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 However, had this same student not yet enrolled for units or withdrawn from the university during the semester/term (thus receving no RP grade), he or she could file a PAR to chage the selection indicated on the approved "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 ( Continuous Enrollment).
  • 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 to the Division of Graduate Studies office 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 that 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. ( refer to section K of the Graduate Coordinator's Handbook for paperwork, eligibility, deadlines, and procedures)



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. ( refer to section K in the Graduate Coordinator's Handbook for paperwork, eligibility, deadlines, and procedures)

Library-Bound Products

On March 15, 2005, the University Graduate Committee approved a new policy for library bound projects. The purpose of the policy is to bring greater visibility to the research done by our university's project (298) students and provide them with an opportunity to have their projects formally reviewed at the university level for placement in the Madden Library.

This policy and the procedures for review apply only to projects that the student and faculty advisor wish to have placed in the Henry Madden Library.

In addition to meeting the criteria for the project listed above and in departmental requirements, library-bound projects will be reviewed by the Thesis Consultant in the Division of Graduate Studies. Library-bound projects must meet the same formatting requirements as a thesis, as prescribed in the Guidelines for Thesis Preparation.

For details, click here: Policy and Procedures ( PDF, 21K)    Recommendation form ( PDF, 21K)



For further thesis information and forms, see the Thesis Office Web page, 
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.

  • 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.

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.

For required paperwork, deadlines, and procedures refer to section K in the Graduate Coordinator's Handbook.