Master's of Arts (M.A.)

MA student presenting at a poster session

The Graduate School’s policies and procedures regarding matters such as admission, registration and enrollment, payment of tuition, graduation requirements, and other important matters are detailed in the annual bulletin.

Program overview

The M.A. degree program is designed to be completed in two years for students attending full time, or in less than six years for students attending part time. All graduate students are required to take HIST 601, Historiography and Methodology. Additional requirements depend upon whether a student chooses to write a thesis or not. This decision is made at the end of the first year in the program.

Non-thesis concentration

Students with this 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.

Thesis concentration

Students who choose this concentration must complete and successfully defend a thesis, a work that is grounded in primary sources and typically around one hundred 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.

There are several good reasons to consider choosing the thesis concentration. A thesis is a substantial challenge and thus can provide an exciting intellectual journey into a subject a student finds deeply interesting. Completing the research and writing usually leaves the student with a strong feeling of accomplishment. It is also a visible testament to the student's research, writing, and historical thinking skills.

Students wishing to write a thesis should choose a topic that interests them and that can be completed in a timely manner. Some topics might be interesting, but the primary sources necessary to research the topic might not be easily available. 

For help selecting a viable topic, and for guidance in completing the work, students must choose a faculty advisor. Students should feel free to query any graduate faculty member in the department who shares their interests about the possibility of directing the thesis. Once an advisor has signed on, the student and advisor should also consider which additional faculty will serve as a second and third members of the three-person thesis committee. The second member of the committee must be among the department's faculty, while the third must come from outside the History Department.

Once a topic has been selected and at least two committee members (the advisor and the second reader) have been identified, the student must complete a prospectus. Typically around twelve pages in length, a prospectus provides an overview of the thesis. To see samples of what a high quality prospectus looks like, click links to view prospectus sample one and prospectus sample two. It should:

  • 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).

A student wishing to begin thesis work in the fall semester must declare their intention to pursue the thesis track by April 1st. The student must then submit the prospectus to the Director of Graduate Studies by June 15th. A student wishing to begin thesis work in the spring semester must submit the prospectus to the Director of Graduate Studies by November 26th. 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. 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.  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.”  

Throughout the research and writing of the thesis, the student should consult regularly with his/her advisor and thesis committee members. 

Click here for VCU’s guidelines for preparation and submission of theses. A student should keep these in mind has he/she works on the thesis.

Once a thesis is near completion, the student and the advisor 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.


For course offerings in any given semester, please consult the Schedule of Classes. For general descriptions of all the courses, see Course Descriptions.

A student may take up to six hours of credits outside the History Department. He/she must secure approval from the department's Graduate Director before taking such a course. 

For graduation and commencement information, click here.