions the student seeks to explore
- briefly survey some of the historiography on the topic and explain how the thesis will differ from what historians have already said
- explain the methodology to be used
- list the most important primary and secondary sources to be used
- provide a tentative organizational plan for the thesis (how many chapters, and the topic of each chapter)
Below we provide two high quality prospectus examples for downloading to help guide current thesis students in crafting their own.
See VCU’s guidelines for preparation and submission of theses. A student should keep these in mind has he/she works on the thesis.
In addition, VCU regulations require that “any person engaged in graduate study at VCU must enroll each semester in which he/she is engaged in any form of study at VCU that involves use of university facilities, laboratories/studios and/or libraries, or who is supervised by or consults with a faculty member concerning graduate work on a project, work of art, thesis or dissertation.”