Graduate Guidebook 2020-2021

Welcome to the Graduate Guidebook! Herein lies all the administrative information you need to successfully complete your graduate degree. If you have any questions, contact the graduate coordinator.

For more information, refer to The Graduate School website.

Click here to access the guidebook for previous years. 



This is the process for all applicants other than current UW–Madison graduate students. Applications are normally accepted for fall semester admission only. Completed applications are due no later than December 15.

Applications run through the Graduate School. Departmental requirements for admission are more stringent than those of the Graduate School. The following items must be submitted in order to be considered by the department:

  • Letters of recommendation. All applicants, whether requesting financial aid or not, must have three letters of recommendation. Recommendations are submitted online to the Graduate School as part of the application process.
  • GRE general scores.Due to  Covid-19,  GRE general test is not required.
  • Official school records. Official transcripts are required from each institution where the applicant did prior academic work. Applicants must scan their official transcripts into the graduate school application. Paper transcripts or electronic transcripts will not be accepted. If an institution does not issue official transcripts, a letter from an administrator of the institution should be scanned into the application instead. The letter should include: a) year of admission; b) number of years enrolled at the institution; c) reference to the quality of work (analysis of grading system); d) evidence that examinations were passed; e) diploma certifying degree, class and year; and f) General Certificate of Education or equivalent.
  • Evidence of English proficiency. An applicant whose native language is not English, or whose undergraduate instruction was not in English, must provide an English proficiency test score. See the Graduate School requirements for more details.

Graduate students who are currently enrolled in a graduate program at UW–Madison need to follow a different procedure for:

  • Obtaining a second MS in CS, provided that they already have a record in CS graduate courses that is uniformly excellent. Applications are accepted three times during each academic year, with deadlines of
    • one week before the start of classes in the Spring term for admission in Spring term,
    • the last day of classes in Spring term for admission in Summer term, and
    • one week before the start of classes in the Fall term for admission in Fall term.
  • Changing the major to CS, with the intention of completing a PhD in CS. Applications are normally accepted for fall semester admission only, and the deadline is January 1.
  • Switching from the professional track in CS to the traditional track in CS, with the intention of completing a PhD in CS. Applications are normally accepted for fall semester admission only, and the deadline is January 1.

Currently enrolled graduate students who wish to change their major to undertake a Ph.D. in computer sciences must fill out the application form and submit it to the CS Graduate Coordinator, along with the following materials:

  1. A statement of purpose explaining the reasons for your interest in transferring to the CS graduate program and your previous experiences with our department (courses taken, independent study programs with a CS advisor, etc.).
  2. A copy of your original application to the UW graduate program to which you were admitted.
  3. Transcripts for coursework from UW–Madison and from previous educational institutions, dating back to and including undergraduate institution(s).
  4. Three letters of recommendation from UW–Madison faculty members, at least two of which must be from a faculty member whose primary academic appointment is in CS.
  5. GRE scores from the original application to a UW graduate program, or later scores, if available.

Applications must be received by January 1 to be considered for admission in the subsequent fall semester. Applications are not considered at other times of the year nor for starting times other than the fall semester. International students are responsible for contacting International Student Services at UW to discuss any possible effect the change of program may have on their immigration status.

General Information

Graduate Coordinator

Angela Thorp

Traditional MS/PhD Program, Computer Sciences


Rm 4297 Computer Sciences Building

The Graduate Advising Committee (GAC) advises students in the academic track of the graduate program, approves course plans, and evaluates satisfactory progress toward the degree. Each fall and spring semester during the registration period, every graduate student in Computer Sciences who does not have a dissertation advisor needs to meet with a GAC member. Such students need to see a GAC member again during the semester in case of changes to the course plan. Students seeking deadline extensions or exceptions need to meet with the GAC Chair, currently Professor  Eftychios Sifakis.

Angela Thorp (Traditional MS/PhD Coordinator),

Eftychios Sifakis (GAC Chair),, Room 6387

Jin-Yi Cai,, Room 4393

Colin Dewey,, Room 2128 Genetics-Biotech

Aditya Akella,, Room 7379

Amos Ron,, Room 7381

The department maintains two types of records about each graduate student:

  1. A course history record. The purpose of the course history record is to ensure the student satisfies the requirements for satisfactory academic progress. All relevant courses completed or being taken should be listed.
  2. A program plan. The purpose of the program plan is to ensure the student is pursuing a suitable course of study for the degree sought, and understands the requirements. It must contain a complete plan consistent with the course history record.

During the registration period of the first term of a graduate student’s tenure in the Department, the student must submit the initial records:

  1. A course history record with the desired courses for the first term.
  2. A tentative but complete program plan for the degree sought. Students pursuing an MS should fill out the part on the minimum credit requirement for the MS degree. Students pursuing a Ph.D. should fill out the part on the qualifying process for the PhD degree, including their area of specialization for the qualifying examination and their breadth courses (both of which are described under “Ph.D. Requirements”). They are encouraged to also fill out the part corresponding to the MS degree.

In order to draft those documents students can peruse the course descriptions; lists of past, current, and future offerings; and other course information available. It is important to check the prerequisites of courses, as well as the schedule of course offerings; many graduate courses are offered only once a year, and some even less frequently. After drafting those documents, students should have their initial meeting with a graduate advisor to discuss their plans and have the forms approved, and file the approved forms with the Graduate Program Coordinator.

It is the responsibility of the student to make sure both forms are correct and kept up-to-date throughout the program. Students should meet with a graduate advisor and have the updated versions approved:

  • during the registration period of every subsequent regular term, and
  • whenever the course plan changes during a regular term.

In each case, a student needs to pick up the forms from the Graduate Program Coordinator, bring them to the meeting with the graduate advisor, and refile them afterwards.




The enrollment requirements depend on the status of the student, and need to be maintained throughout the term. Full-time status as defined by the Graduate School is a condition for many obligations, including visa eligibility, fellowships, assistantships and external funding agencies. In particular, international students with a F-1 or J-1 visa need to be enrolled full-time each regular term (fall or spring semester). Full-time registration during the summer session is typically not required except for RAs, 12-month fellows, dissertators with financial support and graduating students. Check out the table at the end of the Graduate School enrollment requirements for the precise conditions and the corresponding number of credits required for full-time registration.


A graduate student in Computer Sciences shall be considered to have made satisfactory academic progress in a given term if all of the following conditions are satisfied:

  1. During the given term the student has completed, with a satisfactory grade or a grade of I (incomplete) or P (progress), a minimum number of credits of approved courses determined by the following decision list, conditioned on the status of the student during that semester.
    Status Credits
    leave of absence 0
    part-load or dissertator 3
    full-time internship 2
    TA, SA or PA 6
    other 8
  2. At the end of the given term, the student has removed all incomplete grades from any previous term (regular or not).
  3. The student has observed all the deadlines imposed by the Department that occur before the start of the next regular term, in particular the milestone deadlines (see below) for students on the PhD track.



Approved courses are courses that have been formally approved by a graduate advisor of the student as appropriate for the student’s studies. Approval must be obtained before the course has been taken. Usually approval is given during the registration period, but approval can be requested at an earlier stage if the student wishes to plan ahead.

For a course to be approved it must fall into one of the following categories:

  • CS courses numbered 400 or above, excluding CS 400.
  • Basic CS courses (CS 302, CS 352, CS 354, and CS 367), and basic calculus (Math 221, Math 222, and Math 234), provided that the student has been admitted with deficiencies that are being removed by taking these courses.
  • Courses from other departments that materially contribute to the specific CS education toward which the student is working, as deemed by a graduate advisor of the student, possibly with the help of another faculty member in CS. Such courses are typically numbered 400 or above; no course numbered less than 300 will be approved.

For students who have neither obtained an MS in CS nor passed the qualifying process, usually only courses leading toward the MS in CS are approved.

For second MS in CS students only CS courses are approved.

For students in dissertator status, only CS 990 with the dissertation advisor is approved except with explicit permission of the latter for a course directly related to the dissertation research.


Dissertator status is for students who have completed all requirements for a PhD except for the dissertation. In order to enjoy dissertator status a student must:

  • have submitted a completed preliminary warrant to the Graduate School,
  • satisfy the minimum graduate residence credit requirement,
  • have cleared all Incomplete grades, and all Progress grades in courses other than CS 990,
  • have a cumulative GPA of at least 3.00, and,
  • with few exceptions, be continuously enrolled for exactly 3 credits, all for approved courses(usually CS 990).

The only benefit is reduced tuition and other fees.


The CS department has no formal mechanism for internships.  Students wishing to obtain academic credit for research work performed as an intern should consult with the Chair of the Graduate Advising Committee, for guidance in selecting an appropriate individual instruction course and a faculty member to supervise it.

International students need to contact International Student Services regarding the required authorizations. In particular, students on an F-1 visa need to obtain authorization for Curricular Practical Training, and have their application form signed by the instructor for the course they enroll in for the internship.


Any graduate student who is not in dissertator status may apply to the GAC Chair for a leave of absence of up to one year. Dissertators are expected to maintain continuous enrollment until completion of the PhD degree, and are therefore not eligible. International students should contact International Student Services to find out about their options, but often cannot take a leave of absence because of immigration regulations.

If the leave of absence is approved, the student’s deadlines are automatically extended. The time away does count against the guaranteed support unless the Admissions Committee explicitly grants an extension.

Students who take a leave of absence and do not maintain the Graduate School minimum enrollment requirement, need to apply for re-admission to the Graduate School before resuming their program. Departmental approval of the leave of absence implies approval of the application for re-admission within the approved period of absence. A re-admitted student must adhere to the requirements in effect at the time of re-admission.

MS students who have been absent for 5 or more years, and PhD students who have been absent for 10 or more years, lose all credits that they have earned before their absence.


At any point in time a graduate student in CS is officially on one of the two tracks, MS or PhD. Initially, this is the degree indicated in the application. Students who want to change tracks need to contact the Graduate Program Coordinator. International students also need to contact International Student Services to discuss the possible effects this change could have on immigration status. See the Graduate School regulations for more details about the procedure.

The GAC Chair will approve all track changes but may impose additional time limits for students switching from the PhD to the MS track.


Part-load status is intended for students who have full-time jobs, non-academic duties, or substantial family responsibilities. It is granted semester by semester. International students should contact International Student Services to find out about their options, but typically cannot take be in part-load status because of immigration regulations.

Students who want part-load status should apply in writing to the GAC Chair at the beginning of each semester for which they want part-load status. They will be notified in writing whether their request has been approved.


The regular terms of an academic year are the fall and spring semesters.


The Department considers grades of A, AB, B, BC, C, S (for courses normally graded S/U), and CR (for courses normally graded Credit/No Credit) to be satisfactory.

A. The University has disciplinary procedures in place for academic, non-academic, and research misconduct.

B. A student may be placed on probation or suspended from the Graduate School for low grades or for failing to resolve incompletes in a timely fashion.

C. At the level of the Department:

A student who fails to make satisfactory academic progress during one regular term loses the financial support guarantee of the Department (if any), and is not eligible for financial support from resources controlled by the Department during the next regular term.

  • A student who fails to make satisfactory academic progress during two consecutive regular terms (fall and spring semester, or spring and fall semester) will be dismissed from the Department right before the start of the next regular term.
  • A student who fails to satisfy condition 3 of satisfactory academic progress will be dismissed from the department right before the start of the next regular term.

If a student feels unfairly treated or aggrieved by faculty, staff or another student, the Department of Computer Sciences and the Graduate School offer several avenues to resolve the issue.

Issues related to satisfactory academic performance

Any graduate student may appeal any aspect of the satisfactory academic progress rules, provided that the appeal is made in a timely way. In particular, appealing a decision that a student did not make satisfactory academic progress must be initiated no later than the end of the fourth week of the subsequent regular term.

To appeal, the student should write a letter to the Graduate Advisory Committe (GAC )Chair stating the basis for the appeal. This letter should explain clearly the reasons for the appeal, and it should be accompanied by appropriate documents such as a medical certificate (if the appeal is on the grounds of ill health) or a supporting letter from a CS faculty member if the appeal concerns an unusual combination of courses. Often, it will be useful for the student to discuss the problem with his or her dissertation advisor or a member of the Graduate Advising Committee before putting the appeal into writing.

The GAC Chair will consider every such written appeal and will notify the student of its decision at the earliest opportunity, normally within four working weeks. A student who is not satisfied with the decision by the GAC Chair may submit a further appeal in writing to the Department Chair.

The Department Chair will place the appeal on the agenda of a regular faculty meeting, will circulate the letter of appeal and accompanying documentation, and will give the student written notification of the meeting. The meeting will be scheduled at the earliest opportunity, normally within four working weeks after receipt of the letter to the Department Chair. The student and any of the student’s advisors may attend the meeting to present the appeal, provided that the Department Chair is advised in writing before the start of the meeting. In accordance with Wisconsin law, the meeting will begin in open session, but the Department Chair will move that the meeting convene in closed session before the appeal is considered.

All other issues

See the Graduate School policies and procedures on grievances and appeals.

All students are expected to adhere to the highest standards of professional behavior and ethics. Students should avoid even the appearance of improper behavior or lack of ethical standards while in Graduate School at UW-Madison, in all professional settings, and in their personal lives. Students should conduct themselves according to the standards expected of members of the profession to which the student aspires. Concerns about infractions of professional conduct may be effectively handled informally between the instructor/advisor and the student. If a resolution is not achieved, a graduate program representative may be included in the discussion. Separate and apart from a violation of professional conduct, a student may face university disciplinary action with regard to the same action. Students are responsible for reading the information here, as well as the information published on all relevant websites. Lack of knowledge of this information does not excuse any infraction.

Professional ethics

Students shall show respect for a diversity of opinions, perspectives and cultures; accurately represent their work and acknowledge the contributions of others; participate in and commit to related opportunities; aim to gain knowledge and contribute to the knowledge base of others; understand the UW Student Code of Conduct; represent their profession and the program; and strive to incorporate and practice disciplinary ideals in their daily lives. Resumes/CVs must reflect accurate information.

Honesty and integrity

Students shall demonstrate honesty and integrity as shown by challenging themselves in academic pursuits; honesty and ethics in research and Institutional Review Board (IRB) applications–including honesty in interpretation of data, commitment to an unbiased interpretation of academic and professional endeavors; and the need to document research activities, protect subject/client confidentiality and HIPPA regulations. Students shall follow through and pull their weight in group activities and understand where collaboration among students is or is not allowed; not plagiarize others’ work or their own past work (self-plagiarism), cheat, or purposefully undermine the work of others; and avoid conflicts of interest for the duration of their time in the program. As a professional, honesty and integrity also extends to personal behavior in life outside of the academic setting by realizing that students are representatives of the program, UW-Madison and the profession as a whole.

Interpersonal and workplace relationships

Students shall interact with peers, faculty, staff and those they encounter in their professional capacity in a manner that is respectful, considerate and professional. This includes and is not limited to attending all scheduled meetings, honoring agreed upon work schedules, being on time and prepared for work/meetings, contributing collaboratively to the team, keeping the lines of communication open, offering prompt response to inquiries, and employing respectful use of available equipment/technology/resources. Chronic or unexplained absences are unprofessional in the workplace and could be grounds for termination or removal of funding. To facilitate the free and open exchange of ideas, any criticism shall be offered in a constructive manner, and the right of others to hold different opinions shall be respected.

Commitment to learning

Students are expected to meet their educational responsibilities at all times. Be actively prepared for class and be ready for questions and answers. Be on time for every class and always show courtesy during class or if you have to leave class early. If possible, students should notify the instructor at least one day in advance of a planned absence. Students who are unable to attend class are responsible for finding out what occurred that day and should not expect instructors to give them individual instruction. Recognizing that the pursuit of knowledge is a continuous process, students shall show commitment to learning by persevering despite adversity and seeking guidance in order to adapt to change. Students shall strive for academic excellence and pursue and incorporate all critique, both positive and negative, in the acquisition of knowledge in order to understand and respect the community in which they work.

Professional appearance

Students shall convey a positive, professional appearance in order to represent the program in a dignified manner. Appearance includes a person’s dress, hygiene, and appropriate etiquette/protocols for the environment (including safety protocols and protective clothing in environments that require them).


This graduate program, the Graduate School, and the Division of Student Life all uphold the UW System policies and procedures in place for academic and non-academic misconduct. In addition, graduate students are held to the same standards of responsible conduct of research as faculty and staff. Furthermore, unprofessional behavior towards clients/subjects, faculty, staff, peers and public are significant issues in the evaluation and promotion of students. In turn, we hold expectations for the highest level of academic integrity and expect professional, ethical and respectful conduct in all interactions. Students may be disciplined or dismissed from the graduate program for misconduct or disregard for professional conduct expectations, regardless of their academic standing in the program. Separate and apart from a violation of professional conduct, a student may face university disciplinary action with regard to the same action. Students are responsible for reading the information here as well as the information published on all relevant websites. Lack of knowledge of this information does not excuse any infraction.

Academic misconduct

Academic misconduct is an act in which a student (UWS 14.03(1)):

  1.     seeks to claim credit for the work or efforts of another without authorization or citation;
  2.     uses unauthorized materials or fabricated data in any academic exercise;
  3.     forges or falsifies academic documents or records;
  4.     intentionally impedes or damages the academic work of others;
  5.     engages in conduct aimed at making false representation of a student’s academic performance; or
  6.     assists other students in any of these acts.

Examples of academic misconduct include but are not limited to:

  •     cutting and pasting text from the Web without quotation marks or proper citation;
  •     paraphrasing from the Web without crediting the source;
  •     using notes or a programmable calculator in an exam when such use is not allowed;
  •     using another person’s ideas, words, or research and presenting it as one’s own by not properly crediting the originator;
  •     stealing examinations or course materials;
  •     changing or creating data in a lab experiment;
  •     altering a transcript;
  •     signing another person’s name to an attendance sheet;
  •     hiding a book knowing that another student needs it to prepare for an assignment;
  •     collaboration that is contrary to the stated rules of the course; or
  •     tampering with a lab experiment or computer program of another student.

Additional information regarding academic misconduct:

Non-academic misconduct

The university may discipline a student in non-academic matters in the following situations:

  1.     for conduct which constitutes a serious danger to the personal safety of a member of the university community or guest;
  2.     for stalking or harassment;
  3.     for conduct that seriously damages or destroys university property or attempts to damage or destroy university property, or the property of a member of the university community or guest;
  4.     for conduct that obstructs or seriously impairs university-run or university-authorized activities, or that interferes with or impedes the ability of a member of the university community, or guest, to participate in university-run or university-authorized activities;
  5.     for unauthorized possession of university property or property of another member of the university community or guest;
  6.     for acts which violate the provisions of UWS 18, Conduct on University Lands;
  7.     for knowingly making a false statement to any university employee or agent on a university-related matter, or for refusing to identify oneself to such employee or agent;
  8.     for violating a standard of conduct, or other requirement or restriction imposed in connection with disciplinary action.

Examples of non-academic misconduct include but are not limited to:

  •     engaging in conduct that is a crime involving danger to property or persons, as defined in UWS 18.06(22)(d);
  •     attacking or otherwise physically abusing, threatening to physically injure, or physically intimidating a member of the university community or a guest;
  •     attacking or throwing rocks or other dangerous objects at law enforcement personnel, or inciting others to do so;
  •     selling or delivering a controlled substance, as defined in 161 Wis. Stats., or possessing a controlled substance with intent to sell or deliver;
  •     removing, tampering with, or otherwise rendering useless university equipment or property intended for use in preserving or protecting the safety of members of the university community, such as fire alarms, fire extinguisher, fire exit signs, first aid equipment, or emergency telephones; or obstructing fire escape routes;
  •     preventing or blocking physical entry to or exit from a university building, corridor, or room;
  •     engaging in shouted interruptions, whistling, or similar means of interfering with a classroom presentation or a university-sponsored speech or program;
  •     obstructing a university officer or employee engaged in the lawful performance of duties;
  •     obstructing or interfering with a student engaged in attending classes or participating in university-run or university-authorized activities;
  •     knowingly disrupting access to university computing resources or misusing university computing resources.

Additional information regarding non-academic misconduct:

Research misconduct

Much of graduate education is carried out not in classrooms, but in laboratories and other research venues, often supported by federal or other external funding sources. Indeed, it is often difficult to distinguish between academic misconduct and cases of research misconduct. Graduate students are held to the same standards of responsible conduct of research as faculty and staff. The Graduate School is responsible for investigating allegations of research misconduct. This is often done in consultation with the Division of Student Life as well as with federal and state agencies to monitor, investigate, determine sanctions, and train about the responsible conduct of research. For more information, contact the Associate Vice Chancellor for Research Policy, 333 Bascom Hall, (608) 262-1044.

Additional information regarding mesearch misconduct and responsible conduct:

MS Requirements

In order to obtain the degree of Master of Science in Computer Sciences, a student must:

  • be admitted to the traditional MS track or PhD track of the Department,
  • meet the minimum credit requirement for the degree,
  • not be dismissed, suspended or on probation due to lack of satisfactory performance, and
  • pay all fees and file the required paperwork.

Find and read the formal procedure at the  Graduate School website.


Credits from other institutions cannot be used to satisfy MS requirements. Credits from prior coursework at UW–Madison may be counted toward an MS degree provided they were earned within 5 years of current enrollment in the program.

The following restrictions apply:

  • Credits earned as an undergraduate student cannot be counted.
  • Credits earned towards a certificate cannot be counted.
  • Credits earned as sufficiencies cannot be counted.
  • At most 15 credits taken as a special student may be counted. (Note that the Graduate School requires that at least 16 credits be taken after enrollment in the MS program.)
  • There is no more than a 25% credit overlap with any other MS degree, based on the lower credit requirements of the two programs.

Students who wish to transfer credits from prior coursework at UW–Madison must have them approved by a graduate advisor.


30 credits for courses numbered 300 or above:

  • receive a satisfactory grade for all credits, and
  • earn a GPA of at least 3.00.

24 of the 30 credits must be for CS courses above 400 (excluding CS 400), and:

  • at least 15 are core credits,
  • none are for seminar courses,
  • none are for individual instruction courses other than CS 790,
  • the credits for CS 790 are either
    • at most 3, for a project for which a report has been filed with the Department and approved by at least one full-time CS faculty member, or
    • at most 6, for a master’s thesis that has been submitted as a departmental tech report and approved by a properly-formed thesis committee.

Courses cross-listed with CS are acceptable for the purposes of this requirement. Non–CS courses cannot be counted toward the 24 credits.


Core credit is assigned for:

  • every CS course numbered 700 or above, other than individual instruction courses, seminar courses, and topics courses, provided the grade received is on the A-F scale,
  • CS 790, provided the instructor explicitly declares so, and
  • one CS topics course numbered 700 or above, provided the grade received is on the A-F scale and that particular offering is explicitly designated by the instructor as a core course.

To be designated as core, an offering should have a fairly broad coverage and be lecture-style. The latter excludes individual instruction courses and seminar-


Topics courses have syllabi that may change significantly from one offering to another.  They can be taken multiple times for credit.

At most one  topics course from the following list can be used for core credit: CS 703, CS 758, CS 837,  CS 839 and CS 880. Note: prior to the creation of CS 839 in Fall 2017 certain 838s were approved for core. If you have questions about earlier 838s for core, please consult with a member of the graduate advising committee.



The seminar courses offered by the CS Department are CS 900 and CS 915. Seminar courses can be taken multiple times for credit.


These are courses with middle digit 9. Individual instruction courses are intended for directed study, independent study, research, and project or thesis work.


These are courses with last two digits 90. They are intended for project and thesis work.

Students may choose to write a master’s thesis or project report. The responsibility for finding a thesis or project advisor lies solely with the student; the Department does not guarantee that an advisor will be provided. The advisor must be a full-time or affiliate faculty member of the Department. The student should discuss the choice between a project report or a master’s thesis ahead of time with the instructor, and have a clear understanding of the expectations.

By default, CS 790 does not count toward core credit. If the advisor deems the particular project or thesis should count towards core credit, the advisor should notify the Graduate Program Coordinator by email. The Graduate Program Coordinator handles all administration regarding CS 790, including the approvals involved.


A master’s thesis (6 credits) is expected to be a substantial piece of work, e.g., a comprehensive survey of a particular area. In contrast to a doctoral thesis, a master’s thesis need not contain original research work, but might well serve as a basis and major first step toward subsequent doctoral work. There are no rules regarding the format of a master’s thesis, but students should consult the Graduate School’s Guide to Preparing Your Master’s Thesis. The thesis committee consists of the advisor and at least two more members; at least one of the additional members must be a fulltime faculty member of the Department. The thesis needs to be published as a departmental technical report. In addition, the thesis may be deposited to Memorial Library.


A project report (3 credits) simply describes a project carried out under the supervision of a faculty member. The report should be submitted in electronic form to the Graduate Program Coordinator. The report is kept on file in the department but is not made public.

The Department of Computer Sciences will consider applications from graduate students who have uniformly excellent graduate records in CS courses for addition of the CS major, with the intention of completing a second master’s degree, in CS. The following conditions must be met:

1. Submit a letter from their major department attesting to their status in that program, indicating the expected completion date for their terminal degree.

2. Have obtained grades of AB or better in at least three CS courses numbered 500 or above in three different areas of computer science. At least one of these courses must be at the 700 level (not including CS 900). These courses must have been taught by a CS department faculty member.

3. Have two letters of recommendation from CS department faculty members, at least one must come from a core CS faculty member. These letters should attest to the student’s satisfactory performance in CS courses completed to date, and their ability to complete a master’s degree in CS.

4. At least one of the courses for requirement #2 must have a significant amount of programming in a structured language. This requirement is waived for students who have taken CS 367 (which does not count toward the master’s  in CS).

5. Provide a completed add/change major form and their student record to the CS graduate coordinator, along with the other application materials described above.

Note that a student in dissertator fee status who is admitted to the CS master’s program loses his or her dissertator fee status. Dissertators who add a program or a certificate program must enroll and pay fees as a regular graduate student. This is a Graduate School rule.

Meeting these requirements guarantees that your application will be considered for admission to the program. However, it does not guarantee admission.

Applications for second major MS in Computer Sciences are accepted three times during each academic year, with deadlines of (a) one week before the start of classes in the Spring term (for admission in Spring term), (b) the last day of classes in Spring term (for admission in Summer term), and (c) one week before the start of classes in the Fall term (for admission in Fall term).

There are no retroactive admissions. Decisions concerning admissions will normally be made within two weeks of each application deadline.

Students should also check the Graduate School requirements for a double degree. Note that in order to obtain an MS in Computer Sciences students must fulfill the requirements stated in the CS Graduate Guidebook (PDF).

The formal procedure at the level of the Graduate School, involving the Master’s warrant, is described in the publication Expecting Your Master’s Degree? Procedures to Help.

PhD Requirements

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

  • be admitted to the CS PhD track
  • complete all milestone requirements,
  • meet the minimum credit requirement for the degree,
  • not be dismissed, suspended or on probation due to lack of satisfactory performance, and
  • pay all fees and file the required paperwork.

The milestone requirements for a PhD in CS are: the qualifying process, the preliminary process, and the final process. To ensure compliance with satisfactory progress requirements, milestones must be met within the allotted time frame as follows:

Qualify: Student must complete breadth requirement and pass qualifying examination within 3 years after admission to the program.

Preliminary: Student must complete minor requirement and pass preliminary examination within 4 years after admission to the program; up to one additional year with GAC chair and advisor approval.

Dissertation: Student must pass final examination and deposit dissertation within 5 years from date of preliminary examination to date of dissertation deposit.

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 deadlines for warrant requests.

It is the responsibility of a PhD student to eventually find a dissertation advisor; the Department does not guarantee that a dissertation advisor will be provided. The dissertation advisor must be a full-time or affiliate faculty member of the Department, or have retired or resigned from such a position no more than a year ago.

The dissertation advisor’s expertise and research interests should match closely with those that the student intends to acquire. Students are encouraged to gather information from courses, seminars, faculty, the program website, and publications to identify faculty with matching research interests. A professor should be approached at as early a stage in the student’s graduate work as possible, though usually not until after the student has taken some of the professor’s courses or has worked with and demonstrated ability to the professor in some way. While no faculty member is obligated to accept a student’s request to serve as a dissertation advisor, invitations are usually accepted except in cases where the faculty member judges that a different faculty member would serve the student’s needs better. PhD students need to officially declare their dissertation advisor well before the preliminary exam, as the dissertation advisor chairs the preliminary exam committee and the final oral exam committee. For more information, see the advisor policy from the Graduate School.

A student who later decides that a different dissertation advisor would be preferable should discuss this with the current dissertation advisor and then feel free to seek the change. Selection of a dissertation advisor, or change of dissertation advisors, should be based on the faculty member’s ability to guide the student expertly into the chosen area of research. In each case the student needs to inform the Graduate Program Coordinator about the current dissertation advisor.

PhD 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.

Breadth List Effective Fall 2020:

Band 1:

Computer Architecture: 522,752,755,757,758.

Computer Networks: 640,707,740.

Computer Security: 642.

Operating Systems: 537,736,739,744.

Programming Languages and Compilers: 506,536,538,701,703,704,706.

Band 2:

Artificial Intelligence: 532, 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.


Theory of Computing:520,577,710,787,880.

839 courses in an area can also be used to satisfy breadth requirements.

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 examinations

PhD Preliminary Process

The preliminary process for Ph.D. students in CS consists of completing the minor requirement and passing the preliminary examination. Both components need to be finished by the preliminary deadline.

Minor requirement

The minor requirement involves 9 to 12 credits of course work outside of CS. There are two methods of fulfilling this requirement, referred to as Option A and Option B on the Minor Declaration Form.

  1. Option A: Existing program
    This option consists of fulfilling the PhD minor requirements as specified by an existing program outside of CS.Students should contact the particular program for the precise requirements, and find the person from that program who is authorized to act as the Minor Advisor. On a student’s transcript, fulfillment of this option appears as Minor: followed by the name of the program.
  2. Option B: Distributed
    This option consists of at least 9 credits in courses from one or more programs outside of CS. All of the following conditions need to be satisfied:

    • All credits counted are for courses numbered 300 or above.
    • No credits counted are for courses in CS or courses cross-listed with CS.
    • No credits counted are for individual instruction courses.
    • All credits counted are graded on the A-F scale and have received a grade of BC or higher.
    • The GPA of the credits counted is at least 3.00.
    • No more than 5 credits counted are for coursework completed more than 5 years prior to admission to the Ph.D. program are counted; no credits counted are for coursework taken 10 years ago or more.

    For this option the Graduate Advisory Committee (GAC) Chair acts as the Minor Advisor.

    On a student’s transcript, fulfillment of this option appears as Minor: Distributed.

For either option, once the requirements are met, the Minor Advisor attests to it by signing the Minor Declaration Form and the preliminary warrant from the Graduate School. The signed Minor Declaration form needs to be filed with the Graduate Program Coordinator.

Preliminary examination

The preliminary examination is an oral exam in which the student is expected to display depth of knowledge in the area of specialization in which research for the dissertation will be conducted. Students need to complete the qualifying process before taking the preliminary examination. They should have worked on some project with their dissertation advisor before planning the exam, and determine when they are ready to take it in consultation with their dissertation advisor.

The preliminary examination committee consists of three or more members and is chaired by the dissertation advisor. The composition of the committee will be suggested by the dissertation advisor in consultation with the student and must be approved by the Department Chair. At least two of the committee members must be full-time faculty members of the Department.

The student should approach each proposed member of the committee, secure agreement to serve, and then discuss a program for preparing for the examination. It is advisable for the student to do this about a semester before the examination is to be scheduled.

After the student passes the exam, each committee member needs to sign the preliminary warrant.

PhD Final Process (Final Exam & Dissertation)

The final process for PhD students in CS consists of writing and depositing the dissertation and passing the final examination. Both components need to be finished by the final deadline.


The student must conduct, under the supervision of a dissertation advisor, a substantial piece of original research in CS and report it in a dissertation that is made public and meets the highest standards of scholarship.

The Graduate School provides specific formatting guidelines as well as links to more general resources for how to go about writing a dissertation.

The members of the final examination committee should receive a copy of the dissertation at the latest three weeks before the exam. After passing the final exam, the student needs to electronically deposit the dissertation and set up a dissertation final review appointment with the Graduate School. Click here for more information about the formal process.

Final examination

The final examination is an oral exam in which the student must explain and defend the contents of the dissertation and exhibit detailed knowledge of the general area in which the reported research falls. Students need to complete the preliminary process before taking the final examination.

The final examination committee consists of four or more members and is chaired by the dissertation advisor. The composition of the committee will be suggested by the dissertation advisor and approved by the Department Chair. All of the following conditions need to be satisfied:

  • At least three of the committee members must be UW-Madison graduate faculty or former UW-Madison graduate faculty up to one year after resignation or retirement.
  • At least two of the committee members must be full-time faculty members of the Department.
  • At least one of the committee members, other than the dissertation advisor, must represent a UW department outside of CS.

After the student passes the exam, each committee member needs to sign the PhD warrant.

PhD Deadlines

For historical reasons, deadlines are reckoned in semesters (regular academic terms).  One year equals two regular terms, and the deadline clock does not advance during the summer.  Thus, for example, a student whose prelim deadline is recorded as Spring 2018 will actually have until the last day before Fall 2018 to meet this requirement.

Initial deadlines are set during the first GAC meeting.  Exceptions must be petitioned by the student to the GAC Chair before the deadline has elapsed.

Qualifying deadline

Three years (6 regular terms) from time of entry are allotted for finishing the qualifying process.

A later extension of one regular term to complete the breadth requirement may be granted to students who have passed the qualifying exam, provided the student commits to a concrete plan for completing the breadth requirement by the extended deadline, and the dissertation advisor is supportive.

Students who believe their situation warrants additional time should consult with the GAC Chair during their initial GAC meeting.

Preliminary deadline

The number of regular terms initially allotted for finishing the preliminary process is two more than for the qualifying process.

If the student is granted an extension to the qualifying deadline, the preliminary deadline is also automatically extended.

A further extension of up to two regular terms may be granted provided the student commits to a concrete plan for completing the preliminary process by the extended deadline, and the dissertation advisor is supportive, confirms willingness to direct the student towards the PhD degree, and states that the student is making good progress towards that degree.

Final deadline

The deadline for finishing the final process is initially set to 10 regular terms (5 years) after passing the preliminary examination.

In order to receive an extension, a student may be required to take another preliminary examination.

Deadline extension for childbirth and adoption

A graduate student in good standing may request a deadline extension of one regular term when he or she experiences childbirth or adoption. The extension does not extend the funding guarantee by the Department.

The extension is available for each birth or adoption, to each parent, both males and females, and without regard to sexual orientation.

To obtain the extension, the student must email the GAC Chair and the dissertation advisor (if any) within 12 months of the date of birth or adoption. The GAC Chair checks that the conditions are met and, if so, automatically grants the extension.

For the purposes of this regulation, graduate students are considered in good standing if they are not dismissed, suspended, or on probation, and if they did not fail the conditions for satisfactory academic progress for the term prior to the child birth or adoption.

Funding & Financial Aid

Graduate students are eligible for a range of financial support, including teaching assistantships, research assistantships and graduate fellowships. Many students admitted to the traditional MS/PhD track are offered a funding guarantee of four years through the department, typically in the form of teaching assistantships. We also nominate our top applicants for fellowships. Funding consists of a tuition waiver and a stipend.

Most graduate assistantships, and fellowships for the first year, are awarded at the time of admission.


  • TAs are expected to enroll in a minimum of 6 credits. Credit requirement must be satisfied by graded courses taken at 300 or above; courses numbered below 300, audit, and pass/fail do not satisfy enrollment requirements. Graduate research courses (799, 899, and 990) are graded S/U and can be used to meet enrollment requirement.
  • TAs are expected to be making satisfactory academic progress
  • International students are expected to adhere to the University’s policies related to spoken English proficiency.


  • TAs are typically 50% appointments, requiring 360 hours of work per semester
  • TAs should discuss TA duties, responsibilities, and expectations with the course instructor
  • TAs and instructors should jointly complete and submit a TA workload form
  • International students are limited to 50% appointments and domestic students are limited to 75% appointments for all on-campus employment during the academic year


  • The Computer Sciences TA application link is emailed out to all students in the traditional Computer Sciences MS/PhD graduate program three to four months before the start of fall, spring, and summer terms
  • If you are not a Computer Sciences student but would like to be added to our mailing list to receive a TA application, please email with this request
  • Computer Sciences students with guaranteed support are given TA placement priority.

Annually, the Department of Computer Sciences awards up to four graduate fellowships providing nine months of support to outstanding students pursuing the doctoral degree. Each graduate fellowship provides tuition plus a stipend. The principal criteria for fellowship selection are academic merit, creativity, research accomplishments and commitment to research.


Student must be a full time computer sciences graduate student in dissertator status who is conducting research within the department and is supervised by a computer sciences faculty member.


Computer sciences graduate fellowships are a reality because of the generosity of our alumni and friends who have endowed them. The fellowships we award are:

  • Anthony Klug NCR Fellowship in Database Systems
  • Cisco Systems Distinguished Graduate Fellowships (2), preference given to U.S. Citizens
  • Lawrence H. Landweber NCR Fellowship in Distributed Systems


Students must be nominated by a computer sciences faculty member. Nominations deadline vary by year. Each nomination includes:

  • A nomination letter from the nominator detailing the reasons for the nomination (maximum of two pages)
  • Two additional supporting letters from faculty
  • Nominee’s CV
  • Up to 3 publications authored or co-authored by the nominee

Nominations to renew an existing fellowship may also be submitted.

Annually, the University of Wisconsin–Madison Department of Computer Sciences awards several summer research assistantships (RAships). These awards provide two months of summer support to outstanding students who are undergraduates or were first-year graduate students during the preceding academic year.

The principal criteria for RA selection are academic excellence and the quality of the expected outcomes of the proposed research project. Students who receive the award are advised by the nominating faculty member during the summer and give a 30-minute presentation on their results in a special seminar during the fall semester. Students are encouraged to discuss potential topics with computer sciences professors with whom they might want to work. For graduate students, it is expected that the nominating professor will contribute one half of the funding for the two-month assistantship.


Students are nominated by a computer sciences faculty member in April. Each nomination includes:

  • Description of the proposed research (three pages, 12-point font)
  • Student resume (one or two pages)
  • Letter of nomination and recommendation from the nominating faculty member (two pages)

NIJ Graduate Research Fellowship in STEM
The National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the research agency of the U.S. Department of Justice, is pleased to announce the release of the FY2018 solicitation, Graduate Research Fellowship in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. This program provides awards to accredited academic institutions to support graduate research leading to doctoral degrees in topic areas that are relevant to preventing and controlling crime, and ensuring the fair and impartial administration of criminal justice in the United States. Through the GRF-STEM program, NIJ supports research by promising doctoral students as they train to become the creators of future innovation. Each fellowship provides up to three years of support usable within a five-year period. For each year of support, NIJ provides the degree-granting institution a stipend of $35,000 usable toward the student’s salary and related costs, and up to $15,000 to cover the student’s tuition and fees, research expenses and related costs. Download the solicitation (PDF) for a full description. Find information on applying for these and other NIJ awards online.

Hertz Fellowships
For PhD students or those intending to pursue the PhD; open to U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Providing unique financial and fellowship support to the nation’s most remarkable PhD students in the applied physical and biological sciences, mathematics, and engineering.

IBM PhD Fellowship Nominations
Students must be nominated by a doctoral faculty member and must be a full-time student in a PhD program over the two consecutive academic years of the award or forfeit their fellowship. Nominations for the annual PhD Fellowship program begin the third week of September and are accepted for 5 weeks. This internship is for U.S. citizens only.

National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships
For U.S. citizens or permanent residents, NSF’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program recognizes and supports individuals early in their graduate training in STEM (Science, Technology, Education, and Mathematics) fields.

Winston Churchill Foundation Scholarships
This award provides graduate study at Cambridge University, for U.S. citizens only.

National Defense Science & Engineering Graduate Fellowship
For U.S. citizens and nationals.

National Physical Science Consortium
Graduate fellowships for U.S. citizens only.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Summer Internship Program

On campus

It is often possible for a CS graduate student to find, after arrival on campus, a part-time job that pays well enough to support the student while in graduate school. A wide variety of departments and projects on campus need help with both programming and administering computational resources. There is no single way to find out about all of these related jobs. The Graduate School has some useful suggestions. This website also maintains job listings.  Students should also consider contacting the Division of Information Technology (DoIT), as well as individual departments on campus for opportunities.


Outstanding students are strongly encouraged to apply for external scholarships. The Department maintains a list of opportunities with their application deadlines.