AMU Student Handbook
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Last Revision: January 30, 2024

What is a Master's Degree?

Master’s Degrees Contribute to Graduate Culture:

At APUS, graduate culture arises from our community of emerging scholars and practitioners who share a commitment to research and scholarly integrity, a passion for producing and extending knowledge in the field, and dedication to applying that knowledge in innovative, interdisciplinary contexts.

At APUS, a successful master’s student is someone who is able to synthesize and evaluate current literature in the field and apply theory to problems of professional practice or questions in the discipline. As you complete your master’s program, you will be able to:

  • Apply the major theoretical frameworks in your field to past and current events;
  • Synthesize different theoretical and methodological approaches in order to argue for evidence-based solutions;
  • Analyze and critique the literature to identify strengths, weaknesses, and gaps in other research;
  • Communicate effectively to audiences within and outside the discipline.

Master’s degrees at APUS consist of at least 30 credits of graduate coursework. In most cases, coursework includes a combination of core, concentration, and elective courses. All master’s programs require a capstone experience, which is a culminating course or set of courses. The capstone may take several forms, including a thesis, creative project, applied project, practicum, or portfolio. Some programs also offer a comprehensive exam for their culminating experience.

What is a Master’s degree?

According to the Council of Graduate Schools, master’s degrees differ significantly from undergraduate degrees in several ways:

The master’s degree is awarded to students who demonstrate a level of academic accomplishment and subject mastery substantially beyond that required for the baccalaureate degree. Graduates from master’s degree programs should have developed the ability to think logically and consistently; integrate and synthesize knowledge; access up-to-date knowledge and information within the discipline; communicate in a clear, consistent, and logical manner, both orally and in writing; understand the interrelationships between their discipline and others; be aware of and prepared to deal with ethical dilemmas within their profession; apply their knowledge of the discipline to real-life situations; and, increasingly, adapt to the dynamic and changing requirements of their profession and their workplace.

Master’s graduates are expected to have gained knowledge and skills not only from course work, research, and practicums but also from varied experiences and perspectives brought to the program and shared among students, faculty, and practitioners. The specific requirements for individual students, even those working in the same field, may vary to a certain extent, depending not only on their pre-master’s preparation and experience but also on the research projects or new applications of knowledge for which the program is preparing them.

Master’s programs usually require a capstone or culminating experience that indicates the ability to synthesize material from course work and to apply information and knowledge to a specific issue or problem, although some programs may require only completion of course work. The capstone requirement may be a thesis (once nearly universal), an equally rigorous creative project, a demanding comprehensive examination, or, increasingly, some alternative requirement, such as a documented contribution to a group project or outcome (increasingly common in professionally focused programs) or reports of internship or fieldwork experiences. Since the ability to communicate in one’s field is essential, master’s programs typically include an opportunity for the student to learn to present scholarly information in written and oral form to a variety of audiences.

Borchert, M., Sims, L., Denecke, D., & Tate, P. (2005). Master’s Education: a Guide for Faculty and Administrators. Washington, D.C.: Council of Graduate Schools. p. 9.