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Your Master's Thesis

The Masters Thesis

At one time a thesis was the traditional finishing touch for a master's degree program. They are mini-versions of a doctoral thesis and for degrees that still require a thesis the student will need a faculty advisor, a thesis committee to hear defense of the completed product and a formal outline to be approved by the committee and advisor(s).

Some of the master's programs that are popular today continue to include a thesis in the curriculum. Several of the Master's in Education M.Ed. options available today include thesis projects or a "master's paper" that is less formal than a thesis but similar in scope.

The thesis lives on in many master's programs today including online degree programs that are academically oriented as opposed to advanced training degrees such as the Master of Science in Nursing. Graduate programs in that category usually have a substantial number of hours devoted to a "practicum," or clinical learning hours spent in the workplace under supervision. It's a concept similar to student teaching. Also today, many master's degree programs substitute what is called a "capstone project" for a thesis.

Capstone Projects

MBA programs are an excellent example. A thesis is at least nominally designed to contribute original research and scholarly work to the academic field of study. Business students at the master's level are studying to be businessmen, Wall Street traders, bankers and corporate marketers. They are not in programs which lend themselves to scholarly research. So a typical MBA program will require a capstone project instead, which often consists of working with a local corporation on a strategic business plan with a defined goal. Most accredited online MBA programs include capstone projects in the curriculum as well.

Some online EMBA programs will incorporate a residency requirement wherein students are embedded in a corporate environment for a week or more and charged with completing a project on site, working with corporate management. For global EMBA programs the residency may be a placement in a foreign country. Some of these programs also offer an independent research option allowing EMBA students to incorporate a project involving their profession into the curriculum.

The Practicum

Students in a graduate nursing program or who are in a graduate program designed to lead to a teaching degree spend hundreds of hours closing out their studies by activities in a professional environment while working under supervision. Those who are studying in the social sciences will find that a Master's in Social Work requires a minimum of 900 hours of "field work," which is the same concept - supervised working hours in a professional environment which is similar to workplace environments the students will confront after graduation. For positions such as the MSW and the Marriage and Family Therapist, most states require thousands of additional hours of clinical work after completion of the master's program and prior to licensure.

Closing out the Master's Degree

These examples present a range of the types of completion projects associated with various master's degree programs. The thesis is the most traditional, but graduate students today put just as many hours into required projects for completion of other degrees that are designed to train students in specific job skills. The growth of graduate degrees in professions that once required only an associate's or bachelor's degree or perhaps an apprenticeship of sorts has led to a more inclusive definition of what constitutes a valid completion effort for a graduate degree.

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