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Applications for entrance into the Ph.D. Program in Computer Science can be made online only. See Admissions for application and financial assistance deadlines.  In certain extreme situations, hard copies of applications may be considered. Please contact the Assistant Program Officer for information. 

Applicants can expect to hear a decision 4 to 5 weeks after the deadline.  The committee is not able to review incomplete applications.

Any individual seriously considering applying for entrance into the Ph.D. Program in Computer Science should consult The Graduate Center Bulletin and The Graduate Center Student Handbook: both sources provide an excellent and comprehensive guide to Graduate School policy and services.

All interested individuals must consult Application Instructions Forms.

We present in this section some additional information.

The Graduate Record Exam (GRE)

GRE scores must be received for each applicant. Under the GRE's current grading format, 159 is the minimum Quantitative score considered for admission. Verbal scores should be above the 50th percentile. Please refer to for converting scores between old and new grading formats. (Students with lower scores may be, under special circumstances, considered for admission.)

Background and whether a Masters degree required for admission?

Admission to the Program should be considered only by those individuals who have done exceptionally well in their previous university studies in Computer Science, Mathematics or related sciences. A Masters degree is not a 'formal' prerequisite for admission but is strongly recommended. Applicants who do not have an MS or MA degree in Computer Science (or a related field) should demonstrate exceptional promise and sufficient background for entrance in their applications. Specifically, entering students are expected to have a background (minimally at an undergraduate level) in the following areas:

  • 1) Operating Systems

  • 2) Fundamental Algorithms

  • 3) Object-Oriented Programming

  • 4) Databases

  • 5) Discrete Mathematics

  • 6) Computer Architecture

  • 7) Theoretical Computation

  • 8) Programming Languages

  • 9) Probability

On rare occasion, students may be admitted with deficiencies in their backgrounds and will be required to take certain graduate or undergraduate courses to compensate. Graduate courses required to fulfill deficiencies may be included in the first thirty credits for the degree – if approved by the Program's Executive Officer – and the student achieves a minimum grade of B in the course.

The TOEFL Examination

For further information please consult Application Instructions Forms.

Letters of Recommendation

For further information please consult Application Instructions Forms.

Program Requirements

Registration Requirements

Matriculated students in the Program are required to be "in status," that is, they must be either officially registered for course work and/or research, or on approved leave of absence for each and every semester until the completion of all degree requirements. No more than four leaves of absence are allowed and each requires the Program EO's permission. International students should consult the Office of International Students for guidelines concerning the special considerations under which leaves of absence can be granted.

Degree Requirements (Courses)

Each student in the Program is required to complete a minimum of 60 credits of approved graduate courses, with a GPA equivalent to a B or better. Students entering the Program who have completed graduate course work in Computer Science or a related field prior to entry into the Program may petition the Executive Officer to evaluate this course work for the purpose of advancing credit toward the doctorate. Transferable course work will be given after successfully passing the First Exam. No transfer credit will be given for any courses completed at other institutions with final grades lower than "B." Similarly, no credit can be transferred for courses for which the student received an "incomplete" or for which no grade has been entered on the student's official transcript. A maximum of 30 acceptable graduate credits taken prior to admission into the Ph.D. Program in Computer Science may be applied to the degree.

During the first year of matriculation, student must take certain (i.e. required) classes. See Level 1 below.

Residency Requirements

At least 30 of the credits for the doctoral degree must be taken in residence at the City University of New York. Doctoral students are expected to spend at least one year in full-time or certified full-time residence at CUNY; this consists of a schedule of no fewer than seven credits, or the equivalent, for each of two consecutive semesters. International students must be considered full-time throughout their time in the Program.

Time Limits

A student who matriculated after the completion of 30 credits of acceptable course work (e.g. after having completed an MS or MA degree in Computer Science or a related field) must complete all academic requirements within 14 semesters (otherwise within 16 semesters).

Leaves of Absence (LoA’s) effectively stop the clock for the semester(s) a student may be awarded one; LoA’s are not counted in the total number of semesters allowable in which to complete the degree. Students may request up to four semesters of leave during their time in the Computer Science Ph.D. Program. LoA’s are awarded at the discretion of the Executive Officer and are given on a semester basis. Deadlines for requesting a LoA are published in the Semester Announcement of Courses, included with a student’s registration materials. These deadlines are strictly followed. A student may not fulfill any academic requirement while on a Leave of Absence (no First Exams, Second Exams, Advancement to Candidacy, etc.).

Levels to the PhD Program in Computer Science

There are three levels of students: level I, level II, and level III. These levels govern not only progress in the PhD program, but also how the tuition costs are determined. Under Academic Policies and Procedures of the student handbook, you can find the details in the schedule of tuition charges as a function of level. All Entering students are Level I.

Level 1

All Level I students are required to take and pass six core courses (listed below) that are offered during their first year of study.

  • CSc 70010 Analysis of Algorithms
  • CSc 75010 Theoretical Computer Science
  • CSc 71010 Programming Languages and Their Implementation
  • CSc 72010 Computer Networks
  • CSc 74010 Artificial Intelligence
  • CSc 79100 Research in CUNY

The First Examination

After completing the six classes, each student is required to sit for the First Examination, a written examination which covers areas of the five required three credit classes. It is based on the material presented in five of the first year classes (not including the Research in CUNY class). In order to pass this exam, a student must show proficiency in (at least) four of the five areas. The exam lasts four hours and is offered once a year in one sitting during the first week of June each year. This exam MUST be passed within two tries. As with any examination or academic requirement, it is the student's responsibility to inform the Executive Officer before sitting for the exam of any special consideration concerning the administration which should be afforded an individual student. Appeals for special administration or consideration (with reference to this exam or otherwise) will not be considered after the fact.

In early April the Assistant Program Officer will send you a copy of the previous year First Qualifying exam which will serve as your study guide. It is suggested that First year students organize a review session, this way giving students a better opportunity to pass the exam. Students will receive a notice letting them know the date; time and room number the First Examination will take place. You will receive this announcement via email and the announcement will also be posted in the Computer Science Lab as well as the Computer Science Office.

The First Examination is considered a whole exam. Students who fail this exam on a first attempt and are in good academic standing (B average or better than a 3.0 average) are required to retake the five required courses as auditors and to retake the Exam at the end of the next academic year. Students may not advance to Level 2 status without successfully completing this (examination) requirement.

In accordance with The Graduate Center policy, students are required to pass this Examination by the time they have completed 45 credits of work. (This information can be found under the Resources and Services section of the GC website. Click Governance Policies and Procedures and then Satisfactory Academic Progress.) Failure to meet this requirement by that time will result in dismissal from the Program. Students, who are making satisfactory academic progress, can take the exam a 2nd time. Failure or refusal to sit for this exam can lead to expulsion from the Program for failure to make satisfactory progress toward the completion of the degree.  Consideration of extraordinary circumstances may be made at the discretion of the Executive Officer of the Program.

The 45 credit requirement is satisfied by taking the required first year courses plus the additional courses to make a total of 45 credits. Students who come into the program with a Master's degree in computer science, may transfer up to 30 credits of their courses to satisfy GC course credit requirements. To transfer a course credit, the student must have attained at least a B course grade. Course grades of P or S can be allowed if those courses satisfied the requirements of the awarded Master's degree. The Executive Officer has to review any requests for transferring course credits and will allow transferring credits only for courses that are computer science related.

The academic goal of this Level 1 period is not only to complete the required course work and to gain a firm foundation in different areas of Computer Science but also to establish and develop rapports with members of the Doctoral Faculty. Identifying a (potential) mentor working in a field of research of interest to the student should be considered a desirable goal at this early stage. And this, in turn, should lead to the eventual establishment of the student’s Examining Committee.

Certain courses offered through the Interuniversity Doctoral Consortium (Columbia University (including Teachers College), Fordham University, New School University, New York University (including Steinhardt School of Education), Princeton University, Rutgers–New Brunswick (State University of New Jersey), and Stony Brook (State University of New York)) may also be counted as applicable toward the completion of these required course credits. Students must have a year in residency at GC CUNY to take advantage of the consortium courses.

For information on the Interuniversity Doctoral Consortium, consult the Office of the Registrar or the Office of Student Services or the Graduate Center Student Handbook.

Requirements To Advance To Level 2

A student becomes a Second Level doctoral student after successful completion of 45 credits of approved course work and passing the First Examination. Up to 30 credits may be transferred from Masters level courses taken elsewhere. The Program EO, in consultation with the college, will aid in this transfer after the student has passed the First Examination.

Level 2

Finding an Area of Research and a Mentor

Selecting a focused area of research and or a mentor is challenging – and important. Every student should learn as much as possible about the Program's faculty and research areas in the first year of study and be ready by the second year (or at the latest the third year), to choose a mentor also known as, an advisor. (Of course, an advisor must agree to take the student on to supervise the student's work.) A student can make changes as he or she progresses through the Program, but it is assumed that his or her area of focus will not radically shift after he or she has selected an area of interest. (If a student's area does change drastically, that student must speak to the Executive Officer; he or she may be required to ‘retake’ the Second Examination.)

The Second Examination

Once the student has selected an advisor from the doctoral faculty under whose supervision the student will continue to work – towards the goal of producing a defensible dissertation – the student will need to focus his or her efforts on being expert in at least one area of research.

When the student has finished all of his or her required coursework and has also passed the First Examination, he or she must continue to register, to be "on record" for each semester until he or she passes the Second Exam.

With the student's advisor, the student needs to

  • 1) come to a mutually agreed-upon topic in which to initiate/continue research and
  • 2) notify the Executive Officer, in writing, that the advisor and student have come to this understanding.

(The Executive Officer will then oversee the formation of a Second Examination Committee.)

The Second Examination Committee must include at least two members of the doctoral faculty in Computer Science or a related interdisciplinary field. This Committee will oversee the student's completion of the remaining academic requirements.

In order to complete the Second Exam successfully, the student, in consultation with his or her Second Examination (Advisory) Committee, should prepare a list of publications (books, or sections of books, relevant papers, journals, etc.) to be used as source material for a survey paper on the state of the area of research. The paper is not meant to be a research work but a detailed look at the state of the art and should demonstrate a thorough understanding of the important open problems, approaches and recent advances in the area. There must be at least ten research references (not textbooks) for this paper published in the past five years.

The student will prepare an original paper, usually 20-30 pages in length that needs to be given to the Examination Committee and the Executive Officer at least three weeks before the scheduled oral examination. The oral presentation is to be based on this document and reading list in the presence of the Examination Committee. This presentation will be held in public to which students and faculty will be invited (and may ask questions).

When the student has met these conditions to the satisfaction of his or her Second Examination Committee, he or she will be deemed to have passed the Second Examination.

Research Tool

Before advancing to Level 3 and to Candidacy, all students are required to show high-level programming proficiency. Students will satisfy this requirement by submitting to the Executive Officer a large computer program in a high-level programming language, written by themselves. Relevant documentation and comments must accompany the program.

Requirements to Advance to (Level 3) Candidacy

Before a student can be certified as a candidate for the Ph.D., he or she must have successfully:

  • completed all required course work,
  • fulfilled all residency requirements,
  • passed (as accepted by the Second Examination Committee) the Second Examination and
  • have their computer program accepted by the Executive Officer.

Level 3 and Candidacy

Dissertation Proposal

Level 3 students must write a Dissertation Proposal that will convince their Committee that they have identified a topic that is worthy of doctoral research, both for its originality and for its significance, and that they have an approach to handling this topic that shows they are conversant with the state of the art directly relevant to their proposed research and that it is doable in a reasonable amount of time. This document should show that they have insight into the problem and what open problems still exist.

The Dissertation Proposal Examination has a written and oral component. The written part must be distributed to your committee and the Executive Officer at least three weeks prior to the oral presentation.

The oral examination should be designed to last 45 minutes, without an allowance for questions. Part of the presentation should be an approximate timeline of the time you estimate for the components of your final dissertation. The candidate should be prepared for the committee to ask probing questions.

(Should a student significantly change the area of intended research in the interim between the successful completion of the Second Exam and the Dissertation Proposal, the student's Second Examination Committee may require that he or she show proficiency in another area of Computer Science more closely related to the new topic of research by passing another examination in the same format.)

Human Subject Clearance

All doctoral students need to submit a Dissertation Proposal Clearance: Human Participants form. Students are required to submit this form to the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs after the dissertation topic and methodology are approved by their committees and before research begins if human subjects are included in the research design.

No student may defend a dissertation without first being advanced to Candidacy. Students advanced to Candidacy may obtain an application for a Master of Philosophy degree from the Office of the Registrar.


At this final and most challenging phase in the Ph.D. Program, students engage in original research, aiming to make a significant and new contribution to their field of study (under the direction of their advisors). It is expected that a dissertation should contain at least two publishable papers (in a peer reviewed journal or highly regarded conference proceeding) – and preferably three.

Dissertation Defense

When a student has, to the satisfaction of his or her advisor and to the satisfaction of his Examining Committee members and to the satisfaction of the Executive Officer, written a clear, original and significant dissertation, the student is ready to defend at a Final Examination, which is conducted as an oral presentation open to the public. (Students should be in close contact with their mentors and members of their Examining Committees throughout the "dissertation process," sending them drafts and soliciting their comments.)

When a final draft of the dissertation is set (and acceptable), the student should schedule a mutually acceptable date and time with the members of his or her Examining Committee and the Executive Officer – when all will be able to attend the presentation and defense. The exam should be scheduled for three hours.

Computer Science students are required to email a draft of their dissertation in the Program Office and to all members of their committee at least four weeks prior to scheduling the time of the Final Examination. Along with this draft, they must provide the names and addresses of their Examining Committee members, including an "outside member" who is required to participate in the Final Examination. The "outside member" must be in place and able to read, critique and be present at the student's dissertation defense. The Executive Officer may decide to appoint the outside member at his/her discretion. It is a student’s responsibility to ascertain the availability and willingness to participate of all members of his or her Examining Committee.

Once successfully defended, the student must deposit the approved final version of the dissertation at the Mina Rees Library. Regulations concerning the style of the dissertation and deposit procedures are available at the Office of the Dissertation Assistant, located in Room 2304 (2nd floor) in the Mina Rees Library (212-817-7069). You may also wish to view the Mina Rees Library thesis and dissertation guide page for details.