Master of Arts in Liberal Studies

The Academic Program

graduation group photo


The required thesis is a one-unit, one-semester project that the student undertakes with a thesis adviser. While any member of the Reed faculty may serve as a thesis adviser, we strongly encourage students to work with someone from whom they have taken a course. The topic should be one that emerges out of the student’s prior coursework, which provides the discipline context and methodology(ies) used in the project. The experience of writing the thesis is intended to allow the student to investigate a particular topic in depth and to present a conclusion in the scholarly manner appropriate to the field(s).

Gateway Course
One or two terms prior to the thesis semester, students must designate one of their courses as a Gateway Course that serves as preparation for writing the thesis. The designated course can be either a MALS or an upper-level undergraduate course that provides the student with an opportunity to write a substantial research paper. The topic of the paper is not restricted to the field of the thesis. The student and the instructor should agree on a process and topic that takes the place of any regular course papers and that includes a proposal, annotated bibliography, draft, and rewrite in the same format as required for the thesis. The student must submit to the MALS office a description of the research project, including the instructor's note of approval, by the second week of classes of the Gateway semester.

Procedure and Timing
A complete description of the thesis topic, including an outline and proposed bibliography, must be approved in advance by the Committee on Graduate Studies. Candidates should submit the thesis proposal to the MALS office according to the following schedule:

  • Fall thesis proposals are due the last day of classes of the preceding spring term;
  • Spring thesis proposals are due the last day of classes of the preceding fall term;
  • Summer thesis proposals are due the first Monday in April of the preceding spring term.

The thesis is due on the date specified in the academic calendar for undergraduate thesis submission. Students will have a two-hour oral exam on their thesis during or shortly after orals week at the end of the semester. (Due dates and orals for summer projects are determined on an individual basis.) The director sets the exam committee in conjunction with the student and the thesis adviser. The committee of examiners typically includes the thesis adviser, one member of the Committee on Graduate Studies, and at least one but often two other faculty members. As a whole, faculty members of the examining committee should represent at least two different academic divisions of the college.

The Reed library tower room houses copies of all undergraduate and MALS theses, easily accessible for both reference and check out. After orals and final approval, students file two bound copies of the thesis with the library; an additional bound copy is to remain with the thesis adviser. (Deadlines for submissions are noted in the academic calendar.)

When necessary, MALS students may take the three-day extension, provided a $50 late fee is paid and the bound copies are submitted to the library by the regular deadline. A thesis not submitted on time may receive a temporary grade of Incomplete, due to extenuating circumstances, or Unfinished, with additional fees and extended deadline, if so approved by the thesis adviser and MALS director.

Creative Projects
The committee is cautious about approving creative thesis proposals and considers carefully the nature of the project, the educational benefit of the project for the student, and the availability of an appropriate adviser. It is imperative that the project arise out of prior coursework at Reed. Since creative projects also include a critical component, they generally require substantially more work on the part of the student. Students interested in a creative project should carefully review the creative paper guidelines and requirements (pdf).

Two-Term Projects
On an exceptional basis, students may petition to write a two-unit, two-term thesis, leading to a 10-unit degree program. This opportunity is for the unusual student who wishes to research and write a longer, more ambitious paper. The student must explain the reasons for extending the project to two terms in the thesis proposal, and obtain explicit permission from the thesis adviser. Extensions to a two-unit thesis are not permitted.

View a list of recent thesis titles.