Choosing Thesis or Comprehensive Exams

Students can elect to complete a thesis or take comprehensive exams. The following information is to help you decide which route works best for you.

Congratulations! If you’re reading this, that means you’re considering graduate studies or nearing the end of it and preparing for your final steps in the program. Deciding between writing a thesis or taking the comprehensive exams is an important decision. While we hope this page provides you with useful information, it is important to consult with your professors or possible thesis chairs about your decision.

When should students declare whether they will do the thesis option or the non-thesis option?

By the time they complete the 15 units of required classes, students should tell the graduate director which option they plan to pursue. Students should be aware that they cannot switch to the other option because they failed their comprehensive exams or failed their proposal or thesis defense.

What is the timeline for completing a thesis or comprehensive exams?

Visit the timeline page for more information.


What does the thesis option entail?

A thesis allows students to conduct a sustained research project that will develop essential skills and abilities to evaluate professional communication activities or campaigns. A master's thesis, in consultation with a thesis advisor, prepares a student for future academic research or doctoral programs and may involve any appropriate form of scholarly communication research.

Students should not begin their thesis until all other coursework has been completed. Prior to the completion of all required coursework, students may ask a member of the graduate faculty to serve as her or his principal faculty advisor; but, the advisor cannot sign an approval form until all coursework has been completed.

Under an advisor's supervision, the student should prepare an appropriate proposal and, with the faculty advisor's consent, identify at least two other graduate faculty members to serve on the thesis committee.

What does a thesis proposal consist of?

The proposal consists of the first three chapters of the thesis: 1) an introduction to the research topic and its significance; 2) a literature review that concludes with a much more specific set of research questions; and 3) a complete description of the proposed methods, including research instruments.

Once the proposal is complete, the proposal defense will take place, which is when the student presents the thesis proposal to the members of the committee. Once the committee approves the proposal, the student will complete the thesis, which will consist of getting IRB approval (if needed), conducting the study, writing the analysis and conclusion chapters.

Where can I find the Towson University Graduate Studies Thesis Guidelines?

The guidelines are available through the Office of Graduate Studies.

How do I know if I need IRB approval?

The use of human subjects requires approval by the appropriate university review committee. Students should anticipate for the IRB approval process to take up to two months and prepare their submission in advance. The IRB application requires you to submit all experiment details, quantitative and qualitative questions you will be asking subjects. IRB also requires students to complete an online ethics class called CITI training. You must have IRB approval before you can begin collecting any data for your project.

For more information, visit Towson's IRB website.

Comprehensive Exams:

What does the non-thesis option entail?

The students who choose the comprehensive exam option will take 6 credits of additional electives and pass three written, on-campus comprehensive exams. The examinations are in the following areas of the communications field – theory, one research method and a communication subject area from a 600-level communication course chosen by the student. The examination questions will be written by faculty who teach those courses. Only Mass Communication or Communication Studies graduate and associate graduate faculty can submit comprehensive exam questions. Students may take comprehensive exams after they have completed 30 units of coursework.

How are the exams graded?

Your exam will be written and graded by the professor who taught your class. If your professor is no longer at Towson, the current professor teaching the course will write your course question. It is suggested that you meet with the professors the semester before you take the exam to learn about specific content to study. Students must pass all three comprehensive exams with a Low Pass, Pass or Pass with excellence.

How many times can I take the exams?

 If students fail an exam, they can only retake it once. If students fail an exam a second time, they will be dismissed from the program.

What can I bring into my exam?

You may not bring any notes or study guides into the exam. No paper materials will be allowed into the exam. You will not be required to use any direct quotes. You will use a provided computer to type your responses. The exam will be proctored by a program faculty member.

How do I study for the comprehensive exams?

You should reread your textbooks and notes to prepare for the exam. Previous students have found this method of studying to be the most helpful. Try creating sample questions for yourself and answering them, as well as writing answers to sample questions from professors.