FAQs for Prospective MA Students in History

For more information, please also consult the guidance for current MA students in history or contact the director of the MA program Professor Stephen Robertson, srober30@gmu.edu.

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.


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.

Most of our entering students earned a 3.0 GPA or higher as undergraduates. Occasionally we admit students with lower undergraduate GPAs, especially if a student has shown success in endeavors since college, or if their undergraduate GPA was lowered by poor grades in courses in fields dissimilar to history. Applicants with an undergraduate GPA below 3.0 should explain in their goals statements why they are now ready for graduate work.


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

Our graduate seminars are taught primarily by our tenure-line faculty, all of them distinguished scholars and teachers. 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 and research at such institutions as the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, the National Archives, the Navy and Marine Corps museums, and George Washington's Mount Vernon.


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 primarily designed for students who are also enrolled in the 24-credit graduate certificate in secondary education licensure. Students in that concentration take 21 credits in history and 15 in education, which also apply to the certificate, for a total of 36 credits. Completing both the MA in history and the certificate requires a total of 45 credits including an additional 9 credits in education.

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). HIST 610 is required in the first 9 credits and strongly recommended in the first semester.

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.


Is proficiency in a foreign language required for an MA in history?

Proficiency in a foreign language is only required for students completing the predoctoral concentration specializing in European or World History. Those students are required to have intermediate proficiency (the equivalent of a 200-level language class) in a language related to their research.

There is no foreign language requirement for students specializing in US history and students in other concentrations specializing in European and World History.

What are the differences among the concentrations?

Please see our page on MA History Concentrations.

What careers are open to historians with MAs?

While many students pursue MAs for personal enrichment, others are considering doctoral programs or careers in teaching or public history. Because career paths for historians are varied and changing, there is no set path for our alumni.

Our page for current students, Graduation and Beyond, has links to career resources.

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 24-credit graduate certificate in secondary education licensure [https://gse.gmu.edu/secondary-education-6-12/academics/secondary-education-licensure-graduate-certificate] (45 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

Can I take graduate classes to become credentialed to teach Dual Enrollment History classes in Virginia?

Yes, if you are a teacher licensed in Virginia, 6 classes from the MA program will provide the 18 credits required by Northern Virginia Community College as a credential to teach a Dual Enrollment History class. You can enroll as a non-degree student to complete only those courses or complete them as part of the MA (which is 30 credits, so requires an additional 12 credits). Application fee waivers and tuition discounts are available for Virginia teachers. For more information, see this information sheet.

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.


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.


Where do classes meet?

Almost all of our graduate history classes meet on Mason’s Fairfax Campus, but we offer occasional classes on our Mason Square campus. Mason Parking and Transportation offers information on parking, carpools, vanpools, public transportation, bicycles, e-scooters, and other transportation options.


Does the program offer courses online?

We do offer a small number of courses online. It is not possible to complete the degree without taking in-person courses. Students should expect to take most of their courses in classrooms on the Fairfax campus.

Most of our online courses are intended primarily for students in the graduate certificate in Digital Public Humanities, though these could also count for credit in the History MA.

We also typically offer an additional 2-3 courses online each semester.


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.

It is possible to take more than a full-time load. Generally we recommend this only for students (including Navy officers on the in the GE+T program) who must complete the degree in an unusually short period of time.

Full-time status is determined by the Office of the University Registrar.

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 may repeat HIST 797 with a different instructor, take HIST 798, a 3-credit course, or take HIST 799, a 6-credit course requiring a formal MA thesis. HIST 798 or HIST 799 is required for the predoctoral concentration and optional for others. 

Our page on MA Concentrations offers more detail.


Who would be my advisor?

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


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://www.gmu.edu/admissions-aid/visit-explore

The department does not regularly schedule information or orientation sessions. The program director (Stephen Robertson, srober30@gmu.edu) and other faculty are available for individual appointments.


Do I need a personal computer?

Most of our courses require students to download readings and to post assignments and receive feedback on Blackboard Courses. In addition, students register for courses online and are expected to check their Mason email regularly. While it is possible to do all of this using computers in the university libraries or computer labs, it is much easier if you own your own computer. A machine running MacOS, Windows, or Linux is preferable to a Chromebook or tablet since it can run a wide variety of software, including applications for scholars developed at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. A laptop’s portability can be useful for the classroom, library, or archive.

Patriot Tech is Mason’s campus computer store.


How much does it cost?

Cost of attendance 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.

Eligibility for in-state tuition rates is decided by the Office of Admissions. See https://registrar.gmu.edu/students/domicile/

What financial aid is available?

Unfortunately, the department does not employ MA students as graduate research assistants or as graduate teaching assistants.

Occasionally can employ MA students as graders, who receive an hourly wage. But these positions do not include tuition waivers, and the number of students interested in such slots 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. Domicile is initially determined by the Office of Admissions when a student applies to Mason.

* Exceptionally qualified students from outside of Virginia who plan to attend full-time may be eligible for some tuition discounts.

* 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.


Can I transfer graduate credits from another university, or non-degree study at Mason?

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. The credit must have been earned within six years prior to first enrollment as an admitted student in the specific certificate or degree program, and a minimum grade of B (3.00) must have been earned. The credits cannot have been previously applied toward a degree at another institution or Mason. Please see Graduate Policies for full details.

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://www.gmu.edu/non-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.


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.


Letters of recommendation should come from people who can evaluate the quality of your intellectual work. For current undergraduates and recent college graduates, at least one letter from a professor, preferably in history, is particularly valuable. For those who have been out of college for some time and are no longer in touch with their instructors, letters from supervisors at job or volunteer positions are good alternatives. If you have worked or volunteered at a historic site, museum, or other applied-history institution, consider asking a supervisor there for a recommendation.

Strong recommendations typically run 3-5 paragraphs and describe specific achievements of the applicant.

We suggest you contact potential recommenders several weeks before you need the letter. We also suggest you provide them with your goals statement so they can comment on your ability to achieve those goals.

Goals Statement

A good goals statement runs about 4-6 paragraphs and answers the following questions:

1. What fields of history most interest you?

We assume that every applicant to our program is interested in history, but are there particular times, places, groups of people you'd like to study? Particular themes or methods? Favorite courses you took, or books you read?

2. Where have you been?

What experiences have you had leading up to your application to graduate school? Tell us about your experiences in college and, if applicable, since. Have you conducted research on your own or with others? Have you worked or volunteered in a museum, library, or historic site? Studied abroad? Have you done relevant work outside of history, such as professional research or writing, that could help you explore history? If you struggled as an undergraduate, what more recent experiences show that you are ready for graduate work?

3. Where are you going?

Where would you like to be once you've earned an MA in history? Are you pursuing the degree primarily to be better informed about the world, or do you also have specific career goals? If the latter, do you expect to continue on a current path, or switch careers? Are you hoping to find work in a school, or in public history? Or prepare for doctoral study? How much have you learned about these paths?

4. What brings you to Mason?

Why is George Mason University's MA program in history the right one for you? Did anyone recommend that you apply? Are you already settled in the Washington region? Have you learned about our faculty and their areas of expertise?

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.

What are the requirements for international applicants?

Policies concerning international admissions are set by the university. See Office of Graduate Admissions, Frequently Asked Questions

Does the program waive application fees?

Starting with admissions for 2022, we will waive fees for graduates of four-year minority-serving institutions in Virginia: Hampton University, Norfolk State University, Virginia State University, Virginia Union University, and Virginia University of Lynchburg. If you have graduated from one of these institutions and would like an application fee waiver, please contact Professor Stephen Robertson (srober30@gmu.edu) before you pay the application fee. We cannot waive fees retroactively.


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.