FAQ: M.A. in G&ES
Students should also discuss these questions with their Program Advisor and consult the Graduate Student Handbook and University Catalog.
Q: I'm not a graduate student yet. May I take graduate level classes?
If you are not an NEIU student but have a bachelor's degree you can quickly get "Student At Large With Degree" status at Enrollment Services by filling an application and paying a small fee. Thereafter, you may enroll in graduate level classes. This works out well for students picking up a class or two for their own purposes, and for students who intend to undertake the M.A. program but have not yet been admitted. You may transfer only 9 hours of "at large" coursework after you're admitted, so if you're intending to apply, do so fairly quickly.
THIS LINK will take you to the .pdf form for Student At Large Status.
If you are an undergraduate student at NEIU, you may take graduate level classes in your last semester. This makes it possible to continue smoothly into the graduate program (although you must apply, like everyone). These credits may not to used toward the undergraduate degree, and you may need to contact the Registrar to release these courses from the undergraduate transcript. Undergraduate students may also take graduate level classes with faculty and departmental approval.
Q: I've taken some courses elsewhere. May I use them toward the M.A. degree?
Students may apply to the graduate coordinator toward allowing up to nine semester hours taken elsewhere to the G&ES program. To carry credit, the courses must have been taken from an accredited institution, must have been applicable toward a graduate degree there, and can not have been used toward a degree. Transferred credit must also be with the six-year "window" for the M.A. degree. So, a graduate course taken two years before admission to the G&ES program would leave the student four years to complete the program.
To waive only a requirement, without graduate credit, the course only needs approval of the graduate coordinator. For example, a 300-level statistics course which was used as part of an undergraduate program might waive the G&ES statistics requirement, but the student would then have to pick up those three hours another way.
Several classes in G&ES are "graduate approved," and may be
taken for graduate credit. This must be arranged in advance. Students taking
these courses for undergraduate credit can not later apply those toward an
Q: Will you please summarize the steps to completing the graduate program?
After admission, complete any deficiency courses (specified in your admission letter from the graduate college) as quickly as possible. Also determine which faculty member will be your Program Advisor. Maintain a GPA of 3.0 or better. As you complete 27 hours (thesis option) or 30 hours (research paper), submit a detailed proposal for your final paper to your Program Advisor. With that person, put together a committee (3 for thesis, 2 for RP) to review your paper, and a committee of 3 for a comprehensive examination (Research Paper option only). Exact composition of this committee is explained in the handbook. Schedule the exam soon after your coursework. Pass the exam, complete the paper to the satisfaction of your committee, and then apply for graduation. Do all this within a 6-year period and keep your GPA.
Q: Can I take all the graduate courses at night?
Yes (night and weekends too), with the possible exception of some of the undergraduate courses which are approved for graduate credit or may be required by way of deficiency. Proficiency exams for Introduction to Geography and Introduction to Environmental Studies, common deficiencies, will satisfy those requirements. Also, the department has a short list of what are sometimes called "starred" courses: courses at the 300 level that are approved for graduate credit with an extra assignment. A graduate student may take up to three of these and some may not be available evenings.
Q: Is there financial assistance available through the department?
There are merit waivers which are given out to students each
term on a competetive basis.
When requests exceed available waivers,
the department attempts to distribute the waivers to as many students as
possible, with preference for those with higher GPA and working on their
thesis or research paper. Beware of early deadlines; the Graduate College
administers these forms and sets the deadlines. There
is also one teaching assistanship (for World Geography classes) and one technical
assistantship (for Computer
Cartography, GIS, and other technical department needs). Apply to
the chair at any time for these positions. The graduate college has a
standard for graduate students seeking assistantships -- they may not be
in the department of G&ES. Periodically, the Graduate College offers faculty
Q: What is the difference between a thesis and research paper?
Ask your Program Advisor for his/her own opinion on this. A research paper is usually a thorough investigation of existing literature on a specific topic, structured and presented in academic style. The paper generally contains a breadth and depth component: the first describes where the topic falls within a wider framework, and the second details work done on the specific topic. A thesis does this too, and in doing so identifies something not known, not thoroughly tested, or lacking in the literature: an opportunity for the student to contribute to the body of knowledge on that particular subject. The contribution is often small and may involve field work, a survey, hypothesis testing, statistics, new use of existing data, or other qualitative and/or quantitative analysis. The thesis is carries 6 credits rather than 3 but is usually more than twice the work. Students expecting to get a PhD, become a professional researcher, or who want a particularly rigorous capstone experience should talk with their advisor about the thesis option.
Q: What are the most common mistakes made by graduate students?
These are among the most common mistakes. Most of them can be avoided by carefully reading the graduate program handbook.
Q: Why are so many deadlines earlier than seems reasonable, and why are committees unavailable at times during the year?
Students are often surprised by the early deadlines for merit waiver applications, thesis/paper proposal submissions, thesis/paper drafts and final copies, application for graduation, and announcing a comprehensive examination. Deadlines must allow for adequate review, deliberation, revision, and to meet deadlines set by the Graduate College or University. Thesis and research paper proposals may not be submitted during the first two weeks or last two weeks of any given term because these are busy times for faculty and administrators. Hence, proposals must be approved before the end of term prior to the term of enrollment. And, because faculty summer schedules do not allow for advisement, committee work is not required of faculty in the summer. Some Program Advisors may be willing to work with students during summer months, but usually enrollment in thesis, research paper, independent studies or internships is deferred until Fall or Spring term.
Q: If courses I want are not offered, what can I do?
If enough students (about 10) are willing to commit to taking a course, it may be possible to offer it -- appeal to the chair. If a course in the catalog is not offered in a particular term, the instructor of record, now and then, may be allowed to offer it to one student or a small group of students as a "tutored study." Then students must complete the normal course requirements under the regular supervision of the instructor. Or, an independent study may be arranged with an instructor, with regular meetings and documented work. Independent studies, tutored studies, and internships require the approval of the chair and the college dean. These are expensive for the University so the justification for them must be very sound, and the timing must also be right. In addition, students sometimes find courses in other NEIU departments or even other universities which supplement their program; this requires approval of the Program Advisor, Graduate Coordintor, and Chair. It must be a graduate course in the institution where it is taken. Be sure to take the key G&ES courses, such as statistics, scope & philosophy, and courses central to one's area of study when they do come up; they may be offered infrequently.
Q: What's the difference between the oral and written comprehensive exams?
The written exam is five hours long, though you don't need to use all that time. The three questions are likely to be multi-part, and the answers should be well organized and thorough. A danger with the written exam is that written answers often wander and -- although they are brilliant -- they never answer the question thoroughly. On the other hand, some students find the oral exam to be intimidating. The oral exam takes three hours. If a student wanders in their responding they are gently guided back on topic. There are more questions but less complicated questions in an oral exam. Often, a four-way conversation occurs, with the student and committee jointly discussing topics. Faculty take turns pursuing their line of questioning. A danger with the oral exam is that sometimes students feel -- wrongly -- that they have failed after not answering a question well, and then freeze up. On the other hand, there is opportunity to ask for clarification and a greater variety of questions. Students don't need to answer them all perfectly!
Q: How should I prepare for the comprehensive exam?
First you should take the exam as soon as you can -- that is, in the last semester of regular coursework (excluding thesis/research paper) or in the very next term. Read all your notes and look through your textbooks not so much for details (though you'll be expected to know a lot of them) as for connections between courses and ways in which your program makes a comprehensive whole. Questions usually require the student to think creatively as much as to recall material. The introductory texts for the freshman classes: Strahler & Strahler (Physical Geography), Getis, Getis & Fellman or Bergman & Renwick (Introduction to Geography) and Miller's Environmental Science (Introduction to Env. Studies) are all fair game. Ask your committee members about the exam. Their answers are likely to be vague, but still useful!
Q: What happens if I fail the comprehensive exam?
As the handbook explains, students may pass completely, fail completely, or fail in part. In the latter two cases the committee decides whether the student should retake the exam fully or in part, or complete an assigned project or paper. A student may retake the exam as many times as necessary.
Q: I've run on beyond the 6-year limit. What should I do?
Speak with your Program Advisor and Graduate Coordinator immediately. Prepare a letter of appeal to the dean of the graduate college in which you
Give a copy of the letter to your Program Advisor and Graduate Coordinator. Then get busy.
Q: What if I have a question that is not answered here?
Please send your query to the Graduate Coordinator: D-Grammenos@neiu.edu .
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