Ph.D. Qualifying Process

The qualifying process for PhD students in CS consists of completing the breadth requirement and passing the qualifying examination. Both components need to be finished by the qualifying deadline.

Breadth requirement

To fulfill the breadth requirement for the PhD degree, a student must take at least one course from each of the bands 1, 2 and 3 listed below; the courses must all be outside of the student's qualifying exam area. The student may either take three courses, all numbered 700 or above, or four courses, two numbered 700 or above, and two numbered 500 or above. All grades must be at least AB. 

Band 1:
Computer Architecture: 552, 752, 755, 757, 758.
Computer Networks: 640, 707, 740.
Computer Security: 642.
Operating Systems: 537, 736, 739, 744.
Programming Languages and Compilers: 506536, 538, 701, 703, 704, 706.

Band 2:
Artificial Intelligence: 534, 540, 545, 731, 760, 761, 766, 769.
Bioinformatics: 576, 776.
Computer Graphics: 559, 679, 765, 777, 779.
Database Systems: 564, 764, 784.
Human-Computer Interaction: 570, 770.

Band 3:
Modeling and Analysis of Computer Systems: 547, 737, 747.
Numerical Analysis: 513, 514, 515, 717.
Optimization: 524525, 635, 719, 720, 726, 728730.
Theory of Computing: 520, 577, 710, 787, 880.

In addition, some offerings of CS 838 count towards the breadth requirement. Before each term, it is announced which sections do and what area/band they are in.

One course taken as a graduate student elsewhere may be counted for breadth.  A request for this must be made in writing to the GAC Chair.  The request should indicate the corresponding UW-Madison course, include a transcript showing a grade of AB or better, and suggest a faculty member who can evaluate the course.  GAC will ask this faculty member to evaluate the outside course's syllabus and other course materials and vouch for the choice of UW-Madison course.

Qualifying examination

The qualifying examination is a demanding written exam that is designed to test the preparation of students intending to write a dissertation in a given area of research. The exam covers topics included in courses, as well as additional papers and publications. In general, the exam requires a broad and unified knowledge of the area, is closed-book, is written under time constraints, and often contains essay questions. It is a good idea for a student to discuss preparation for the exam with appropriate faculty members once the area of specialization has been decided, and to start preparing well ahead of the qualifying deadline.

Qualifying examinations are offered early in every regular term. Students are required to register for the exam with the Graduate Program Coordinator. Registration deadlines and exam dates are announced well in advance. Registration dates are strictly enforced.

Each exam lasts four hours and is graded on a scale of P+ (high pass), P (pass), P- (near pass), or F (fail). A grade of P+ or P is required to pass the exam. In any given area a student is allowed at most two chances to pass the exam. All attempts must happen prior to the initial qualifying deadline set at the time of entry to the program unless an extension has been requested and approved.

The Department offers qualifying exams in each of the areas listed below. Click on the link for the area to find out about courses that may help prepare for the exam, the current reading list for the exam, and copies of prior exams.