Computer Science

Master’s Degree Requirements

This document describes the most recent requirements for the Master’s degree offered by the Graduate Group in Computer Science at UC Davis. For students who entered the program before 2012, previous degree requirements can be found here.


  1. Admissions Requirements
  2. MS Plan I and Plan II
  3. Course Requirements
  4. Special Requirements
  5. Committees
  6. Advising Structure and Mentoring
  7. Advancement to Candidacy
  8. Requirements for the Thesis, Project, and Master’s Examination
  9. Normative Time to Degree
  10. Typical Timeline and Sequences of Events
  11. Sources of Funding
  12. PELP, In Absentia, and Filing Fee Status

1. Admissions Requirements

Consideration for Master’s (MS) program admission requires completion of Graduate Studies’ online application, with fee payment, by the stated deadline. Admission requires a bachelor’s degree, three letters of recommendation, and a complete application form, including official transcripts, GRE scores, TOEFL scores or IELTS score if applicable, a statement of purpose, and a personal history statement.

a. Prerequisites

In addition to the admission requirements stated above, applicants are expected to demonstrate proficiency at the undergraduate level in four fundamental areas of computer science and mathematics. The specified UCD courses exemplify the material:

Computer Architecture ECS 154A (Computer Architecture)
Operating Systems ECS 150 (Operating Systems and System Programming)
Programming Languages ECS 140A (Programming Languages)
Theoretical Foundations ECS 120 (Theory of Computation) or ECS 122A (Algorithm Design and Analysis)
Mathematical Foundations ECS 132 (Probability and Statistical Modeling for Computer Science) or MAT 135A (Probability) or STA 131A (Introduction to Probability Theory), and one additional upper-division mathematics course

These are referred to as the undergraduate proficiency requirements.

b. Deficiencies

Students may be admitted with one or more deficiencies in the undergraduate proficiency requirements. It is expected that the student will complete the undergraduate proficiency requirements by the end of the first academic year of residence. This deadline may be extended by approval of the Graduate Advisors Committee of the Graduate Group.

2. MS Plan I and Plan II

The Graduate Program of Computer Science offers two plans for the MS degree with respective capstone requirements. Plan I requires successful completion of a thesis, while Plan II requires successful completion of either a project or a master’s exam. Students should decide, in consultation with graduate group faculty, which option best suits their individual goals.

All options require 36 units of upper division and graduate coursework. At most 6 of these units may be from upper division courses. The following table summarizes the specific requirements for the thesis, project, and exam options.

Option Requires No. of graduate courses required No of ECS 299 units allowed Committee consists of
Thesis A written thesis 6 12 Thesis Advisor plus 2 more faculty members
Project A project deliverable 7 8 Project Advisor plus 1 faculty member
Exam Oral or written exam 9 0 Three faculty members

While ECS 299 units may be counted toward the required 36 units, up to the limits specified above, no other course numbered 290 or above may count towards the 36 units.

3. Course Requirements

The courses a student will use in satisfaction of the 36 unit course requirement must be approved by the student’s Thesis Advisor or Project Advisor, or by a Graduate Advisor.

A student must have a GPA of 3.0 for the MS degree to be awarded, and a B or better in all coursework used to satisfy the degree requirements.

Full-time students must enroll in a minimum of 12 units per quarter. As per UC regulations, students may not enroll in more than 12 units of graduate level courses, nor more than 16 units of combined undergraduate and graduate level courses.

The breadth requirement requires the demonstration of proficiency at the graduate level in three of four specified areas: ArchitecutureSystemsTheory, and Applications. For each area, the student can demonstrate satisfaction of the breadth requirement in any of the following four ways:

  • Completing a Core course in the area with a grade of B or better.
  • After failing to get a B in a Core course, passing the Core Exam for that specific course.
  • Demonstrating that one has taken a similar graduate course at another institution and earned a grade of B or better. A Graduate Advisor must approve this option.
  • Challenging the Core course (“Credit by Examination”) as per UC procedures and receiving a grade of B or better. Information on this option can be found in the General Catalog.

The following list the Core classes in each of the four areas:

Architecture Core ECS 201A Advanced Computer Architecture
EEC 270 Computer Architecture
4 units
4 units
Systems Core ECS 240 Programming Languages
ECS 251 Operating Systems
ECS 260 Software Engineering
4 units
4 units
4 units
Theory Core ECS 220 Theory of Computation
ECS 222A Design and Analysis of Algorithms
4 units
4 units
Applications Core ECS 230 Applied Numerical Linear Algebra
ECS 231 Large-scale Scientific Computation
ECS 234 Computational Functional Genomics
ECS 235A Computer and Information Security
ECS 236 Computer Security Intrusion Detection Based Approach
ECS 252 Computer Networks
ECS 256 Performance Evaluation
ECS 265 Distributed Database Systems
ECS 267 Wide-Area Distributed Information Systems
ECS 268 Scientific Data and Workflow Management
ECS 270 Artificial Intelligence
ECS 271 Machine Learning and Discovery
ECS 272 Information Visualization
ECS 274 Automated Deduction
ECS 275A Advanced Computer Graphics
ECS 276 Advanced Volume Visualization
ECS 277 Advanced Visualization
ECS 278 Computer-Aided Geometric Design
ECS 279 Topics in Character Animation
4 units
4 units
4 units
4 units
4 units
4 units
4 units
4 units
4 units
4 units
4 units
4 units
4 units
4 units
4 units
4 units
4 units
4 units
4 units

4. Special Requirements

Not applicable.

5. Committees

a. Admission Committee

Completed applications are evaluated by the Admissions Committee, with the assistance of other faculty in the Graduate Group. The Admissions Committee consists of six Graduate Group faculty. Based on a review of the entire application, a recommendation is made to accept or decline the applicant’s request for admission. The recommendation is forwarded to the Dean of Graduate Studies for final approval of admission. Notification of admissions decisions will be sent by Graduate Studies.

Applications are accepted from September (when the admission system opens) through January 15 for the next Fall-entering class.

b. Graduate Advisors Committee

The Graduate Advisors Committee is composed of GGCS faculty members appointed by Graduate Studies. Every student who does not have a Thesis Advisor or Project Advisor will be assigned a Graduate Advisor from the Graduate Advisors Committee. Until a student has a Thesis Advisor or Project Advisor, the assigned Graduate Advisor will monitor the progress of the student and provide guidance on his/her academic program.

Each GGCS graduate student is responsible for meeting with his or her Graduate Advisor at least once per quarter.

c. Thesis Committee

The student’s Thesis Advisor, in consultation with the student, nominates two additional GGCS faculty members to serve on the Thesis Committee. These nominations are submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies for formal appointment in accordance with Graduate Council policy. The Thesis Advisor serves as Chair of the Thesis Committee. At least two members of this committee must be members of the Academic Senate of the University of California, and a least two members of this committee must be GGCS members. The thesis must be approved by all three members of the Thesis Committee.

d. Project Committee

The student’s Project Advisor nominates one additional faculty member to serve on the Project Committee. This nomination is submitted to the Graduate Advisors Committee for approval. The responsibility of the Project Committee is to supervise and evaluate the student’s project. A project must be approved by both members of the committee.

e. Master’s Exam Committee

For students taking the Master’s Exam, the Graduate Advisors Committee, after consultation with the student, nominates three faculty members to serve on the Master’s Exam Committee. The majority of this committee must be GGCS members. The responsibility of this committee is to give the Master’s Exam. The format of the exam is described in Section 8c.

6. Advising Structure and Mentoring

A student’s Thesis Advisor or Project Advisor supervises his/her thesis or project, and serves as Chair of the corresponding committee. A student’s Graduate Advisor serves as a resource for information on academic requirements, policies, and procedures in the absence of a Thesis Advisor or Project Advisor.

The Graduate Program Coordinator assists students with appointments, requirements, university policies, and in identifying a Thesis Advisor or Project Advisor. The Mentoring Guidelines can be found in the graduate student handbook.

7. Advancement to Candidacy

After completing at least one-half the course requirements for the degree, a student must file an application for Advancement to Candidacy. A student must file for candidacy at least one full quarter before completion of all degree requirements and before going on filing fee status. The Candidacy for the Degree of Master form can be found online. A completed form includes a list of courses the student will take to complete degree requirements. Students must have their Thesis Advisor, Project Advisor, or Graduate Advisor sign the candidacy form.

If the candidacy is approved, the Office of Graduate Studies will send a copy to the student, his Thesis, Project, or Graduate Advisor, and the Graduate Program Coordinator. If the Office of Graduate Studies determines that a student is not eligible for advancement, the GGCS and the student will be told the reasons for the application’s deferral. Some reasons for deferring an application include a grade point average below 3.0, outstanding “I” grades in required courses, or insufficient units.

If changes must be made to the student’s course plan after s/he has advanced to candidacy, a Graduate Adviser must recommend these changes to Graduate Studies.

8. Requirements for the Thesis, Project, and Master’s Examination

a. Thesis

Research for the Master’s thesis is to be carried out under the supervision of a GGCS faculty member of and must represent an original contribution to knowledge in the field. A Master’s thesis is usually based on 6 to 12 units of research carried out under the 299 course number. The thesis should demonstrate the student’s proficiency in research methods and scientific analysis, and a thorough knowledge of the state of the art in the student’s chosen area. A Master’s thesis is a description of an original technical or research contribution of limited scope, or an advanced design study. The thesis research must be conducted while the student is enrolled in the program.

The thesis is submitted to the Thesis Committee at least one month before the student plans to make requested revisions. All Thesis Committee members must approve the thesis and sign the title page before the thesis is submitted to Graduate Studies for final approval. Should the committee determine that the thesis is unacceptable, even with substantial revisions, the program may recommend the student for disqualification from the program to the Dean of Graduate Studies.

The student and Thesis Advisor must meet at least once a quarter with the other two members of the Thesis Committee to discuss progress and any changes in research objectives. The thesis must be filed in a quarter in which the student is registered or on filing fee. Instructions on preparation of the thesis and a schedule of dates for filing the thesis in final form are available from Graduate Studies; the dates are also printed in the UC Davis General Catalog and in the Class Schedule and Registration Guide issued each quarter.

b. Project

A project is carried out under the supervision of the faculty member who serves as Project Advisor. The topic and extent of the project is determined by the faculty member in consultation with the student. A typical project involves the practical solution (implementation) of a software system or an experimental study of a computer hardware/software design.

The Project Committee specifies the project requirements, which may include the delivery of a software prototype system, an interactive demonstration, a written report, and/or an oral presentation of the study. All committee members must approve the project. The Master’s Report Form is then signed by the Thesis Adviser and forwarded to the Office of Graduate Studies. Should the Project Committee determine that the project outcome is unacceptable, the program may recommend the student for disqualification from the program to the Dean of Graduate Studies. Available project topics are listed here.

c. Master’s Examination

The examination is used to ensure that the student has acquired proficient knowledge in core and applied CS areas. The examination may be oral, written, or a combination of both, designated by the Exam Committee, with the objective to strengthen the student’s knowledge in selected core or applied CS areas that can best prepare the student for his/her professional career.

The examination may be taken once the student has completed required courses and advanced to candidacy. However, it is important that the timing of the exam satisfy the regulations as noted in the CCGA handbook (Appendix I, page 36), which indicates that the capstone requirement be completed at or near the end of the coursework for the Master’s degree. A student is allowed to repeat the Master’s Examination only once.

After passing the examination, a copy of the Master’s Report Form (which can be found here) is signed by a GGCS Graduate Adviser and then forwarded to the Office of Graduate Studies. The deadlines for completing this requirement are listed each quarter in the campus General Catalog (available online or from the Bookstore).

If a student does not pass the exam on the first attempt, the Exam Committee may recommend that the student be reexamined one more time, but only if the Graduate Adviser Committee concurs with the Exam Committee. The examination may not be repeated more than once, and the student is not allowed to retake the exam on a different topic area or in a different category (i.e., switching to Project or Thesis). The Exam Committee provides information concerning the timing and format of a second exam if a student must retake the exam after failing part or the entire first exam. Please note that Graduate Studies requires the Exam Committee’s unanimous vote to pass a student on the exam. A student who does not pass on the second attempt will be recommended for disqualification from further graduate work in the program to the Dean of Graduate Studies.

For either Project or Examination, a candidate must be a registered student or on filing fee status at the time the program submits the form, with the exception of the summer period between the end of the Spring Quarter and the beginning of Fall Quarter. The Graduate Group must file the form with Graduate Studies within one week of the end of the quarter in which the student’s degree will be conferred.

9. Normative Time to Degree

a. Plan I

It is expected that the student will complete the breadth requirements within the first four quarters of residence. It is expected that the student will complete the MS degree by the end of the seventh (7) quarter of residence, including all course requirements and the approval of the thesis.

These deadlines may be extended only by approval of the Graduate Advisors Committee of the Graduate Group.

b. Plan II

It is expected that the student will complete the breadth requirements within the first four (4) quarters of residence. It is expected that the student will complete all course work and project/examinations by the end of the sixth (6th) quarter of residence.

These deadlines may be extended only by approval of the Graduate Advisors Committee of the Graduate Group.

10. Typical Timeline and Sequences of Events

THESIS Year 1 Year 2
Fall ECS 201A, ECS 235A, ECS 299 ECS 299; advancement to candidacy
Winter ECS 222A, ECS 240, ECS 299 ECS 299
Spring ECS 244, ECS 265, ECS 299 ECS 299; thesis completed

 

PROJECT Year 1 Year 2
Fall ECS 201A, ECS 275 ECS 260; ECS 299
Winter ECS 222A, ECS 272 ECS 299; advance to candidacy; project completed
Spring ECS 226, ECS 277

 

EXAM Year 1 Year 2
Fall ECS 201A; ECS 260 ECS 235A; ECS 252
Winter ECS 222A; ECS 240 ECS 299; advancement to candidacy; exam passed
Spring ECS 244; ECS 265

Note that these samples do not take into account the student’s possible need of fulfilling undergraduate proficiency requirements. Depending on the added workload, the student may need additional quarters to complete the exam/project/thesis.

11. Sources of Funding

Financial assistance for graduate study comes in the form of fellowships, Teaching Assistant (TA) and Graduate Student Research (GSR) positions.

12. PELP, In Absentia, and Filing Fee Status

Information about PELP (Planned Educational Leave), In Absentia (reduced fees when conducting research out of California), and Filing Fee status can be found in the Graduate Student Guide.

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