Graduate Admissions FAQ

Updated August 2023

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Please also see the Graduate Division's Frequently Asked Questions. If you are an international applicant, please view information that can be found on the International Center web site.

Questions Before Applying to the CSE Graduate Program






Transfer questions and options for non-matriculated students:



Questions Before Applying to the CSE Graduate Program

General Application Questions:

How do I apply?

For directions on how to apply, please visit the web page for Graduate Admission Requirements.

When is the graduate application deadline?

The UCSD Application for Graduate Admission opens for Fall 2024 from September 6th, 2023 until December 20th, 2023 at 11:59 p.m. PST

Admission is given for Fall quarter only. We do not admit new students in Spring quarters. All application materials must be submitted through the online application.

Completed applications submitted by the deadline will be reviewed. However, applicants are discouraged from waiting until the last moment to apply as the application review process begins almost immediately after the deadline. Application review continues throughout the admission cycle with our final offers typically going out by the beginning of April.

The application deadline is a hard deadline and exceptions will not be made for late applications. If it is safe to do so in your area, applicants are strongly encouraged to take their required tests (GRE, TOEFL, and/or IELTS) no later than October so that their score reports can be received by the application deadline.

How do I choose whether to apply to the MS or the PhD program?

The answer to this question depends upon your individual career goals. Our PhD program is designed for students interested in research in computer science and computer engineering. The program prepares individuals for a career in academia as a professor at a research university or liberal arts college, or as a researcher in an industry or government research laboratory. The program typically takes 4-6 years to complete.

The MS program is designed for individuals who are interested in further developing their knowledge and skill base in a rigorous academic program in preparation for either a PhD program or a professional position. With the diverse interests and goals of our students in mind, the program offers a flexible curriculum with either a research (thesis) track or a comprehensive exam. Our average MS student completes the program within 2 years.

Can I apply for both the MS and the PhD program?

No, you must choose to apply to one degree program or another within the Computer Science and Engineering department.

What's the difference between a degree in Computer Science vs. Computer Engineering?

The main difference is the wording you'd like printed on your final diploma. Although we allow research specializations in many topics, you will only be presented with a diploma in Computer Science or Computer Engineering. Please select the one you'd like when you are applying. If you need to edit your selection, you will be able to do so after you have been offered admission.

Can I complete my graduate degree part-time?

The Ph.D. program is full-time only.

Many of our MS students complete their degrees part-time, but working on the degree part-time can double or triple the time required to complete it. Students do not petition for half-time attendance (6 units or fewer per quarter) until they have been accepted into the CSE program.

What criteria do you use for acceptance into your programs?

The evaluation process for applications is extremely complex, taking into account all the materials submitted with the application. Grade point average (GPA), GRE scores, TOEFL (for international students), letters of recommendation, and statement of purpose all play a role. First, the UCSD Graduate Admissions Office evaluates each application to determine whether or not their minimum standards for admission have been met. Then the CSE Department does a more thorough evaluation in a committee consisting of several faculty members. Sometimes the committee must draw on the experience of the faculty at-large to make an informed decision.

What are my chances for being admitted?

It is not possible to evaluate an individual's chances of admission without reviewing his or her file within the context of the peer applicant pool. Over the last several years, slightly less than 10% of the applicant pool has been admitted.

My GPA is not on the 4.0 scale, so how will it be evaluated?

Many institutions, particularly those outside of the US educational system, do not grade students on a 4.0 GPA scale. Our faculty is familiar with the higher educational systems of countries all over the world and evaluates an applicant's academic performance within that individual's local context.

When applying, you do not have to convert your grades to a 4.0 scale. Instead, please indicate your overall standing and the grading scale used in the fields provided in the online application.

My bachelor's degree isn't in CS. What kind of background should I have before applying to the program?

To be considered for admission to any of our graduate programs, students usually have a bachelors degree in computer science, computer engineering, or a related discipline like electrical engineering. Occasionally applicants with degrees in fields such as mathematics or physics are considered for admission to the program, especially if they have some computer science background, such as a CS minor. In special circumstances, alternative undergraduate preparation will be considered (e.g., a biology major may be appropriate for a student interested in the application of information and computer science to biological problems, such as bioinformatics).

Below are some general guidelines that can be gleaned from our undergraduate program. Before applying to our program, you should definitely have mastered the equivalent of the following courses:

  • Basic programming: CSE 8A-B or 11; CSE 12 and preferably CSE 30
  • Discrete math: CSE 20 and probably CSE 21
  • Data structures and algorithms: CSE 100 and preferably 101

Background in some or all of the following is also recommended:

  • Hardware and architecture: 140 and 141, preferably with labs
  • Systems and Software: CSE 120, 130, 131A-B
  • Theory: CSE 105

Descriptions of these classes and their prerequisites can be found in CSE Undergraduate Course Descriptions. Normally, these courses could be taken through the UCSD Concurrent Enrollment Program, which permits enrollment in CSE courses to non-matriculated students (with permission of the instructor).


I'm a current/former UCSD student in the MS program who wishes to continue/transfer to the PhD program, how do I apply?

Current or former UCSD students in the MS program who wish to continue/transfer to the PhD program, will complete the UCSD Application for Graduate Admission by the general application deadline for the year they are seeking admission (Admission is only given in the Fall quarters.) The application will be reviewed along with those of the external PhD applicants for that admissions cycle. MS to PhD students must complete their application online, but will not be able to "submit" the application. Once you have completed your online application, please email to notify the team, so we can track your application. When sending an email, please include "MS to PhD Transfer Application Submission", in the subject line. For a complete list of all of the supplemental materials required for the graduate application, please visit our Graduate Application Checklist


Application Status

I have already applied to the program and am waiting to hear back. When will I know if I have been admitted?

Applicants are accepted and rejected on a rolling basis until April. Every applicant will receive notice of acceptance or rejection to our program by the end of this period.

GRE Information

Is the GRE required? Where can I get information about the GRE?

The GRE is not required for PhD and MS applications for Fall 2024. Applicants may still submit valid scores if they have already taken the test. Applicants with valid test scores should request that ETS submit the scores directly to the UCSD institution code 4836; the department codes are not necessary. Information about the GRE is available from the Educational Testing Service (ETS) website.

What is your department's minimum GRE score required for admission?

Our department does not have a minimum GRE score required for admission to our program. Applications are reviewed holistically, so applicants with a low GRE score and high performance in other areas may still receive an offer of admission.

What is the latest date I can take the GRE Exam?

If it is safe to do so in your area, we recommend that applicants take the GRE exam no later than October, as it sometimes takes at least six weeks for us to receive score reports.

International Student questions:

I am an international student and my English skills are not yet up to your institution's minimum standards. May I be admitted into your program on a provisional basis, provided that I complete English courses before taking classes in the graduate program?

Our department does not admit students who fail to meet the University's minimum requirements for competency in English. International students should have already mastered competency in English by the time of application.

Transfer questions and options for non-matriculated students:

Can I take CSE graduate courses without being a matriculated student?

Students who want to take courses for personal enrichment or to prepare for applying to a CSE graduate program can enroll in graduate classes (with permission of the instructor) through the UCSD Concurrent Enrollment Program

Can I apply course credit from UCSD Extension or from another institution toward my degree requirements if I am admitted?

A limited number of units may be transferred if the courses in question are approved by the Graduate Committee. As a general guideline, a limited number (depending on the degree program, please consult with MS or PhD Advisors) can be transferred from an institution in the University of California (UC) system, and up to 2 courses may be transferred from a non-UC institution.

Transferring credits from other Institutions (Non-UC):
On the recommendation of the Department and with approval from the Dean of the Graduate Division, a maximum of 8 quarter units (2 courses) of course work completed with a grade of B- or better while in graduate standing at an institution other than a UC campus may be applied toward a Master's degree at UCSD.

  • Eligible course work may not have been used to fulfill the requirements of any other degree, and must have been completed with a B- or better grade and must have been taken prior to enrollment as a graduate student at UC San Diego.
  • At the time of the petition, student must submit proof that the course work to be transferred was not used to satisfy requirements for any other degree program. Degree checks or a letter from the institution from which the courses are being transferred will be required stating the courses were not used toward another degree.
  • Under no circumstances will transferred work be included in calculating a student's GPA nor will it appear by class on the transcript.

Transferring credits from another UC campus or Extension:
With the approval of the department and Dean of the Graduate Division, a limited number of upper-division and graduate course work completed with a grade of B- or better while in graduate standing at another UC campus may be petitoned to be transferred towards the Master's degree at UCSD. The same rule also applies to courses completed through UCSD Extension's Concurrent Enrollment program.

  • In any case, no more than a total of one-half of the units (20 units)  required for a Master's degree may be petitoned to be transferred in from any UC or other institutions. 
  • Eligible course work may not have been used to fulfill the requirements of any other degree, and must have been completed with a B- or better grade and must have been taken prior to enrollment as a graduate student at UC San Diego. At the time of the petition, student must submit proof that the course work to be transferred was not used to satisfy requirements for any other degree program.
  • Degree checks or a letter from the institution from which the courses are being transferred will be required stating the courses were not used toward another degree. 
  • Course work approved for transfer credit will NOT be included in calculating a student's GPA, regardless of the source.

I am currently enrolled in a graduate program at another institution. How do I transfer to UCSD?

Students who wish to transfer from another graduate program into the CSE department at UCSD follow the same procedures as all other applicants. Please submit an application through the UCSD Application for Graduate Admission. If admitted, your academic advisor will work with you to transfer all eligible coursework.

I have an MS degree in CS. If I get accepted to your PhD program, do I have to take all those classes over again?

If accepted to our program, you can petition to have class requirements waived, although you will still be required to complete the required number of credits and to pass any examinations. In some rare instances we have partially waived exam requirements in lieu of a similar exam completed at a peer institution.

Application fee:

I don't have enough money to pay the application fee. Can you help?

U.S. citizens and permanent residents with demonstrated financial need may request a waiver of the application fee directly from the Division of Graduate Education & Postdoctoral Affairs. Please refer to the Eligibility Guidelines as set by the Division to see if you qualify for a waiver.

The CSE department has a limited number of application fee waivers available for PhD international students. Our department will be granting these waivers to students based on factors that include: contributions to diversity; social justice experience; overcoming adversity. Unfortunately, we are not able to grant application fee waivers on the basis of financial need alone. If you would like to request a CSE department fee waiver, please fill out the Fee Waiver Application. (closed December 1st, 2023 for Fall 2024 admission)

UC San Diego's Division of Graduate Education & Postdoctoral Affairs (GEPA) does NOT waive or defer the required application fees for any international applicants. If a foreign applicant attempts to submit an application without the required fee, it will not be processed or considered until the fee is paid. There is no appeal mechanism. ONLY CSE Department fee waivers can be granted for international students.


Do you provide funding for your graduate students?

All graduate students.  Students are encouraged to apply for extramural fellowships (see our fellowship pages). These fellowships confer their own benefits and prestige, as well as giving their recipients more flexibility in choosing their thesis advisors. Many of our students work in local industry during the academic year (mainly MS students) and the summer months (MS and PhD). San Diego is one of the fastest-growing high technology areas in the country, and has been named the "Wireless Capital of the World," and the "#1 place to do business in America," by Forbes magazine.  Domestic students may apply for financial aidwhich is administered through the University and is considered separately from department funding. Please visit the Financial Aid Office website for more information. Students are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the financial aid application timeline at the time of program application.

Doctoral students.  All incoming doctoral students are offered a first-year support package that includes a monthly stipend plus full fees and out-of-state tuition. The funding source is normally a combination of fellowship and graduate student researcher (GSR) positions. In future years, the majority of students are supported through GSR positions with their thesis adviser or on fellowships. Teaching is an important part of doctoral studies, and students will be appointed in a teaching assistantship (TA) for one quarter to fulfill the doctoral program teaching requirement, and sometimes for additional quarters as a source of support. TA, GSR, and fellowships all come with payment of fees and tuition. Graduate student health insurance premiums are paid as part of fees. 

Masters students.  MS students may apply for teaching assistantships after accepting admission to the program. Teaching assistantships (TA) normally include a monthly salary plus a significant subsidy to offset nearly the full cost of fees; students are responsible for paying the balance of fees plus any out-of-state tuition. International students must pass an English Language Proficiency Exam before being hired as a TA. MS students are encouraged to pursue their research interests and should ask faculty and other researchers about the possibility of a research assistantship, which may pay salary, fees, and tuition.   

Other program questions

Do you offer graduate courses online?

There are two online courses available that have in-person equivalents.  In order to gain UCSD credit for these courses, UCSD students are required to take an exam in person at UCSD ("Credit by Exam"). These exams may be offered in conjunction with the final exam for the in-person offering of the course.

The online equivalent of CSE-282 is called the “Bioinformatics Specialization” on Coursera :

The online equivalent of CSE-170 is called the “Interactive Design Specialization” on Coursera: