How do I get a PhD in Computer Science?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Earning a PhD in computer science (CS) is comprised of several steps. Students must first meet the requirements to gain acceptance to a doctoral program in computer science. After being accepted, students need to successfully complete all elements of the program, which includes taking required courses and writing a research-based dissertation. Most people must first consider the necessity of this degree, as there are master’s programs, too. The PhD is usually deemed most appropriate for those people looking for careers in computer science research or in teaching at the university level, but it can also add stature to a person’s resume and create greater eligibility for competitive jobs in other areas of computer science.

Man holding computer
Man holding computer

Most students considering a PhD in computer science need to first know how they can gain admission to doctoral programs. There may be several paths to this, but at minimum, students need to have a bachelor’s degree and the major most preferred is computer science (CS). Some students have a strong background in CS without a specific major in it, but they might have other eligible majors such as engineering, physics or math. Some schools will accept these students and others want only CS specialists.

There’s also the question about whether students should work or get a master’s degree prior to applying for a PhD in computer science. Sometimes these steps can improve an application and a few programs may require a master’s degree. It might be especially useful to do master’s studies first if a student’s undergraduate grades aren’t fantastic, and he or she thinks they can be improved through graduate studies. A working opportunity that confers a great deal of experience might also make some candidates more eligible. In most instances, these steps are not required, provided students have strong grades.

Grades are definitely an issue when applying, and many schools look for a grade point average of 3.5 or higher. PhD in computer science programs may also want to see strong Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores and might require subject tests in areas like math or engineering. Letters of recommendation and well-worded personal statements round out requirements for entry.

Once a student has been accepted to a PhD in computer science program, studies are usually split between coursework, which may take two to three years to complete and research plus writing to complete the doctoral thesis, which can take an additional two to three years. Students frequently have responsibilities to work as research or teaching assistants while in school. The PhD isn’t awarded until students have met every requirement of the program, and most people spend an average of five to six years of full-time work before they accomplish this.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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