School of Graduate Studies


Culminating Projects

As a graduate student, your culminating project, whether it is a thesis, starred paper, creative work, portfolio, or dissertation, is a demonstration of your ability to research, analyze, integrate, synthesize, and reflect your expertise in your chosen field of study.

You have spent years on your post-secondary education, and all of those challenges and efforts are represented through this document.

Along with your committee members and mentors, the School of Graduate Studies understands that your work also represents St. Cloud State University. One of our priorities is to ensure that you are as proud of your work as we are. Our guidelines will lead you a successful completion and submission.

An electronic thesis and dissertation (ETD) submission into the Institutional Repository (IR) at St. Cloud State University is integral for your culminating project to be accessed throughout the world.

To this point, works from students have been downloaded in almost 100 countries with frequency. This means that you are a representative of the University and your work is being used as a catalyst for someone else’s research in a particular field or subject, so quality and accessibility are common goals of the ETD process.


Types for a Master's Degree

The graduate program you choose and are accepted to, will determine the type of culminating project you will complete.

Plan A: Thesis

A thesis is a document written in support of obtaining an academic degree. It is usually longer than a research paper and completed over the course of two or more semesters. Thesis research is completed by the student under the supervision of a graduate advisor.

A thesis requires the demonstration of individual academic research and the evidence of capacity for critical analysis. Choose a topic of interest that allows you to replicate existing research or design an original study to contribute to the body of knowledge in your field.

Plan A: Creative Work

A student interested in completing a creative work as may be required by a specific department, or in lieu of the traditional master's degree thesis, must show evidence of creative ability before being accepted as a candidate for the advanced degree. The creative work includes a written statement of artistic intent and such supporting materials as are applicable. Your statement of artistic intent may contain a description of the work undertaken; the technique(s) involved in the work, and related subject matter.

Plan A: Field Study

A field study examines a problem in educational administration and is completed as the culminating project for the Specialist Degree.

Plan B: Starred Paper

A starred paper provides constructive critical analysis of existing theories or viewpoints without necessarily offering any new ones. In short, academic requirements for a starred paper do not generally include original research.

A starred paper is an analysis or review of literature.

Plan B: Capstone

A capstone project is an assignment and other work completed for a capstone course.  The department determines the requirements in order to receive a grade for the capstone course.  This course is needed to complete the culminating project requirement for programs that end with a designated capstone course.

Plan B: Comprehensive Exam     

Written examination designed to demonstrate understanding and integration of learning in the program. May also be preparatory for state and national licensing examinations.

Plan C: Project/Portfolio or Internship/Portfolio

At a school, educational institute or university, a project is a research assignment given to a student that generally requires a larger amount of effort and more independent work than is involved in a normal essay assignment. It requires students to undertake their own fact-finding and analysis, either from library/internet research or from gathering data empirically. The written report that comes from the project is usually in the form of a report, which will contain sections on the project's inception, analysis, findings and conclusions. It could be an exhibition portfolio, or other project; written or electronically recorded documentation.

A portfolio is generally combined with a practicum/internship. Many times the portfolio is the final report upon the completion of a practicum/internship.  Each department may have its own requirements for the portfolio.


Overview of the Culminating Project Process (approx. 45-60 minutes)

These seminars explain the processes for completing your culminating project.

Watch for Spring 2018 dates. For in person assistance/questions for the remainder of Fall, stop in one of the formatting workshops.

Formatting Workshops

These workshops include a short seminar on how to format your culminating project followed by hands-on time to work on your document and ask questions.

These are hands-on workshops, so you can come and go as you please. Join us at the time and location listed. 

Wednesday, Jan. 17, 3-6 p.m., Miller Center Library, Room 135G

Thursday, Jan. 18, 1-4 p.m., Building 51B, Room 125

Wednesday, Jan. 24, 3-6 p.m., Miller Center Library, Room 135G

Thursday, Jan. 25, 1-4 p.m., Building 51B, Room 125

Wednesday, Jan. 31, 6-9 p.m., Miller Center Library, Room 135G

Wednesday, Feb. 7, 6-9 p.m., Miller Center Library, Room 135G

Wednesday, Feb. 14, 6-9 p.m., Miller Center Library, Room 135G

Wednesday, Feb. 21, 6-9 p.m., Miller Center Library, Room 135G

Wednesday, Feb. 28, 6-9 p.m., Miller Center Library, Room 135G

Culminating Project Support in D2L/Brightspace

School of Graduate Studies - Culminating Project Support is available in D2L-Brightspace as a self-regisration course. This free course will publish important dates, centralize relevant resources, and provide need-to-know information for graduate students. Basically, this site has everything you need to know about your culminating project, whether it is a dissertation, thesis, starred paper, professional portfolio, or creative work.

Institutional Repository

Our searchable Repository archives culminating projects, which may be a thesis, dissertation, starred paper or creative work, depending on the candidate's program.

Distinguished Master’s Thesis Award

Each year the Faculty Association Graduate Committee and School of Graduate Studies recognize one outstanding thesis completed during the last academic year or summer.

This winner also is submitted as St. Cloud State University's nominee for the Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools Distinguished Thesis Award.

Each master’s program with a thesis option is encouraged to select and submit one outstanding thesis.

Meet David Feifarek, our 2016 winner.


  • Master’s degree-seeking candidates who completed a thesis during the past two academic years will be eligible.
  • For 2017 eligibility:
    • The thesis must have been completed and the master’s degree awarded between July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2017.
    • The thesis may not have been previously considered for the SCSU distinguished thesis award.
  • Starred papers and creative works cannot be considered for this award.


Each program may submit one nomination with a supporting letter of not more than two pages from the thesis adviser.

  • The thesis and nomination may be submitted electronically in PDF format or as a paper version.
  • If a paper copy is submitted, an unbound copy of the thesis is preferred.
  • The nomination letter should briefly address:
    • The originality and importance of the research.
    • The potential for significant contribution to the field.


Submit nomination materials to the School of Graduate Studies by Oct. 17.

Corey Fitzgerald, Graduate Assistant
School of Graduate Studies
121 Administrative Services Building
720 Fourth Avenue South
St. Cloud, MN 56301-4498
320-308-5371 (fax)

Selection and Announcement of Awards

  • The School of Graduate Studies forwards the theses and letters of support to the chairperson of the Distinguished Master’s Thesis Award Committee.
  • The committee selects the Distinguished Master’s Thesis.
  • If eligible, the St. Cloud State thesis is submitted to the Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools for its annual competition.
  • The St. Cloud State award recipient will announced Jan. 15.
  • The individual whose thesis is selected will receive a nomination for the MAGS Distinguished Thesis Award, a framed certificate, and an award of $200 in a joint presentation (usually scheduled early in Spring semester) by faculty representatives the president, and the dean of the School of Graduate Studies.

MAGS Distinguished Thesis Award

Each university in the Midwest is allowed to submit one thesis in each category (2017 categories are Social Sciences and Mathematics  and Physical Sciences/Engineering).

From these, the Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools Distinguished Thesis Award is chosen.

If selected by MAGS, the student receives a $750 honorarium and travel expenses to attend the annual Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools conference.

Three-Minute Thesis

The School of Graduate Studies will hold the first Three-Minute Thesis competition as part of the Huskies Showcase. Please see the Guidelines for Participation.

Check out this example by Christopher DeSpain, M.S. Special Studies-Sport Psychology, St. Cloud State Kinesiology Department.

More examples.