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Master's Degree

The ISU Computer Science program welcomes students of all nationalities and backgrounds interested in obtaining a Master of Science (MS) degree in Computer Science. With the industry embracing new technologies in machine learning, cybersecurity, blockchain, and augmented reality, now is a great time to pursue an advanced degree in Computer Science. 

MS Mission Statement

The mission of the ISU Master's of Science in Computer Science program is to prepare students to become the next generation of leaders in the competitive landscape of Computer Science industry and academia. Integral to this mission is to engage students in learning and participating in cutting-edge research. Other goals that may vary according to individual priorities and interests include:

  • Development of critical thinking and reasoning about experimental results.
  • Cultivation of proficiency in technical writing and communication.
  • Participation in the research process in generating ideas and producing results.
  • Learning team development and the skills needed to lead a team of programmers.
  • Improvement of the ability to design and implement software on an industrial scale.

 Graduate Course Descriptions (ISU Course Catalog)

Interested students should apply online through ISU Graduate Studies. Applicants should thoroughly review University application requirements in addition to CS program minimums below. All application materials, including GRE and TOEFL scores (when applicable), must be received by the deadlines indicated below.


Application Deadline (Fall Semester): Feb 28


Minimum Requirements

The CS Department currently adopts ISU's Graduate School requirements regarding CGPA, IELTS/TOEFL, and GRE. For further details, visit the Graduate School website at https://www.isu.edu/graduate/student-resources/future-students/


What If I Don't Have a BS in CS?

Applicants are expected to have a BS or BA in Computer Science (CS), Math, Engineering, or the Physical Sciences. Applicants must have completed the following undergraduate courses prior to admission to the MS in CS program:

  • Math 1170 (Calculus I)
  • Math 1175 (Calculus II)
  • Math/CS 1187 (Applied Discrete Structures) or Math 2287 (Foundations of Mathematics)
  • Math 2240 (Linear Algebra)
  • CS 1181 (Computer Science Programming I)
  • CS 1337 (Computer Organization and Architecture)
  • CS 2235 (Data Structures and Algorithms)
  • CS 3309 (Advanced Object-Oriented Programming)

An Applicant not having a BS in CS (or equivalent) first needs to be admitted as a non-degree seeking undergraduate student to complete the prerequisites. Upon successful completion of the prerequisites with B- or above, they can apply to change their program of study to MS in CS. 

How To Apply Successfully

The goal of applying is to convince ISU CS professors that you can succeed in graduate study in Computer Science at ISU and that your research interests align with research opportunities in the ISU CS program.  

The MS program committee will consider academic factors such as GPA, transcript, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, and the statement of purpose. For international students, the committee will also review TOEFL scores and IERF reports. Timely submission of application materials is also important for success.

Here are a few recommendations about how to increase your chances of success in applying:

  • Letters of recommendation are particularly impactful if they come from people who know both the student and Computer Science graduate study well. 
  • Candidates interested in pursuing a thesis should review faculty research areas, and should identify and elaborate on areas of common interest in their statement of purpose. This helps to identify potential advisors.

If Admitted

Carefully review requirements for the respective thesis or course-only tracks. Make note of deadlines relating to the program of study, proposals, and defenses.

A temporary faculty advisor will be assigned to admitted students. Students should seek out and discuss plans with their advisors early on and throughout the duration of their graduate studies.


General and Coursework Requirements for the MSCS Degree

The student shall plan a program of study and have it approved by the CS graduate committee. 30 credit hours of CS, ECE, or Math courses are required to complete the M.S. degree, with at least 15 of the credits at the 6600 level. A maximum of 6 credits of CS 6692, Special Problems in Computer Science, may count towards degree requirements. A maximum of 6 credits of CS 6660 Computer Science Project may be counted towards the degree requirements. 

All MSCS students must complete CS 5512 and CS 5561. If the student has completed CS 4412 with a grade of at least a B-, then another CS 55xx course may be substituted. If the student has completed CS4461 with a grade of at least a B-, then another CS 55xx course may be substituted. All MSCS graduate courses must be completed with a grade of B- or higher. CS 5512 or 4412 and CS 5561 or 4461 must be completed with a grade of B- or higher before taking any 66xx level courses applied toward the MSCS.

MSCS students can choose either a thesis-based option or a coursework-only option. Coursework/credit requirements for the options are as follows:

Thesis Option (30 credits)

Code  Title Credits
CS 5512 Advanced Algorithms 3
CS 5561 Secure Operating Systems 3
Approved CS 55xx electives Electives 6
CS 6650 Thesis 6
Approved CS, ECE, or Math 66xx electives Electives 12
Total Credits   30

Course-Work-Only Option (30 credits)

Code  Title Credits
CS 5512 Advanced Algorithms 3
CS 5561 Secure Operating Systems 3
Approved CS, ECE, or Math 55xx electives Electives 9
Approved CS, ECE, or Math 66xx electives Electives 15
Total Credits   30 

MS Progress Review 

A progress review of each MS student will be conducted at the beginning of each Fall and Spring semester. The following requirements form the basis of the student progress review:

  1. Timely Completion of Leveling Courses.

    Leveling courses should be completed within 12 months of admission to the degree program.

  2. Early Submission of a Study List.

    An MS student should submit a study list no later than the second week of the second semester after admittance showing the courses the student is planning to take to complete MS course requirements.

  3. Adequate GPA Performance.

    Students must earn a B- or better in each leveling course. A GPA of at least 3.0 must be maintained across all courses on a student's study list.

  4. Limited Course Repeats

    A student may have a total of at most two course repeats for the duration of the MS program. Only one repeat may be used in satisfying leveling course requirements.

  5. Steady Completion of Coursework

    By the end of one year after being fully admitted to the MS program, a student must have successfully completed at least 9 MS coursework credit hours (not counting thesis credit hours). A minimum of 9 coursework credit hours across the three semesters prior to the semester of the progress review must be maintained throughout the MS program until all coursework is complete. This rate represents a strict minimum. It is anticipated that students will complete coursework much more quickly than this.

  6. Timely Completion of a Thesis Proposal

    MS students pursuing the Thesis Track must successfully pass their thesis proposal by the end of the fourth semester after admittance (i.e. within 16 months).

  7. Duration of MS Study

    Students should complete all MS degree requirements (courses, thesis proposal, thesis, and thesis defense presentation) within three years from the time of admission.

Failure to meet any of the above requirements will result in a written warning accompanied by instructions on actions that the student should take. If a student fails to satisfactorily comply with written requests, the student will be placed on Unsatisfactory status, leading to termination from the MS program.

A student may be dropped at any time based on a recommendation from their Committee, the Graduate Committee, and the Department Chair.

Application for Graduation

Applications must be submitted to the Graduate Academic Advisor by the university deadlines for graduate students. Please contact the Graduate School with questions about these deadlines. You can apply online at the Graduate Studies website.

Students cannot apply for MS graduation unless they have (a) completed all of their coursework with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher and (b) successfully proposed their thesis.

Students may not defer graduation. If they did not successfully meet all the graduation requirements for the semester in which they applied to graduate, the student needs to contact the Graduate Academic Advisor to have their name removed from the graduation queue. They will need to reapply for graduation at a later date. There is no fee for graduate students to apply for graduation.

The University requires all students to register for at least 2 credit hours during the semester in which they complete the submission of their electronic thesis (ETD) or project.  If students miss the graduation deadlines for any given semester they must register for at least 2 hours or pay the equivalent minimum registration fee and will graduate the following semester.

Following are details pertaining to each MS options. 


Limited funding opportunities, including research and teaching assistantships, may be available. More information is available from the Graduate School.


MS Thesis Committee

With the help of the advisor, an MS student forms a thesis committee by first selecting and committing a faculty member to serve as 2nd member on the student's MS committee and then contacting the Graduate Academic Advisor via email to ask for the assignment of a faculty member to serve as the 3rd committee member.


Once a thesis topic has been firmly established, the student should submit a thesis proposal. The thesis proposal consists of A) the thesis proposal document and B) the thesis proposal presentation. The written thesis proposal document should be prepared first, as described below. Once the student’s first two committee members have approved the document, the student gives the proposal to the third committee member and schedules the time for the formal presentation of the thesis proposal. No thesis defense can be scheduled without first having the proposal presented and approved.

Thesis Proposal Document

The thesis proposal document should be submitted to the committee as soon as possible and must be submitted by the end of the fourth semester after the student begins the program. No thesis defense can be scheduled without first having the proposal presented and approved.

The document must adhere to the manuscript preparation guidelines from the ISU Graduate School.

Below are guidelines for the thesis proposal. While we aim to provide useful, detailed guidance on creating a successful proposal, these guidelines are intended to allow for some flexibility in accommodating individual needs and styles.

From reading your thesis, your thesis committee should be able to answer the following questions:

  1. What problem do you want to solve?
  2. Who cares about this problem and why?
  3. What have others done to solve this problem and why is this inadequate?
  4. What is your proposed solution to this problem?
  5. How can you demonstrate that this is a good solution?

The thesis proposal document should contain the following:

  • Abstract: 1 to 2 paragraphs summarizing the proposal.
  • Introduction: 1 to 2 pages answering questions 1 and 2 above.
  • Related Work: 1 to 2 pages answering question 3 above.
  • Thesis statement: 1 to 2 sentences stating what is to be demonstrated in your thesis.
  • Project Description: 3 to 5 pages answering question 4 above.
  • Validation: 1/2 to 2 pages answering question 5 above.
  • Thesis Schedule: ¼ to ½ page specifying dates for completion of major milestones.
  • Bibliography: 2 to 5 pages containing references for all work cited.

Here we provide detail on the content of each of these sections:

Abstract - This section gives a short summary of the proposal. When you schedule your thesis proposal presentation, the title and abstract will need to be emailed to the Graduate Academic Advisor.

Introduction - This section prepares the reader to understand and appreciate the thesis statement. It should include problem motivation, definitions for important terms, and a clear formulation and statement of the problem being solved. You may choose to include subsections such as “Background” and “Motivation” in this section. The introduction should answer the questions “What problem do you want to solve?” and “Who cares about this problem and why?”

Related Work – This section provides a survey of literature that is closely related to your thesis statement as proof that you understand how your work builds on and is complementary to the work that has been or is being done by others. The related works section should answers the question “What have others done to solve the problem and why is this inadequate?”

Thesis statement – A clear, concise statement representing what the proposed research will demonstrate. A good thesis statement will make a specific claim that your readers care about. Getting your readers to care about the claim is the primary purpose of the introduction and related work sections.

Here are examples of good MS thesis statements:

  • A dynamic dead variable analysis will reduce the size of the hash table in explicit model checking by marking more variables dead compared to static dead variable analysis.
  • Model checking with magnetic disk requires less time when using a chained partitioned hash table than when using an open address monolithic hash table because delayed duplicate detection time is reduced.
  • Given a set of precepts P and an associated training set Tr, a precept-driven learning algorithm (PDLA) can be designed which produces better results in generalization than when Tr alone is used.
  • When trunk type, network traffic type, and customer characteristics are considered in setting overbooking factors, bandwidth can be used more efficiently and utilization can be predicted more accurately.

Project Description – This section describes the solution you are proposing and a plan for successful realization of the proposed solution. Your goal here is to provide a convincing argument to your committee that the plan you have laid out, if followed precisely, will enable the objective and convincing defense of your thesis statement. The project description should answer the question “What is your proposed solution to this problem?”

Validation – This section defines the methods and metrics you will use to show that your proposed solution is effective. The validation section should answer the question “How can you demonstrate that this is a good solution?”

Thesis Schedule – This section outlines a proposed schedule for the completion of your thesis work. You should include dates for submitting the thesis to your advisor, submitting the thesis to each of your committee members, and the final thesis defense. You should also specify other research milestones that will help you maintain a consistent pace toward timely completion of the thesis project.

The thesis defense must be scheduled at least three weeks in advance. Scheduling the defense can only be completed after the first two committee members have read and approved the thesis. As a safe rough estimate, plan on approximately seven weeks between the time you first give your completed thesis to your advisor and the time you make your final defense.

Bibliography – This section lists references for work cited in the body of the thesis. References should be complete and consistently formatted according to your particular sub-discipline of computer science.

Thesis Proposal Presentation

Oral Presentation Target Audience: ISU CS faculty members who may not be familiar with the topic.

A 12-15 minute oral presentation of the thesis proposal will be prepared and presented to the thesis committee and the invited public. The student should prepare to answer committee member's questions regarding methods, problem significance, proposed solution, and related literature. At the conclusion of the presentation and questions, the student and public leave the room while the committee deliberates to accept/reject the proposal, resulting in a decision that can range from unqualified acceptance to unqualified rejection.

A primary goal with the presentation is to emphasize the importance of developing effective communication and presentation skills. While the central ideas of the proposal document should be presented, the oral presentation provides a unique format for the student to be able to add engaging examples and explanations. It is expected that the presentation is well-rehearsed and we recommend practicing with an audience that can provide helpful suggestions to improve the presentation. 

Thesis Proposal Presentation Scheduling

Prior to scheduling:

  • Draft and revise the proposal under the supervision of your advisor.
  • Obtain verbal confirmation from both your advisor and second thesis committee member that the proposal is in final form.
  • Give your third committee member a copy of the proposal.
  • Arrange a date, time, and place for the proposal presentation, ensuring that all three committee members are able to attend. The College of Business secretary can help you schedule the Kelly Room, BA 304, or the College of Business Conference room. Reserve the room one hour; your presentation should not go beyond 15 minutes, but added time will be required for answering questions from the audience and your committee.
  • Fill out and obtain signatures on the Thesis Proposal Form.

At least 1 week before the presentation: 

  • Give the completed Thesis Proposal Form, as well as a copy of the abstract (formatted in Word), to the Graduate Academic Advisor.

At the presentation:

  • Obtain signatures from all members of the committee on the Thesis Proposal Approval Form.
  • Give a copy of the proposal and the signed approval form to the Graduate Academic Advisor to sign.


Your Master's thesis should aim to contribute to advancing of the field of Computer Science. This may include the development of tools, theories, or solutions that others working in the same or related areas can use to solve problems of interest. Creativity and originality are fundamental elements of this process. To be impactful, the research needs to be tied in to existing related work in the research area and demonstrate knowledge, skills, and techniques gained during the student's Computer Science graduate education. Where possible, students should seek to publish their thesis research so that the field can benefit from their contributions.

Formatting Guidelines

Thesis Format: Students should follow the thesis manuscript preparation guidelines provided by the ISU Graduate School when formatting their thesis.


The ISU Graduate Schools requires the ISU CS department to verify that thesis references use a format that is clear and consistent. Be sure that your citations contain all necessary information and are formatted consistently. (Oftentimes students will copy citations from 3rd party sources without verifying their completeness of format.) The following instructions will help to maintain consistency (and to prevent delays caused by needing to revise manuscripts during approval stages):

  1. Follow the style of a top-tier journal (not conference proceedings) in your research area. In some cases journals specify conventions, in other cases you can look at and imitate examples of publications from a journal.
  2. Do your best to be as complete and consistent as possible:
  • Maintain a consistent style for each type of publication (e.g., book, article, etc.) throughout--italics, bold, quotes, punctuation, names (full names or initials), numbering (numeric or spelled out), and indentation.
  • Ensure all elements for a citation are included. This includes all author or editor names, the title, the year, and, as appropriate, other elements such as the journal name, the volume, the issue number, pages, month, publisher, city, state/country, and institution for MS theses or technical reports.
  • The bibliography should be ordered alphabetically by the last name of the reference's first author.

While variation in structure is permitted, a typical thesis will be structured as follows:

  • Ch 1 - Introduction of the problem and motivation for its significance.
  • Ch 2 - A thorough summary of related and similar work
  • Ch 3 ... n-1 - A progressive description of work undertaken to prove the thesis, often including:
    • background information (e.g., terms and definitions)
    • methods descriptions (e.g., algorithms, theorems, and models)
    • evaluation and results (e.g., metrics, proofs, simulations, complexity analysis).
  • Final chapter - Summary of the thesis contributions and discussion of possible avenues for future work.
  • Bibliography
  • Appendices (e.g., extended results, code fragments, documentation)

 The thesis document

Target Audience: Researchers who are presumed to be familiar with the general topic (i.e., your committee).

The goal with the thesis document is to prepare a paper that can be submitted for publication. Except where the ISU Manuscript Style guide directs otherwise, the thesis should read like a paper being submitted for publication. Any other pertinent material not deemed suitable for inclusion in an academic publication should be included in the appendices. Aim to produce a manuscript that is on par with the that of publications found in top-tier journals/conferences in the research area of your thesis.

Thesis Defense

Thesis Defense Target Audience: Computer science faculty who are not familiar with your research topic.

A thesis oral presentation should be well-rehearsed. Practicing before a live audience can help to ensure that the presentation will go smoothly.

Thesis Defense Format:

Thesis defenses are open to the public. In preparation, the student must create a polished presentation, designed to last 25 minutes. The student should briefly provide a broad overview of the research, but should primarily concentrate on outlining the technical details of the work. After the defense presentation, the audience and committee will be afforded the opportunity to ask questions regarding the related works, methods, validation techniques, etc. Following the questions and answers, the committee may choose to ask additional questions with the audience being asked to first vacate the room. Once the committee members have no more questions, they will invite the student to step out so that they can deliberate and make a decision.

Thesis Defense Results:

The thesis committee can reach one of four possible decisions:

Pass without qualifications

Pass with qualifications (resulting from the need for thesis revisions and/or additional course knowledge)

Recess (resulting from the need for substantial thesis revisions and/or additional course knowledge—a subsequent defense cannot be held for at least one month)

Fail (resulting in termination from the MS program)

The student's advisor serves as the defense committee chair. The chair manages the necessary forms for conducting votes, gathering signatures, etc.

Thesis Defense Instructions

Before Scheduling:

  • Compose the thesis document under the mentorship of your advisor.
  • After your advisor approves your thesis, give a copy to your second committee member.
  • Make revisions suggested by the second committee member and obtain his/her approval to proceed.
  • Apply to graduate.
  • Verify your Graduate Progress Report (in DegreeWorks). Complete a Program of Study Change Form as needed.

Approximately 1 month before to the defense:

  • Choose a date, time, and location for the defense presentation, making sure that all the members of your MS committee are available to attend. It is not uncommon for this to take longer than expected owing to travel, illness or time off. The College of Business secretary can help you schedule the Kelly Room, BA 304, or the College of Business Conference room. Reserve the room for two hours. Complete the Thesis Defense Scheduling form.

No later than 3 weeks before the defense (earlier is better):

  • Email the Graduate Academic Advisor an electronic version of your thesis in PDF format together with your abstract as a Word document. Submit the completed Thesis Defense Scheduling form (with all mandatory signatures) to the Graduate Academic Advisor.  If these steps are not completed 3 weeks (or more) before the actual day you have scheduled the defense, you will be required to reschedule for a date that is at least 3 weeks out and complete a new Thesis Defense Scheduling form.
  • Give your third committee member a copy of your thesis.

No later than 2 weeks before to the defense:

  • Upon submission of your thesis, the Graduate Academic Advisor will review and reply with any mandatory formatting changes.  If revisions are required, these must be made before the defense can be scheduled. If revisions are not completed at least 2 weeks before the defense date, the student will be required to reinitiate the schedule process for a new defense date.

Day of the defense (or closely thereafter):

  • Make necessary revisions to your thesis as required by your committee.
  • Complete the Thesis Defense form and collect signatures from your committee members at the defense. Submit this form to the Graduate Academic Advisor immediately following the defense.

Course-Only/Project Track

Successfully completing the Course-Only/Project track requires the student to complete only course credits within the time frame given for finishing the MS program. As part of this track, students who are interested in conducting a Computer Science project under the supervision of a CS graduate faculty member may do so under the following guidelines.

Finding a Project

The student identifies a CS graduate faculty mentor with whom they would like to work and who agrees to work with him/her on a project. Together they discuss possible project idea which may originate from the student or the mentor. 

Project Development and Completion

The mentored project course is CS 6660. It is expected that the student will devote 125-150 hours of work to the project per semester. At the completion of one semester of CS 6660, the student and faculty member may opt to continue on the same project, however, each semester should have its own set of deliverables and presentations as outlined below. Students may take up to 6 credits of CS 6660 towards the course requirements for the Course-Only/Project track only

Within the first week of the semester, the student must submit a short proposal to the faculty mentor. This proposal outlines the scope of the project to be completed by the end of the semester and includes a schedule of clearly-defined deliverables with delivery dates. The proposal is approved both by the mentor and the graduate coordinator. The proposal should also include a list of final deliverables that the student will be expected to present in his/her final presentation.

  1. The faculty mentor and student meet once a week during the semester to help ensure a positive mentoring experience. If any aspect of the proposal, including deliverables requires revisions, such revisions must be approved by the faculty mentor.
  2. The student logs hours spent on the project including how time was spent and what progress was completed.
  3. By mid-semester (end of week 9) the student submits a draft report. This report should focus on deliverables and should be designed so as to be iteratively revisable into the end-of-semester final report. After the student and mentor discuss the draft, examine the log, and review the write-up, they may adjust the project scope or deliverables if needed. This type of collaborative review is designed to provide the student with a meaningful and culminating writing experience. Additional iterative reviewing is recommended through the latter half of the semester.
  4. By the last day of classes, the student must prepare and deliver a final written report in the form of a scientific project report. This report should include an executive summary, an introductory/background section, a project/method description section, a validation section, and a conclusion.
  5. Final project presentations are held during finals week within a 2-hour block. Two graduate faculty members (including the student's mentor), constituting the student's committee, attend and evaluate the presentation. The students will present for 15 minutes following which up to 5 minutes are available for the committee or public to ask questions and make comments. The committee will review the time log and check off deliverables during the student's presentation.

Project Report

The CS 6660 project written report should be submitted to the faculty mentor by the last day of classes in the semester in which the course is taken. The length of the report should be approximately 15 double-spaced pages. This document should provide necessary background information to understand the problem, including references of related works, and provide motivation for why the project is important and useful. The student's time log must also be included in the report. 

Project Report Presentation 

Oral Presentation Target Audience: CS faculty members who are unfamiliar with the project topic.

A 12-15 minute oral presentation summarizing the project must be prepared and presented to the student's MS committee and to the invited public (which may include friends and family). At the project presentation, the student will be expected to answer committee members' questions on areas such as methods, problem significance, project organization, and related works. Following the presentation, the student and public vacate the room to all the committee to deliberate and evaluate the student's performance.

Presentation Evaluation:

After deliberating, the committee must decide on an evaluation. The possible evaluations are:

  • Pass
  • Pass with qualifications - Revision to project is an example of why this would be selected.
  • Fail - Fail the presentation.

Although the final CS 6660 grade is determined by the faculty mentor, the maximum grade for a project with a failing presentation is a B-.

  • Thesis/Project Defense Scheduling Form
  • Program of Study Form
  • Change of Program Form
  • Change of Committee Form
  • Thesis/Project Proposal Form
  • Thesis/Project LaTeX Template
  • Thesis/Project Word Template