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Frequently Asked Questions

Find answers to Frequently Asked Questions by program here. Still have questions? Contact your advisor or reach out to


College Student Personnel (MS) FAQ

Who should write my recommendation letters?
Advisors, supervisors, and/or mentors you have worked closely with and who currently work in student affairs are generally best. In most cases, you want to avoid peer recommendations or letters from students unless they are additional to the three you submit. Also, you want to ensure one of your references can speak to your academic ability—a faculty member is highly encouraged and preferred.

What else should I know?
We typically do not provide individual feedback on the admissions process. What we can say is that we do not evaluate based on weaknesses, but on how an applicant may or may not fit with the cohort that year. Each year of applicants is unique. So, what might constitute a fit in one year might be a better fit in another. For example, one year we had a large number of applicants interested primarily in housing. During that candidate selection, individuals with interests in other areas received more priority, as we wanted to ensure we had a balanced cohort based on interests.

What makes UT’s College Student Personnel program unique?
We have one of the longest running CSP programs in the country (approximately 70 years). We pride ourselves on the intimacy of our program with small classes and accessible faculty. The faculty members at UT are interested in helping students find their niche in higher education and student affairs. They give students the attention they need to achieve their full potential.

What kinds of jobs do CSP graduates obtain after graduation?
Graduates obtain a variety of jobs in student affairs including, residence life and housing, leadership development, academic advising, admissions, international student services, orientation, and student activities.

Can I attend classes part time?
Yes. While most students in the CSP program attend full-time, some take fewer classes each semester and extend the time it takes them to complete the degree. These students are typically UT employees.

Is there any flexibility in the program? Can I take classes from outside of the program?
The CSP curriculum has a set of required courses that all students must take. Students are welcome to take additional classes from outside of the program; however, these classes will not substitute for required CSP classes.

There are a number of ways to personalize the CSP program. Both CSPA (College Student Personnel Association) and UT provide a number of opportunities for professional development through speakers and seminars that address a variety of topics. Practicum also offer ways to gain experience in specific areas of interest. In addition to practicum required by the program, students are encouraged to volunteer on campus to gain additional experience. Departments value practicum and volunteer students, so finding these opportunities will not be difficult. Students can also focus their research (both for classes and for the thesis or project) on topics of interest.

May a student transfer credits from another program or institution?
There are limited options for transferring into the program. We value the cohort model, one where students enroll and take courses together. The cohort model allows students to have extensive engagement with program faculty. Given this, students who transfer into the program do not fully experience this aspect of the program. If permitted to transfer into the CSP program, a limited number of courses might be approved for transfer after an extensive review and faculty approval. The graduate school allows only a limited number of credit hours to transfer from another institution. Finally, we only admit students once a year with a fall semester enrollment.

How long is the program?
For students who attend classes full time, the program will take 21 months. Students begin in August and graduate two years later in May.

When are classes offered?
Class times vary. Some classes are offered during the day and others during the evening to accommodate the needs of the functional units on campus.

What is the typical schedule of a full-time CSP student?
The schedules for CSP students vary widely depending on their graduate assistantships, practicums, and course load. Full-time students take three classes each semester for four semesters. Most students have a graduate assistantship, which averages 20 hours of work a week. Graduate assistants’ schedules are determined by the department or office for which they work. Some GAs work regular business hours, while others may be required to work night and weekend hours. Additionally, CSP students complete two to three practicums. In order to complete a practicum in a single semester, students must work approximately 12 hours a week. Some students choose to “stretch out” their practicum over two or more semesters.

Who teaches classes?
Classes are taught by program faculty (full time and affiliated).

Will I have an advisor?
Yes, CSP students have faculty advisors to assist them while enrolled in the program. Students are assigned a faculty advisor prior to the fall semester of enrollment.

What is the difference between the thesis and capstone project?
Both the thesis and capstone project involve students identifying an issue, problem, or gap in knowledge to be researched. The project is an individual activity that provides CSP students the opportunity to integrate and apply the knowledge that they acquired during their program of study into the development, implementation and analysis of a practical project that has an administrative, learning, or student support focus. The capstone project should address a problem of practice, need, and/or issue that offers direct practical value to the target student population, institution, university department, or profession. A thesis involves proposing and conducting the research and reporting the results/findings and implications. Both the capstone project and thesis must be defended before a committee of three faculty members. For the thesis option, students must adhere to the guidelines established by the Graduate School.

How many students are in the program?
There are approximately 40-44 students currently in the CSP program. Between 20 and 22 students are admitted each year.

Where do CSP students come from?
CSP students come from all over the United States. Students enrolled in the CSP program attended small private liberal arts colleges to large research extensive universities. Our students have degrees from varied disciplines and majors.

Will I be in a cohort?

I am an adult student, is this program for me?
Certainly! Adult students, returning students, and full-time student affairs professionals are all welcome in the program. The program can also be completed on a part-time basis.

Are there any students from the program that I could talk to?
Yes! CSP has an organization comprised of CSP members called the College Student Personnel Association (CSPA). They are great resources if you have any questions.

What is CSPA?
The College Student Personnel Association, referred to as CSPA, is a student-led organization for the CSP program. The goal of CSPA is to provide opportunities for professional development and socialization within the program. Member benefits include eligibility for travel funds, a professional mentor, exposure to networking opportunities, and more. CSPA holds regular meetings throughout the year. Additionally, CSPA contributes to planning events such as Interview Weekend, the graduate hooding ceremony, CSP alumni homecoming tailgate, and CSP orientation. Examples of past events have also included an etiquette dinner, a meal with faculty, sessions on job search tips, holiday gatherings, and collaborations with the undergraduate Aspiring Student Affairs Professionals (ASAP) organization.

You may contact CSPA at

How much does the program cost?
Information about graduate tuition and fees can be found through One Stop Express Student Services.

The majority of students have graduate assistantships, which helps relieve the financial burden of graduate study. Many graduate assistantships waive both in-state and out-of-state tuition (not including fees) and provide students with a stipend. Assistantships in housing also provide room and board.

What financial aid options are available to me?
Graduate assistantships are the most common form of financial aid to CSP students; however, there are some graduate fellowships available to students. Information about the fellowships and student loans is available through One Stop Express Student Services.

What benefits does a graduate assistantship provide?
UT graduate assistants receive a waiver of both in-state and out-of-state tuition (not including fees, which are approximately $1,000 per semester). Also, graduate assistants receive a monthly stipend and health insurance. The amount of this stipend varies by department, but is approximately $10,000 per year.

What assistantships are available?
The available assistantships vary from year to year. We typically post a list of open assistantships in mid-December/early January.

How do I get a graduate assistantship?
Once you have applied to the CSP program and are identified as a likely candidate for the program, you will be invited to interview for assistantships during the Interview Weekend. You will receive a list of available assistantship positions from which you can indicate your areas of interest. Those departments or offices will then receive your resume. If a department or office is interested in you as a candidate for their assistantship position(s), we will schedule an interview for you with them during the Interview Weekend.

Does everyone receive an assistantship?
There is no way for CSP to guarantee everyone an assistantship as there are usually more than enough qualified candidates. However, most CSP students have assistantships.

Do I have to have an assistantship?
Not at all! Assistantships are a great way to work through graduate school while gaining valuable experience. However, they are not a requirement of the program.

What if I already have a full-time job at a college or university?
If you have a full-time job at a university, you would not be able to have an assistantship.

What is a practicum?
A practicum is a practical learning experience under the supervision of a student affairs administrator. The CSP program requires each student to complete at least two practicums in different areas of student affairs. Total practicum hours must total 270 hours.

What are my options for a practicum?
Practicum opportunities are available in a variety of functional areas/units at UT, at area colleges (public and private, large and small), and at institutions around the country and around the world. Students have considerable flexibility in choosing practicum sites, as long as the practicum relates both to the student’s career goals and the program.

How do I find a practicum?
The best way to find a practicum is to explore your career goals and interests and decide what experiences will prepare you for the future. The program coordinator is there to help you do this. Once you identify areas and/or institutions in which you wish to complete a practicum, you can contact the program or institution directly to explore the possibilities. The practicum site, supervisor and the objectives of the experience must be approved by the program coordinator before you may sign up for the practicum. CSPA hosts a practicum fair each fall where representatives from various UT departments present practicum opportunities. In addition, you may contact the Center for International Education about opportunities to complete a practicum abroad.

Can I complete a practicum at a location other than UT?
Definitely! In the past, students have completed practicums in Australia and Wales and other institutions around the country. Some students complete summer practicums at an institution in their hometown or at an institution where they would like to work.

What’s Knoxville like?
It is a mix between a college town and a southern urban environment. Plenty of places exist for culture, music, dining, and anything else you can think of. The university is well received by the community, which makes it a friendly place to attend school. For shoppers, there are two malls in Knoxville along with numerous shopping centers and eclectic boutiques.

What is there to do in Knoxville?
Pretty much anything you can think to do is in Knoxville: theatre, sporting events, Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, cultural festivals and events, concerts, and parks (especially if you enjoy walking/biking). The East Tennessee area has a lot to offer as well. The Smoky Mountains and Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg are less than an hour away.

What is there to do on campus?
A range of activities and facilities including movies, cultural events, lectures, political events, community service, athletic events, indoor hockey, swimming (indoor and outdoor), sand volleyball, tennis, religious events, coffee shops, trip planning (STA Travel), and exercise facilities. UT students can obtain tickets to athletic events (including football and basketball games). The campus is also located next to downtown, so the metropolitan environment is just a few steps away.

What are my housing options?

University Housing does not provide housing options for graduate students. However, there are numerous options near campus and throughout Knoxville. During Interview Weekend, students share housing information. In addition, the graduate school provides the following website link to look for apartments in Knoxville:

Higher Education and Educational Administration Programs (MS, EdS, EdD, PhD, and Certificate) FAQ

The Master of Science and Specialist in Education degrees in educational administration take approximately two years for the completion of coursework.

The master’s, specialist, licensure, and doctoral programs in Educational Administration comprise courses that are sequenced in meaningful ways. With the permission of the student’s advisor, courses may be taken “out of sequence,” but this practice is not encouraged.

Courses taken at another institution (within the last six years) may be considered for transfer into a master’s or EdS program as determined by the program faculty and the dean of the Graduate School. At the doctoral level, courses are not officially transferred although they may be used to meet degree requirements. When a requirement has been met through coursework from another institution, the student must petition the academic unit for a waiver of the requirement at the doctoral level. For a course to transfer into a master’s or EdS program it must be taken for graduate credit, carry a grade of “B” or better, not have been used for a prior degree, be approved by the program faculty and the dean of the Graduate School on the Admission to Candidacy form. The majority of the total hours for any degree must be taken at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

The program does not offer distance learning or online courses in its current program. It is possible that selected courses taken in distance learning or network formats might be used to satisfy requirements in the area of specialization.

The cognate for the leadership studies in education doctoral degree consists of a minimum of 6 hours of graduate coursework offered outside the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies (ELPS). These courses may fulfill two purposes: (1) the acquisition of additional skills and knowledge not covered by the prescribed coursework within the field of educational leadership and (2) the acquisition of skills and knowledge needed to complete the dissertation.

The educational administration faculty recognizes the value of developing additional skills related to an individual’s future career plans. The cognate courses, selected in consultation with the student’s advisor, are in a discipline related in some logical way to an individual’s field of graduate study. The cognate courses may also be related to the student’s research interest and may serve to better prepare the student to work on the dissertation.

Well-developed curriculums are the norm in all of the educational administration and educational leadership programs (i.e., MS, EdS, PhD). With the approval of the advisor, a student may enroll in an independent study (ELPS 593 for master’s and specialist students and ELPS 693 for doctoral students). Independent studies are offered to afford our students the opportunity to explore areas that are not currently covered in the prescribed curriculum. While there is no limit on the number of hours that can be taken, independent studies are usually taken sparingly.

With the approval of the advisor and the department head, a doctoral student may register for ELPS 600 prior to finishing all required coursework, passing the comprehensive examination, and being elevated to candidacy. This practice is not encouraged but is sometimes necessary for the purpose of maintaining the appropriate number of hours to satisfy student loans.

The doctoral dissertation committee is comprised of four members. The chair and one other member must be from the ELPS department. There must also be one member from outside the department (e.g., from EPC, TPTE, or some other department or college in the university). Three members of the committee must hold doctoral directive status.

Students must acquire 24 hours of dissertation credit in order to satisfy the graduation requirements. It is certainly possible that a doctoral student may earn more than the 24 minimum number of hours of ELPS 600. Students are advised to plan how long it will take to complete and defend the dissertation and register for the appropriate number of hours for ELPS 600 each semester during that timeframe.

There is no alternative residency option. However, most students complete the residency in the first year by taking 9 hours in the fall and spring terms respectively, with two courses during the week and one course conducted one Saturday each month during each of these two terms. Many students find it manageable to remain in full-time leadership appointments and satisfactorily complete residency coursework in the first year of the program, though this requires a keen sense of personal discipline and commitment.

The University of Tennessee allows eight years from the start of the first course to complete the doctoral degree in education with a concentration in leadership studies in education. While few exceptions are granted, a doctoral student’s advisor may petition the Graduate School for an extension of time. In most cases where exceptions are granted, the student is in the final stages of defending the dissertation.

CEHHS travel support is available to students presenting papers, posters, and abstracts at professional meetings. Travel associated with student organizations, exhibit booths, and program recruitment is not funded through college funds. Travel requests must be submitted to the associate dean’s office at least one week prior to the travel dates. International travel that involves a request for SARIF support funds must be submitted at least one month prior to the travel dates.

CEHHS students will receive up to $50 support for research presentations. When several students are participating in the same presentation, the amount of funding per student will be reduced to ensure that college resources to support students are distributed equitably across departments and programs. Students can seek additional support through the Graduate Student Senate Travel Award (set deadlines each semester). All requests must be made prior to the travel dates and comply with all related policies associated with this resource. More information regarding this fund and the required application can be found here: Travel Awards.

The IRB is the Institutional Review Board at the University of Tennessee. It has the responsibility of reviewing all research projects that involve human subjects. The Institutional Review Board (IRB) regulates all research activities involving human subjects on the UT Knoxville campus. The IRB is a committee appointed to ensure rights, safety, and welfare of human research subjects; ensure compliance with all applicable federal and state laws/regulations; and conduct ethical reviews of human research activities including initial, continuation, modification, unanticipated problems and alleged noncompliance. Its primary responsibility is to assure UT Knoxville researchers operate within the provisions of the Federalwide Assurance of Compliance filed with the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP).

The IRB review process is now accomplished online through iMedRIS. More information can be found here:  IRB FAQ.

Leadership Studies Undergraduate Minor FAQ

Yes! You are encouraged to explore and engage in Leadership Studies coursework without the commitment to the minor. You can register for ELPS 201 any semester without registration restrictions (ex. declaring the minor, being admitted to the minor, or instructor permission).

You can also register for one of the ELPS 350 Coached Leadership Courses, but most require instructor permission before registering because they include a competitive selection process for the accompanying position. However, courses that do not require instructor permission are also offered (see LSM Course Descriptions for more detail).

Apply to the minor after completing ELPS 351 (and of courses 351’s two prerequisite courses, ELPS 201 and ELPS 350). If you earn a B or better in ELPS 351, you may apply to be admitted to the minor. You will complete all the requirements of the application and receive feedback on your application materials during ELPS 351. The Honor Leadership Program can only be applied for with your application to the University.

You can begin your Capstone Project once you have completed ELPS 351, made the required amendments to your proposal, and been admitted to the minor. More information about the Capstone Projects can be found on the LSM Program Requirements page.

You can petition for a course to count as an elective if it addresses one of the four key learning outcomes of the Leadership Studies minor: 1) leadership; 2) written or oral communication; 3) ethics; or 4) intercultural competence. To petition for another course to count as an elective, complete a Utrack Petition and email it to Dr. Karen D. Boyd at kboyd14@utk.edufor consideration.

Students are required to complete a self-generated or faculty-generated Capstone project. If you choose to pursue a faculty-generated capstone project that is part of a 2+ credit hour course, you are not required to take the second ELPS 351 credit hour or the ELPS 452/457 course. You may register for the additional ELPS 351 and 452/457 credit hours if you wish to be assigned a Leadership Coach and receive assistance in navigating the Project Proposal/Report and completing the Portfolio.

Please share with the Program Coordinator, Dr. Boyd if you believe a project course should be added to this list. Currently the following courses are approved as Project Courses:

ELPS 411: Leadership Knoxville Scholars (Graduating Term)