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The M.A. degree is a non-thesis degree intended for those wishing to further their education specifically in biological sciences without a focus on research.


Acceptance into the biology M.A. program is based on grade point average (3.0 minimum), letters of recommendation and a statement of purpose. Master's students must maintain a minimum overall grade point average of a B (3.0) in all course work. Applicants are assigned a course work advisor following admission.

In addition to the Graduate School requirements, the student should have a year of college mathematics, a course in organic chemistry and the equivalent of the USD biology core curriculum before admission to the M.A. degree program. Exceptions to this general guideline can be made at the discretion of the department. A maximum of two core courses can be used for graduate credit if the student has had no previous courses in the subject areas. The details of the course work will be worked out by consultation between the student and the advisory committee.

If a student is admitted by the Graduate School with provisional status and expects to be a candidate for the M.A. degree, he or she should apply for full status during the second semester in residence. Admission to full status will be based on the student's performance relative to the departmental requirements. Students admitted on provisional status must be formally admitted to full candidate status prior to the academic term in which they apply for graduation. More information is available on the Graduate School website.

Residency Requirements

In biology, USD has no specific residency requirements for students completing a master's degree.

Advisory Committee

The department chair or graduate steering committee chair will assign an advisor to serve as chair of the student's advisory committee at the time of acceptance into the program. The assigned advisor may be changed later if appropriate to better serve the student's interests. The two other members of the committee will be chosen from among the graduate faculty by the advisor after consultation with the student. The composition of the committee, ideally, should reflect a combination of expertise in the area of the student's interests and diversity of background to be of optimum effectiveness in advising the student. The committee will meet with the student and become acquainted with his/her scientific and vocational goals.
The functions of the advisory committee are to:

  • Advise the student in the development of an academic program.
  • Approve the program of study. At least one semester prior to graduation, the student, after consultation with their advisory committee, will submit a program of study to the Graduate School.

Program of Study

The program of study represents an agreement between the student and advisory committee about courses to be taken by the student during their tenure in the graduate program. The program of study must be comprised of all graduate work, and at least 50 percent of the course work must be completed at the 700-course level or above. Students must pay particular attention to this requirement and discuss it with their advisor. The student will draft a proposed program of study during their first year, generally at their first advisory committee meeting. The proposed program of study may be amended from time to time to compensate for changes in course offerings. The final program of study form must be filed by at least the first week of the semester before they graduate. The Graduate School cannot accept the program of study until the student's advisory committee and biology department chair have signed it. The program of study form must be typed before submission to the Graduate School.

Application for Degree

Application for degree must be made no later than the first week of the session in which the student expects to complete degree requirements. The form is available by going to the following link: Application for Degree, which must be signed by your advisor.

Final Exam

Candidates for the M.A. degree will take an approximately one hour subject-matter multiple choice examination prepared by the Department of Biology faculty. The questions on this exam cover the breadth of biology. In case of failure, the exam may be repeated after one semester of additional work. A second repetition is at the discretion of the Grad Steering Committee; they may also recommend dropping the student from the program. The student will be notified of the written exam results within one week of completion.


Suggested time line for completion of M.A. requirements:

Year One

  • Initiate course work
  • Select advisory committee (first semester)
  • Receive approval for proposed Program of Study (second semester)

Year Two

  • File application for degree form
  • Submit final program of study to Graduate School
  • Complete final exam (semester prior to graduation)
  • Submit graduation approval form