Ph.D. Requirements

In order to obtain the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Computer Sciences (PhD in CS) a student must:

Milestone requirements

The milestone requirements for a PhD in CS are: the qualifying process, the preliminary process, and the final process. The following table lists the milestones involved in each process and the time that is normally allotted for the process. Click on the links for the processes and milestones to find out more about them.

Process Milestones Allotted Time
qualifying 3 years
preliminary 1 more year; additional year with GAC approval
final 5 more years

Corresponding to each process there is a formal deadline by the same name by which all milestones of the process need to be completed in order for a student to make satisfactory academic progress.

Minimum credit requirement

The student must receive 51 credits in courses numbered 300 or above such that:

  1. at least 32 of the credits counted are for courses taken as a graduate student at UW-Madison, and
  2. at least 50% of the credits counted are for courses numbered 700 and above.


All credits taken as a graduate student in CS at UW-Madison count towards this requirement, including those counted towards an MS in CS, the breadth requirement, and the minor requirement, as well as all individual instruction courses. Non-CS courses also count.

Requirement 1 is referred to as the minimum graduate residence credit requirement, and must be completed prior to achieving dissertator status.

The above 51-credit requirement is effective as of fall 2014. Previously, only 32 instead of 51 credits were required. PhD students who enrolled before fall 2014 only need to satisfy the previous requirement.

Transfer of credits

Credits from other institutions cannot be used to satisfy requirements, with one exception.  One course taken elsewhere may be used for breadth, but this course does not count towards any other requirement.  In particular, it cannot be used to meet the minimum credit requirement.

Credits from prior coursework at UW-Madison may be counted towards the PhD in CS provided they were earned less than 10 years before the current enrollment in the PhD in CS program, and with the following restrictions:

  • Credits earned as an undergraduate student cannot be counted.
  • Credits earned towards a certificate cannot be counted.
  • At most 15 credits taken as a special student may be counted.
  • There is no more than a 25% credit overlap with any other PhD degree, based on the lower credit requirements of the two programs.

Students who wish the make use of this opportunity need to have the credits they want to count approved by a graduate advisor. They should do so during their initial GAC meeting.


After the student finishes the preliminary process, a completed preliminary warrant needs to be filed with the Graduate Program Coordinator, who will submit it to the Graduate School. The student must do this to become a dissertator. The warrant needs to be signed by every member of the prelim committee, indicating that the student passed the prelim exam, as well as by the minor advisor, indicating that the student completed the minor requirement.

After the student passes the final examination, a completed PhD warrant needs to be filed with the Graduate School during the dissertation final review appointment. The warrant needs to be signed by every member of the final exam committee, indicating that the student passed the final examination. A copy of the completed form should be filed with the Graduate Program Coordinator.

Whenever a warrant is needed, the student should submit a request to the Graduate Program Coordinator at least three weeks ahead of time.  Students should also check the Graduate School's cutoff dates for warrant requests.