Is a Thesis or Dissertation Necessary for All Master’s Degree Programs?

dissertation for masters

A lot goes into choosing a master’s degree program. For many future graduate students, this decision includes their intended career path, personal goals and even whether or not the program requires a thesis or dissertation. In light of that, students considering a master’s program should understand what a thesis or dissertation is and what role they play in their graduate studies.

What is a Thesis and Dissertation?

Both the thesis and the dissertation are long independent research papers. The thesis is a master’s-level research paper. The dissertation is a research document for doctoral students.

Students in programs that require a thesis or dissertation cannot graduate until these documents are written and approved by their academic department. According to, the length of these documents varies from school to school. However, students in thesis programs can generally expect to write between 50 and 100 pages.

The purpose of these documents is to demonstrate what the graduate student has learned. However, it’s also important to note that the thesis should demonstrate that the graduate student has made some independent conclusions based on his or her research. It represents growth in thinking and understanding. Ideally, the thesis adds to the body of research in the student’s chosen field. However, not all master’s programs require their students to write a dissertation. It depends on the degree.

What Is the Purpose of the Degree?

Many degrees, like the Master of Science or the Master of Arts, are research degrees by and large. However, other types of degrees, like the Master of Educational Technology (MET) or the Master of Fine Arts (MFA), are professional or terminal degrees. Other professional degree types include master-level nursing or business degrees.

The students who pursue them intend on working professionally after they earn their degrees. The purpose of these degrees is to provide higher-level skills and training. While the students in these programs often do research, the requirements for the research are significantly less. Their research provides them with the foundational knowledge they can use on the job. Some of the degrees  like the MET or MFA require their students to create a portfolio instead of a thesis to qualify for graduation.

Which to Choose

Graduate students should choose the program that best suits their overall goals. If a student’s goal is to become a researcher or to work as a professor at a college or university, then the research degree may be more helpful. However, if the student plans on being a working artist or going into business, then getting a degree, like an MFA or an MBA, is a better way to go.

The thesis represents a graduate student’s research and growth. It’s a lengthy document that explores the connections the student has made between the research material and the student’s conclusions. While many master-level graduate programs require that their students write a thesis, many do not. It all depends on the type of degree that the student is pursuing.

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