Graduate Policy Manual: Information for Enrolled Students


1. Introduction

This document is tailored for graduate students in the Computer Science Department, providing essential details on degree requirements and other important aspects of graduate study. Graduate education in the department is managed by the Associate Chair, who is also the Graduate Program Director, along with the Assistant Director and Graduate Coordinator, collectively referred to as the “Graduate Office.” 

For information regarding campus-wide graduate study requirements, policies, and deadlines, please refer to the resources provided by the UMCP Graduate School and in the Graduate Catalog. Specific information about registration and coursework requirements for our programs can be found here.

2. Ph.D. Degree Requirements

2.1 Ph.D. Advising

In the Ph.D. program, every student is either assigned a faculty advisor or has mutually agreed upon an advisory relationship with a faculty member upon entering the program. The initial advisor assignment is typically based on the student's stated research interests at the time of admission. However, it's recognized that research interests may evolve, or changes in faculty capacity or interests may occur, necessitating a change in advisors. Generally, the faculty member with whom you are actively conducting your Ph.D. research should serve as your advisor. You should ideally identify your advisor by the end of your first year, but no later than the end of your second year. 

You are expected to meet with your initially assigned advisor at least once during the first semester. Following this initial meeting, you should plan for more frequent consultations to discuss your academic and research progress. 

In cases where you accept a research assistantship with a professor who is not your current advisor, that professor may become your new advisor. It's important to officially notify the Computer Science Graduate Office whenever there is a change in your advisor.

Before the commencement of any advising relationship, both you and the supervising faculty member are expected to meet to review and confirm the expectations for this relationship. This includes a summary of the nature of the required duties. To facilitate these discussions, a Statement of Mutual Expectations template can be found on the Graduate School's Forms webpage.

2.2 Grad Review

Every April, the Grad Review Committee reviews the progress of graduate students in the program. The findings from this review are then discussed in a faculty meeting. 

Key Focus Areas:

  1. Coursework Performance: Students must maintain a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 for all courses taken at the University. Low grades are closely monitored.
  2. Qualifying Coursework Completion: Completion of qualifying coursework is expected by the end of the fifth semester. Concerns arise for students who have not met this requirement within this timeframe.
  3. Advancement to Candidacy: Advancement to candidacy is generally expected by the third or fourth year, with the latest acceptable timeline being the end of the fourth year. Any delays in achieving this milestone necessitate a departmental petition (refer to section 2.4). Failing to advance to candidacy by the fifth year requires a petition to the graduate school and is considered a significant concern.
  4. Dissertation Defense Timeline: Defense of the dissertation is expected within two years of advancing to candidacy. A delay beyond the third year is a red flag.The Graduate School requires 12 credits of 899 doctoral dissertation research credits. In most cases, this requirement is satisfied by two semesters (fall/spring) of post-candidacy registration, in which the candidate is automatically registered for six credits of Doctoral Dissertation Research (899) per semester.
  5. Petitions for Extensions: Petitions for extended time to advance to candidacy or for delayed dissertation defense must be strongly supported by the advisor. The student must provide a detailed explanation for the delay.

Students identified as not making satisfactory progress will receive direct communication from their advisor and the Graduate Office.

Students who encounter specific challenges or delays have the option to request an extension from the Graduate School. These requests should include a detailed timeline and plan of action. Support from the student’s advisor is needed before submitting your form to the Graduate Office via the submission form.

2.3 Pre-candidacy Requirements

The Computer Science graduate program is structured as a two-stage program, with an expected total duration of five to six years which is a smaller duration than the time limitations set by the Graduate School's policies. In the initial "pre-candidacy" stage, students develop foundational knowledge in Computer Science ("breadth") and specialized knowledge in their research subarea ("depth"), under the mentorship of a graduate faculty advisor.

Minimum Requirements for Advancement to Candidacy

To advance to candidacy in the Computer Science graduate program, students must meet the following requirements:

  1. Complete at least six MS/Ph.D. Qualifying Courses at the 600–800 level
  2. Achieve a minimum of four A's (includes A- and A+) and two B's (includes B-) or above in Qualifying Courses to demonstrate mastery
  3. Ensure that the Qualifying Courses cover at least four different areas. Courses that are eligible for two areas will have only one count towards degree requirements. Whichever area the student has not yet taken as part of a breadth requirement will be used by default.

In addition, students must:

  1. Enroll in the Ph.D. seminar course “How to Conduct Great Research” (CMSC800) 
  2. Complete two additional “Elective” graduate courses (600-800 level), which can be outside the department and do not necessarily need to be qualifying courses, but must be completed with a grade of B- or higher

Qualifying Course Designation is provided by the graduate office. For a course to be considered as qualifying, its grading must be primarily based (at least 75%) on a combination of homework, programming assignments, research projects, and exams. Among these, written exams must constitute at least 30% of the overall grade. 

* Professional master's courses do not count towards the qualifying or elective course requirements for a Ph.D. degree.

Students with previous graduate-level preparation can waive up to three courses. However, the mastery requirement of achieving 4 A’s in qualifying courses cannot be waived.

For detailed information on coursework requirements, waivers, and a list of available courses, students should refer to the program's webpage

2.4 Preliminary Examination and Advancing to Candidacy

The Ph.D. Preliminary Examination, required after completing coursework and before the end of the fourth year of your admission to the program, assesses your readiness for dissertation research. You and your advisor decide when you are ready to take this step. It's expected that there will be at least a one-year gap between your proposal defense and the final dissertation defense. 

The proposal defense is an oral examination to review your preparation to conduct your proposed dissertation research and your plan of research. These are described in a proposal document. Your mastery over both fundamental concepts and the research literature in three areas related to your research are also examined. This is done via a “reading list” with about 10 publications (fundamental texts or research papers) in each of these areas. The reading list must be formatted according to the bibliographic standards in your field.

The goal of the examination is for the committee to discover whether or not you understand the subject matter sufficiently well to carry out the proposed research. The proposal document must be deemed satisfactory by your advisor before release to the rest of the committee. At a minimum, it should describe your proposed research, survey relevant literature, and propose a timeline for your research. The examination covers both the proposal document and the reading list.

Composition of the Preliminary Examination Committee

The preliminary examination committee must include a minimum of two faculty members whose primary appointment is within the Computer Science department.

  1. Your dissertation advisor, serving as the committee chair
  2. A departmental representative from outside your research area and may be suggested by your advisor. This representative must be a tenure-track faculty member in Computer Science, within a different field committee than the committee chair (Refer to Field Committee membership details here)
  3. At least one additional graduate faculty member, chosen by you and your advisor. This person could be outside the department or could be a co-advisor.

Inclusion of External Committee Members

For inclusion of external committee members (those not affiliated with UMD or not part of the graduate faculty), submit a request at least three weeks prior to the exam date (a week before the due date for the oral exam scheduling form). Your request must include a concise justification, a list of existing committee members, and a CV of the proposed external committee member. To submit this request, please complete this Google form.

Candidacy Advancement Documents

At least two weeks before the day you intend to take the exam, submit the oral exam scheduling form and share your proposal and reading list with each examination committee member. After this, a draft announcement will be prepared and sent to you and your advisor for review before it is circulated to the department. Once your proposal is received, our office will send the Action of Ph.D. Preliminary Examination Committee to your committee members. Note that your preliminary exam cannot be conducted without a submitted written proposal.

Written Proposal Document and Reading List Requirements

Your dissertation proposal document must describe your proposed dissertation research and outline the steps necessary for its completion. The proposal, which requires your advisor’s approval, should include:

  • A description of the work completed so far
  • A plan for your proposed research
  • A survey of relevant literature 
  • A proposed timeline for completing your research, along with a discussion of potential risks or assumptions
  • Reading lists that encompass basic and applied knowledge in three areas related to the proposal, with approximately 10 references each
  • Ensure all references in your proposal adhere to the formatting and style guidelines outlined in the University of Maryland Thesis and Dissertation Style Guide
  • While not mandatory, it is highly recommended that your proposal follows the Dissertation style guide. Templates are available here

Conduct of the Preliminary Examination

At least one week before the exam, the department distributes a notice of the examination, inviting all members of the department to attend as non-voting participants. The examination committee chair may invite additional non-voting participants. Unless otherwise specified in this section or exempted with approval from the Graduate Office, the protocol for attending the examination and provisions for remote participation adhere to the Graduate School's policy.

Examination Structure

The oral examination typically spans two hours and encompasses the following segments:

  1. Your presentation of the dissertation proposal (about 30-45 minutes)
  2. Questions and discussion of the proposal in an open forum
  3. Questions and discussion of the proposal in a closed setting with the committee
  4. An examination based on the reading list

During this examination, you will be expected to demonstrate a level of competence that is necessary to complete the research plan.

Subsequent to the examination, candidates will be asked to step out while the committee deliberates. The committee's determination may be a pass, fail, or a deferred decision. Your committee chair reports the outcome to the department via Adobe Sign. Should the committee defer its decision, the dissertation advisor will detail the intended measures to resolve the decision to the department. 

The committee member designated as the department representative is responsible for ensuring adherence to these procedural guidelines.

Upon passing the preliminary examination, you may proceed to "advance to candidacy." Please submit the Application for Admission to Candidacy, signed by your advisor, through the CS Graduate Form Submissions. For effective advancement from the first day of the following month, submit this form to the Graduate Office before the 24th of the current month. Following the approval from the Registrar's office, you will also be promoted to Stipend Level III.


If you are unable to propose before the end of the 4th year, please request an extension through the CS Graduate Form Submissions, providing justifications for the extension. This request must include a letter from your advisor supporting the extension and describing the circumstances that have prevented you from proposing. Additionally, the extension request must outline a plan for when you plan to propose and complete your research. 

2.5 Candidacy and Dissertation Defense

Conducting Research as a Candidate

Upon passing the Ph.D. Preliminary Exam and advancing to candidacy, candidates will be registered by the Graduate School for CMSC 899: Doctoral Dissertation Research for six credits each fall and spring semester until the degree is awarded. Waivers of Registration may be granted only under the University's policy for Leave of Absence for Graduate Students for Childbearing, Adoption, Illness, or Dependent Care (see Graduate School’s Registration Policies).

Candidates are expected to contribute original research to the field of computer science, articulating their findings in a dissertation. Guidance on dissertation structure is provided by the advisor, adhering to the format prescribed by the UMCP Graduate School.

*Tuition for CMSC899 is a flat rate of $1,350.00 (in-state) or $2,626.00 (out-of-state) for 6 credits. But if any 898 or below graduate level courses are taken simultaneously, those credits will be charged at the standard Graduate level Tuition and Fees scale ($828.00 per credit for residents and $1,805.00 for non-residents). For detailed information, refer to this link.

Composition of the Dissertation Committee

The dissertation committee must consist of a minimum of five members, including your advisor. All members must hold appointments as regular, adjunct, or special members of the UMCP Graduate Faculty. Essential composition requirements are:

  • A minimum of three Full Members from the Graduate Faculty
  • A minimum of two Full Members from the CS faculty (excluding affiliates)
  • One Dean's Representative who is a tenured member of the Graduate Faculty must have a tenure home different from the student’s program and that of the chair and any co-chair(s).

Note: Regardless of the affiliation of the dissertation committee's chair, the Dean's Representative cannot be from the CS department. All Regular professors (tenure-track and above) in the Computer Science Department are Full Members of the Graduate Faculty. Despite previous non-adherence to the policy, current graduate school policy requires that the Dean’s representative not be an affiliate member of the CMSC faculty (Graduate Faculty Categories can be found here).

Scholars from other institutions or those appointed as research faculty on this campus may be requested as committee members. Your request must include a concise justification, a list of existing committee members, and a CV of the proposed external committee member. To submit this request, please complete this Google form. Requests should be submitted at least six weeks in advance of the exam. For further information about nominating faculty for dissertation committees and due dates for the nomination form, see the Graduate Faculty Policy.

Approval of the Dissertation Committee

For the formation of the dissertation committee, submit a signed Nomination of Dissertation Committee form to the Graduate Office by the deadline stated for that semester. This action is generally required by the third week of the semester of anticipated degree completion. Any subsequent changes in the committee composition necessitate filing a revised nomination form. Once approved, committee appointments remain valid even if the approval occurs in a different semester from the defense.

Dissertation Defense Protocol

Scheduling the Defense

After your dissertation has been finalized to the satisfaction of your advisor, you are to arrange your dissertation defense. This entails submitting an oral examination scheduling form to the Computer Science Graduate Office at least two weeks prior to your intended defense date. Additionally, distribute a copy of your dissertation to every member of your dissertation committee with at least two weeks advance notice. Upon finalizing the defense details, send a Google Calendar invitation to both your committee members and the Graduate Coordinator.


The department will issue an announcement of the defense one week before the examination, extending an invitation to all graduate faculty members to attend as non-voting participants. The chair of the examination committee may invite additional non-voting attendees.

Conducting the Defense

The defense is an oral examination capped at two hours. It commences with a presentation of your dissertation research, typically not exceeding 45 minutes, followed by a question-and-answer session led by your committee. After your presentation, only committee members and graduate faculty may remain for the subsequent proceedings. Upon completion of the defense, the committee will deliberate in private to reach a decision on the acceptability of your defense.

* Policies regarding remote participation align with the Graduate School's standard procedures, which you can review here.

Post-Defense Requirements

To fulfill your degree requirements, you must:

  • Pass the oral defense
  • Implement all modifications to the dissertation as required by your committee
  • Submit the revised dissertation electronically to the Graduate School.

Be mindful that the Graduate Office will provide you with a reminder and the necessary deadline for the electronic submission of your dissertation. For detailed information regarding the dissertation defense process, refer to the UMCP Graduate Catalog.

2.6 Graduation Requirements for Ph.D. Students

Ph.D. candidates intending to graduate should follow this checklist for Ph.D. Students to ensure all steps and requirements are met.

Pre-Graduation Steps

During the semester you plan to graduate, ensure to complete and submit the following by the Graduate School's specified deadlines:

Post-Defense Documentation

After successfully defending your dissertation, promptly attend to the following:

  • Report of Examining Committee: This is to be completed through AdobeSign.
    • All members of the committee (except the Chair of the committee) will be sent a notification 3 business days prior to the defense date indicated on the Nomination form.
    • The Chair will receive the REC form after all the members of the committee have signed off on the form.
  • Dissertation Filing: Submit your dissertation to the Graduate School, adhering to the guidelines provided here

Dissertation Embargo Option

If you wish to place an embargo on the publication of your dissertation:

  • Thesis and Dissertation Embargo Request: If desired, students have the option to place an embargo of up to two years on electronic access to their document via ProQuest's Digital Dissertations and DRUM without the need for approval from the Graduate School. You may submit a Dissertation Embargo Request via CS Graduate Form Submissions if you’d like to place an embargo that’s more than 2 years

Note that all forms are subject to strict deadlines. To avoid any delays in your graduation process, submit all documentation as per the schedules provided by the Graduate School.

Post-Dissertation Submission 

Upon the completion of your dissertation submission, ensure to follow these critical steps:

  1. Surveys: Complete the Graduate School Surveys as well as the departmental survey
  2. CMNS Commencement Registration: Make sure to register for the CMNS Commencement (Mid-Semester, Fall & Spring). For more information on commencement, refer to the CMNS website

3. Travel Grants for PhD Students

The Computer Science Department offers travel grants for Ph.D. students with expenses related to attending conferences at which their papers have been accepted. The allocation of these grants is competitive, and the Graduate Director is responsible for making the award decisions. Students may apply anytime by submitting their applications to the Graduate Office.

The grant amounts are capped at $500 for domestic and $1000 for international travel. The conference attended should be reputable, and the student's request should be supported by their advisor. Please note that during their time in the degree program, students may only receive up to $1000 in grant funding, and this is contingent on the availability of departmental funds.

To submit your application, please fill out this form, detailing your request, and upload a combined PDF. This PDF should include a copy of your accepted paper and a statement of support from your faculty advisor (this can be in the form of an email).

Additionally, students are also encouraged to apply for funds for conference registration fees and matching travel funds through the Graduate School’s travel grants.

To process applications for these Graduate School grants, the required forms must be signed by the CS Business Office. Forms for these grants should be forwarded to reimbursements [-at-] cs [dot] umd [dot] edu for review and signature by the CS Business Office.

4. Internships

Graduate students may undertake paid internships during the summer months. International students should check with International Education Services (IES) for the procedures to be followed.

5. M.S. Degree Requirements

The department offers both thesis and non-thesis options for the Master of Science degree in computer science. The following requirements apply to both options:

  1. Graduate credits: A minimum of 30 credit hours of approved coursework is required, maintaining a B average. 
    1. These courses must be at the 400 level or higher, with at least 18 credit hours at the 600-800 level. CMSC641, CMSC642, CMSC643, and CMSC644 count towards the 30-credit-hours requirement but not toward the 18-credit-hours requirement at the 600-800 level (the registration for these courses is handled by OES).
    2. A minimum of 21 credit hours must be in computer science courses.
    3. For non-thesis MS students, up to six credits of CMSC 798 (excluding 798E or 798F) may be counted towards the 30-credit total.
    4. Courses from other departments must be approved by your advisor; you must submit your request to the Graduate Office prior to the start of the semester in which the course is to be done.
  2. Qualifying coursework: You are required to complete at least four MS qualifying computer science courses at the 600-800 level, covering four out of the eight areas. This includes completing at least two courses with an A or A+, and two courses with a B or above (excluding B-; A- grades count towards the B requirement). Courses that are eligible towards two areas will have only one count towards degree requirements. Whichever area the student has not yet taken as part of a breadth requirement will be used by default.
  3. Registration Requirement: You must be registered for at least one credit in the semester in which you expect to receive your degree.
  4. Transferring graduate credits: Up to six credit hours may be transferred from another university or a different program at the University of Maryland, College Park, excluding exceptions as noted below and for those admitted via the Combined BS/MS program. To facilitate this transfer, fill out this form, ensure it is signed by your advisor, and then submit it through the CS Graduate Form Submissions.
  5. Transferring graduate credits from the Graduate Certificate in Data Science and Professional Masters programs: Up to 12 credit hours from the Graduate Certificate in Data Science may be internally transferred. However, these credits (CMSC641-644) do not count towards the required 18 credits at the 600-800 level or as MS qualifying courses. Courses from the DATA and MSML programs are not countable towards the MS, and ENPM courses may only count as electives with advisor approval.
  6. Time limit: All degree requirements must be completed within five years from the date of admission to the program. Further details can be found here.The department offers both thesis and non-thesis options for the Master of Science degree in computer science. The following requirements apply to both options. 

5.1 M.S. Advising

In the MS program, while a formal advisor is not necessary for choosing your coursework, you may find it beneficial to seek a research advisor as you clarify your research interests. If you engage in a research project and enroll for CMSC 798 research credits with a professor, they can then serve as your advisor. Additionally, you have the option to work on a thesis with your advisor or pursue the non-thesis track.

For guidance throughout the MS program, MS students are encouraged to utilize the following resources:

  • Coursework
  • Job and Internship
  • Research and Potential Continuation to Ph.D.
    • Consult with current Ph.D. students to gain insights
    • Communicate with course instructors and your paper/thesis advisor (once identified) for specific guidance on research opportunities

5.2 Continuation to Ph.D. Program

Application Process:

  • MS students interested in pursuing a Ph.D. are required to apply through the standard online application process for the term immediately following their MS completion
  • For current MS students, the application fee will be waived
  • While the majority of Ph.D. admissions occur in the Fall, MS students may seek Spring admission, subject to the RA support of a research advisor

Coursework and Recommendations:

  • When planning their MS program, students should opt for courses that can be credited towards the Ph.D., excluding 400-level courses (refer to section 2.3 on Ph.D. Pre-Candidacy Requirements for details)
  • A key component of the Ph.D. application is the inclusion of three recommendation letters from UMD faculty, attesting to the applicant's research capabilities
  • Engaging in research activities under the guidance of faculty members and enhancing their research portfolio is highly advised for prospective Ph.D. candidates

5.3 M.S. Degree with Thesis

Thesis Requirements and Coursework

To earn an M.S. degree with a thesis, you must complete six hours of CMSC 799 (Master's Thesis Research) and write a thesis demonstrating independent accomplishment in a research, development, or application area of computer science. The thesis must conform to the format stipulated by the UMCP Graduate School.

Thesis Committee Formation and Defense

Upon receiving your advisor's approval for your thesis, you should proceed with setting up your thesis committee. This committee must include at least three faculty members, with a minimum of two being regular members of the Computer Science faculty.

To formalize this committee, follow these steps:

  • Thesis Committee Nomination Form: Complete this form and submit it to the Computer Science Graduate Office via CS Graduate Form Submissions
  • Scheduling Your Thesis Defense: At least two weeks prior to your intended defense date, submit the Oral Exam Scheduling Form and provide a copy of your thesis to each committee member, along with a Google Calendar invitation to both committee members and the Graduate Coordinator.

Graduation Application and Checklist

At the beginning of the semester in which you intend to graduate,  you should apply for graduation via Testudo by the early semester deadline and follow the M.S. Students Checklist to ensure all steps and requirements are met.

For the successful completion of your degree, the following forms must be submitted to the Computer Science Graduate Office via CS Graduate Form Submissions, adhering to their respective semester deadlines:

After successfully defending your thesis, complete the following steps:

  • Report of Examining Committee (via AdobeSign): This should be completed via AdobeSign. It's important to regularly check in with your committee members to monitor the status of your approval

If you do not complete your degree in the semester in which you filed all of the required forms, they will remain on-file in the Graduate School. You will not be required to resubmit them if you graduate in a later semester.

5.4 M.S. Degree without Thesis

To fulfill your Master’s degree requirements, you must complete a scholarly paper that is satisfactory to a professor in the Computer Science department, who may be tenure-track or an affiliate and does not necessarily be your advisor. Your paper must include both an abstract and references to the relevant literature. Upon obtaining approval using the approval form, you should submit an electronic version of your scholarly paper to the Computer Science Graduate Office through the CS Graduate Form Submissions. Ensure you adhere to the deadlines outlined in the Steps to Graduation - Checklist for M.S. Students. Note that your paper, along with your name, will be listed on the Scholarly Paper Archive webpage.

Overview and Purpose

The purpose of the Scholarly Paper is to demonstrate a student’s research abilities, mirroring the standards of a conference or journal paper in their respective field. The paper could be based on:

  • An ongoing research project by the student
  • A paper submitted by the student to a conference (co-authorship is permitted)
  • A class project undertaken by the student
  • A comprehensive research survey within the area of research

It's recommended that students discuss with the faculty member who will sign off their paper well in advance, ideally a semester prior to their expected graduation date, to gain clarity about the expectations and standards pertinent to their field. Considering the diversity in content standards across different conferences and journals, the faculty member retains the right to determine the content suitability of the Scholarly Paper.