Graduate Admissions (MS/PhD) FAQ

The following frequently asked questions apply to the traditional MS and PhD programs. For FAQs about the Professional Master’s Program (PMP), please visit the PMP FAQ page.

Questions about MS/PhD admissions? Email

** We do not provide application fee waivers to international applicants.**

Admissions Process

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What are the differences in the admission processes for the MS degree program and the PhD program?

None.  All applications, whether the application indicates the M.S. degree program or the PhD degree program, are considered in a single pool for determining admissions. There are not different criteria used to determine admission for MS versus PhD applicants. Furthermore, applicants do not compete with existing graduate students in the department for admission to the PhD program.

The purpose of stating your degree goal on the application is to provide the Graduate Admissions Committee with information on your initial plan for graduate school. This preference is not binding. If a student applies and is admitted for the MS program, but later decides to pursue a PhD degree, the student does not need to reapply to the department. If a student has made satisfactory progress, continuing for a PhD is contingent upon successfully completing the department’s PhD Qualifying Process.  This process consists of finishing course breadth requirements and passing a written examination in one depth area.

How are admissions decisions made?

Beginning in January, all applications are reviewed by the Computer Sciences Graduate Admissions Committee. The committee is composed of faculty members representing  a variety of research areas within the department. After careful review, the Graduate Admissions Committee recommends admission for the applicants they feel are most qualified for our program. The selection is made without regard to the degree goal (MS or PhD), area of interest or financial need.  The department’s admissions recommendations are reviewed and approved by the Graduate School.

Do you have a waiting list?

No. All offers are made at the same time to the applicants we feel are the most qualified for our program. All decisions are final.

What are my chances of receiving financial support?

We offer financial support to a large number of our admitted students. Decisions on financila support are made at the same time as admission decisions. Note that 90–95% of all current graduate students in the department receive support in the form of teaching assistantships, research assistantships and/or competitive fellowships.

I’m currently enrolled in a different graduate program at UW–Madison. Can I change my major to a PhD in CS?

Find information on changing your major to the CS PhD program here.

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If I apply for the PhD and am not recommended for admission, can I ask to be considered for MS admission?

No. All decisions are final.  All applicants are reviewed in a single pool. Admission decisions are made without regard to degree goal.

When are admissions decisions made? How are applicants notified?

Admissions decisions are made by early March. All applicants, regardless of whether they are recommended for admission, are notified of the admission decision by email. Students who have been recommended for admission will also be sent paper copies of admission documents via post and will have until April 15 to decide whether to accept our offer.

What are my chances of being admitted to your department?

Admission is based on many factors. Those factors include your academic record, GRE test scores, letters of recommendation and statement of purpose. International students must meet or exceed the minimum TOEFL requirements to be qualified for admission.  We also consider your work experience, research experience, publications and any additional information submitted on your online application.  We cannot pre-evaluate your chances of admission before you apply.

The Department of Computer Sciences does not use a “formula” to rank applicants for acceptance, and thus there are no fixed minimum requirements for admission to our program. However, the Graduate School sets minimum standards for applicants to any graduate program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Because we are a highly-ranked computer sciences department, we receive many applications.  Competition is stiff for admission into our graduate program.  As a rough guideline, most of the students we admit are in the 85th percentile or higher on each of the sections of the GRE General Test (Analytical Writing, Quantitative and Verbal) and have a GPA of 3.6 or higher (on a 4.0 scale). However, you may be admitted if you are below these guidelines if your application is especially strong in other respects.  Conversely, there is no assurance that you will be admitted if you exceed all of these guidelines due to all of the factors we evaluate, including other aspects of your academic record and the strength of the applicant pool in any given year.

How can I add a second major in CS (master's program only)?

Find information on adding a second master’s here.

GRE & English Proficiency

The GRE is not required (but may be considered). 

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Am I required to take the Subject GRE test, also known as the Advanced GRE?

No.  We do not use it in evaluating applicants.

I am not sure my GRE score is high enough to be competitive. Should I take the GRE again?

Based on our experience, there is seldom a major change to GRE scores when retaken unless a significant amount of time has elapsed and a significant amount of effort has been made to improve knowledge, skills and test-taking strategies. The GRE is not required to apply to the program.

How recent do my GRE scores need to be?

GRE scores should be within five years of the scheduled first day of classes in the term for which you are admitted. The GRE is not required to apply to the program.

What is acceptable evidence of instruction in English at a non-U.S. institution?

Your school transcripts, if they mention the language of instruction, or a letter from a school official is needed.



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How late can I take GRE general test?

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE), offered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), is not required. If you take it and would like to have your scores sent to us, request that ETS send the scores to UW–Madison, institution code 1846. Please note that processing of scores takes up to six weeks.

Which GRE score will be considered if I take the test more than once?

The Educational Testing Service (ETS) now allows applicants to choose which scores to report to an institution. The admissions committee will have access to any GRE scores that ETS sends. The GRE is not required to apply to the program.

Are English proficiency test scores required for international students?

All international degree-seeking applicants must prove English proficiency. See the Graduate School Requirements for information on how English proficiency is determined and if English proficiency test scores are required.

Personal Statement and Recommendations

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What is the role of the personal statement in evaluating my application? Do you have any suggestions for what I should write in this section?

The statement is your opportunity to tell us about your goals in pursuing graduate studies and about your specific interest areas. It helps us to understand the mix of interests in our pool of applicants and to learn more about your preparation for graduate work. Avoid overly enthusiastic, very general statements that give us little insight into your accomplishments or motivation. A concise statement about your experience and future goals that is backed by other elements of the application is most effective.

I have been working in industry for a number of years. Can I use work references instead of academic references?

If you have been out of school for a few years and your work has been relevant to graduate study, you may  want to include a recommendation from a supervisor.  Because you are applying for graduate school, academic recommendations may be more helpful to us when evaluating your application.  Since three recommendations are required, we suggest you use no more than one work recommendation. The two additional recommendations should be academic.

Can my recommenders submit their recommendations after December 15?

Yes.  Please let your recommenders know that we need the recommendations by early January in order to review your application.

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How important are the recommendation letters, and what should they contain?

Recommendation letters, which are accepted online as part of the application process, play a significant role in the selection of applicants. Choose your recommenders carefully. Select people with excellent academic and/or professional credentials who can attest to your academic abilities and who are able to articulate ways in which you stand out. Take responsibility to ensure that they submit their recommendations online and on time according to the guidelines provided in the online application. After you have completed your application, you can log in to check your application status and determine if we have received the online submissions of each of your recommenders. No paper recommendations will be accepted.

Can my recommenders mail their recommendations?

No.  We only accept recommendations through the Graduate School’s secure, online recommendation system.  No paper recommendations are accepted.

Program Information and Applications

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Where can I get information about the course requirements for the MS and PhD degrees?

My undergraduate degree is only a three-year degree; am I eligible to apply for your MS or PhD Program?

A four-year bachelor’s degree or equivalent is required.  Some institutions offer three-year degrees that are equivalent  to a U.S. four-year bachelor’s degree.  For countries where a three-year bachelor’s is not considered equivalent to U.S. bachelor’s degree, the Graduate School will accept a three-year bachelor’s degree plus a master’s degree from your home country.

My undergraduate degree was in a field other than computer sciences. Am I eligible to apply for your graduate MS or PhD program?

Yes, as long as you have sufficient preparation to thrive in a rigorous graduate CS program. Courses in college-level math like calculus and computer programming are highly recommended.  Although an undergradaute degree in CS is not required, it is important to have documented course work or skills that indicate your capability to pursue a graduate degree in CS.

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Where can I get information about the UW–Madison Graduate School, which oversees all graduate programs at the University?

You can get information on the Graduate School website, which contains useful information for prospective graduate students as well as current graduate students in all departments.

I already have an MS from another institution outside the United States. Am I eligible to apply for an MS in your program?


Can I update my application?

Yes. You can update the uploaded items in your application by replacing the upload with another upload. For example if you recieve an additonal honor or have a paper accepted for a research journal, you can make a new version of your resume or cv to replace the old version. You can log back into your application to replace the original resume or cv.