Choosing Thesis, Comprehensive Exams or Graduate Project

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

Deciding between a Thesis, Comprehensive Exams or Graduate Project

Deciding between writing a thesis, taking the comprehensive exams or working on a graduate project is an important decision. While we hope this page provides you with useful information, it is important to consult with your advisor or the graduate program director about your decision. All students will complete 15 units of required courses. Thesis students will complete 15 units of electives and 6 units of thesis coursework. Non-thesis students will (a) complete 21 units of electives and take 3 comprehensive exams or (b) complete 15 units of electives and 6 units of graduate project. For both options, a minimum of 27 units must be earned at the 600-800 levels and no more than 9 units of 500-level courses can be taken.

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.

Thesis Option

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
  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 Institutional Review Board (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 University’s Institutional Review Board.

Non-Thesis Options: Comprehensive Exams or Graduate Project

Comprehensive Exams Option

What does the comprehensive exams 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.

Graduate Project Option 

What does the graduate project option entail?

Students who plan to conduct a graduate project to complete the degree can choose to take 30 units of courses and 6 graduate project units. These students will complete a professional project to showcase their successful acquisition of knowledge from the courses in the graduate program under the guidance of a faculty adviser from the department. It is recommended that students sign up for 3 units of MCOM 881 Graduate Project in two consecutive semesters.  Or they can sign up 6 units in one semester if they do not take any other classes.

What will the graduate project look like?

The students will choose a topic, develop the project with an appropriate method of investigation, and report the finding in writing. Therefore, to complete the project successfully, the student will: 

  1. Formulate a topic and client/organization to investigate;
  2. Gather a bibliography and other relevant sources for the project;
  3. Develop an appropriate method of the project;
  4. Gather data;
  5. Analyze data and interpret findings from the investigation;
  6. Disseminate findings orally, in writing, visually and/or through other means in an organized manner consistent with the standards of the discipline.

What are the steps to follow to pursue the
graduate project option?

Students who plan to conduct a graduate project to complete the degree may register for graduate project units only after they have completed 24 units of course work in the program.

Students should prepare a proposal indicating the topic of interest, the organization that the student will work with, the problem that the project will investigate, the method of investigation, and the expected results. In the proposal, students should also indicate how they will apply the knowledge they learned from the graduate courses in the problem identified (a minimum of three courses are required). The proposal should be at least 1000 words. The proposal should be approved by the Graduate Program Director, Dr. Lingling Zhang, first before working on the project under the supervision of a faculty member.

After the project is complete, the student should submit the final report in writing in addition to an oral presentation to their client, faculties and other graduate students.  

NOTE: If students fail the MCOM 881, they can retake it only once. If students fail it twice, they will be dismissed from the program.