M.A. Requirements and Policies

The M.A. portion of the M.A./Ph.D. program introduces students to a variety of approaches to communication research, and requires them to develop their scholarly abilities through the completion of a master’s thesis. Students’ programs of study are committee-driven.

The M.A. degree at the University of Washington is an academic degree. M.A. students in the Department of Communication learn valuable research and analytic skills and produce high quality master’s theses. Students in the M.A./Ph.D. program complete an M.A. degree on the way to achieving a Ph.D. in the department. Though some students choose to complete their graduate studies with the M.A. degree, most continue their studies to seek the Ph.D.. The M.A. is not designed to be a stand-alone or professional degree for those seeking a career in journalism, public relations, or marketing. Students interested in professional preparation in these areas should explore UW’s Communication Leadership graduate program.

Although the Graduate Program Advisor provides routine information updates regarding deadlines, university and department policies, and campus resources, students are responsible to find and act on the information that is relevant for them. Departmental policies are on this page and the Graduate School’s portal is http://grad.uw.edu.

Program requirements

Completion of a minimum of 45 credits, including:

  • 2-course core during the first year of study (COM 500, 501)
  • 1 additional methods course beyond COM 501
  • Up to 5 credits of COM 594 (Comm Professional Proseminar) in five different topics may count toward total, although COM 594 credits are NOT required for master’s students.
  • Up to 2 credits of COM 596 (Comm Pedagogy) may count toward total. Two credits are required for students with teaching assistantships and optional for all others.
  • Completion of the thesis (minimum 10 credits in COM 700) and oral defense.

At least 25 credits (not including COM 700) must be 500- or 600-level. The core courses count toward this requirement.

Time to completion

It is expected that a student can earn an M.A. in the Department of Communication in two years (six quarters, not counting summer). In accordance with University rules, there is a six-year time limit to completion of the M.A. degree.

Supervisory committee

Every M.A. student has a supervisory committee that oversees the progress of that student’s graduate studies. An M.A.-level supervisory committee must have at least two members, although the Department strongly recommends a three-member committee. The committee chair must be regular or adjunct graduate faculty in the Department of Communication, and at least half of the total committee membership must be on the graduate faculty. The Graduate Program Advisor must be notified of Chair and Committee selection by the end of the third quarter of study.

Selecting and working with a thesis/dissertation adviser

  • Graduate students need to initiate conversations with faculty with whom they share scholarly interests about potential advising/committee relationships. In general, faculty welcome these conversations and want to help grad students identify an appropriate adviser and thesis/dissertation committee members. It is not unusual for a graduate student to change advisers and/or committee members when his/her scholarly interests develop in a different direction than originally anticipated. Talking with your adviser and/or the Graduate Program Coordinator might help you clarify the optimal (re)configuration of your committee.
  • Intellectual fit matters. As you develop a preliminary proposal for your thesis or dissertation, (re)consider the apparent fit between your research and a prospective adviser’s areas of expertise, and the expertise held by current or prospective members of your committee. If possible, find an adviser whose has expertise in the primary topic or literature on which you will be focused, and/or in the main method(s) you plan to employ in your research. As you determine the key domains in which you hope to develop expertise, your adviser can help you identify faculty with expertise in those areas for you to consider inviting to join the committee.
  • Personality fit also matters. As you consider who to ask to serve as your adviser, think about which faculty you feel comfortable working with, and which are likely to work well with you. When possible, it is best to take a graduate seminar with a prospective adviser or committee member before inviting him/her to join the committee.
  • Review program guidelines and requirements with your adviser. In addition, talking with your adviser about his/her expectations for your interactions, preferred modes of communication, and potential travel/leaves that might impact your own timetable will help foster a good working relationship.

Program of study

All master’s students must file with the Graduate Program Advisor a Program of Study signed by all committee members by the end of the third quarter of study. The Program of Study also requires review by the Graduate Program Coordinator (GPC) on behalf of the Graduate Committee to ensure compliance with program requirements. The GPC may bring questions, concerns, or waiver requests to the Graduate Committee for consultation. Typically, a student’s supervisory committee does not convene a meeting to review the Program of Study.

On the Program of Study, the student must designate which of two options the student is going to pursue for the master’s thesis: a publishable research paper or a traditional thesis (see below).

The Program of Study template can be downloaded from the Docs for M.A./Ph.D. Students shared drive.

Research and teaching

Teaching is valued in this department. But if research is part of a student’s career goals, that student should consider the trade-offs between devoting discretionary time to instructional activities (e.g., tutoring or volunteering in an undergraduate program) versus advancing his or her own research (e.g., by developing a seminar paper for publication). Students should discuss these kinds of choices and trade-offs with their advisers, and with members of the Professional Development Committee.

Master’s thesis

Master’s students must complete a thesis. To fulfill the requirements of the M.A., the thesis must demonstrate basic scholarly abilities, including solid conceptualization, analysis, and writing. The thesis must clearly define a problem to be investigated, demonstrate mastery of relevant academic literature, show competence in the appropriate methodology, and either present original research (specify the data needed, present data, discuss the results) or develop an application based upon previous research (e.g., designing a community project).

There are two options for the master’s thesis in this program: the article-length research paper of publishable quality or the traditional thesis. Which option the student undertakes is a decision made by the student and the student’s supervisory committee chair, and must be indicated on the student’s Program of Study.

The article-length research paper is typically a 20-50 page document written for a specific scholarly journal or edited scholarly volume. A student undertaking this option will begin with the development and approval of a detailed outline, then will produce a ready-to-publish paper, engage in an oral defense of that paper, and make any revisions required by the student’s supervisory committee after that defense. Students are expected to submit the revised paper for publication, although submission and publication are not required before receipt of the M.A. degree.

The traditional thesis is typically a 70-180 page document that serves as preparation for writing a dissertation and/or a scholarly book. A student undertaking this option will begin with the development and approval of a prospectus, then will produce a traditional thesis, engage in an oral defense of that thesis, and make any revisions required by the student’s supervisory committee after that defense.

Steps to complete the master’s thesis

Typically in the autumn quarter of the second year, an M.A. student develops and seeks committee approval of a thesis outline or prospectus. If the student is undertaking the article-length research paper option, that student is required to produce a thesis outline that is approved by the supervisory committee. If the student is undertaking the traditional thesis option, that student is required to produce a thesis prospectus that is approved by the supervisory committee. See below for a description of each.

Outline: The detailed outline for a publishable paper is usually developed in close consultation with the chair of an M.A. student’s supervisory committee. It must include a clear statement of theoretical purpose, description of research methods, core references, and a rationale for targeting a particular scholarly journal or edited volume for publication. Different committee chairs have different expectations for the precise preparation of the outline, so each student should discuss outline requirements directly with his or her committee chair. The outline must be approved by at least two committee members, though it is strongly recommended that all members review and approve the outline. An approved thesis outline is due by the end of the fourth quarter of study (excluding summers), but it may not be submitted until a student has removed any outstanding incompletes. The M.A. thesis outline approval form can be downloaded from the Docs for M.A./Ph.D. Students shared drive. This approval form should be signed by the M.A. supervisory committee and attached to the front of the outline. The student should be sure to give committee members sufficient time to read the outline before seeking their approval of it. After all signatures have been secured, the student should turn in a copy of the cover sheet and outline to the Graduate Program Advisor.

Prospectus: The prospectus is a narrative description of the thesis research that the student intends to undertake, and it is usually developed in close consultation with the chair of an M.A. student’s supervisory committee. Different committee chairs have different expectations for the precise preparation of the prospectus, so each student should discuss prospectus requirements directly with his or her committee chair. Detailed guidelines for writing the M.A. thesis prospectus can be accessed on the Docs for M.A./Ph.D. Students shared drive. The prospectus must be approved by at least two committee members, though it is strongly recommended that all members review and approve the prospectus. An approved thesis prospectus is due by the end of the fourth quarter of study (excluding summers), but it may not be submitted until a student has removed any outstanding incompletes.

The M.A. thesis prospectus approval form can be downloaded from the Docs for M.A./Ph.D. Students shared drive. This approval form should be signed by the M.A. supervisory committee and attached to the front of the prospectus. The student should be sure to give committee members sufficient time to read the prospectus before seeking their approval of it. After all signatures have been secured, the student should turn in a copy of the cover sheet and prospectus to the Graduate Program Advisor.

Credits in COM 700 (Thesis Research) may not be taken until the prospectus is approved. Thus, it is common for students to take all of their thesis credits in the winter and spring quarters of their second year. If a student intends to finish the thesis in two years, it is important to make as much progress as possible on the thesis during the winter quarter so that the thesis will be ready for committee review and oral defense before the end of the spring quarter. The committee needs at least two weeks to read a completed draft of the thesis before the oral defense, so plan accordingly. Fair warning: Faculty are often not available during the summer quarter.

Satisfactory completion of the thesis will culminate in an oral defense, typically lasting 1.5 hours. To earn the M.A., a student must successfully defend the thesis at this meeting and make revisions required by the committee. At least two committee members must be present for the thesis defense. Students often defend their thesis in the spring quarter of their second year.

In order to graduate, students must fill out an online master’s degree request with the Graduate School prior to the oral defense.

Guidelines for M.A. thesis formatting and submission can be found on the Graduate School’s website. Students undertaking the publishable paper option for the M.A. thesis should keep in mind that the Graduate School’s style guide assumes the traditional thesis, requiring a table of contents, list of figures, bibliography, etc. The typical publishable paper can be transformed to fit these requirements with some minor stylistic adjustments (e.g., the main sections of the paper become headings for the table of contents, a table of figures is added, a works cited list is expanded to become a bibliography, etc.). All M.A. theses must follow the Graduate School’s style guidelines, so a student undertaking the publishable paper option for the M.A. thesis must make appropriate stylistic transformations to the final document before submitting it to the Graduate School.

Procedures for continuing to the Ph.D.

Students in the M.A./Ph.D. program must successfully complete the M.A. degree to begin their coursework in the Ph.D. portion of the program. No further action or application is necessary.

Summary of key M.A. deadlines

  • Selection of Supervisory Chair and Committee by the end of the third quarter in the program.
  • Program of Study due by the end of the third quarter in the program.
  • Thesis prospectus or outline due by the end of the fourth quarter in the program (excluding summer).

A student meeting these deadlines and all other requirements might have a course of study like the one shown below.

QuarterAutumn, Year 1Winter, Year 1Spring, Year 1Autumn, Year 2Winter, Year 2Spring, Year 2
Course #1COM 500COM 501Topic CourseTopic CourseMethod CourseCOM 700
Course #2Topic CourseTopic CourseTopic CourseMethod CourseCOM 700COM 700
Program MilestonesChair and Committee Set; Program of Study ApprovedThesis Outline/ Prospectus ApprovedThesis Defended Successfully

Note: “Topic Course” designates any of a wide range of seminars on relevant topics taught within and outside the Department of Communication. “Method Course” refers to courses in research methods.