Graduation Requirements


I just registered for my last semester of library school–advanced legal research and comps. The first time I mentioned comps to my previous therapist, she said “oh, I know someone who failed comps for [my program].” Thanks for the dose of reality that it is, in fact, possible not to pass.

But now that comps are on the horizon for me, let’s talk about the various culminating projects/tasks/events for our LIS degrees.

This is an area that I did not research when I was looking into library school. I hear a lot of “we’re library students; of course we researched before applying,” but that is very far from my case. I looked at the tuition for the 2 schools near me, decided that the out-of-state tuition for UMd was not enough less than the private school tuition at CUA to justify the worse commute, and applied to CUA. I had no idea that different LIS programs have vastly different graduation requirements. I was familiar with the standard 120 credit hour undergraduate degree and the 3 year full-time law school program. Whoever would have guessed that library programs* range from 36 credits to 48?

I’m not sure I even knew before applying that CUA has a comprehensive exam.

At CUA, comps are a 48-hour research paper. I suppose that for someone who regularly writes papers on the day before they’re due, this might not be so stressful. It isn’t like I’m the model of the slow-and-steady prepared student, but I’m also not a last-minute kind of girl. I’d prefer one of the other culminating projects–a thesis or portfolio–because despite the extra work (and who wants to confess to laziness?) they result in something usable. A paper that can be published or a demonstration of your experience. An 8-10 page paper may demonstrate your basic LIS knowledge and ability to write a research paper, but it can’t possibly demonstrate your ability to write a publishable paper. Can it?

To prepare to write this post, I did a fairly cursory search of every accredited LIS program’s website** to find its graduation requirements.*** I learned from this little exercise that there is a wide range in LIS site quality. Also a wide range in organization! Some programs have graduation requirements under the “prospective students” heading (or “future students”–I haven’t decided if this is presumptuous or not) and some under “current students.” Some are easy to find and some quite difficult.  And some sites are in a font that is so small you need a magnifying glass to read them. (Or to adjust your browser’s settings, which of course is easier.)

Some data****:

pie chart of credits requiredbar chart of culminating projects

*When schools offer more than one library-related degree, I looked only at the most general MLS degree requirements.

**As included in the ALA Directory of Accredited Programs, but without the University of Montreal, as I don’t speak French. I barely speak Spanish, and am pretty sure that I understood the requirements at the University of Puerto Rico.

***I don’t promise that I got everything correct, but here they are. (You’ll notice that there are a lot of blanks in the other tabs. If you’d like permissions to edit, let me know.)

****Some data clarifications for the bar chart: 1. if a school requires A or B, I counted that school in both A and B. 2. if a school requires A AND B, I also counted that school in both A and B. 3. “Thesis” also includes any school that requires a “research project” or “masters project” or similar. 4. “Practicum” also includes internships and co-ops. 5. “Capstone” includes any program that uses the word “capstone” or “capping project” or similar, regardless of what form the capstone experience takes.

What does your school require? Did this play into your decision of what program to attend? 

5 replies

  1. Graduate requirements definitely played a role when I was looking at programs. I started my search with ALA accredited schools and at the time I was looking the accredited program closest to me was 500 miles and 2 states away so I knew I would be looking at online programs (preferably ones where I wouldn’t have to go to campus at all).

    I also knew that I did not have to write a thesis. I’m fine with papers, but the idea of a thesis was completely intimidating to me after copy-editing a few for some of my undergraduate friends. The school I ended up attended has 2 capstone options: a major research paper that ends up being close to a thesis, or a practicum. I chose the practicum option because I was able to get experience in a type of library other than the one I currently work in full time. I finish up my internship in 3 weeks and then I’ll be done!


  2. My program was 39 credits, and I had a week for Comps. It took me hours on the first day to choose one of the given topics. Then I used every one of the available days to research and write it. I don’t think I would have made it with only 48 hours. Then I waited weeks on the edge of sanity to see if I passed. I have heard of people who don’t pass, but it was rare in my program I think.

    Good luck, and May the Force be with you.


  3. Of the two MLS programs closest to me, I chose the 36-credit-hours program vs. the 48-units program. Going to school part-time like I’ve been, the additional 12 hours would’ve extended graduation by another year. I’m happy to be finishing up sooner rather than later. 🙂


  4. The new weekend take-home version of comps is MUCH easier than the 2-day, 3 hour on campus version. CUA is just giving away MLIS degrees now.


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