Rahul Simha
Professor of Computer Science


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The M.S. in Computer Science program requirements are quite simple: you take the 3 core courses and then 7 others that you get to choose. These requirements are intended to create a straightforward, flexible program that puts course decisions into the hands of students.

Here are answers to some commonly asked questions:

  • My letter of admission specified some pre-requisite courses. What are these and must I take them before regular M.S. courses? Generally, yes. For example, students who've done some programming but not courses in data structures or architecture need to take such courses before entering the M.S. program. Note: the undergrad course do NOT count towards fulfilling the M.S. degree requirements. However, there are a few courses with a lower barrier of entry, such as Information Policy, that you could take alongside your pre-requisite courses.

  • My undergraduate is not CS. Will I find the programming too difficult? That depends on the course. Not many M.S. courses are programming intensive. However, if you've had no programming at all, you are likely to find any course with programming difficult. There are many theoretical courses, such as CS-212 (Algorithms) that have little programming - you can take these alongside your the undergraduate pre-requisite courses.

  • I already have a Bachelor's in CS. Do I still need any pre-requisites? No. You're in good shape to enter the M.S. program.

  • Do I need to take the core courses before any others? Many grad courses list one or more of the the three core courses as pre-requisites. Thus, it makes sense to take the core courses as early as possible. That said, you don't have to do all of them right away. If there's another course whose timing clashes and that you really want to take, by all means consider the taking it. Taking the core courses early is just a guiding principle.

  • Can I take courses outside the department? Yes, at most two (6 credits total) and with prior permission from your advisor. You need to make the case that these courses are relevant to your program of study, or to your research.

  • I'm working full-time and taking courses part-time. How many courses should I take per semester? Most full-time working people take a course a semester and find that challenging enough. However, quite a few take two courses a semester, which if carefully selected, may still be a manageable load. If you do this once or twice, you can finish in three years.

  • I'm not sure what electives to take - how should I choose? We generally leave the choice to students, assuming a level of maturity commensurate with the program. However, if you still aren't sure, talk to your advisor. I usually advise taking courses across the spectrum, mostly getting breadth instead of depth but also taking at least two courses in one area of your choice to get some depth in that area.

  • What is the thesis option and why should I consider it? You can do a thesis instead of two courses. However, I don't advise doing the Master's thesis even if you want to do research. The reason is, it's a formal written document that needs a thesis committee. Both the formal document and the committee will constitute quite a burden for both student and advisor. A simpler approach is to sign up for two independent studies with an advisor and conduct research.

  • I want to get involved in research with some professor. How do I do this? The best way is to take a course from the professor of of intersest, do well in that course, and then talk to him/her about research opportunities.

  • I'm looking for funding, TA or RA. How do I seek funding? The CS department has a formal application procedure for Teaching Assistantships - you can get a form in the main office. Research funding is the prerogative of individual professors. Professors get grants for research, which often feature funds for graduate students. You'll have to talk to individual faculty to find out what they have available. I notice that many students simply mail their CV in the hope of securing funding. It's highly unlikely that a professor will fund a grad student sight unseen, unless the CV is extremely impressive (publications in good conferences, for example). So, your best bet is to work on a research project and do something substantial. Note: I find that many grad students find on-campus jobs to help support their education.