In addition to coursework, the MA degree requires a culminating experience, either a Master's thesis containing original work, or the non-thesis option. The non-thesis option entails passing comprehensive exams in two areas selected from algebra, analysis and statistics plus writing an expository paper on an approved topic.

The expository paper is completed in two stages. First, students must complete a departmental MATH 899 petition including:

- Title and brief abstract of the proposed paper
- Demonstration of readiness to undertake the topic by prior courses or other study
- Brief preliminary bibliography
- Approval of the proposal by a Mathematics faculty member (who will administer the MATH 899 credits) and the Graduate Adviser.

Once students have an approved proposal, they complete their paper under the guidance of an individual faculty member.

The expository paper does not require the originality of a masters thesis, but the student author should apply a general knowledge of MA level mathematics toward learning about and reporting on a current or little known area or application of mathematics. Topics may include new mathematical results, histories of well-known theorems, or new or unusual applications of mathematical methods. The paper should be 15-30 pages in length. Standard mathematical topics should be assumed rather than developed in the paper, since the purpose of the paper is to present a new or unusual result or application of standard material. A complete bibliography must be supplied; the range of sources is expected go beyond textbooks to include monographs, survey articles and articles in research journals. Properly documented Internet resources may be used. The style guide for the paper will be similar to that for survey articles in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society.