10 Steps to a UAF CS Master's Degree

This is an overview of the process for completing an ordinary Master's Degree in Computer Science (CS) at the Computer Science Department at UAF. This page is derived from the UAF Catalog and department policy, which are the definitive, official sources.

  1. Apply to the UAF graduate program and get accepted. The application deadline is quite early--normally around January if you plan to start taking classes in the fall. You will need to submit GRE scores, so take the GREs. If you need money, you may be able to get a part-time job with the department as a Teaching Assistant (TA) to grade papers and help students; or as a Research Assistant (RA) to help write code, grant proposals, and research papers. Most assistantships require about 20 hours of work a week, and include a tuition waiver and a stipend of around $1,500/month.
  2. Decide on a general area to study. Ask around the department, and pick out a thesis advisor--a professor who will help you pin down your actual thesis project topic, and help you with these steps.
  3. Work with your advisor to select a graduate advisory committee, which is three professors (at least two from CS) to whom you'll defend your final project. Talk to these people, and have them sign a "Appointment of Graduate Advisory Committee" form, which you must fill out and then file.
  4. With your advisor's help, fill out a "Graduate Study Plan" (GSP), which lists the classes you hope to take to complete your degree--this is not binding, but it's a good opportunity to plan out your work. For BS/MS, only list the MS requirements and electives, so 30 credits minimum. Your whole committee must approve and sign your GSP. The official deadline for filing the GSP is at the end of your second semester, but you have to have one on file before you take the Comprehensive Exam ("Comp", step 6), so it's really due before April.
  5. Accumulate at least 30 credits total.  This includes:
    • The two graduate core courses CS 600 (Professional Software Development, Fall) and CS 601 (Algorithms, Architecture and Languages, Spring),
    • The two graduate seminar courses, CS 690 (Fall) and CS 691 (Spring), and
    • 16 credits of approved electives, of which at most 6 credits can be at the 400 level, and the rest at the 600 level.  You can apply 1 credit of CS 698 (Project research) as an elective if you need things to divide out correctly!
  6. Pass the CS Comprehensive (Comp) exam.  This exam is traditionally offered in April, and is prepared and graded by the CS faculty.  You can pass the exam, conditionally pass, or fail the exam. You have two chances to pass. After the exam, the department will file your "Report on Comprehensive Exam"; if you have a conditional pass, you must tell the exam chair when you have completed the additional requirements so your exam report can be updated.
  7. In the semester before you plan to graduate (e.g., early in fall semester if you will graduate in the spring), file the "Advancement to Candidacy" form. This is a finalized version of the Graduate Study Plan, and lists the classes you must take to finish. Be careful! Once you've filed it, it takes a petition to change this form (or you must re-file the entire form).
  8. At the start of the semester you plan to graduate, you must file the "Application for Graduation" online form before the deadline. (There may be other forms; follow the Graduate School's "Master's with Project" checklist.) Be sure to be registered for at least 3 credits in the semester you graduate--usually this will be at least the CS 690/691 seminar.
  9. Write up your project in a Master's Project Report, which is formatted exactly like a Master's thesis. Typically this is around 20 to 30 pages of clear, solid, defensible technical text describing what you did and why; plus a title page, table of contents, figures, references, and maybe a code appendix. Don't forget to read and correctly cite prior work in your field! You should plan on giving your advisor a draft of the report at least a few months before you plan to graduate, since they often have useful suggestions for changes, and it usually takes several revisions to get the report into shape. You need to make sure both your advisor and entire committee are happy with the report, get them to sign a "Project Approval Form", and file a final copy of your project report with the UA ScholarWorks archive
  10. Defend your final project in the CS 690/691 seminar. You normally give four grad talks starting the semester before you want to graduate. After your talk 3, make sure your advisor files your "Report on Project Defense" form before the deadline. This is the all other paperwork deadline, which is usually about 3 weeks before finals week. If you need to pad out your schedule your final few semesters, you can take CS 698 "Research", which does not count toward your degree, but does satisfy immigration and scholarship enrollment requirements.
  11. Apply for a job, a PhD program, or a research assistantship, and plan for your new life with an MS. Walk down the aisle at graduation, and enjoy your life as a graduate!

Read the CS Catalog entry for the specific course requirements, and talk to your advisor before making the final decision on your courses. But for example, a typical CS MS degree might look like:

  1. Fall, year 1
    • Take CS 600, and two electives
    • Find a thesis advisor and advisory committee.
    • File an Appointment of Graduate Advisory Committee form.
    • Build and file a Graduate Study Plan.
  2. Spring, year 1
    • Take CS 601, and two electives
    • Begin work on your project code.
    • Pass the comprehensive exam (or fail, and pass in April of year 2).
  3. Fall, year 2
    • Take CS 690 and one or two electives
    • File Advancement to Candidacy form early in semester.
    • Work on your project code, start the project report, and give initial project presentation in CS 690 seminar.
  4. Spring, year 2
    • Take CS 691 and one or two electives
    • File Application for Graduation form early in semester.
    • Finish up the project code in January.
    • Work on your project report, and give mid-project and final presentations in CS 691 seminar.
    • Finish your project report before the deadline, and get committee to sign your Report on Project Defense.
    • Graduation!


There are also a series of ongoing requirements.

  1. Every year around April, your committee will meet and file an Annual Report of Advisory Committee form. Keep in touch with your advisor during this time, so you can sign the form.
  2. You should attend the 4pm Tuesday Graduate Seminar every week, whether you're signed up for CS690/691 or not.
  3. You must maintain at least a 3.0 GPA, both cumulative and in courses on the Advancement to Candidacy Form.
  4. You must stay registered with at least 6 credits/year (3 credits/semester), or get a Leave of Absence form approved.
  5. Everything must be completed within a 7-year time limit.
  6. You can override the rules using a petition form, but you need a solid written justification for this as well as signatures by everybody (advisor, committtee, dept. chair, and the dean).

Updated 2023/09 by Dr. Orion Lawlor , Department of Computer Science.