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Master of Science Coursework Option

The CS Department typically does not admit students into the MS Coursework-only option; it is typically used for PhD students to get the MS “along the way” to the PhD. Students taking a terminal MS degree are expected to complete the thesis. Students desiring a coursework-only Master's level degree should enter the CS MEng program instead.

To complete the MS coursework option, students must satisfy a breadth requirement, adhere to an appropriate credit distribution, enroll in the graduate seminar, comply with the ethics requirement, and complete a final exam requirement either by doing an independent study and report or passing the qualifying exam at the Master's level.

Note: Students entering the program prior to Spring 2020 are eligible to use the old rules (in their entirety) instead of the rules below.

To complete the MS Coursework-only option, students must do the following:

  • Complete 30 hours of coursework, consisting of the courses that satisfy the PhD coursework requirements plus an additional CS5974 Independent Study course. Note that by completing the coursework for a valid PhD plan of study, this will complete the Graduate School requirements for Ethics training and for Inclusion and Diversity training.
  • Complete the PhD Qualifier process.

Advisor and Committee

All graduate students have access to a faculty advisor who can help with both academic advising (i.e., issues related to getting a degree) and career advising. PhD students, and MS students under the thesis option, should select a faculty member to act as their research and course advisor as early as possible in their academic career and definitely by the time their plan of study is due (see Plan of Study). The advisor must be a full-time Virginia Tech faculty position with either a regular, emeritus, or courtesy appointment in the Department of Computer Science, and hold a Ph.D. or equivalent terminal degree.

The composition for an M.S. coursework advisory committee typically consists of three members as follows:

  • The chair of the committee (advisor) is the instructor for the CS5974 Independent Study course that was used to satisfy the M.S. coursework requirements. This person must be a full-time Virginia Tech faculty position with either a regular, emeritus, or courtesy appointment in the Department of Computer Science, and hold a Ph.D. or equivalent terminal degree.
  • The two Associate Department Heads (ADH-GS and ADH-US) typically serve as the second and third members.
  • No outside members are allowed in the committee of MS Coursework students.

Typical Schedule

The table below shows a typical distribution of courses and other responsibilities over the 5 semesters that is typical for a student to complete an MS Coursework-only option as a natural part of their PhD work. Note that this assumes the student starts in the Fall. The Independent Study course could be taken at any point in the process, and is typically something that is a natural part of the research work being done.

Year Fall Spring
  • 2 3-credit graded courses
  • CS5944 Graduate Seminar (1cr)

Note: Student can take up to 2 CS 4xxx. Doing it early in the program is a great way to remove a background deficiency.

Note: Visit several research groups and lab meetings to become acquainted with areas and faculty in department.

  • 2 3-credit graded courses
  • CS5944 Graduate Seminar (1cr)

Note: Identify area of research interest and initiate conversations with possible Academic and Research Advisor for the CS5974 Independent Study.

Note: Submit Student Activity Reports in late Spring.

Note: Department evaluates all graduate students on Green Thursday.

Note: If a student is going on summer internship, there might be other requirements to be met in this semester. For example, international students must have a Plan of Study on file before going on internship.

  • 2 3-credit graded courses
Note: File a Plan of Study
  • 2 3-credit courses

  • A 3-credit graded course
  • CS5974 Independent Study

Note: Apply for Graduation

Note: Schedule Final Exam

Note: Graduate!