Frequently Asked Questions

This guide will not answer every question that is asked about Graduate Studies at Sonoma State, but it will cover some of those most frequently asked and give you a sense of how one goes about becoming a graduate student on our campus and completing your program.

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From the academic department which offers the program. Call the department for information, and make an appointment to see the Graduate Coordinator if you need pre-enrollment advising.

Three sources: the current SSU catalog has a section on Postbaccalaureate Degrees, as well as sections on each graduate degree program; the Schedule of Classes has information about course offerings, deadlines and due dates; and the Graduate Studies Office in Stevenson 1041 handles a wide variety of questions about graduate programs and procedures.

For information about loans and other government-sponsored programs, call the Financial Aid Office (664-2389); for Graduate Equity Fellowships for underrepresented students call the Graduate Studies Office (664-2237); for SSU scholarships call, 664-2261.

A student who holds a baccalaureate degree, and who is not formally accepted into a Master's Degree program. Admission in this status does not constitute admission to, or assurance of consideration for admission to, any graduate degree or credential program. At the present time, the university is only admitting new unclassified graduate students with specific professional objectives that require coursework. The support of a faculty member is required.

A student who has been accepted by a department into a Master's Degree program. There are three levels of classification:

  1. Conditionally Classified. Accepted by the department pending satisfaction of certain specified prerequisites. This classification does not guarantee acceptance by the department at the time these requirements are met.
  2. Classified. Fully accepted by the department.
  3. Advanced to Candidacy. This status is granted after the student has demonstrated competency at the graduate level and demonstrated writing skills sufficient to support his/her completion of the final project.

 Consult with the department graduate coordinator to determine whether you have met the prerequisites for the Master's program. Application procedures may entail taking entrance examinations, such as the GRE or GMAT, or a departmental examination. It may also involve interviews, the drafting and approval of a program proposal (ITDS), or other screening procedures. If you are eligible and accepted into a program at the time of application to the University, the department will notify the Office of Admissions and Records that you are either Conditionally Classified or Classified by way of the Departmental recommendation form.

If you remove conditions to your classification after you are enrolled, another form is filed by the department with Admissions & Records called the Change in Graduate Status form. Any change in classification during the time you are a graduate student can be documented with this form. Acceptance into a graduate program is not complete until you have removed all conditions to classified standing and filed the approved form with Admissions and Records.

This will vary with departments. Consult the Graduate Coordinator of the program in which you are interested. S/he will help you develop your study plan, or will suggest faculty that are appropriate to your interests and may be willing to fulfill that role. It is important that you have good advising and faculty contact while pursuing your degree.

When you have become a Classified Graduate, it is important that you and your advisor have a clear picture of what you plan to do to complete your degree, including the coursework that you will need to complete, and the option that you choose for your culminating project. You should meet with either your advisor or the graduate coordinator in your department if you wish to change any component of your program as you progress toward the degree. It is wise for you to keep an advising file which documents your grades in the coursework as you progress, and any discussions about your program that you have had with your advisor.

When you are near completion of your coursework, and prior to beginning your final project, you should file an Advancement to Candidacy form (GSO 1) which describes the focus of your thesis, project, or professional paper, or verifies that you will be completing the program with the comprehensive exam or internship option.

If your completion project requires a written presentation, this form will be signed by your supervising committee, as well as the graduate coordinator in your department. Theses, Curriculum Projects, Investigative Projects and Creative Projects are reviewed by the Graduate Studies Office prior to publication in the library. Professional papers are reviewed by your department readers, and are kept within the department. After approval by your supervising committee, the Advancement to Candidacy form is reviewed by the Director of Academic Programs and Graduate Studies and information about your change in classification is forwarded to Admissions and Records.

Every Master's program must culminate in one of the following:

  1. a comprehensive examination;
  2. an internship;
  3. a set of professional papers (Psychology and Organizational Development)
  4. a thesis; or
  5. a creative, investigative or curriculum project.

When you develop your study plan, you and your advisor will determine which culminating experience is most appropriate. Students electing the thesis or project options must have a two-person (English only) or three-person committee to review the culminating project. The chair of this committee must be a member of the tenured faculty at Sonoma State.

It is the responsibility of the student to:

  1. Constitute a committee of people willing to act as supervising faculty on the final thesis/project;
  2. Decide, in consultation with his/her graduate advisor or committee chair, an appropriate and worthy focal topic for research;
  3. Draft a description of the project and receive committee approval prior to enrollment in the thesis/project units;
  4. Determine, in consultation with the committee, roles of the committee members, needs of the committee in working through the approval process, and to create an understanding of timelines and deadlines for submitting written work for approval;
  5. Understand that re-writes will probably be necessary and that the guidance of the committee is to be taken seriously if the project is to be satisfactorily completed. The student needs to understand that no faculty member can be expected to act as simply a "rubber stamp" for his or her ideas and writing;
  6. Obtain editorial help if necessary to meet the standards of the University and the program for quality and presentation of the information in the thesis;
  7. Defend the thesis in an open forum prior to final approval;
  8. Understand that final acceptance of the thesis/project is determined by the student's faculty committee, the Thesis Review Office, and the Director of Academic Programs and Graduate Studies. Posting of the final degree is dependent on clearance by all of the above parties.

There are three forms that are housed in the Admissions and Records Office that are hard-copy forms:

  1. The Departmental Recommendation for Applicants in Post Baccalaureate and Graduate Studies is sent by the Admissions and Records Office to the department when you apply to the program and your file is complete. This form is returned back to Admissions and Records when the department has determined your admissions status, and confirms whether you will be admitted to their program and with what classification. It is signed by the Graduate Coordinator in the Department.
  2. The Change in Graduate Status Form is used to document any change in your graduate classification. It is also signed by the Department Graduate Coordinator or by your Graduate Advisor.
  3. The Application for Award of Degree form is what you file with Admissions and Records at the time you wish to graduate. Yours is the only signature required.

There are two forms that are used by both your department and the Graduate Studies Office to verify your progress toward the degree:

  1. The Advancement to Candidacy form is filed when you near the end of your program and are ready to begin your culminating project. This form has been described above, and is signed by your supervising committee, the graduate coordinator in your department, and the Associate Vice President for Academic Programs. Once these signatures are in place, information about your change in status is forwarded to the Admissions and Records Office.
  2. The Completion of Requirements form is filed when you reach the end of your program. For those who are completing the degree with an internship or comprehensive exam, it is filed during the last semester of attendance when the coursework has been completed, the internship has been completed, and the comprehensive exam has been passed. For those completing professional papers, it is submitted when the papers have been read and approved. For those completing a thesis or project that needs clearance by the Graduate Studies Office, it is submitted with the copy of the project for review after the thesis has been defended and approved by the department faculty. The Completion of Requirements form is signed by the Chair of the Supervising Committee, by the Graduate Coordinator in the department, and by the Director of Academic Programs and Graduate Studies.

Note: Both of the above forms are first signed by a program faculty representative and then reviewed and approved by the Associate Vice President for Academic Programs. Even though your culminating project may be approved by your faculty committee, you will not be cleared to graduate until the Graduate Studies Office has completed its review of your written product. Copies of the two Graduate Studies forms appear at the end of this booklet. These forms are available in your department or at the Graduate Studies Office, Stev. 1041.

These forms can be downloaded from the Graduate Studies Forms page.

You must file an Master's Degree Graduation Application with the Office of Admissions and Records. Deadlines to apply for graduation are posted in the Schedule of Classes and on the Graduate Studies website. This application triggers Admissions and Records to order a diploma for you with the appropriate graduation date. If you fail to complete all of the requirements by the deadlines supplied by the Graduate Studies Office and the Office of Admissions and Records, you will need to re-apply to graduate.

Seven years. Coursework which is more than seven years old may not be used toward the degree unless it is validated through examination. The department will determine whether sufficient cause exists to warrant the examination; if not, the coursework must be retaken or new coursework substituted. Seven years is computed as 14 semesters, not 15 semesters.

Yes. Eight to 12 units of graduate-level coursework is considered a full-time load. However, students may take up to 15 units without special authorization. Graduate students wishing to take over 19 units must have the endorsement of the department and the approval of the Director of Academic Programs and Graduate Studies.

When you have reached the end of your coursework and begin work on the thesis, you will describe the focus of your culminating project by filing the Advancement to Candidacy form. Some departments may restrict enrollment in thesis units, so check with your department graduate coordinator to be sure that you are approved to register in these units.

The Chair of your thesis committee is the best source. In addition you should follow the style manual that is required by your discipline. SSU formatting guidelines are online at The Graduate Studies Office has a thesis reader who reviews the thesis for observance of format that is required for publication by the SSU library. He is willing to preview pages and answer formatting questions and will review a copy of your thesis and let you know if any changes are required prior to the submission of final copies for the library . You will always be given time to prepare minor changes in format if you file for graduation and submit your thesis for review within the stated deadlines.

If your thesis/project either directly or indirectly involves humans in research, you must seek approval from the Committee on the Rights of Human Subjects prior to initiating any activity with the subjects. There is human subject involvement when human beings are asked to participate:

  1. Physically in an activity or to donate their tissue, organs, fluids, and other bodily material;
  2. When information is sought from them directly (as through interview or questionnaire) or indirectly (as through observation);
  3. When information concerning specific, individually identifiable human beings is asked for from third parties-whether through access to files, data banks, or other means-or through direct inquiry of third parties concerning the individuals in question.

Research proposals for which the question of human subject involvement is itself uncertain or ambiguous must be submitted for review. The Office of Sponsored Programs advises for this protocol, reviews the research methodology, and makes suggestions to the Committee on the Rights of Human Subjects.

You have four semesters to complete your thesis. A grade of RP (Report in Progress) is awarded to students who do not finish their thesis/project during the semester of enrollment. The RP grade will remain until the student submits the thesis/project for review. Students may petition the Graduate Studies Office for a one-semester extension of time with appropriate reasons. These petitions must be filed before the expiration of the four semester time limit. Students who do not complete thesis work in a timely fashion may be required to re-enroll in the thesis units, and in some cases re-apply to the university and to the program. Enrollment for more units of thesis credit than the total number required by your graduate program is expressly prohibited.

 Implemented in the Fall 1998 semester, the Continuous Enrollment Policy requires graduate students who have completed their coursework, and who have begun to work on their culminating projects-theses, or other final projects-to maintain enrollment each additional semester until they graduate. Students who desire to maintain eligibility for financial aid, or access to full resources of the university should maintain half-time enrollment and pay half-time fees. Students who wish to maintain their place in their academic program and receive library privileges may enroll through Extended Education and pay a continuation fee of $275.00 per semester.

Yes. If you submit a thesis or project as your culminating experience, you will need to give a public defense before the members of your thesis committee. The defense is open to the university community, and must be held prior to final approval of the thesis/project by the faculty committee and the Director of Academic Programs and Graduate Studies.

Customs within the departments vary, but commonly defenses are arranged for a group of students who are completing the thesis/project in that semester. The date of the defense is set by arrangement with the department Graduate Coordinator and held on a day when all committee members can be present. Normally the department will publish the date of the thesis through normal campus publications, flyers, and through e-mail trees. Defenses are normally 45 minutes to an hour long. The first 20-30 minutes are allotted for the student to present his or her material; many students use visual aids to help describe their project. The remainder of the time is open for questions from the attendees. The defense is the time for the student to present the results of their efforts and receive feedback from their peers and the campus community.