Culminating Experiences

A student is advanced to candidacy (ATC) once approved by the Division of Graduate Studies. To complete a Master’s degree, every candidate must complete a culminating experience and the corresponding course.

Two students sitting in the grass on a sunny day talking and laughing

Culminating Experience Options

In the Department of Communication Studies, students have three culminating experience options:

  1. Written Comprehensive Examination and COMM 896

  2. Creative Work Project and COMM 894

  3. Master’s Thesis and COMM 898

There are five steps, regardless of which option is chosen.



Five Steps Towards Your Culminating Experience

By April 1 of the second semester of graduate work, students must submit to the graduate coordinator a Preliminary Culminating Experience Form. This form allows the candidates to begin planning for their culminating experience and to get help from faculty as needed. Forms are available from the Communication Studies office or from the graduate coordinator. Although no signatures are necessary on this form, if you plan to do a thesis or a creative project, it is very important to talk to faculty members to provide mentoring as you work on your thesis or creative project proposal and, if needed, on the Protocol for Human Subjects Approval form. 

The candidate completes the University’s Proposal for Culminating Experience Requirement, which is filed with the Graduate Studies office. If you are attending graduate school full time, this is done early in your third semester. Note that in addition to this form, you must also take the steps outlined below that pertain to the type of culminating experience you have chosen. For a thesis or creative project, you must submit a 15-page written proposal to faculty members with whom you are speaking about serving on your committee one month before the Division of Graduate Studies deadline. For example, if the deadline is November 1, you must provide the faculty members with whom you hope to work with your proposal by October 1. Note that submitting a proposal does not guarantee that your proposal will be judged as qualifying you to undertake a thesis or creative project.

Be sure to put in substantial time in drafting your proposal, meeting with potential committee members and refining your proposal in advance of the department’s deadline. If you are doing a creative project or thesis, and the proposed research involves human subjects, the Protocol for Human Subjects Approval form also must be submitted at this time. The Protocol Form for Human Subjects must be submitted for approval, usually within the first two weeks of the semester before beginning the research. Consult your thesis or creative project Committee Chair concerning questions regarding human subjects policies, procedure and deadlines. The department’s graduate coordinator is also available to help you.

Allow two to four weeks for training, preparation and approval of drafts prior to submission to Graduate Studies, which may also take a few weeks. You should consult the Graduate Studies website for University guidelines and requirements.

After the above forms have been filed, the candidate enrolls in the appropriate course: COMM 896 (if Written Comprehensive Examination), COMM 894 (if Creative Work Project) or COMM 898 (if Master’s Thesis). Students usually will complete the proposal process in one semester, enroll in the appropriate course for the following semester and in that term work toward the completion of the culminating experience.

Candidates must file for graduation by the appropriate deadlines as specified each semester.


Following the completion of the culminating experience, the candidate must obtain the signatures of the supervising committee on the Report of Completion of Specified Graduate Program Requirements and see that it is filed in the Graduate Division by the appropriate deadline to ensure graduation. (Refer to the University Bulletin or Class Schedule for dates.)



Preparing the Culminating Experience Proposals

Typically, the candidate initiates the proposal process through informal conferences with professors. The candidate should be prepared with possible topics and a preferred type of culminating experience. Faculty should offer feedback and an indication of availability for possible service as either a chair or as a member of the committee. It is imperative that the candidate begin this process with sufficient lead time, to prepare a substantial proposal for potential committee members' consideration. See the specifics of the proposals below.

Comprehensive exams are only offered during the spring semester. Comprehensive exams are generally taken in areas the student has had a seminar or a research methodology course. Candidates must initiate contact with faculty members of their choosing to determine if the instructor will serve as first reader for the exam. One other faculty member must agree to accept the role of second reader for each exam. The first reader and the candidate should agree on a topic area for the exam and determine an appropriate reading list for the candidate to review in preparation for the exam.

All exam dates are predetermined by the graduate director and are scheduled the evening of the week that corresponds to the day the comprehensive exam “class” (COMM 896) is scheduled. All students taking comprehensive exams in a given semester take them at the same time, from 6 to 10pm. While scheduled dates will vary depending on holidays and breaks during the semester, the first examination date often occurs about the fourth week of the semester, the second date occurs about the eighth week in the semester, and the third date occurs about the 12th week of the semester. A makeup exam date is scheduled for exams missed due to documented emergency or illness, or to rewrite parts of exams that are deemed not passing. 

The department piloted take-home comprehensive exams in spring 2015. The graduate committee is developing timelines and guidelines for this.

Signatures on the University’s Proposal for Culminating Experience Forms must be obtained and filed in Graduate Studies the semester before the comprehensive exams are taken. After the form is filed the candidate enrolls in COMM 896 to take the exams.

This option for a culminating experience is designed for research interests of substance and disciplinary relevance that can most appropriately be expressed in a creative form.
The process again begins with the candidate completing a written proposal of approximately 15 pages and establishing a committee and chair. A minimum of two faculty members is required for a creative project committee, and a maximum of five is allowed.

The proposal typically includes some variation of the following sections:

  1. Statement of the topic or purpose of the project
  2. Rationale for the creative work project option
  3. Review of related literature
  4. Design for the project, procedures and timetable
  5. Bibliography of references
  6. Protocol Approval Form for Human Subjects and IRB packet (if applicable)

After the supervising committee has accepted the written proposal, a meeting of the committee and candidate will be held to determine a plan for completing the project and to sign the respective forms that must then be filed. The candidate also must enroll in COMM 894.

The candidate initiates contact with selected faculty who might agree to chair or serve as a member of the candidate’s supervising committee. A minimum of two faculty is required for a thesis committee, and a maximum of five is allowed. Whether working with faculty or independently, the candidate prepares a written thesis proposal.

Typically, a thesis proposal is approximately fifteen pages in length and includes some variation of the following sections:

  1. Statement of the problem or rationale for the study, questions to be investigated or hypotheses
  2. Review of related literature
  3. Methods and procedures
  4. Projected outline and timetable
  5. Bibliography of references
  6. Protocol Approval Form for Human Subjects and IRB packet (if applicable)

After the supervising committee has accepted the written proposal, a meeting of the committee and candidate will be held to determine a plan for completing the thesis and to sign the respective forms that must then be filed. The candidate also must enroll in COMM 898.



Completing the Culminating Experience

To successfully complete a culminating experience, candidates must plan carefully their respective timetables. By fully completing the proposal process during one semester, then enrolling in the appropriate class (COMM 896, COMM 894 or COMM 898) the following semester and devoting one’s full attention to the completion of the culminating experience during that term, candidates typically may expect to complete their work in one or two regular semesters. Summer completion of COMM 894 or COMM 898 is possible only through special arrangements with the supervising committee. COMM 896 is ONLY offered in the Spring semester.

Three test periods will be announced each semester. Supervising committee members are responsible for delivering examination questions in the appropriate order to the Graduate Coordinator at least 48 hours before the exam.

Faculty readers are expected to report their evaluations of exams to the graduate coordinator within one week after having received the candidates’ answers. Exams will be evaluated using the following scale:

  • Pass = 2 points
  • Marginal Pass = 1.5 point
  • Marginal Fail = 1 point
  • Fail = 0 points

If the combined score of the two readers equals 3 points or above, the candidate will have passed that section of the exam satisfactorily. If the combined score is 2-2.5 points, an oral defense with the committee or a partial rewrite of the answer will be required, folllowed by a determination of pass or fail for that section of the exam. If the combined score is less than 2 points, the combined score is unsatisfactory, and that exam must be retaken. Oral defense meetings and/or the retaking of one exam question occurs in the final weeks of the semester. Candidates who have not passed all three exams satisfactorily by the end of the semester when they are enrolled in COMM 896 may receive an RP grade for one semester and then complete the exams the following spring semester. Candidates may enroll in COMM 896 no more than twice.

Candidates who satisfactorily pass all three exams will receive credit in COMM 896. The candidate is responsible for having the Report of Completion of Specified Requirements form signed by all members of the committee.The Report of Completion form must be filed by the date specified by Graduate Studies.

Working arrangements between thesis writers and their committees vary and must be arranged by the respective parties. Typically the completion of a creative work project has two parts. One may be a public presentation, such as a workshop, performance or DVD presentation. The other part is a comprehensive written documentation of the project that builds upon the proposal and includes discussion of the process and evaluation.

When the final draft of the written portion is ready for approval, a final meeting between the candidate and committee should be convened to review the documentation and suggest any final revisions or editing. If approved, committee members will sign the appropriate completion report, which must be filed in the Division of Graduate Studies by the appropriate date. Candidates should provide copies of the creative work in manuscript and digital form to the graduate coordinator for the department’s permanent collection as well as to the committee chair.

As described in the creative work process, the working arrangements between candidates and committee members must be clearly established. Candidates should obtain from Graduate Studies a copy of the Preparation and Submission Guidelines and follow those guidelines throughout the preparation of the document. Some candidates work almost exclusively with their chairs until completion of a final draft of the thesis, which is then given to other committee members for review. Other candidates work with the entire committee throughout the process.

After all committee members have reviewed a draft of the thesis and most revisions have been incorporated, a final meeting should be convened. The purpose of this meeting is to review the thesis, its findings and suggest any final revising or editing. At this time the approval page of the thesis may be signed, and the Report of Completion of Specified Requirements form signed. In the event extensive revisions are needed, these signings may be withheld until a later time.

After everything is completed and the thesis signed by the candidate’s committee, the candidate must follow the steps listed in Graduate Studies' Thesis Guidelines, including an initial and a final thesis formatting check. Once the thesis is checked, a receipt of thesis completion will be obtained. Candidate then take their unbound thesis and thesis receipt to the Campus Copy Center for binding. This copy will automatically go to the SF State Library. The candidate must also provide the Graduate Coordinator with a bound copy of the thesis for the department’s permanent collection and the chair of your committee. Please note: Keep a copy of your thesis receipt until you receive confirmation from the University that you have earned your degree.