We require all our students to have an MS in Computer Science or a related field before they become eligible to earn a PhD. The specific requirements depend on whether a student has previous graduate experience or not.   

Students with no previous graduate experience

Students must

  • Take a set of courses: 5 Core Courses, 3 Approved Electives and a seminar, and meet the grade requirements
  • Write a Master’s paper
  • Pass a Qualifying Exam, consisting of a public defense of the Master’s paper
  • Satisfy the University requirements for an MSc

Upon completing these requirements, students will be eligible to receive a degree of Master of Science in Computer Science from the University.

Course Requirements for the Qualifying Phase

Students must complete a set of course requirements stated above–five core courses, three approved electives and one seminar. Every core course not used to fulfill the core course requirement can be used as an approved elective, and any approved elective can be used as a seminar. ‘Reading and Research’ courses cannot be used to fulfill these requirements.

The set of courses, and their classification may change over time. The web page of course offerings for the program will indicate, in a timely manner, for each quarter, whether a given graduate course is a core course, an approved elective, or neither.

Click here for a detailed list of Core Courses and Approved Elective Courses. 

Grade Requirements

There are specific grade requirements for both core courses and electives (described below). The spirit of these requirements can be summed up by the following motto: a student must demonstrate proficiency in all areas and excellence in at least one area.

The minimum formal requirements for the core courses (”Ph.D. Pass”) are the following: Students are required to complete the five core courses with a grade point average (GPA) of at least 3.25 in the five core courses. In computing the GPA, A=4, B=3, and a + or a - counts as .3 of a point. Note that for the core courses, students who significantly outperform even the typical ”A” students may receive a grade of ”A+” (recorded internally by the CS Department Student Representative since the University does not officially grant the grade of A+.) So, for instance a student with grades A+, B+, B+, B-, B- in the five core courses has a GPA of 3.26 and thus satisfies the minimum GPA requirement, as does a student with grades of A+, A, B+, B, and C-. In the graduate program grades below C- are not passing grades.

Students must complete their electives with a grade of B or better in each course.

Students who fail to meet the core course requirements stated in the preceding paragraph may continue on to write a master’s paper and complete a master’s degree, if they meet the following requirement (”Master’s Pass”): complete all the five core courses by the end of the spring quarter of the second year with a grade of at least C- in each core course and with a grade point average (GPA) of at least 3.00 in the five core courses. Such students will be supported for at most one quarter of their third year.

Students who do not meet the Ph.D. Pass requirements for these courses cannot continue their studies beyond autumn quarter of their third year. Students who do meet these minimum requirements will not automatically be allowed to continue after their third year; the faculty will decide continuation based on the student’s perceived capacity to perform Ph. D. level independent research in a specific area.

Students with Previous Graduate Experience

Incoming students may get exempted from some of the above described requirements of the Qualifying Phase to the extent that they can show that they have obtained breadth, depth in Computer Science, as well as and writing ability comparable to the competency that would be acquired in the Qualifying Phase of our program.

Students are allowed to bypass core course requirements, if they demonstrate competence similar to the course the student wants get get credits for. This is normally determined by the faculty member teaching the specific course.

Students with an MS have another mechanism to bypass core requirements. If a student applies to the PhD program and has an MSc, and the Admissions Committee believes that within their MSc program the student acquired knowledge substantially equivalent to satisfy all our core course requirements, the Admissions Committee may, after consultation with the Graduate Committee, offer the student the option of bypassing all core requirements. This option is also available to new students with an MSc, by petition to the Graduate Committee, in the student’s first year at Chicago.

It is important to note that for students who, as a result of such offer, chose to bypass the core courses, the timetable for completing our requirements gets essentially shortened by a year. In particular, they are guaranteed only 5 years of support.

More precisely, they must

  • Have a research advisor by the end of Summer Quarter of their first year
  • Complete the coursework for the Qualifying Phase a year earlier than students without an MSc
  • Pass their Qualifying Exam a year earlier than students without an MSc
  • Pass their Candidacy Exam by the end of the Autumn Quarter of their fourth year
  • Have their Thesis Defense by Spring Quarter of their fifth year.

These students will still be required to satisfy the Qualifying Phase requirements for the non-core courses (3 electives and a seminar).

All students will be required to pass a Qualifying Exam at the end of the Qualifying Phase. The student’s Committee may allow part or all of previous research to be the basis of the paper on which the Qualifying Exam is based.

Students who satisfy University requirements for an MSc may receive an MSc degree. Note that part of the University requirements to award an MS is that the work for which the MS is to be awarded (9 courses, 1 year of residency and MS paper) be done within the program.