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Athabasca University

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to the program?

Individuals interested in registering as a MA-IS program student will be required to submit all documentation as outlined in the Program Application Procedures. Program students will have priority with respect to course registrations, and will be assigned an advisor to assist with program development. Please note that the application deadline for program students is March 1st for admission into the Program commencing in September, and September 1st for admission to the program commencing in January.

Can I try out to see if Master's Studies are for me?

Individuals who are not enrolled in the Master of Arts—Interdisciplinary Studies Program will be permitted to register in no more than five MA-IS courses as non-program students. Courses taken as a non-program student may be applied toward the degree requirements, if and when the student becomes a program student. If you are interested in registering as a non-program student, you will need to complete the Non-program Application and Fee Payment Form, the MA-IS Course Registration Form, as well as submit transcripts (copies will suffice) indicating your undergraduate degree has been conferred.

Can I transfer credits in graduate work from another university?

You have the option of taking up to 15 course credits (at the graduate level) at other recognized institutions, in your area of interest, and then transferring those credits into the MA-IS program as elective courses.

To ensure the courses taken will be approved for credit

If you receive full credit (15 credits) for your transfer electives, you will need to complete the following MA-IS courses with Athabasca University:

  • two core courses (6 credits),
  • three electives (9 credits), AND
  • a Capstone or Final project (3 credits)

In order to qualify for the MA-IS degree. Students who have been awarded transfer credit for course work completed at other universities must submit a study plan to the MA-IS Director, upon admission to the program.

How is the program structured?

The MA-IS Program requires students to complete 33 credits or eleven courses of study

  • a minimum of six courses (18 credits) must be taken with Athabasca University
  • two core courses and at least one project course:
    1. MAIS 601: Making Sense of Theory in the Arts and Social Sciences
    2. MAIS 602: Researching Society and Culture
    3. MAIS 701: Project Course or MAIS 700: Capstone Course
  • an additional 15 credits of Master's level study (either through Athabasca University or, with prior permission, transfer courses from another university

How is graduate study experienced at a distance?

Students with limited access to traditional universities can pursue graduate studies at their own pace, and in their own home. Supported by some of Canada's most experienced distance educators, Athabasca University's MA-IS program offers various methods of study:

  • Grouped-study courses are online seminar style. Students follow a week-by-week reading schedule and are expected to contribute to web-based discussion boards on a weekly basis. The MA-IS core courses will be offered in this mode.
  • Individualized-study courses in which students work one-to-one with the professor. These courses will be available for enrolment throughout the calendar year, beginning on the first day of every month, and are generally completed within four to six months.

The MA-IS strives to provide excellent student services. Academic work at the graduate level is much more complex and demanding than at the undergraduate level and, in turn, so is the grading and feedback process. We ask that you do not get confused by the undergraduate service standard model. Consult the MA-IS website for graduate level standards.

What are reading courses?

Individual students or small groups may conduct readings under a faculty member's supervision in one or two selected subject areas. Students are encouraged to approach a faculty member and ask for the faculty member's assistance in identifying reading areas. Please consult the faculty member's areas of research and teaching interests.

In the MA-IS there are two categories of independent reading courses: foundational or directed reading courses; and advanced reading courses.

  • Foundational Reading Courses are for students wishing to establish a strong base of understanding of the key authors, research, and knowledge in a subject area. Typically professors determine the majority of the required reading, while students suggest some specific additional reading.
  • Advanced Reading Courses are for students with a good background in an area who wish to study in depth a more specific problem or question. Typically students work with professors to define the reading area.
Reading courses are reserved for MA-IS Program students who have successfully completed the two MA-IS core courses (MAIS 601 and MAIS 602), are at least half way through the program (i.e. have completed 15 credits of course work), and have demonstrated their ability to be self-directed learners. Non-Program students would not be eligible to register for reading courses.

In the past, we have found that student's interests and focus often changes after they complete four or five regular courses. Sometimes, exploring the issues addressed in regularly scheduled courses serves to sharpen their focus. An added bonus is that students often discover faculty teaching regularly scheduled courses whose interests/perspective articulate with their own and they, consequently, feel more comfortable asking those faculty to supervise their reading course(s). These are all reasons why we recommend students engage in reading courses later on in the program.

What are the expectations of graduate students?

Graduate students are expected to read and absorb key books and essays in a field of study and become familiar with its range of topics and debates. In the MA-IS, students are also encouraged to explore knowledge and research occurring between or across disciplines, and assess how communication takes place among fragmented fields of study.

MA-IS students are expected to undertake studies and produce work that is more extensive in depth and breadth, and requires more analytical control, than undergraduate studies. Graduate students should be able to:

  • discover and select their own resources
  • conduct independent research
  • expand and elaborate on course topics
  • synthesize and integrate theories and methods
  • integrate and combine their own areas of interest with course topics.

What is a Learning Contract?

A learning contract is a letter of agreement between a professor and a student. A typical learning contract should include a detailed plan stating the work to be carried out by the student; intended outcomes; a description of the role of the faculty member; and a plan for assessing the work undertaken. Students work with faculty to identify the key books, articles, and other materials to be read. Students wishing to enrol in a directed reading course must submit a detailed learning contract (approved by the professor) to the Director of the Graduate Program in Interdisciplinary Studies.

What is the Interdisciplinary Project like?

Students will be encouraged to undertake projects that "practise integration" in research and analysis. Approaches to documenting and writing extensive pieces of research will be discussed with the professor.

What kind of computer system do I need to participate in the program?

In order to participate in the program, each student must own or have ready access to the Internet and is expected to have met the minimum computer hardware and software requirements. Ensure you have installed the latest version of your browser. The preferred browser is Mozilla Firefox.

Do I need "expert level" computer abilities to participate?

Students must have, or must be willing to learn, the following skills:

  • send and receive e-mail, both within and outside the course structure
  • attach and detach electronic files
  • log onto an online conference board
  • post discussion points to classmates and professors

Who is responsible for the long-distance or Internet communication costs?

Students are responsible for their own communication costs such as long-distance telephone charges and subscriptions to an Internet service provider (ISP), or any other communications service requirements.

What types of computer systems does Athabasca University support?

Students are advised that IBM-compatiblePCs are the primary equipment supported by Athabasca University's Computing Services (CS) Helpdesk. Only limited assistance for other hardware and software platforms is offered. The CS Helpdesk can assist students with:

  • using e-mail
  • using common software applications such as Word, Excel, Access, and Powerpoint
  • accessing and using course conferencing/discussion boards
  • accessing online electronic databases (e.g., AU Library search)
  • trouble shooting PC problems to determine whether the difficulty is with the AU site or with the student's PC or Internet service provider (ISP).

What is the Course Withdrawal and Refund Policy?

Course Withdrawals

Failure to attend a course, or to complete the requirements of a course does not constitute withdrawal. Withdrawal from any course requires a formal request.

In order to officially withdraw from an MA-IS course we will require you to fill out an MA-IS Withdrawal Request Form. You may withdraw using the online form located at:

The withdrawal process for graduate programs is different from our undergraduate courses in that the materials are not to be returned.

Early Withdrawal

Refund minus $364 withdrawal processing fee

If a student withdraws from a course within the first month (Early withdrawal) or prior to the course start date, the record of registration will be deleted from his or her official transcript and the student will receive a refund of the course fees minus the course withdrawal processing fee (refer to fees). Course materials are not to be returned.


No refund

If a student withdraws from a course after the first month of the course, but before the end date of the course, the official record and transcript will show that the student withdrew without credit and without prejudice or academic penalty and will be recorded as a "W" (Withdrawal in good academic standing) on the transcript. A refund is not granted for withdrawals after 30 days of the start date.

If a refund is applicable, you will be refunded in the same method in which you paid your course registration fees (i.e. if you paid by credit card, then your credit card will be credited.  If you paid by cheque, then your refund will arrive in the form of a cheque).

Extensions for Individualized-study Courses

Students opting for the individualized-study course have the flexibility to determine their own timelines for completing it within their six-month contract period. In order to officially request an extension for a MA-IS course you are required to submit an MA-IS Extension Request Form with fees. You may extend using the online form.

Students must submit their individualized-study course extension request on or before his/her contract end date. Individualized-study co urses may be extended three times for a period of two months each.

Currently, no formal extensions are available for Grouped Study Courses, due to the nature of the group discussions required.

Academic Schedule

The Academic Schedule, as listed on the online Graduate Calendar, identifies important dates and deadlines relevant to the MA-IS Program.

Updated August 03 2021 by Student & Academic Services

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