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Division of Research and Graduate Studies


The culminating experience for a student’s graduate program is carefully spelled out by the California State Education Code, Title 5. Students may choose one culminating experience from the three, as determined by the particular program. Not all programs offer all three options.

Certain advisement tips apply equally to all forms of the culminating experience, and as such, deserve special attention:

  • Once enrolled in a particular culminating experience and having earned an RP grade, students may not switch to an alternative. For example, a student who has received a semester/term RP grade for units in a thesis may not file a “Program Adjustment Request” (PAR) to change to a project. However, had this same student not yet enrolled for units or withdrawn from the university during the semester/term (thus receiving no RP grade), he or she could file a PAR to change the selection indicated on the approved "Petition of Advancement to Candidacy" form.
  • The total number of units assigned for the thesis or project may not exceed 6, or be less than 2.
  • Students are expected to be enrolled each semester while working on their project, examination, or thesis.
  • Advisers should assure that the culminating experience selected by the student is appropriate to that student’s particular program emphasis and career goals.
  • It is imperative that programs and individual committee advisers set early dates for completion of the exam, thesis, or project. This will ensure sufficient time for completing the review, grading, and submission of graduate degree clearance paperwork by the graduate coordinator to the Graduate Division by the posted deadline. Students are counting on the timely posting of their degrees! If the required, signed clearance forms have not been submitted by the deadlines listed, students’ graduation dates may be delayed or postponed to the following semester or term.

Additionally, for both the thesis and project:

Grades must be submitted to the Division of Research and Graduate Studies on the “Graduate Degree Clearance” form. This is the only acceptable method for submitting these grades.

It is important that faculty members meet regularly with the student each term the student is enrolled to analyze that student’s progress toward completion of the thesis/project.

Note: A grade of RP will be entered on-line unless faculty feel that progress toward the degree is not being made, in which case a grade of “I” may be assigned.

No academic distinction is made between a thesis and a project. Either one is acceptable as a means of fulfilling the requirements of the master’s degree. Coordinators provide essential guidance and instructions on whether a student should enroll in 298 (project) or 299 (thesis).


A comprehensive examination is an assessment of the student’s ability to integrate the knowledge of the area, show critical and independent thinking and demonstrate mastery of the subject matter. The results of the examination evidence independent thinking, appropriate organization, critical analysis and accuracy of documentation. A record of the examination questions and responses shall be maintained in accordance with the records retention policy of the California State University.


A project is a significant undertaking of a pursuit appropriate to the fine and applied arts or to professional fields. It must evidence originality and independent thinking, appropriate form and organization, and a rationale. It must be described and summarized in a written abstract that includes the project’s significance, objectives, methodology, and a conclusion or recommendation. An oral defense of the project may be required.

  • A project reflects applied field research or creative effort, often suited to the student’s individual and/or professional goals.
  • A project allows application of technical skills and knowledge with a practical emphasis.

The project varies with program requirements.

Digitized Projects

It is the policy of the Division of Research and Graduate Studies (DRGS) that only those graduate projects (298) reviewed and recommended by the faculty and the university graduate office may be made available in the Library 's digitized collection.

It shall be understood that not every graduate project (298) will be reviewed at the university level for placement in the digitized collection. The review is voluntary, with faculty discretion determining which projects are advanced for review.

Benefits for participation include improved visibility for high-quality projects. Such exposure may be helpful to student resumes and provide recognition for faculty members guiding students through the research process. Participation also ensures uniformity in the professional presentation of projects.


A thesis is the written product of the systematic study of a significant problem. It clearly identifies the problem, states the major assumptions, explains the significance of the undertaking, sets forth the sources for and methods of gathering information, analyzes the data, and offers a conclusion or recommendation. The finished product must evidence originality, critical and independent thinking, appropriate organization and format, clarity of purpose, and accurate and thorough documentation. Normally, an oral defense of the thesis will be required.

Critical and independent thinking should characterize every thesis. Mere description, cataloging, compilation, and other superficial procedures are not adequate.

  • The thesis is a highly structured document resulting from original student research.
  • The thesis investigates specific, well-defined questions or issues, frequently forming hypotheses to be tested.
  • The thesis relates to an existing body of theoretical or empirical knowledge in the field.