Graduate Advising Handout

How to Get Your:

  • M.A. Geography
  • M.A. Geography Concentration in Resource Management & Environmental Planning
  • M.S. Geographic Information Science

San Francisco State University
Department of Geography & Environment

This document supplements the graduate section in the SF State Bulletin. Notices and announcements are also posted regularly on the bulletin board to the left of the Map Library or sent out via email. In addition, each grad student has a mailbox in the Map Library; check it regularly for flyers, articles, returned papers and other communiqués from faculty or students.

For specific information and guidance pertaining to your program, please see a Grad Program Advisor at least once a semester:

Nancy Wilkinson
Department Graduate Coordinator
HSS 267
(415) 338-1439

Other important contacts:
Erica Maciel, HSS 279, Office Coordinator, (415) 338-2049
Map Library, HSS 289, (415) 338-1145
Quentin Clark, Geographic Analysis Teaching Lab, (415) 338-6140

Summary of Steps for Completing a Masters in Geography

1. Apply via Cal State Apply.
The department requires a Statement of Purpose, two letters of recommendation, and unofficial transcripts.

2. Respond to notification of admission (Classified, Conditionally Classified or Unclassified.)
Let us know you’re coming, and please advise us of any changes in your street address, phone number or email address.

3. Complete specified prerequisite courses by the stated deadline. If you are Conditionally Classified, check your admission papers and/or the Department Graduate Coordinator for prerequisite requirements.

4. Complete your coursework in consultation with a Grad Program Advisor and other Geography faculty. Specific course requirements for the Master of Arts in Geography, the Master of Arts in Geography: Concentration in Resource Management and Environmental Planning, and the Master of Science in GIScience are posted in the University Bulletin.

  • Projected Graduate Offerings

Refer to cycle of offerings on department web page: Graduate Course Offerings seminar planning.

5. File your Advancement to Candidacy (ATC) form when you have about six units of coursework left. Begin thinking about your program early and consider it each term as you select courses in consultation with the Graduate Coordinator and your Grad Program Advisor. Refer to the SF State Bulletin (hard copy or online) for prerequisite information and other requirements.

The ground rules:

  • More than 70% of your ATC units must be at the graduate level (700 or 800 series.)
  • All courses except GEOG 895/898 must be graded, and you must earn at least a B- in each.
  • Prerequisite coursework, Internships and GEOG 897 are never included on the ATC.
  • Once you file your ATC, any change requires a Petition for Substitution or Exception.
  • Your ATC must be on file before the Grad Division will accept your Proposal for Culminating Experience (a.k.a. Thesis or Research Project Proposal.)

6. Build your Culminating Experience (thesis/project) Committee.
Two members of your Committee, including the Committee Chair, must be tenured/tenure-track faculty members in Geography & Environment at SF State. You may include a third member from Geography & Environment or outside, if you or your committee members believe this would be helpful. The third member does not need to be a member of the SF State faculty.

7. Submit your Proposal for Culminating Experience.
Your ATC specifies whether you are doing a Thesis (GEOG 898) or a Research Paper and comprehensive oral exam (GEOG 895). The Proposal for Culminating Experience establishes your title and a brief description of your topic, methods, and timeline; see forms at the grad division. Prepare it in consultation with your Culminating Experience Committee, who may want a longer proposal, perhaps developed in a directed reading (GEOG 896). If your research involves surveys or interviews, you will need to file a Human Subjects Protocol form. The Proposal and Protocol must be on file with the Grad Division the semester before you register for GEOG 895/898.

Note: Any significant change in your Culminating Experience title, committee or research requires an Amendment form.

8. Schedule a Research Proposal Presentation.
All students are required to present their culminating experience research proposal to an audience of Geography faculty and students. Research Proposal Presentations are scheduled two or three times a semester; contact Nancy Wilkinson by email at for details and get more information about proposal presentation. All graduate students and faculty should attend proposal presentations.

9. Enroll in GEOG 895/898 the following semester.
If you fail to register for GEOG 895/898 before you stop attending courses, you may need to reapply to the University the semester before you expect to graduate.

10. Work on your thesis/research paper in consultation with your committee.
You have seven years from the month when you began the first course on your ATC to complete your Culminating Experience. If you are in danger of exceeding the seven-year limit, contact your Committee Chair and the Department Chair right away to see if you qualify for an extension. The Grad Division grants only one extension.

11. Enroll in your Culminating Experience class (GEOG 895/898). This is your final step toward completing your degree. Once you enroll in your Culminating Experience course, you are expected to complete your degree within two semesters. Following the semester you enroll in your Culminating Experience (CE) course, you are not required to enroll in the subsequent grace semester while completing your CE. If you do not complete your CE after the semester of enrollment and the subsequent semester, you are required to enroll in the Culminating Experience Continuous Enrollment course offered through the College of Extended Learning (CEL). Enrollment in the CEL CE course provides students access to SF State libraries, discipline-associated laboratories and facilities, and CE advisors.

DO NOT enroll in GEOG 895 Research Project or GEOG 898 Thesis more than once! You will continue to receive RD (report delayed) until you complete your culminating experience and submit appropriate paperwork.

12. File an Application for Graduation by the posted deadline of the term you expect to graduate. Ask your Culminating Experience Committee for help in judging whether it is time to apply for graduation.

13. Take a draft of your thesis to Grad Division for a Format Check.
Do this early; it will save you lots of time and work.

14. Schedule a defense date with your committee; notify the Department Chair and Office Coordinator. Thesis defenses last two hours, including a presentation, questions and discussion. Research project orals focus on the research project (first hour), then on six books or research articles selected from a list maintained by the Department (second hour).

Note: The Graduate Division posts a calendar of important dates each semester. Be sure to meet their posted deadlines for filing your ATC, Proposal for Culminating Experience, Application for Graduation, and Thesis.

15. Send pdf of your thesis or research project to your Committee Chair and the Department Chair one week before your defense so it is available for other faculty to review.

16. Deliver one signed final copy of your Research Project to the Department after your defense. The Grad Division needs only a copy of your Abstract and the Report of Completion.
Deliver at least one copy of your thesis to the Graduate Division after your defense (one for the Library, and additional copies for yourself, mentors and loved ones, etc.) as well as a Report of Completion of Specified Graduate Requirements. Graduate Division will provide a thesis receipt; then take your thesis to Campus Copy in the Student Services Building to be bound. Only one original signature page required; others may be copies.

Provide a good pdf of your final version of your thesis for posting (or archive for later posting after the embargo period) on the department web page.

Additional paperwork may be required; please consult the Grad Division and Department Chair. In particular, if you registered for GEOG 895/898 in a previous semester, you will need to file a Petition for Change of Grade (must be submitted online or to the Registrar by the Department).

17. Attend the Department Graduation Party (fall semester) or Department Graduation Celebration (spring semester) near the end of the semester when you graduate or any time you want to reconnect with the Department.

18. Attend Commencement in May after your defense.
Summer graduates may also attend the May graduation prior to their defense.

Other Resources:

This website includes links to statements of department policy and projected course offerings.

The Grad Division website posts important deadlines and has links to grad student forms and a great Grad Guide.