FAQs for Prospective MA Students in History

1. Who seeks an MA in history?

People pursue master's degrees in history for a wide range of reasons. Some are currently working in history-related jobs or hope to switch into that career path. Others have careers that are not directly history-related but which benefit from graduate training. Others plan to pursue doctoral study. And others are or hope to become high school teachers. Many of our students simply seek the intellectual challenge of graduate study in history. Accordingly, our students range from recent college graduates to mid-career professionals to retirees. This variety makes our classroom discussions all the more exciting.


2. Does one need a BA in history to seek an MA in history?

Many of our applicants have bachelor's degrees in history, but by no means all do. Training in other forms of qualitative research, such as journalism, communication, political science, and anthropology, serves as excellent preparation for graduate study in history. So can work experience involving research, analysis, and writing. Students who have strong skills but are not familiar with the major historical events and trends of their chosen field may want to complete background reading prior to starting graduate classes; our faculty can recommend titles. Those who want to try graduate study before committing to a degree program may want to consider taking some courses in non-degree status, which can later be applied to a history MA. Prospective students who have not had any advanced study in qualitative fields may want to take upper-level undergraduate history courses prior to enrolling in our program. Undergraduate credits cannot count toward an MA degree, but the experience can prepare you for our seminars.


3. What are the strengths of Mason's MA in history?

As far as content, our strongest offerings are in the histories of North America and Europe, from the mid-18th century to the present. Themes within these fields include cultural, military, political, and religious history. We also regularly offer world history courses in the Middle East, Latin America, and comparative history. Because the majority of our MA students specialize in U.S. history, many of our world courses include transnational or comparative components that also touch on the United States (this is somewhat less true of our Middle East courses). While our department includes distinguished historians of China and Japan, they rarely offer graduate seminars in those fields.

Mason also offers courses in applied history, in which students learn to bring history to wide publics. Our faculty affiliated with the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, are international leaders in digital history. We also offer courses about museums and historical memory, and our location in the metropolitan Washington area gives students wonderful opportunities for internships.


4. What are the requirements of the degree?

Most of our concentrations require 30 graduate credits, which usually take the form of ten 3-credit graduate seminars.

The teaching concentration is designed for students who are also enrolled in the 23-credit graduate certificate in secondary education licensure. Students in that concentration take 24 credits in history and 12 in education, which also apply to the certificate. Completing both the MA in history and the certificate requires a total of 47 credits.

Combining the applied history MA concentration with the certificate in Digital Public Humanities requires a total of 36 credits.

Each concentration has specific requirements, with the greatest flexibility in the enrichment concentration. All MA students take an introductory seminar (HIST 610) and a research seminar (HIST 797). Of the eight remaining courses, enrichment students choose four in their main speciality (United States, Europe, or world), one outside of that specialty, and three electives. Predoctoral students choose related courses and conduct independent research, while students in the applied concentration take courses in applied history, and usually an internship.


5. What are the differences among the concentrations?

All MA concentrations require the introductory seminar (HIST 610) and the research seminar (HIST 797). Beyond that, there is some variation. For formal requirements, see https://historyarthistory.gmu.edu/programs/la-ma-hist/requirements.


Enrichment is our most popular and flexible concentration. Students choose one geographic field (U.S., Europe, or World) and take four courses in that field, distributed by time (in the U.S. or Europe specializations) or place (in world), and one course outside their main geographic field. The remaining three courses are electives, one of which can be taken in a field other than history if the course will complement the student's historical studies.

Students who concentrate in enrichment follow a number of paths, including doctoral study, applied history, and teaching. However, we do offer other concentrations for students who wish to prepare specifically for one of those paths.


Doctoral programs generally favor applicants with defined research agendas that match the strengths of a particular department. We therefore push predoctoral concentrators to define fields of interest and conduct independent research beyond the research seminar required of all MA students.

Students in the predoctoral concentration take the same mandatory courses (HIST 610 and 797) and the geographic field courses (U.S., Europe, or World) as students in the enrichment track.

They also take two history courses that they use to define a minor field, which can be defined by place (e.g., Atlantic history), theme (e.g., military history) or methodological approach (e.g., digital history).

For their remaining six credits, students in this concentration may either take a three-credit independent research project (HIST 798) plus a three-credit elective, or a six-credit thesis (HIST 799). In most cases, we recommend HIST 798.


Students in the applied concentration take the same mandatory courses (HIST 610 and 797) and the geographic field courses (U.S., Europe, or World) as students in the enrichment track. They take the remaining 12 credits in applied history, in order to build specific skills expected in the applied-history field. Usually, students take three courses (nine credits) of applied-history coursework, i.e., history courses numbered 680-699, plus a three-credit internship. Students may choose instead to take two applied courses and a six-credit internship. Students employed in applied-history jobs may take 12 credits of coursework and no internship.

The concentration in Applied History with New Media and Information Technology Emphasis has the same requirements, but at least six of the applied-history credits plus the internship should develop skills in new media and information technology.

The applied concentration can be combined with the Graduate Certificate in Digital Public Humanities, https://masononline.gmu.edu/programs/digital-public-humanities-graduate-certificate/. Normally the MA requires 30 credits and the graduate certificate requires 15, but if you take them together, nine credits can overlap. Thus, a total of 36 credits are required for the MA and the certificate together.

Teaching (Secondary Schools)

Secondary schools tend to seek applicants with broader knowledge of history, enough to prepare them to teach United States, World, and Western Civilization courses. Students in the teaching concentration do not therefore specialize in one area of the world, but instead spread their coursework among multiple regions.

The teaching concentration is designed for students who are also enrolled in the Secondary Education Licensure Graduate Certificate program (https://gse.gmu.edu/secondary-education-6-12/academics/secondary-education-licensure-graduate-certificate), run by the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD). This concentration counts six Education credits toward the history degree, reducing the total number of History credits from 30 to 24. Since the graduate certificate in secondary education requires 23 credits, the degree and the certificate together require 47 credits total. See the following question on high school teaching for more information.

Higher Education

Community colleges are more flexible than public high schools in their requirements. For example, the Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) system seeks entry-level instructors holding a “Master’s degree with 18 graduate semester hours in the discipline. Some prior teaching experience preferred.” This reflects the accreditation standards of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Community colleges like candidates with a mix of coursework in U.S., European, and world history, who are prepared to teach introductory classes in all those areas. Students in the higher education concentration, like those in the secondary teaching concentration, do not therefore specialize in one area of the world, but instead spread their coursework among multiple regions.

The concentration in Higher Education allows students to combine 24 credits in history with 12 credits in Higher Education, including a three-credit practicum.


6. Will an MA in History prepare me to teach high school history?

Completing an MA in history provides you with an understanding of the latest historical scholarship, as well as with the skills to keep current in the field as that scholarship progresses. We regularly educate teachers who are already teaching high-school history, and they report that they are able to apply insights from their seminars to their teaching, especially AP classes.

However, the MA in history alone does not satisfy Virginia's requirements for licensure to teach history and social science in the public schools. Licensure requires coursework on pedagogy at the secondary level, as well as endorsements [https://cehd.gmu.edu/endorse/] in economics, geography, and government. Aspiring teachers should familiarize themselves with these requirements.

Possible pathways to a teaching career include:

* Pursuing an MA in history with a concentration in teaching, alongside the 23-credit graduate certificate in secondary education licensure [https://gse.gmu.edu/secondary-education-6-12/academics/secondary-education-licensure-graduate-certificate] (47 credits total). Please note that this is still not sufficient for licensure, because of the requirements for endorsements [https://cehd.gmu.edu/endorse/ ] in government, economics, and geography.

* Pursuing licensure through Virginia's Career Switcher program [http://www.doe.virginia.gov/teaching/educator_preparation/career_switcher/index.shtml] for prospective teachers with work experience.

* Working as a substitute teacher and having the school sponsor provisional licensure.

* Studying for licensure and starting a career as a teacher, then pursuing the MA in history.

* Earning the MA and seeking work in private or parochial schools that do not require teacher licensure.

For more information about these options, please contact the College of Education and Human Development, https://cehd.gmu.edu/teacher/teacher-licensure-programs. See also Fairfax County Public Schools, "Questions About Virginia Licensure?” https://www.fcps.edu/node/34083

You can also meet prospective employers at Mason's annual Education Recruitment Day, usually held in March. See the Career Services calendar for details. https://careers.gmu.edu/events


7. How is graduate study in history different from undergraduate work?

* More work. For a typical reading seminar, about one book per week of reading, plus writing assignments and discussion leading throughout the course, plus a final paper at the end. Expect to devote 10 hours of work outside of the classroom per course.

* More emphasis on scholarly interpretation. Graduate students are expected to explore multiple understandings of events, and how scholars' decisions about what questions to ask shape the answers they find.

* Smaller classes. With only about 12 to 18 students in a class, there is no back row in which to hide. Each student is expected to contribute to discussions and to learn as much from other students as from the instructor. Students also have the chance to get to know faculty better than they could as undergraduates.

* Higher expectations. Graduate students are encouraged to go beyond the minimum requirements of a course and to challenge themselves with the most difficult questions and the most complex answers.


8. How many hours per week does the program require?

Our seminars meet late in the day, once per week. Most meet from 7:20 to 10 p.m., and a few meet from 4:30 to 7:10 p.m. This scheduling allows some students to study full-time, while others study part-time while working at jobs or other pursuits during the day. As a general rule, it's best to expect about ten hours of reading and writing outside of class for each three hours spent in the classroom. A student should budget 13 hours per week for one course, 26 for two, and 39 hours for three.

Summer courses run in double time, meeting 6 hours per week for 7 weeks, and up to 20 hours of outside work per week.


9. How long does it take to earn a degree?

Full-time students generally take 9 credits (three courses) per semester. If they do this for three semesters, and earn 3 credits during a summer, they can complete the program in as little as a year and a half. Other students, especially those who work during the day, take only one course each fall and spring, and complete the degree in five years. And others split the difference, working part time and taking 6 credits per semester, or varying the number of courses they take depending on their schedules. Any combination is acceptable, so long as a student completes the 30 credits in 6 years, the university deadline for master's degrees.


10. Does the MA require a thesis?

All of our concentrations require a 3-credit research seminar (HIST 797), where students learn to write an article-length paper (roughly 10,000 words).

Students who complete this seminar and wish to do additional research have three options:

* Take a second research seminar with a different instructor. Since each instructor has his or her own emphases, students are bound to learn additional skills.

* Take HIST 798, a 3-credit course in which a student works individually with a faculty member to produce a second original, article-length paper.

* Take HIST 799, a 6-credit course requiring a formal MA thesis. Such a course typically produces a paper of around 25,000 words. Because this is too short for a book and too long for an article, it may be of less value than a shorter, stronger paper. It also requires a more formal process involving review by University Dissertation and Thesis Services. We find that with few exceptions, students who want to do research beyond the required seminar are better off taking HIST 798. However, the 6-credit thesis is an option, and it can be a good choice for some students.

HIST 798 or HIST 799 is required for the predoctoral concentration and optional for others.


11. Who would be my advisor?

The director of the MA program, currently Professor Zachary Schrag, serves as the advisor to all students within the program. Many students also develop close relationships with faculty in their areas of interest.


12. Does the department offer campus tours or information sessions?

The department does not offer campus tours. The university offers frequent tours designed primarily for prospective undergraduates. The latter may be useful for prospective graduate students as well, since they will likely point out the essential graduate facilities, such as the library, the Starbucks, and the other Starbucks. See https://www2.gmu.edu/admissions-aid/visit-mason

The department does not regularly schedule information or orientation sessions. The program director (Zachary Schrag, zschrag@gmu.edu) and other faculty are available for individual appointments.


13. How much does it cost?

Tuition and fees can be found at the website of the Student Accounts Office, http://studentaccounts.gmu.edu/tuition-fees/. The tuition rates for history seminars is found under "Graduate Tuition Rates." History is part of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, so check the per credit cost in that college, and multiply by 3 for the cost of a course, or by 30 for the cost of the standard MA degree, exclusive of fees.

The teaching concentration, which splits 36 credits between the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and the College of Education and Human Development, and the combined MA and certificate in Digital Public Humanities, have different costs. Consult the program director for details.


14. What financial aid is available?

Unfortunately, the department has limited aid to offer MA students. The department occasionally can employ MA students as graduate teaching assistants, who receive some tuition waivers as part of their employment. But the number of students interested in such slots greatly exceeds the number we can employ, so we discourage applicants from counting on such support.

Applicants concerned about costs should consider the following:

* Virginia residents receive a substantial tuition discount relative to out of state students.

* Members of the military and veterans are often able to apply benefits toward graduate education.

* Because our courses are taught late in the day, many students are able to combine a part-time course load (3 or 6 credits per semester) with paid employment.

* Full-time and part-time Mason employees may be eligible for the university's Employee Tuition Exemption Benefit, https://universitypolicy.gmu.edu/policies/employee-tuition-exemption-benefit/

* The James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation offers $24,000 fellowships to current and prospective teachers of American history at the secondary level who will teach topics on the Constitution.


15. How do I apply?

Formal application instructions are online at http://historyarthistory.gmu.edu/programs/la-ma-hist/application. Please note that neither a GRE nor a writing sample is required, but writing samples can be quite helpful.

The English department offers excellent advice on letters of recommendations and goal statements:

Letters: http://english.gmu.edu/prospective/recommendations

Goals statement: http://english.gmu.edu/prospective/goals-statement


16. Must I apply by the stated deadline?

We are happy to read applications year-round, and we will accept applications until two weeks before the start of classes each term. However, applying by the stated deadline (some months before each term) will give you the chance to accept admission in time to register for classes on the first day of the registration period, increasing your chance of getting space in the classes you want.


17. What should I submit as a writing sample?

Though a writing sample is formally optional, it can be an important part of an application.

A writing sample should show the applicant's ability to analyze evidence, craft arguments, organize thoughts into clear paragraphs and sections, and write in formal English. Current college students and recent graduates typically submit student papers, while those who have been out of school for a while often submit writing done for a job or volunteer work. Works of history are particularly helpful, but any kind of expository writing can serve, especially if it shows analytical thinking or the ability to synthesize a range of sources. We look for works of about 5 to 20 pages, but it is fine to submit something longer; we will read as much as we need.


18. Can non-degree courses be applied toward a degree?

Non-degree admission allows students to try out some graduate study without the commitment of a degree program. Instructions for applications are online at https://www2.gmu.edu/admissions-aid/how-apply/non-degree.

The history MA program requires 30 credits, of which 18 must be taken in graduate status at Mason. Thus, we can apply up to 12 credits of other graduate study (taken in non-degree status or at another university) to an MA. You must enroll in the degree program within 6 years of earning the credits, and you must earn a minimum grade of B for each course to be applied to the degree.

If you take non-degree courses and apply to the degree program, you still need to pay the additional application fee, and non-degree courses are no guarantee of admission to the MA program. However, recommendations from Mason faculty carry great weight in our admissions decisions.