Fall 2014 Cohort

Master's Degree Information


Getting a Master's (MA) on the road to a PhD is not required at UMass Amherst, but it can be useful for students in getting jobs outside the university while they are still in our program—or for those who have decided to leave and want a terminal MA degree. There are two ways to get an MA in our program:

  1. Register for three (3) thesis credits, file thesis paperwork in advance, and defend the first comp as an MA thesis in consultation with comps/thesis committee. (Details below.)
  2. Complete both comps and earn an MA without having to do the thesis paperwork.

In both cases, the student would then need to file paperwork for an MA degree. We encourage students who do not already have an MA to plan ahead and take the first option.

Composition of Required Credits

You can count up to six Independent Study credits towards the 30-credit requirement. The UMass Graduate School imposes some additional requirements on the composition of the 30 credits you need for the MA, which you will most likely satisfy automatically if you follow the normal course track for the PhD. Of the 30 required course credits:

  • At least 24 credits must be earned in regular, non-Independent Study courses;
  • At least 21 credits must be earned in sociology courses;
  • At least 15 credits must be letter graded (i.e. not pass/fail); transfer credits do not count;
  • At least 12 credits (comps option) or 18 credits (MA thesis option) must be earned in courses numbered 600-800; transfer credits do not count.

The grade-point average for courses must be 3.0 or above, and must include a grade of B+ or better for SOCIOL 701, SOCIOL 710, SOCIOL 711, and SOCIOL 797W. This list is a subset of the courses required for the PhD listed under Requirements.

MA Thesis Option

In most cases the master's thesis will be an empirical paper which the student uses as a comps with the approval of your comprehensive exam committee. (A separate defense for the comps is not required.) A theoretical paper or analytic review of a literature may serve as a master's thesis with the approval of the thesis advisor. If the student writes a thesis, they will still need to do a second comps, if they wish to advance to candidacy for the doctorate.

To acquire an MA using the thesis option, the student needs (i) a minimum of 30 credits of coursework, including the required courses listed above, (ii) a master’s thesis, and (iii) a minimum of 3 thesis credits, not the same as dissertation credits; see below.

  • For the MA thesis, at least 18 credits must be earned in courses numbered 600-800; transfer credits do not count.
  • Three (3) thesis credits. These are different from dissertation credits. Students may be able to convert dissertation credits to thesis credits, though they will need to replace them with new dissertation credits towards the 18 dissertation credit requirement of the PhD. If a student takes thesis credits but does not submit the thesis, they can convert them to dissertation credits.

The thesis committee consists of an advisor and two other graduate faculty members, with at least two members in the Department of Sociology. The student can ask the graduate program director (GPD) to request graduate faculty status for a visiting professor or other non-graduate faculty member but the Graduate School must approve graduate faculty status. The student can form a committee once they have completed (i) at least 18 of the 30 required course credits, and (ii) the required courses in theory, statistics, and research methods. Formal appointment of the committee is made by the dean of the Graduate School. The student should work with the Graduate Programs Manager to get the comps committee appointed as a thesis committee at least four months before the defense.

Upon preliminary approval of the completed thesis by your committee, the Graduate Programs Manager will schedule a thesis defense which will also serve as the comprehensive exam defense. This exam is public. The committee may approve the thesis and/or recommend revisions. After passing this exam the student must submit the thesis to the Graduate School in proper format via ScholarWorks. They must also submit the defended thesis with signed signature page to the Graduate School and file for the degree after the successful defense. Students must have completed the coursework listed above by the end of the semester in which they file for their degree.

Incompletes from previous semesters for courses that are to be counted among the 30 credits must be completed before the filing date (about a month before the end of the semester). Incompletes from courses not being counted do not matter for the purposes of the MA degree.

Students may register for thesis credits any time before the semester they will file for the MA, but should do so when they have a tuition waiver to avoid paying for the credits.

MA Comps Option

To acquire an MA degree on the way to your PhD without using the thesis option, you need to complete (i) a minimum of 30 credits of coursework, including the required courses listed above and (ii) both comps. If a student has taken all the courses required for the PhD (see Requirements), they will automatically have completed the course requirements for the MA. Upon passing both comps, the student can get an MA simply by filing a form with the Graduate School, assuming they have completed the coursework credits as listed above. 

Keep in Mind

  • A thesis does not have to be a different kind of paper than a comps paper.
  • Getting an MA does not incur additional fees
  • If a student defends the first comp as an M.A. thesis, they still have to complete a second comp exam/paper when moving toward a PhD.
  • UMass Amherst asks for an electronic copy of your thesis, but this does not prevent the student from publishing their work.