What is the MA Thesis?

The MA thesis is a piece of graduate-level, original research that demonstrates your methodological and analytical training and skills. We work closely with you to make that paper as effective as possible. 

What options do I have for the MA Thesis?

You have two options for the MA thesis. The first is the academic thesis, which is an article-length piece of original research and writing, modeled on peer-reviewed journal articles in your discipline. The goal of this research paper is to engage in scholarly conversation in your discipline or disciplines, and to contribute to that conversation in a modest way. 

For those who apply to PhD programs after MAPSS, the academic thesis is critical to the success of your application, demonstrating your ability to develop and execute a graduate-level research project. 

Many of our students, however, go on to positions outside the academy in which high-level research skills are the primary qualification. The academic thesis, therefore, becomes an important part of your resume, showcasing your graduate-level research skills, methods training, and professional writing. 

The other option for your MA thesis is a recent innovation: instead of the traditional academic thesis, students may now complete a professional thesis, which applies the social scientific knowledge and research methods you learn in MAPSS to a concrete problem in a form that is more common in professions outside the academy. 

The professional thesis is advised by your preceptor in consultation with our faculty director and can take numerous forms. It might, for example, be a market analysis for a firm; a grant proposal for a non-profit; a policy brief for a legislator or agency director; an article of long-form journalism for a lay audiance; a storyboard for a documentary film; a consolidation of two revised seminar papers demonstrating facility in the application of theory and methods; or another project as approved by your preceptor and our faculty director. 

Whether you complete an academic thesis or a professional one, the project will be the centerpiece of your MAPSS year. Some students do their research and write the thesis in the Winter Quarter; most, however, do their research in the Winter Quarter and write the thesis in the Spring Quarter. About 20% of our students graduate in June, the rest graduate in August. 

Who will supervise my MA Thesis?

If you complete an academic thesis, your faculty supervisor will be any University of Chicago faculty member you can interest in your project, no matter whether that person teaches in the Social Sciences, Humanities, Physical Sciences, Biological Sciences, or in one of our professional schools (Public Policy, Law, Social Service, Divinity, and Business). Over 250 faculty members from around the University have supervised MAPSS MA theses in the last two years alone.

Your MAPSS preceptor also evaluates your paper, after organizing your MA proposal-writing workshop in January and meeting regularly with you to assist in the development, drafting, and execution of your project.

If you complete a professional thesis, your project will be advised by your preceptor in consultation with our faculty director.

If I don’t finish my MA thesis by the end of spring quarter, do I have to keep paying tuition?

No. You have nine courses required for your degree (three per quarter on a full-time basis) and after that you pay no further tuition. Our MAPSS faculty remain available to you for thesis supervision and evaluation, until your degree is completed.

All students must earn their MA degree within 10 years of starting MAPSS.

What kinds of things do MAPSS students write about?

The MA thesis topics you find in MAPSS are as diverse as our students. They reflect a broad range of interests, disciplines and methodologies, informed by UChicago training and course work. Some recent titles include:

  • Perpetual Development: Reworking the Periphery in Post-Suharto Indonesia
  • When Do Individuals Give More? Using Framing to Test Social Norms and Empathy on Generous Giving
  • A Capital Plan: Designing School Desegregation in Harrisburg Pennsylvania, 1968-1972
  • Platonic Wonder in the Work of Hannah Arendt
  • Gentrification and Neighborhood Conflict: Evidence from New York City's 311 System
  • Do Labor Supply Responses to Universal and Permanent Cash Transfer Vary with Income? Evidence from Alaska
  • Effect of Labels on Children's Acceptance of Foreign and Unconventional Foods
  • Political Meritocracy and Machiavellian Democracy
  • Public Transportation and the Politics of Indiscipline in Dakar, Senegal
  • Caught in the Flash: Visual Subjects of American Imperialism in the Philippines from 1899 to 1901
  • Caregivers' Perception of Children's Learning in Early Childhood
  • The Emergence of Peer Reviewed Books: University Press Publishing Editorial Practice in the United States
  • Not Really a Gambler: Class, Identity, and Leisure at the Postindustrial Casino
  • Class-Based Heterogeneous Effects of Type of Public College on Graduates’ Earnings
  • Learning to be "Legal": Shifting from Undocumented to DACAmented Status while Transitioning to Adulthood
  • Vanishing Women: A Qualitative Study on the Work-Family Policies in South Korea
  • Misinformation Effect in Recognition Test: A Comparison for False Memories in Native versus Non-native Language
  • Evaluating Bike Share as a Solution to the Last Mile Problem in Public Transit: An Alternative Approach
  • Who Is a Subject of Justice? The Moral Status of the Disabled and Other 'Frontier' Cases
  • Sorting Our Children: The Impact of School Choice Policies on the Segregation of Chicago’s Public Schools
  • (Re)Orienting Desire and Politics: Western Queer Subjectivity under Chinese Authoritarianism
  • Voting Patterns and the Opioid Crisis in Illinois: A Spatial Analysis Perspective
  • Anything but the Hierarchy?: Sociological Reflections on Latin American Theology
  • The French Connection: Catholic Nationalism, French Imperialism, and Argentina's Dirty War
  • Socratic Love as an Expression of Justice: A Study of Plato’s Lysis
  • Broken Hearts and Broken Contracts: How Suicide-Bereaved Individuals Conceptualize Relationships with Deceased Loved Ones
  • “Of that Place, Of that Person” The Implications of 3D Replication for Native American Material Culture
  • Public Reason and Performative Religion: The Case of Rawls and Reformed Christianity
  • Holding Space: Collaboration, Antiracism and Helping Justice in a Chicago-based Non-Profit

​You can also get an idea of MAPSS MA thesis topics by looking at the Johnson and Fogelson prize-winning MA Theses.