M.S. Requirements

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

Minimum credit requirement

The student must receive 30 credits for courses numbered 300 or above such that:

  • all credits counted have received a satisfactory grade, and
  • the GPA of the credits counted is at least 3.00.

Moreover, 24 of the 30 credits must be for CS courses numbered 400 or above,excluding CS 400, such that:

Courses that are cross-listed with CS are considered CS courses for the purposes of this requirement. Non-CS courses cannot be counted towards the 24 credits, even though their syllabus may be similar to those of CS courses.

The above 30-credit requirement is effective as of fall 2014. Previously, only 24 instead of 30 credits were required, with the same restrictions on those 24 credits as above.

Core credit

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-style courses.

Topics courses

Topics courses have syllabi that may change significantly from one offering to another.  They can be taken multiple times for credit, although their use for the MS is limited.

The topics courses are: CS 638, CS 703, CS 758, CS 837, CS 838, CS 839 and CS 880. (In fall 2017, the new course number 839 was created.)

At most one of these can used for core credit, subject to the following rules. Any CS 839 is approved for core credit. Any CS 838 offered Fall 2017 or later is not approved for core credit.  Other topics courses may be used for core credit if they have been approved by the instructor.


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

Individual instruction courses

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

Thesis courses

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

Optional project or thesis (CS 790)

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.

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 full-time 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 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 towards 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.

Transfer of credits

Credits from other institutions cannot be used to satisfy MS requirements.

Credits from prior coursework at UW-Madison may be counted towards the degree of MS in CS provided they were earned less than 5 years before the current enrollment in the MS in CS 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. If possible this should be done at the initial GAC meeting.


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.