M.S. Requirements FAQ

Program Requirements


I am an incoming MS student registering for my first semester. What should I do to start planning my program?

Here is our recommended game plan:

  1. Review the general MS program description & requirements at http://www.cs.columbia.edu/education/ms.
  2. Choose your MS Track on MICE.
  3. Plan your required and elective courses for your chosen track. Discuss your plan with your track advisor, , or .
  4. Identify any previously-taken courses you can import to substitute for required courses
  5. Validate your course scheduling with CS-listed course offerings and the Registrar's Directory of Classes.
  6. Keep track of your progress through Student Services Online (SSOL), your MICE account, and your degree progress checklist.

What are the overall requirements of the program?
You must complete a total of 30 or more graduate credit points at Columbia while maintaining a minimum grade point average of 2.7. You have a maximum of 5 years from your first registration to complete the program.

What are my program options?
You should select a concentration track in a field of your interest. The department offers the following tracks:

Computational Biology
Computer Security
Foundations of Computer Science
Machine Learning
Natural Language Processing
Network Systems
Software Systems
Vision and Graphics

Each track has its own set of requirements and choice of elective courses. There is also the option of designing a Personalized or MS Thesis Track. If you are interested in the Personalized on MS Thesis Track, please contact  or 

What is a personalized Track?
This track allows you to develop a specialized program not covered in the tracks described above. If interested in this track, please contact  or . You must find an advisor who agrees to supervise your program, and then you develop your own customized MS program with your advisor.

Can I write a thesis?
Yes. If you want to write a thesis, you can select the MS Thesis track. Like the Personalized track, you will need to find a faculty thesis advisor and develop your program with him/her. The thesis track should include the 12-point breadth requirement, 9 points of thesis (E6902), and 9 points of other graduate CS courses selected with your advisor. A thesis proposal should be presented to your thesis committee at least three months before your defense, and a publication-quality thesis document is published as a CS department technical report.

When and how do I select a Track?
Please select your track in MICE. You are required to select a track as soon as your MICE account is created. If you want to change your track later, you can do so up until the beginning of your second semester. If you are an international student, please keep in mind that the request to change your track after the beginning of the second semester may not be granted. This rule applies to all tracks including personalized and thesis tracks.

Who is my Track Advisor?
Each track has one or two track advisors. You will be assigned an advisor after you choose a track on MICE. 

How many non-CS/non-tech courses can I take as part of the program?
Up to 3 points of advisor-approved CU graduate courses can be included. Please complete the MS elective approval form to request advisor approval and submit to .

How many project and research credits (E6901 or E6902) can I include in my 30 required credits?
All MS students can take a maximum of 12 project/research points, 9 of which can be thesis points if you are in the MS Thesis track.

There is another research course, COMS E9910, for appointed MSGRAs and MSTAs. This course can ONLY be used to bring appointed MS students up to full-time status (12 points) and CANNOT be applied to the 30 points required for the MS degree nor applied to any track, including thesis or personalized track. Appointed MS students can take up to 6 points of COMS E9910 per semester. Students who registered for E9910 during the Spring 2007 semester or earlier may, however, receive credit towards the degree with the advisor's approval.




I am a US citizen. Can I be a part-time student?
If you are a US citizen or a permanent resident of the US, it is possible to obtain all or a substantial part of the credit requirement for the master’s degree through part-time study. You must register for at least 3 points each semester.

How can I find out which courses are offered this Fall and Spring semesters?
The Registrar’s Directory of Classes lists the most updated course information.

I want to drop a course after the Change of Program period. Is that possible?
A US citizen or a permanent resident can drop a course until the drop deadline (late November for Fall and late March for Spring). Please keep in mind that even though it is still possible to drop a course, you will not get a refund for the course you are dropping after the Change of Program Period. If you want to avoid financial penalty for dropping a course, please finalize your schedule during the regular registration period or the Change of Program Period.

This rule also applies to MSGRAs who are funded by the department. If you decide to drop a course after the Change of Program period, you are personally responsible for the tuition of the course that you are dropping. If you have any questions, please contact Student Financial Services (Kent Hall) or .

If you are an international student, you may not be able to drop a course due to the full-time registration requirement. Please consult .

Should I register for COMS W4901 or COMS E6901? They are both graduate project courses, so I am not sure for which one I should register.
All MS students should register for COMS E6901. If you have been chosen to work on a project, please email and cc your project supervisor. She will give you the information you need for registration. 

Can I take on-campus courses in the summer?
The 'official' line for the MS program is that no summer courses are guaranteed to be offered, but some are occasionally. If the course that you want to take is offered, you are allowed to register for it. Please visit the Summer Sessions website for more information.


Credit Transfer


Can I transfer graduate credits for courses taken at another university?
No, but you can waive required courses, if you have taken similar courses at another institution. In order for the waiver to be approved, the previous course must be equivalent to what we offer here at Columbia, and the grade that you received must be B or higher. Waiver requests are submitted through MICE. Forms are electronically transferred to the relevant course instructors for approval, and you will be notified by email of their decisions. If approved, you still have to complete a minimum of 30 credit hours to receive your degree, but you can take other CS courses in place of the waived requirements. Note that class imports must be completed during your first semester only. You can find the waiver instructions here.

Can I transfer graduate credits for courses taken at Columbia?
Yes. Fill out an Advanced Standing Form and submit it to Remi Moss or Kathryn Angeles in 450 Mudd. Advanced Standing towards the MS degree must be from 4000-level courses or above, taken at Columbia University only, and cannot have been counted towards a previous degree. No more than 15 points of Advanced Standing is awarded.

I've taken some core courses here at Columbia, but I had to use them for my undergraduate degree. What should I do?
If you used these courses toward your undergraduate degree, you cannot transfer credits. For more information, please contact CS Student Services.

How many CVN courses can I take as an on-campus MS student?
You must be a CVN student to access the online lectures. Please contact CVN for more information.



For information about the Fieldwork course for the Master's of Science program, please visit the Fieldwork page.


Leave of Absence:


I need to take a temporary leave from the program, can I do this?
If you have completed at least one full semester in the program, are in good academic standing with a GPA of 2.7 or higher, and will not be away from the program for more than a total of 12 months, then you are eligible to apply for a Leave of Absence. Fill out a Leave of Absence request form and submit it to . This will be reviewed by both the department and the SEAS Office of Graduate Student Services. If you fail to return from your absence, you will be withdrawn from the program.

I have just enrolled as a Masters student this semester. Can I take a Leave of Absence immediately?
No, you can only take a Leave of Absence if you have been in the program for one full semester. If you have to leave before this time, you will need to officially withdraw from the program and reapply for admission. Your online application and official documents are held for at least 12 months from your original submission date and can be reactivated within this time.

I have been out of the M.S. program without an approved Leave of Absence, can I rejoin the program?
You can apply for readmission using the Readmission to Graduate Program application form available from and returnable to CS Student Services. Authorization for readmission is at the discretion of the CS department.




What do I need to do in order to graduate?
You need to complete the following steps:

  1. Complete the Application for Degree and email it to the Registrar's office at . Deadline dates for filing the application are listed here.

  2. Fill out a degree progress checklist and return it to 

When do I need to complete graduation paperwork by?
Deadline dates for filing the application are listed here.

What is the process of graduation clearance?
Once your paperwork has been filed, your Application for Degree is processed by the Registrar. Your official transcript gets forwarded to the CS department and is reviewed. You will be notified whether you are cleared for graduation at the department level or not following this review. Your record is then forwarded to SEAS and Columbia for further review. Be warned that although you may satisfy the department MS requirements, you may still be blocked for graduation by any outstanding holds or requirements not yet met at the university level.

It is the beginning of a new semester and I have fulfilled all of the requirements for my MS degree last semester, but I have yet to apply for graduation. Do I need to register as a student to do this?
You do not need to register, but you do need to fill out the Application for Degree and file it with the Registrar as soon as possible. Also, please complete the other steps outlined above.

I am applying for the post-completion Optional Practical Training as part of my F1 VISA. How do I get my OPT approval form signed?
Please see .

If you have any additional questions, please email  or 


Last updated May 29, 2015.