College of Arts and Sciences

English M.A. Exit Options

Christivel Zulu, English Graduate Student.

The exit options represent the final and arguably most important part of your degree. They comprise the final 6 s.h. you will take as a student in the program, and they demand all the skills you have learned in your coursework. They represent a tremendous opportunity and challenge to focus, specialize, and develop substantial scholarly expertise in a particular topic.

The exit option can take three forms:

  • Applied Research Project
  • Comprehensive Exam, or
  • Thesis

In consultation with your director, you will need to write and file a proposal before you can register for hours in the exit-option you have chosen. This document will define your topic, timeline, expectations, and more. Samples can be found in the Appendix in the Graduate Student Handbook.

Applied Research Project

For some students, the most effective way to bring together their intellectual interests and their professional goals is through an Applied Research Project. Applied Research Projects include a research-based content part (with a reading list of least 25 secondary sources and annotated bibliographies) that supports the student’s learning to complete the Applied Research Project itself.

Past students have produced varied projects including: creating a comprehensive writing style manual for a business; reviewing, redesigning, and implementing new assessment practices in a high school; creating a website devoted to the history of animation; working with digital media or film to produce a research-based content project.  

Comprehensive Exam

The Comprehensive Exam option is organized for broad reading rather than in-depth scholarly writing, and instead of producing and defending a large written argument, this option culminates in a written and oral examination by your committee that establishes your expertise in your area.

Because of the extraordinary focus and writing commitment demanded by the thesis, in some cases the Comprehensive Exam might well be a better option. For instance, while a thesis project might investigate a particular novel, or even several works by different authors, the depth of research and the time needed to write would not allow for the kind of broad reading that is the heart of the Comprehensive Exam. If your goal is to become an authority on the nineteenth-century American novel, for instance, the Comprehensive Exam exit option would allow you to read 20 or 30 major novels and be supported by criticism (with a bibliography of at least 25 secondary sources). For working teachers in particular, this can be a powerful option that immediately impacts classroom practice.

The content and the parameters of the Comprehensive Exam are developed in consultation with your committee. While reading is at the heart of this, writing assignments are always a part of the process and include annotated bibliographies as well as short essays, notes, or other forms of writing.


The thesis is a sustained work of scholarly research and argument on a specific topic. Typically, thesis projects are between 40-60 pages, often divided into two or three chapters. Especially for those considering further graduate work, the thesis grounds your scholarly identity in a document that can serve as a writing sample, mainly for academic jobs.


Tralynn Pullen.
Kristin Sheppard.