M.A. Program Requirements

Seminars and Courses

Core Seminars (12 units)

Humanities 700  Introduction to Integrative Study 

  • Humanities 705  Text and Context: The Word and the World
  • Humanities 706  Image and Culture: Picturing the World
  • Humanities 720  Current Topics in the Humanities

Electives (15 units)

  • Fifteen units selected on advisement with the graduate coordinator and advisor. A list of suggested electives drawn from Humanities and other M.A. programs will be curciulated each semester.

Culminating Experience (Sponsored Study), (pick one of the following)

Humanities 896EXM: Directed Study in Selected Humanistic Works, to include comprehensive written and oral examinations
Humanities 898: Master’s Thesis and Oral Defense

Course descriptions are listed in the course information section of the University Bulletin. More complete descriptions of seminars are available from the graduate coordinator.

With the graduate coordinator’s approval, most upper-division undergraduate Humanities courses may be used to satisfy up to six units of the Master of Arts requirements. Consult the course instructor and the graduate coordinator about additional assignments for graduate students.

Students must make reasonable progress toward the degree, including completion of 700 or 720 in the first year and at least one Humanities course (or a substitution approved by the graduate coordinator) every semester.

Language Requirements

Proficiency in a second language is essential if you plan to continue to advanced studies any field in the Humanities.  Although reading proficiency in a second language is not required for admission to the Humanities M.A. program, it is required for completion of the degree. The school strongly recommends that you acquire and demonstrate reading proficiency as early as possible. One can fulfill the second language requirement in two ways: 1) with evidence of at least a "B" earned in two semesters of a college-level language class; or 2) by passing a translation exam administered by faculty at SFSU.  If you have not already taken college level language courses, you may take them concurrently with the M.A. program, either at SFSU or at a community college. Native speakers of a language other than English are exempt. Under exceptional circumstances a candidate may petition to substitute demonstrable proficiency in an auxiliary skill that has a clear relationship to his or her M.A. program. Consult the graduate coordinator for details.

The Level I English requirement will be fulfilled by a grade of B or better in Humanities 700 or 720. The 
Level II English requirement will be fulfilled by completion of the Culminating Experience.

ATC/Culminating Experience Forms

In the semester before you plan to enroll in the Culminating Experience, you must simultaneously file the ATC and the Culminating Experience Form. The ATC is a list of the courses you plan to use to meet your degree requirements, most of which you will already have completed by this time. The Culminating Experience Form is either the thesis (898) or the comprehensive examination (896). Both require the signatures of two Humanities faculty members who are willing to serve as your first and second readers, and the signature of either the graduate coordinator or the department chair. These forms are available on the Division of Graduate Studies website, along with the ATC Substitution form (for any substitutions on your ATC form) and forms for changing your Culminating Experience committee or the title of your Culminating Experience.


The master’s thesis (HUM 898) allows you to develop an area of scholarly expertise and to demonstrate your ability to complete a fairly large-scale piece of scholarly writing and defend it orally. In recent years, the vast majority of our students have chosen to write theses. A thesis is an opportunity to work closely with members of the faculty on a subject of mutual interest and to produce a substantial piece of research and writing on a subject that is important to you. There is no fixed or required length for the thesis. Although a student may write a longer thesis if the committee members approve, the appropriate model for a thesis is a journal article — a well-organized, well-researched, thoughtful 30 – 40 page essay — rather than a book. The Division of Graduate Studies has specific requirements for thesis format, which you should observe carefully.

You may also finish the degree by comprehensive examination (HUM 896). In this case, you will complete a substantial body of reading under the direction of an appropriate faculty member, in consultation with one or two additional faculty members. Your reading list will be three major works in the humanities, at least one of which must be in a medium other than written language, and a substantial range of secondary scholarship on those works. You will write three 10 – 15 page examination essays on questions set by your committee members based on your reading. You must complete these essays within one week. Then you will discuss and defend your answers orally to your committee.


Both options for completing the degree require a committee of at least two faculty members to supervise your progress through your culminating experience. The first reader takes primary responsibility for reading and directing your initial draft, which must be done in stages that respond to your first reader's comments on each section of your draft. The second reader normally responds to a complete first draft that has been approved by the first reader.

The school encourages students to ask up to three readers. At least two must be tenured or tenure-track members of the School of Humanities & Liberal Studies. With approval from your first reader and the graduate coordinator, the third may be a member of another department who has an appropriate area of expertise or a faculty member from another university. The student and his or her first reader will consult on whom to invite as second reader and third reader, if any. The student should meet with the second reader for their agreement and signatures on the Proposal for Culminating Experience. Lecturers may not ordinarily serve on M.A. committees. 

Defense and Graduation

Whichever culminating experience option you choose, once you have completed your work you will be required to defend it. That is, you present it in person to your committee and answer their questions about it. You may choose to have an open defense, in which anyone interested in your work is welcome, or a closed defense, with an audience limited to the members of your committee. This normally lasts about an hour and a half. Although it requires considerable effort and concentration, students are often relieved to find that the defense is nothing like the ordeal they imagined. Instead, it turns out to be an intellectually focused but informal and friendly conversation among people with a common interest.

Your committee chair will schedule a time and place for the defense in consultation with you and the other members of your committee. It is your responsibility to be aware of University deadlines and to keep in close touch with your first reader about your progress, so that neither you nor your committee members are subject to unreasonable time pressures.

Final versions of your work should be given to all committee members at least a week before the defense.

You should bring your own copy of your work to the defense which must include the top sheet for the committee’s signatures (see Division of Graduate Studies format requirements).

You should also bring the form for Completion of Culminating Experience and — if you have taken more than one semester to complete your sponsored study — a grade change form.

Petition for Graduation

You must file a separate application for graduation in the semester in which you expect to complete your degree requirements. Check the Graduate Studies website for deadlines. If you do not finish your degree work in the semester for which you filed your graduation application, you will need to submit a new application.

Time Towards the Degree

The University allows a maximum of seven years for completion of the M.A. degree, because our students often have considerable work and family responsibilities in addition to school work. Completion of the M.A. normally takes a minimum of a year and a half. The culminating experience takes at least one semester. 

If you do not enroll in courses for two consecutive semesters, you must apply for readmission to the University and the program. If you are readmitted, you will be subject to the degree requirements in effect at the time of readmission. 

If you have laid an adequate foundation for your final project in your coursework, it may be possible for you to finish in one semester, but we believe your graduate experience is richer and more satisfying if you do not try to rush through it. You may extend your registration in an 898 or 896 course over two semesters without paying additional tuition.