Computer Science and Engineering M.S.


The Computer Science and Engineering Department offers a master of science (M.S.) degree program. An M.S. student can graduate by pursuing either a thesis capstone (Plan I) or a comprehensive capstone (Plan II) curriculum. The normative time for graduation with the thesis capstone curriculum is two years for a full-time student. This option is appropriate for students interested in advanced studies and in carrying out independent research, as well as for those students contemplating pursuit of a Ph.D. degree. The normative time for graduation with the comprehensive capstone curriculum is one year for a full-time student. This option is appropriate for students interested in advanced studies to better prepare themselves in the information technology workforce. Students in the M.S. programs are not guaranteed any form of financial support from the department. It is the student’s responsibility to ensure that they have sufficient funds for completing the M.S. degree program. Most M.S. students manage their finances by working as interns at companies in the Bay Area during the summer months.


Course Requirements

Each student is required to take 43 credits as follows:

  1. A core requirement must be met by taking CSE 200: Research and Teaching in Computer Science and Engineering and any two out of the following three courses: CSE 201: Analysis of Algorithms; CSE 210A: Programming Languages; and CSE 220: Computer Architecture. In addition, students must take 5 credits of CSE 299, Thesis Research.
  2. One course each from three different breadth categories for a total of three courses (15 credits)—see the Breadth Requirements webpage.
  3. Students in the Thesis capstone curriculum can use 5 credits of CSE 297, Independent Study or Research, toward the 43 credits requirement.
  4. All remaining courses must be regular, 5-credit graduate courses (not seminars). Courses that do not count toward the 43 credits requirement include all courses numbered CSE 296, and all courses in the CSE 280, CSE 297, and CSE 299 series.
  5. At most 10 credits can be from courses taught by departments other than CSE.
  6. Upper-division undergraduate UCSC CSE courses may be taken to strengthen a student's preparation for graduate studies. At most, 5 credits of UCSC upper-division undergraduate CSEe courses may be counted toward the 43 credits requirement.
  7. With the exception of CSE 200, CSE 296, and all courses in the CSE 280, CSE 297, and CSE 299 series, all graduate courses and upper-division courses must be taken for letter grade. Only courses with a letter grade of B- or higher can be counted toward the M.S. degree requirements.
  8. Undergraduates who are in their senior year at UCSC and are taking CSE upper-division courses or CSE graduate courses that are beyond their undergraduate degree requirements can count those courses as part of their M.S. degree should they apply to the CSE M.S. program.

Courses from other institutions may be substituted for equivalent courses at UCSC (with the approval of the Graduate Director) but may not count toward the 43-credit requirement. For example, a student may substitute an equivalent course for CSE 201 to satisfy the core requirement but may not count that course toward the 43-credit requirement. As another example, a student may substitute an equivalent graduate course for CSE 260 and count that for the breadth requirement, but may not count that course toward the 43-credit requirement.

Each student must complete CSE 200 in their first year.

Other Requirements

Students in the comprehensive capstone curriculum must complete an M.S. project, while students in the thesis capstone curriculum must complete an M.S. thesis.

Thesis Capstone Curriculum

A student opting for the thesis capstone curriculum submits a written proposal to a faculty member, usually by the third academic quarter. By accepting the proposal, the faculty member becomes the thesis adviser. In consultation with the adviser, the student forms a master's thesis reading committee with at least two additional faculty members, each of whom is provided a copy of the proposal. The student presents an expository talk on the thesis research, and the final thesis must be accepted by the reading committee before the M.S. degree is awarded.

Comprehensive Capstone Curriculum

The M.S. project is an individual or a team-based project supervised by a faculty adviser and approved by a reading committee composed of the faculty adviser and a ladder rank faculty member from the Baskin School of Engineering, teaching professor, or lecturer. In situations when a lecturer is on the reading committee, an extra senate faculty member must be added so that senate faculty forms a majority of the reading committee.

A team is made up of up to five members. Projects can either be proposed by the team or the team may bid on projects proposed by faculty members. It is also possible to have industry- or government-sponsored projects, in which case, the industry/government supervisor can be invited to be an optional third member on the reading committee. In situations where multiple teams are bidding on a project, the project sponsor decides on which team will work on the project.

Project lifetimes are on the order of one to two quarters. Over the course of the project, teams may be required to meet milestones, e.g., design and specification, implementation plan, checkpoints, etc., at a schedule arranged by the faculty adviser. For effective team management, member participation, and evaluation, strategies such as 360-degree reviews may be employed.

The final project must be accepted by the reading committee before the M.S. degree is conferred.


M.S. students are offered the option to receive a concentration. Concentrations denote areas of specialized curriculum, training, and research within a given department or degree-granting program. The concentration is an informal annotation; no notation of it appears on the student’s transcript or diploma. However the student will have the right to note the concentration in their curriculum vitae using the words “a degree in XXX with a concentration in YYY.” The department may refer to the student's degree with the concentration noted, and writers of letters of reference may note the concentration when referring to the student's degree.

There are four possible concentrations available to CSE M.S. students:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Hardware Systems
  • Software Systems
  • Theory

In order to receive a concentration annotation, a M.S. student must satisfy three requirements:

  1. Take two courses in the list of concentration-specific required courses.
  2. Take one course in the list of concentration-specific elective courses.
  3. Choose a faculty member in the concentration-specific list of affiliate faculty as project/thesis adviser.

The required and elective courses and the affiliated faculty for each concentration are available here.

Students normally request to receive a concentration annotation at the time they request to be assigned an adviser.

Transfer Credit

Up to three School of Engineering courses fulfilling the degree requirements of the M.S. degree may be taken before beginning the graduate program through the concurrent enrollment program.

Courses from other institutions may not be applied to the M.S. degree course requirements. They may be used to meet core requirements. For example, an equivalent computer architecture class taken elsewhere may be used in lieu of CSE 220. However, the student will need to replace it with 5 credits of another graduate elective course.

Petitions should be submitted along with the transcript from the other institution or UCSC extension. For courses taken at other institutions, copies of the syllabi, exams, and other coursework should accompany the petition. Such petitions are not considered until the completion of at least one quarter at UC Santa Cruz.

At most, a total of three courses may be transferred from concurrent enrollment and other institutions.

Academic Progress

Each year, the faculty reviews the progress of every student. Students not making adequate progress toward completion of degree requirements (see the Graduate Student Handbook for policy on satisfactory academic progress) are subject to dismissal from the program. Students with academic deficiencies may be required to take additional courses. Full-time students with no academic deficiencies are normally expected to complete the degree requirements at the rate of at least two courses per quarter. Full-time CSE students must complete CSE 201, CSE 220,* and CSE 210A within two years and normally must complete all course requirements within two years for the M.S.

Students receiving two or more unsatisfactory grades (U or letter grade below B-) in the School of Engineering (SoE) courses are not making adequate progress and will be recommended for academic probation for the following three quarters of registered enrollment. Withdrawing or taking a leave of absence does not count as enrollment. Part-time enrollment is counted as a half quarter of enrollment.

Should any CSE graduate student fail a School of Engineering course while on probation, the CSE Department may request the graduate dean to dismiss that student from the graduate program. If after being removed from probation, the student again fails a School of Engineering course, they will return immediately to academic probation.

Graduate students experiencing circumstances or difficulties that impact their academic performance should contact their faculty adviser and the graduate director immediately. Students may appeal their dismissal.

*Revised 09/27/19. Was previously incorrectly listed as CSE 226.