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Division of Research and Graduate Studies

Thesis Information

Excerpted from the Graduate Handbook,
Section K: The Culminating Experience

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 your special attention as graduate coordinator:

  • Once enrolled in a particular culminating experience and having earned an RP (formerly SP) 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 However, had this same student not yet enrolled for units or withdrawn from the university during the semester/term (thus receiving no RP grade), he or she could file a PAR to change the selection indicated on the approved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 the project may not exceed 6, or be less than 2.
  • Advisers should counsel students that they 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, career goals, and ability.
  • 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 master's 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 on the "Master's Degree Clearance" form. This is the only acceptable method for submitting these grades; no other grade report is necessary or possible.
  • It is important that faculty members meet regularly with the student each term that the student is enrolled, to analyze that student's progress toward completion of the thesis/project.

Note: A grade of "RP" is automatically printed on the roster 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).


Catalog Definition

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 project. Mere description, cataloging, compilation, and other superficial procedures are not adequate.

Content Summary

  • 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.

Eligibility Criteria

A "Petition of Advancement to Candidacy" form must have been filed with the Division of Graduate Studies one semester previous to signing up for thesis units in the department.


  • " Master's Thesis (299) Committee Assignment" (TCA) form. To be filed with the Division of Graduate Studies before or at the time of the student's first registration for thesis units in the department. Signatures of all committee members, the graduate coordinator or department chair, and the college/school dean (if indicated) are required. See Appendix for the recently approved, revised " Thesis Committee Policy and Procedures."
    • For a third committee, off-campus committee member, a curriculum vitae or resume, submitted with the TCA form to the Division of Graduate Studies.
    • For changes in committee chair, second, or third committee members, or in the thesis topic, a " Change in Master's Thesis Committee and/or Topic" form (see Appendix). To be submitted to the Division of Graduate Studies.
  • "Human/Animal Subjects Clearance" form, as applicable. To be submitted to the student's departmental Human/Animal Subjects Clearance committee. Research deemed potentially at risk must have approval from either the Committee on Protection of Human Subjects (CPS) or the Animal Care and Use Committee, as appropriate, before the student may begin the project.
  • " Master's Degree Clearance" form. To be submitted to the Graduate Division by the posted deadline. The grade for thesis units is registered on this form by the thesis chair, on behalf of the committee, and given to the Graduate Coordinator for final processing (see Graduation section for complete discussion).


  • Final thesis draft: Approximately seven weeks before last day of classes. (Consult the Class Schedule, the University Catalog, or the Graduate Studies Web site for exact dates.)
  • Publication copy: Date assigned by thesis consultant, after review of final draft.


  • Thesis committees are formed according to guidelines established by the Graduate Committee of the Academic Senate. The committee consists of three members; the chair and at least one other committee member are expected to appointed members of the department of the student's degree program. With requisite expertise, an individual who is not a member of the department faculty in the student's program may serve as a member, with approval of the department chair. (See Appendix for the recently approved, revised " Thesis Committee Policy and Procedures.")
  • Thesis format must follow the university Guidelines for Thesis Preparation (available from the Thesis Office Web site).
  • Theses are submitted to the Graduate Division via Blackboard. By submitting their approval, the committee signifies that the form and content of the thesis meet Title 5 regulations (see Catalog definition, above) as well as program standards.
  • When approved for quality, format, and style, the graduate dean signs off on the Publication Copy approval page.
  • In order for the thesis consultant to grant final thesis clearance, students are required to have submitted the following:
    • Receipt from University Cashier showing payment of fees for thesis microfilming and binding;
    • Three copies of the laser-printed thesis: one for the department, one for the library, and one for microfilming. Note: The Print and Copy Center and the Thesis Office will handle all copying and processing, after fee payment.
    • " Permission to Publish Copyrighted Material" form(s), as applicable (see Appendix).
  • In order for the graduate evaluator to register final thesis clearance for the degree, the final grade for the thesis must have been recorded on the " Master's Degree Clearance" form.

Advising Tips

  • Set early internal program deadlines for committee review and approval of theses, to ensure that students meet university timelines for graduation.
  • Faculty and staff should advise students to attend a thesis workshop as soon as possible after registering for thesis units in the department (workshop schedules are announced at the start of each semester).
  • Thesis support is available from the Thesis Office in the Division of Graduate Studies. A thesis typist/formatter list is available upon request; and a thesis template is offered on the Web site; and class and group lectures may be arranged by calling the thesis consultant (278-2448).
  • Students should inform the thesis consultant about their plans for the semester/term of their thesis submission. Out-of-town students should contact the thesis consultant before leaving campus, for advice on the best way to handle these processes from a distance.