MA Program

enriching understandings of American history and society

The Master of Arts in American Culture Studies is offered through University College, which houses programs aimed largely at adult learners attending the university on a part-time basis.  The program provides the training, both in specific disciplines and in cross-disciplinary conversations, to help you answer important questions about American society.  It also introduces some of the social, political, and cultural issues that have shaped identities and experiences across American history.  Most fundamentally, it provides a critical skill set that fosters analysis of an array of cultural objects -- a place, an event, a work of art, a political institution -- from a rich and diverse foundation of knowledge and perspectives.

Your studies culminate in a self-directed project that allows you both to explore an area of personal interest and to participate in a multidisciplinary scholarly community.  Part of the excitement of this kind of learning is the opportunity to engage in creative or rigorous exchange with the faculty in the humanities and social sciences at Washington University, and with leading practitioners in the St. Louis professional and policy worlds.

Studies may span American literature, history, politics, religion, philosophy, art, music, and film.  Recent AMCS courses include:

  • Studies in American Cultural Identity: The Civil War to the Jazz Age
  • Introduction to American Culture Studies: American Nightmares
  • "From Redlining to Avocado Toast:" Race, Class, and Real Estate
  • Ethics and Ethnography
  • Blue Plate Special: Food, Folklore, and Culture
  • And Justice for All? American Inequalities
  • The History of American Architecture

How to Apply

Interested in joining our MA program?

Learn More About Our Admissions Process

Degree Requirements

The Master of Arts degree is structured to support both wide, multi-disciplinary inquiry through challenging coursework with scholarly concentration around an original research question. Candidates must complete 30 credit hours that meet program distribution requirements in order to graduate. While not required, candidates are strongly encouraged to enroll in at least one course with a field work component, to broaden understanding of the social and geographic dimensions of American cultural topics. Most courses in the program are three credits, but topical 1.5 credit courses are offered occasionally.

Credit Transfer 

A maximum of 6 credits of related and comparable graduate-level course work may be transferred from another university or from a related graduate program at Washington University with the approval of the program director. The program will not transfer credits from any college or university that were used to fulfill undergraduate degree requirements. Transfer credit may be granted only for authorized courses for which the student received a grade of B or higher.

Required Courses and Distribution Requirements

  • Humanities (6 hours): Literature, history, religion or philosophy.
  • Social Sciences (6 hours): Anthropology, education, economics or political science.
  • Arts (6 hours): Architecture, music, art history or theater/film.
  • Electives (9 hours): Any courses in American Culture Studies or substitutions approved by the advisor.

The program strongly recommends that students take Introduction to American Culture Studies. This course will be counted as an elective, and is offered on a biennial basis. At least five courses counted toward the degree must be home-based courses in American Culture Studies.

The category of a particular course is determined by the discipline that is most heavily weighted in the class and/or by the nature of the core questions around which the course revolves. The distribution of each home-based course will be noted in its description. Students work with their academic advisor to determine where a course fits in the distribution.

The minimum grade point average required for graduation is 3.0 (or B).

Writing Intensive & Research Methods Courses

Among the required and elective seminars, some will be noted as “writing intensive” and “research methods.” These courses are intended to hone graduate-level writing and research techniques, preparing students for their final written projects. Students are required to complete at least one writing intensive course and one research methods course.

Final Project or Thesis

All candidates for the master's degree in American Culture Studies are required to complete a final written project. Normally completed during the final semester of the program (and in some cases the final year), the project entails substantial research and analysis on a topic determined by the student in consultation with the program coordinator. Candidates should consult their advisor early in their studies to begin developing questions that might lead to a successful final project or thesis.

The project is completed under the secondary supervision of a faculty advisor, along with a faculty committee, and it is evaluated by this committee in the form of an oral examination at the conclusion of the student's program.

There are two options for the final written project: 1) Directed Research Project (DRP), the minimum requirement for all students; and 2) Master's Thesis, available to exceptionally strong students authorized by the program coordinator. American Culture Studies students are required to submit a brief narrative essay (4-6 pages) with the final written project, whether it is a Directed Research Project or a Master's Thesis. Students should consult with the AMCS coordinator before and after the DRP or thesis are undertaken; the set of questions for the narrative essay will be decided then.

Directed Research Project 

A three-credit Directed Research Project (DRP), developed under the supervision of a Washington University faculty member, is one of the two options for completion of the M.A. degree. The project is to be completed at the conclusion of a student's course work, normally during the final semester. This project presents an opportunity to explore an area of personal interest. The project also provides an opportunity for students to work closely with a member of the ACS faculty. The project may be a subject first identified during a course or one that has emerged over time in the program. The DRP, approximately 40 pages, should be comparable to a research paper produced in a graduate research seminar, and should reflect a substantive engagement with relevant issues, questions, and scholarship.

However, students may also apply to receive credit for other projects, such as museum exhibits, courses, and creative writing projects. If the nontraditional project is approved, the student should submit all relevant materials and a brief paper (4-6 pages) discussing the experience of working on the project, and its importance and objectives.

Master's Thesis Option 

Students with exceptionally strong academic records and writing skills may be authorized by the American Culture Studies program coordinator to pursue a two-semester, six-credit Master's Thesis rather than the three-credit Directed Research Project. The difference between the Master's Thesis and the Directed Research Project is primarily one of scope. Students who undertake the Master's Thesis will spend the first semester researching their topic and beginning to write, and the second semester writing and revising. The Master's Thesis in American Culture Studies should be approximately 75 pages, and like the three-credit DRP must reflect a substantive engagement with relevant issues, questions, and scholarship. The student will develop this work in consultation with a faculty advisor responsible for helping the student define the project's scope and objectives and identify useful sources. Students who are approved for this thesis must meet the Office of Graduate Studies in Arts & Sciences Master's Thesis guidelines.

Advisor and Committee 

All candidates for the master's degree in American Culture Studies complete the final project (DRP or Master's Thesis) under the supervision of a faculty advisor and committee. The program coordinator will assist the student in selecting a faculty advisor and two other faculty readers for a thesis or a faculty advisor and one other faculty member for the DRP. The advisor or 'director' works closely with the student at all stages of the project. The committee, in addition to the advisor reads the final paper and participates in the student's oral examination. DRP advisors and committee members should be teaching faculty with the relevant graduate program. Master's Thesis advisors and committee members should be tenured or tenure-track faculty at Washington University. Students select the appropriate advisor and committee members in consultation with the program director and University College.

Oral Defense 

American Culture Studies students must pass an Oral Defense at the end of their program of study. The exam is one hour long, and the examining committee consists of the final project director and committee. The oral defense gives the student an opportunity to discuss the directed research project or master's thesis, as well as the entire American Culture Studies program experience. Please consult the University College online calendar for specific deadlines for the oral defense. Usually the defense must be completed by the beginning of September for summer graduates, the beginning of January for fall graduates, and late April or early May for spring graduates. Please note that these dates conform to deadlines for all graduate programs and are not flexible.

Procedures and Timeline 

All candidates for the master's degree in American Culture Studies are required to complete the Final Project Proposal Form for M.A. Programs. All students authorized to pursue the Master's Thesis also must complete the Title, Scope, and Procedure Form.


You should begin planning for your Directed Research Project the semester prior to your final semester of study. If you have authorization to pursue a Thesis, begin planning two semesters prior to your final semester of study. The Title, Scope and Procedure Form must be completed and returned to University College at least six months before the month in which the degree is expected to be conferred (August, December, or May). University College will forward approved Title, Scope & Procedure forms to the Office of Graduate Studies in Arts & Sciences.


The Final Project Proposal Form must be completed with all required signatures for registration. Registration follows the normal academic schedule. Refer to the current course schedule for registration deadlines. Submit your Final Project Proposal Form to the Administrative Assistant for Academic Programs, University College, January Hall, Room 100. This will serve as your registration form. The Oral Defense should be scheduled as soon as possible after you have registered. Candidates should consult with their advisor and committee on all matters before registering or scheduling an oral defense. The advisor will provide instructions for completing this phase.


Have questions? Feel free to reach out to Karen Skinner, Academic Coordinator and University College MA Program Coordinator.

Contact Karen Skinner