Graduate Program Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Applying to graduate school and obtaining a graduate degree are complicated processes with many possibilities and pitfalls. In case the other graduate studies web pages have not yet answered your questions, below is a list of frequently asked questions and accompanying answers. These are divided into questions arising before applying to CSE and questions arising after acceptance to the program.
For directions on how to apply, please visit the graduate admission Application Procedures.
For other information, please see the Frequently Asked Questions of the Office of Graduate Studies and Research.
Questions Before Applying to the CSE Graduate Program
- How do I choose whether to apply to the MS or PhD program?
- Can I take CSE graduate courses without being a matriculated student?
- When is the graduate application deadline?
- Can I apply course credit from another institution toward my degree requirements if I am admitted?
- I've already applied to the program and am waiting to hear back. When will I know if I am accepted?
- Can I complete my graduate degree part-time?
- My Bachelors isn't in CS. What kind of background should I have before applying to the program?
- I've taken courses from UCSD Extension and elsewhere, how many credits can I transfer?
- I have an MS degree in CS. If I get accepted to your PhD program, do I have to take all those classes over again?
- I don't have enough money to pay the application fee. Can you help?
- What criteria do you use for acceptance into your programs?
- I can't afford to pay for graduate school. Can you help?
- Should I take the Computer Science GRE Subject Exam?
Questions After Getting Accepted
- How do I find a place to live near campus?
- This is my first quarter, where do I start?
- So should I take four or five core courses, like when I was an undergraduate?
- So what do I do after finishing the course work?
- What is a research advisor, anyway?
- I'm a Masters student. How do I choose between the thesis and comps?
- There aren't enough courses offered in my concentration this year for me to finish on time. What can I do?
- So what's the difference between CSE 293, 298, and 299? They all sound like independent studies.
The answer to this question depends upon the individual's career goals.
Our PhD program is designed for students interested in research and university-level teaching in computer science and computer engineering. The program prepares individuals for careers in academia as a professor at a research university or liberal arts college, or as a researcher in an industry or government research laboratory. The program typically takes 4-6 years to complete.
Our MS program is designed for individuals who are interested in further developing their knowledge and skill base in a rigorous academic program in preparation for either a PhD program or a professional position. With the diverse interests and goals of our students in mind, the program offers a flexible curriculum with either a research (thesis) track or a comprehensive exam. A well prepared student can complete the program in 1 year of full-time study.
Students who want to take courses for personal enrichment or to prepare for applying to a CSE graduate program can enroll in graduate classes (with permission of the instructor) through the UCSD Extension Concurrent Enrollment Program . Up to six of these courses may be transferred to your M.S. or Ph.D. degree if you are later accepted to the CSE graduate program.
The application deadline for Fall 2006 admission is January 5, 2006 with a preferred deadline of December 1, 2005 for Ph.D. applicants. As long as your application is submitted by the deadline, your application will be considered valid. However, applicants are discouraged from waiting until the last moment to apply. The application review process begins almost immediately after the deadline and any delays in receiving an application and/or accompanying application materials can be detrimental to an applicant's chances of admission. The deadline for receiving supporting materials is January 20, 2006.
A limited number of units may be transferred if the courses in question are approved by the Graduate Committee. As a general guideline, a maximum of 6 courses can be tranferred from a UC, and up to 2 from a non-UC institution.
We will begin notifying applicants sometime in February.
Many of our M.S. students complete their degrees part-time, but working on the degree part-time can double or triple the time required to complete it. The Ph.D. program is full-time only.
To be considered for admission to any of our graduate programs, students usually have a Bachelors degree in computer science, computer engineering, or a related discipline like electrical engineering. Occasionally applicants with degrees in fields such as mathematics or physics are considered for admission to the program, especially if they have some computer science background, such as a CS minor. In special circumstances, alternative undergraduate preparation will be considered (e.g., a biology major may be appropriate for a student interested in the application of information and computer science to biological problems, such as bioinformatics).
Below are some general guidelines that can be gleaned from our undergraduate program. Before applying to our program, you should definitely have mastered the equivalent of the following courses:
- Basic programming: CSE 8A-B or 11; CSE 12 and preferably CSE 30
- Discrete math: CSE 20 and probably CSE 21
- Data structures and algorithms: CSE 100 and preferably 101
Background in some or all of the following is also recommended:
- Hardware and architecture: 140 and 141, preferably with labs
- Systems and Software: CSE 120, 130, 131A-B
- Theory: CSE 105
Descriptions of these classes and their prerequisites can be found in CSE Undergraduate Course Descriptions.
Normally, these courses could be taken through the UCSD Concurrent Enrollment Program, which permits enrollment in CSE courses (with permission of the instructor).
Here is the official text from the UCSD General Catalogue:
Transferring credits from another UC campus or Extension:
With the approval of the department and Dean of Graduate Studies, a maximum of 24 qtr units (6 courses) of upper-division and graduate course work completed with a grade of B- or better while in graduate standing at another UC campus may be transferred towards the Master's degree at UCSD. The same rule also applies to courses completed through UCSD Extension's Concurrent Enrollment program.
Transferring credits from other Institutions (Non-UC):
On the recommendation of the Dept and with approval from the Dean of Graduate Studies, a maximum of 8 qtr units (2 courses) of course work completed with a grade of B- or better while in graduate standing at an institution other than a UC campus may be applied toward a Master's degree at UCSD.
In any case, no more than a total of one-half (24 qtr units) of the units required for a Master's degree may be transferred in from any UC or other institutions. Courses used for a previous degree may not be transferred. A letter from the institution from which the courses are being transferred will be required stating the courses were not used toward another degree. Course work approved for transfer credit will NOT be included in calculating a student's GPA, regardless of the source.
I have an MS degree in CS. If I get accepted to your PhD program, do I have to take all those classes over again?
If accepted to our program, you can petition to have some of our class requirements waived, although you will still be required to complete the required number of credits and pass any examinations. In some rare instances we have partially waived exam requirements in lieu of a similar exam completed at a peer institution.
Only U.S. citizens and permanent residents with demonstrated financial need may request a waiver of the application fee. Funds for waivers are extremely limited. But if you feel you qualify for a waiver, please refer to the Eligibility Guidelines as set by the Office of Graduate Studies and Research.
The University of California, San Diego does NOT waive or defer the required $80.00 (U.S.) graduate admissions application fee for any foreign applicants. If a foreign applicant attempts to submit an applicaiton without the required fee it will not be processed or considered until the fee is paid. There is no appeal mechanism.
The evaluation process for applications is extremely complex, taking into account all the materials submitted with the application. Grade point average (GPA), GRE scores, GRE subject test (optional, but recommended), TOEFL (for international students), letters of recommendation, and statement of purpose all play a role. First, the UCSD Graduate Admissions Office evaluates each application to determine whether or not their minimum standards for admission have been met. Then the CSE Department does a more thorough evaluation in a committee consisting of several faculty. Sometimes the committee must draw on the experience of the faculty at-large to make an informed decision.
Generally all of our PhD students are offered support for at least the first year, and can expect to have support through their degree if they continue to make adequate progress. Financial Support comes in the form of fellowships, teaching assistantships (TA), or research assistantships (RA). Assistantships are 20-hour/week positions that pay a stipend, tuition and fees, and health insurance. Typically a PhD student will have a fellowship the first year and then be offered a research assistantship in subsequent years by their advisor.
Students should also look into applying for extramural fellowships (see our fellowship pages) which gives them more flexibility in choosing an advisor, etc.
Masters students may also be offered a teaching assistantship upon admission to the program. Research assistantships may also be forthcoming once faculty members become more familiar with a student's work, but the individual student is responsible for pursuing these positions.
Many of our Masters students choose to work in local industry (or already do). San Diego is one of the fastest growing high technology areas in the country, and has been named the "Wireless Capital of the World," and the "#1 place to do business in America," by Forbes magazine.
If you do not have a degree in Computer Science, doing well on the CS GRE Subject Exam can be a way to demonstrate independent mastery of the subject matter. Regardless of one's background, it is not counted against you if you do not take the exam, while scoring highly on the subject test can be an additional positive mark in your favor on your application.
We have assembled a set of housing resources to help you get started.
Course work should be your first order of business. Getting acquainted with the faculty and their research should be a close second. PhD students and MS students taking the thesis option should try to find an advisor no later than the beginning of the second year. Consequently, we recommend that PhD and MS students should attempt to finish the core courses in the first two quarters at UCSD. This allows you to move on to research or concentration course work in the Spring quarter with a sound foundation in the basics.
The core classes are quite demanding (requiring perhaps twice the time of a typical undergraduate course), you might consider taking only one core course per quarter. You should also take the required faculty seminar, CSE 292, to quickly familiarize yourself with the faculty and their research.
If you are TA'ing, you can sign up for CSE 500 to fill out your schedule. Otherwise, it might be a good idea to take a topics course in one of your areas of interest. Check the course schedule for details. You may want to speak with the professor about how much work is involved, since the core classes will take up the majority of your time.
For PhD students, you will need to take two core courses either Fall or Winter quarter to complete your core courses quickly. This is highly recommended, but not easy. Plan accordingly.
PhD students need to do two things: find a research advisor and prepare for the research exam. MS students must choose to take either the comps option or the thesis option. For more about the Comps, see the Comps Page.
Finding a research advisor is not a well-defined process, but there are several avenues possibly worth pursuing:
- Take classes in technical areas that interest you.
- Take classes from faculty you feel you connect with.
- Join a reading group if the faculty member is holding one.
- Repeat CSE 292 to get exposed to more faculty.
- Go to department talks (they are advertised in e-mail).
- Visit a prospective faculty member's web pages. Download their papers and read a few.
- Approach a faculty member about some papers to read or about any projects that might be available.
For PhD students, A faculty advisor is typically someone who provides regular and detailed guidance on the formulation of a (thesis) research project. Because this mentoring continues for several years over one or more substantive projects, over time the relationship tends towards a (peer) collaboration. The relationship often persists for years after the student graduates, with the advisor continuing to provide career advice and collaborate with the former student. For MS students completing a thesis, the relationship is similar, but the process is much shorter. In CSE, this advisor is almost always the thesis committee chair as well.
Choosing an advisor could be one of the most important career choices you ever make. It will determine your research area for quite a while, and you will be spending a lot of time with this person. We recommend choosing an advisor who has a research style and interests that fit you, you enjoy spending time with, and can help you towards your career objectives.
Of course, for such an important relationship, the advisor chooses the student, too. An advisor will be looking for someone who is capable, fun to work with, eager to learn, and quick to jump into the research activity. If the advisor has grant money for the research, you may be offered an RA so that you can work on the project with minimal distraction.
The comps option is the "fast" way out of the program, so if you are pressed for time, that's probably the way to go. The comps option also involves more coursework than the thesis, so it's a good choice if you feel you need that. However, if you want to get some experience with research and technical writing, or you want to have a project of your own to work on for a while, then the thesis is a good way to go. Keep in mind that even with the comps option you need to do a one-quarter project, so you can use that to get some research or project experience without making a big commitment. The thesis normally takes a minimum of two to three quarters of full-time study. Once you take the comps or start working on your thesis, you must petition to switch options, and only those with a compelling reason are allowed to do so.
There aren't enough courses offered in my concentration this year for me to finish on time. What can I do?
This is actually rather common. You should approach the course advisor for the XYZ concentration area and see if the two of you can settle on a course substitution. If so, you must formally petition the substitution through the department. You can also formulate your own concentration if you have a valid reason to do so, but it must be approved by a faculty member.
- CSE 293 is for one quarter projects, and required for MS Comps option.
- CSE 298 is for MS students doing RA's or thesis work.
- CSE 299 is for PhD students doing RA's or thesis work.
It is important that you sign up for the correct independent study option because they can only be used to apply towards their intended degrees (i.e. CSE 293 can only count towards the MS Plan II (comprehensive exams) option and CSE 298 can only count towards the MS Plan I (Thesis) option).