M.A. FAQs

What should I do before I show up for my first semester at GW?
What important information should I familiarize myself with?
Which courses should I enroll in and how many?
Can I get credit for graduate work I've already done in another program at GW or at a different university?
Who is my advisor? What does my advisor do?
What do grades mean in a graduate program?
What is an incomplete and what are its perils?
What are the language requirements for an M.A.?
What is an M.A. thesis and what are the procedures for writing it?
How do I finish my degree?
Help! I'm panicking!


What should I do before I show up for my first semester at GW?

  • Learn about the full-time faculty and read the recent publications of those whose interests overlap with your own. Graduate study is more collaborative than undergraduate study, and it is important to know your collaborators as well as they know you.
  • Get to know cutting edge historical research by reading academic journals. Academic history writing may be different from the kind of history you are used to reading. Every journal has research articles and shorter book reviews; both are good ways to learn about the discipline.
  • You can access most major journals electronically with your GWid. These include the The American Historical Review, the discipline's flagship publication, as well as more specialized periodicals such as The Journal of Asian Studies, The International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, The Journal of American History, and The Journal of Modern History (for Europeanists).
  • Sign up for a GW email account  and NetID using this online application. Remember that this will be your professional email for years, so chose something based on your initials or your first initial and last name.
  • Subscribe to the History Grad Listserv by emailing your new GW address to Evelyn Williams, Executive Aide of the History Department.
  • Work on your research languages, especially if you plan to write a dissertation focusing on sources in languages in which you are not yet fluent. Read magazines, watch films, etc.
  • Register for your courses:
    • Go to My GW
    • Click on the "gweb info system" tab on the left.
    • Enter your User ID (your GWid number at first) and your PIN (for first-time users, your PIN will be your birth date in either MMDDYY or MMYY99 format, where M=Month, D=Day, and Y=Year (Example: for March 5, 1983, try 030583 and 038399).
    • Once you are logged in to the GWeb system, follow the prompts to register.

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What important information should I familiarize myself with?

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Which courses should I enroll in and how many?

To get an M.A. in history you have to complete 36 hours of course credit.

Here's how to do it:


Which courses should I enroll in during my first years in the program?

  • If it is your first semester at GW, you should enroll in HIST 6005.
  • You must take two research seminars. If you are a full-time student you should plan to take one in your first year and one in your second year. A research seminar is history graduate course for which you write a research paper. If it is not clear from the course title, ask the instructor whether it is a research seminar. Students choosing to write an M.A. thesis may count this as their second research seminar.
  • Students concentrating in Imperial and Colonial Studies should take the required HIST 6128 and 6050 the first semester they are offered, since they are taught only in alternate years.
  • Discuss the courses you plan to take each semester with your advisor.
  • Give priority to 6000-level reading and research courses taught be faculty members specializing in areas close to your own concentration.
  • Pending approval of the instructor, you may earn graduate credit for undergraduate courses at the 3000-level by completing additional work. Typically, this entails extra reading and more sophisticated paper assignments.
  • You may enroll in courses in departments other than history as long as they are related to your program of study at GW.
  • You may enroll in four courses (12 credit hours) at a consortium of ten universities in the DC area. Click here to register for these courses. The following stipulations apply:
    • Any hours of transfer credit for graduate courses taken elsewhere before arriving at GW will be deducted for the number of consortium course hours you are permitted to take.
    • You may not enroll in a consortium course if it duplicates a GW course offered in the same semester.


How many courses should I enroll in?

  • If you are a full-time student you should take three courses (nine credit hours) each semester until you have completed at least 36 credit hours. This adds up to two years of full-time coursework.
  • If you work more than 20 hours a week you may not take more than two courses (six credit hours) each semester.
  • Students registered for fewer than 6 hours in a given semester, however, are considered “less than half time” and may encounter problems with student loans and, if a citizen of another country, their student visas. 
  • If you are taking a light course load because you are almost done with coursework or because you are researching or writing a thesis, you can apply to be certified as half or full time even though your registration falls short of that definition.  International students get the certification form at the International Services Office; others get it from the Registrar’s Office.

 

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Can I get credit for graduate work I've already done in another program at GW or at a different university?

Yes, under certain conditions outlined in the University Bulletin. Keep in mind of the most important points:

  • Transfer credits must be for graduate courses you took at an accredited institution within the two years prior to enrolling at GW.
  • You must have earned a B or better in the course.
  • The credits must not have been applied to the completion of requirements for another degree. One exception to this rule is that students entering the Ph.D. program with an M.A. in history or a related field may transfer up to 30 credits.
  • You will probably be allowed to transfer all credits for graduate courses taken at GW, other than thesis research.
  • The Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) must confirm that the courses to be transferred were directly related to the student's current program of studies in history.
  • To transfer credit you should bring an official transcript to the DGS, who will help you make a petition to the college.

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Who is my advisor? What does my advisor do?

  • All M.A. students are automatically assigned a full-time faculty member as their advisor. The M.A. advisor is currently Professor Muriel Atkin.
  • If you are writing a thesis, your thesis advisor will become your main advisor.

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What do grades mean in a graduate program?

  • M.A. students must maintain a GPA of at least 3.3 in each semester, otherwise they are subject to dismissal from the program.
  • Most GW faculty consider an “A” or an “A-“ the only satisfactory grades for a Ph.D. student. If you are considering pursuing a Ph.D. you should also aim for these grades. 
  • A grade of “B+” is fine for an M.A. student, but it should be taken as a warning that your instructor does not think that the work you did for the course reflects the ability to do a successful Ph.D. dissertation.
  • A single low grade does not mean anything about your inherent ability or faculty perceptions of your inherent ability.
  • Be sure to discuss any grades that concern you with the faculty member who gave you the grade or your advisor. 

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What is an incomplete and what are its perils?

  • If you do not complete your work for a course by the end-of-semester deadlines, the instructor may allow you to submit it at a later date, within up to one year. In that case, you will receive an "Incomplete," and an "I" will appear on your end-of-semester grade report.
  • If you take an incomplete, it is your responsibility to ensure that the professor submits your final, updated grade before that deadline. Remember that faculty often have many commitments at the end of a semester, and they will not be willing to drop everything they are doing to meet your deadline for work that was due a year earlier.
  • If your remaining work is not completed, graded, and reported to the registrar within one year, the "I" will automatically become an "F." No amount of petitioning will alter this.
  • The "I" will remain on the transcript even after you complete the work for the class. If the completed work is deemed worthy of an "A," for example, the final grade on your transcript will be "IA" rather than "A," in order to show that you took more time to complete the work than did other students in the class.
  • Incompletes can ruin your vacations and interfere with the next semester's coursework.
  • The Dean has in the past rejected fellowship nominations or withheld fellowship renewals for students with two or more incompletes.

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What are the language requirements for an M.A.?

  • There are no language exams required for receiving an M.A. degree.
  • You may need special language preparation to do a thesis on a particular topic. Consult with your advisor.
  • If you are planning to go on to Ph.D. you should prepare yourself in whatever languages are necessary for your regional specialization.

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What is an M.A. thesis and what are the procedures for writing it?

  • M.A. students have the option of writing an M.A. thesis. Students who do so should enroll in HIST 6998 one semester and in HIST 6999 the next semester.
  • Students writing M.A. theses will work out the specifications with their advisors. A typical thesis runs to over 50 pages and may be modeled on an academic article in The American Historical Review, The Journal of American History, or whatever the leading journal in their particular field is. The paper should be based on research in primary sources and demonstrate a thorough knowledge of relevant historiography.
  • You should consult with your advisor, or with potential thesis advisors, if you are considering the thesis option.


If I want to write a thesis, how do I choose a thesis advisor?

  • Your thesis advisor should be a full-time faculty member whose research interests are close to your own and with whom you have a strong intellectual rapport.
  • You must ask a faculty member to be your thesis advisor. Some faculty members have too many students and will not be able to take on another advisee.


How do I write and compete an M.A. thesis?

  • If you have chosen to write a thesis and a faculty member has agreed to advise your thesis you should sign up for HIST 6998 and HIST 6999 while you write the thesis.
  • There may be a graduate student thesis writing group that you can participate in. Ask the Director of Graduate Studies for more information.
  • While you are writing, send your advisor monthly progress reports and consult with him or her regularly.
  • All footnotes and bibliographies must be formatted according to the Chicago Manual of Style (15th edition).  Use the style the Manual calls "Documentation One" unless told otherwise by your advisor. 
  • You will need to choose a second reader for your thesis. This should be a faculty member with whom you have already worked and who has some expertise in the topic of your research.
  • When you have completed a draft of your thesis that your advisor thinks is finished, you should give it to your second reader for approval.
  • You may deposit the thesis once both readers have approved it and you have formatted the final document according to specific university requirements.

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How do I finish my degree?

Once you have completed your degree requirements, get in touch with the Director of Graduate Studies or the designated M.A. student advisor. He or she will help you fill out the necessary paperwork to graduate. Congratulations!

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Help! I'm panicking!

Graduate school, like all academic work, is challenging, rewarding, and stressful, in equal portions. How do you think some professors end up so neurotic?

  • You can ask any professor, whether or not he or she is your advisor, for advice on academic and career matters.
  • If you are having a problem with your advisor, talk to the Director of Graduate Studies, who will help you and promise confidentiality.
  • If you are having a problem with the DGS, talk to the department chair, who will be equally discrete.
  • If you are overwhelmed by personal matters, take advantage of the free counseling available at GW.

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