Graduate Advising Handout: M.S.


San Francisco State University
Department of Geography & Environment



This handout supplements the graduate section in the SFSU 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:


Leonhard Blesius, HSS 283, 405-2144, 
Jerry Davis, HSS 277, 338-2983,
Ellen Hines, HSS 339, 338-1482,
XiaoHang Liu, HSS 269, 338-7509,


Other important contacts:

Nancy Wilkinson, HSS 267, 338-1439, (Dept Graduate Coordinator)
Erica Maciel, HSS 279, Office Coordinator, 338-2049,
Map Library, HSS 289, 338-1145
Anna Studwell, Geographic Analysis Teaching Lab, 338-3566,


Summary of Steps for Completing the Masters

1.  Apply to the University and the Department
Send application and official transcripts to the Admissions office.  Send Statement of Purpose, two letters of recommendation, GRE scores and unofficial transcripts to the Department.  The Department requires all application materials to be submitted in one complete packet.  Incomplete applications will not be accepted.


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


3.  Satisfy Graduate Literacy Requirement.  If you earned below a 4.0 on the GRE Analytical Writing exam, you may be required to complete an upper level writing class such as TPW 400 or SCI 560. 


4. Complete your coursework in consultation with a Grad Program Advisor and your Thesis Committee members.  Specific course requirements for the Master of Science in GIScience are posted in the University Bulletin online.  The projected dates of graduate course offerings (seminars, etc.) can be found on the department web pages.  See the Bulletin for course prerequisites and other requirements.


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 a Grad Program Advisor.  Refer to the SFSU Bulletin (hard copy or online) for prerequisite information and other requirements.

The ground rules:

  • More than half 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 an 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 at SFSU.  You may include a third member from Geography 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 tenured/tenure-track faculty at SFSU.


Note:  Geog 897 Research Project Formulation is a course taken to develop your thesis proposal.  Students who have a topic and a committee should be ready to take this course, and sign up for it with their committee chair (thesis adviser) at the beginning of the semester.  If you have not submitted the Proposal for Culminating Experience (see below for more on this), you should do so early during the semester in which you are taking Geog 897.  As part of the course, students will present their Research Proposal to other students and faculty (see below).


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 resources; see the form at the Grad Divison.   Prepare it in consultation with your Culminating Experience Committee, which may also require a longer proposal, perhaps developed through a directed reading (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.  Enroll in Geog 897, and the Research Proposal Presentation
In Geog 897, students will develop their lit review and methodology through peer-review and consultation with their committee, and then present their research proposal to an audience of Geography faculty and students.  Further information about proposal presentations can be found on the department web pages.  All graduate students are strongly encouraged to attend the proposal presentation evenings, and this is required the semester you are taking Geog 897.


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 SFSU libraries, discipline-associated laboratories and facilities, and CE advisors.      

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


12.  Enroll part-time in the semester you will graduate.
You may be eligible to enroll in Geog 897 through the College of Extended Learning if you have been on leave (not enrolled) for two or more successive semesters.  Please check with the Graduate Division to learn about policies in effect at the time you graduate.


13.  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. 


14.  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.


15.  Schedule a defense date with your committee; notify the Department Chair and Office Coordinator.  Thesis defenses include a presentation, questions and discussion.    
The research project option requires an oral presentation of research and a comprehensive exam.


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.


16.  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. 


17.  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 two copies of your thesis to the Graduate Division after your defense (one for the Department, 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. 

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 to the Registrar by the Department).   


18.  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.


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


Other Resources:

The department website at  Includes links to statements of department policy and projected course offerings.


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