(Alternate title: Our Graduate Advisor is Very Wise)
Just a quick update on an earlier post, on the off chance that it might help someone in the same situation.
I spoke today with the Graduate Advisor, who is invested in maintaining high standards, but fair and realistic. She noted, as I did (and as many of you did), that an institution like ours can't base our admissions on whether or not a prospective M.A. student has a close match on topic. What we can do, however, is offer them truth in advertising.
So, here's what my M.A. students will learn from me, unequivocally: if they, I, and the director all agree that they are going to write a thesis rather than do an exam,** they can work on whatever topic they are interested, within the confines of the broader field. HOWEVER, I will let them know that, if they work completely outside my handful of areas of expertise, the best guidance I can offer them along the way will not be as complete as it could be if they were working closer to my area, whether geographically or thematically. I will always do my best by them, but my best in some areas is significantly better than my best in others. Likewise, if they apply to Ph.D. programs, my imprimatur will mean significantly more if it's in an area where prospective Ph.D. advisors know that I know my stuff, and that I have imparted it to the candidate.
After that, it's caveat emptor.
**This is how it goes at our institution: the student has to want to do a thesis, a faculty member has to be willing to supervise that thesis, and the grad director has to endorse the decision, based on that student's overall performance in the program. A student who does not do a thesis takes comprehensive exams as their path to the M.A.