Saint Louis University

Established in 1971, the M.A. program in American Studies at Saint Louis University gives students solid grounding in the origins, development, practices, and theoretical framework of the field, as well as aiding them in the pursuit of independent research. The M.A. is a stand-alone degree for work in arts and cultural institutions, libraries, museums, historical societies, public humanities, non-profit agencies, and other venues. Some students may also pursue the M.A. in American Studies as a prelude to further degrees, such as a professional M.A. or doctorate.

Course Requirements

30 credit hours, including ASTD 5000: Perspectives in American Studies. For students who choose the thesis track (outlined below), 6 of these credit hours will consist of ASTD 5990: Thesis Research, taken during the second year of coursework. No more than 6 credit hours may be taken outside of American Studies. 

Qualifying Exam

At the end of their second semester of coursework, all graduate students take a three-hour qualifying exam to demonstrate their growing knowledge of the field. The exam consists of essay questions provided by American Studies course instructors. Students must answer two of the questions: one covering material from ASTD 5000, and the other chosen from questions about materials covered classes taken during the first-year semester when ASTD 5000 was not offered.

Portfolio or Thesis

After successful completion of the qualifying exam, students pursue one of two capstone tracks: a portfolio paper or a thesis.

A portfolio paper is a 20–30 page article or literature review, typically a revised and expanded seminar paper meant to demonstrate the student's extensive knowledge of their field. It is developed in conjunction with a two-person faculty committee (a chair and one additional reader) over the summer following the first year of the M.A. program and during the second year of the M.A. program.

A thesis is a more developed project with an original argument, typically 60–80 pages in length, based in extensive primary and secondary research. It is developed in conjunction with a three-person faculty committee (a chair and two additional readers) over the summer following the first year of the M.A. program and during the second year of the M.A. program.

Oral Examination

After the student's committee has approved the final version of the portfolio paper or thesis, there will be a one-hour oral examination before three faculty members. For the portfolio paper, these will be the two-person portfolio committee plus an additional faculty member, and the exam will be principally on the portfolio paper. For the thesis, this will be the three-person thesis committee, and the exam will be principally defense of the thesis.

Language Requirement

There is no language requirement for the M.A. degree.

Annual Graduate Student Review

The Office of Graduate Education requires all SLU master's and doctoral students to undergo an annual review of their progress to degree. In American Studies, students will complete a self-evaluation every year, and submit it to the department's administrative secretary by January 31. If January 31 falls on a weekend or University holiday, the self-evaluation document will instead be due on the University's next regular business day. The student will then meet with their advisor to discuss this self-evaluation and their progress in general. This form, along with a meeting report (signed by both student and advisor), will be filed with the department. Click here to access the M.A. self-evaluation form.

Students will receive a copy of these documents. A summary report of the results of annual reviews for all graduate students in the department will be submitted to the Associate Dean for Graduate Education in the College of Arts and Sciences by April 1.


If the graduate student's advisor and the department chair have become significantly concerned about the student's progress and/or performance, a formal warning will be issued to the student. The warning will document (1) the area(s) of concern, (2) the corrective action that must be taken by the student, (3) the resources available to offer the student help and support, and (4) the possible outcomes if the student meets or fails to meet the requirements for corrective action. The student will be asked to meet with their advisor to discuss this warning.

Sample Degree Plan

In general, the M.A. degree will be completed in four semesters, and will look as follows:

Year One

Fall: ASTD 5000 (3 credits)
6 additional credits of coursework

Spring: 9 credits of coursework
Qualifying Exam

Year Two

6 credits of coursework; Portfolio Paper [Portfolio option]
3 credits of coursework; ASTD 5990 (3 credits) [Thesis option]

6 credits of coursework; Portfolio Paper; Oral Examination [Portfolio option]
3 credits of coursework; ASTD 5990 (3 credits); Oral Examination [Thesis option]

Click here to access the 2016–17 Department of American Studies Graduate Student Handbook