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PhD in Computer Science

Applicants to the Computer Science PhD are encouraged to submit GRE scores when applying to the program. While not required, GRE scores are an opportunity for applicants to strengthen their application.

For international applicants without a US degree, the University requires official TOEFL, IELTS, PTE Academic or Duolingo exam scores. For accepted exemptions, click here.

The objective of this program is to prepare exceptionally qualified individuals for research careers in academia and industry. The program is designed for students who offer evidence of exceptional scholastic ability, intellectual creativity, and research motivation. The PhD degree is viewed as a certification by the faculty that the student has a solid foundation in computer science and has performed original research in the area.

The requirements for the PhD in Computer Science include:

  1. Coursework Requirements
  2. A Comprehensive Exam Portfolio
  3. A Dissertation Proposal
  4. A Dissertation Defense

Students will be assigned a temporary adviser during their first semester. Each student should identify a research area of interest and a suitable thesis adviser during their first year. By the time they file a plan of study, they will also have selected a thesis Advisory Committee, for which their adviser will be the chair.

PhD in CS students have the option to study in either Clemson (McAdams Hall) or Charleston (Zucker Family Graduate Education Center), SC. Click here for more information on Charleston graduate programs.

Coursework Requirements

Coursework requirements for the PhD vary depending on whether the student enters with a BS or MS degree. Courses are intended to demonstrate breadth in computer science as well as experience in research. All PhD students are required to complete:

  • 1 credit of New PhD Student Seminar (a CPSC 9500 offered in your first semester, formerly called Introduction to Faculty Research)
  • at least 6 additional credits of PhD seminar courses (CPSC 9500)
  • at least 21 credits of research hours (CPSC 9910, CPSC 8880, or CPSC 9500), at least 18 of which must be Doctoral Research (CPSC 9910)

For research hours, students typically register for Research Experience (CPSC 8880) for focused research projects early in their studies, prior to selecting an Advisory Committee; this can be a good mechanism for testing the waters with a prospective advisor. For students who have identified their Advisory Committee and who are performing research towards their ultimate dissertation, Doctoral Research (CPSC 9910) is appropriate.

In addition to the requirements above, students must meet the minimum credit hours for graded coursework and for total credit hours as defined by the University:

Graded Coursework
Beginning Degree Degree(s) Earning Graded Coursework Total Credits
MS PhD 12 30
BS PhD (direct entry) 30 60

For students entering with an MS, the required 12 credit hours of graded coursework may be satisfied by taking four 8000-or-higher-level courses within the School of Computing (exclusive of 8810, 95x0, 9810, 9910, and any DPA prefix). One 3-credit 8000-or-higher-level course not meeting these restrictions may be included in the 12 credit hours with the approval of both the student’s Major Advisor and the Program Coordinator.

For students entering with a BS, up to 12 credit hours of 6000-or-higher-level coursework at Clemson may be counted toward the minimum 30 credit hours required by the University. Any credit from courses external to the School of Computing must be approved by the Graduate Program Coordinator. Up to 6 credit hours of 8810 may also be counted. In exceptional cases, a higher amount may be approved by the Graduate Program Coordinator. The GS2 is the mechanism for obtaining approval for any exceptional requests, as this requires approval by the Graduate Program Coordinator. Transfer of credit for courses external to Clemson is also possible, subject to approval of the Graduate Program Coordinator and all requirements and restrictions set forth by the University Graduate School Policies and Procedures manual.

If a student wishes to receive an MS en route during their doctoral studies, they must also satisfy all requirements for the MS degree in addition to those for the PhD. The two degrees do not interfere in any way, in that obtaining an MS en route has no impact on one’s progress toward satisfying the coursework requirements for the PhD. Note, however, that both degrees cannot be conferred in a single semester.

In addition to the requirements above, students should also plan their coursework to satisfy the requirements for the PhD Portfolio’s demonstration of core competencies, as outlined in the following section.

PhD Portfolio Requirements

To pass the portfolio review for the PhD in Computer Science, students must demonstrate superior mastery in three of six core areas of computing. These core areas can be found in the table below:


Core Area Courses

PhD Core Area


Data Science and Informatics 8420, 8430, 8450, 8470, 8480*, 8490, 8620*, 8630, 8650
Foundations and Theory 8380, 8390, 8400, 8480*, 9400
Human Centered Computing 8310, 8330, 8410, 8500, 8510
Networks, Systems, and Security 8200, 8220, 8240, 8510, 8520, 8550, 8570, 8580, 8620*, 8830, 8860
Software Engineering 8270, 8280, 8290, 8700, 8710, 8720, 8730, 8750
Visual Computing 8030, 8050, 8110, 8190









* CPSC 8480 and 8620 span core areas but will count in only one core area each

For the course titles of each course, please see courses of instruction. For syllabi, please see syllabus repository.

A grade of A in an 8000-or-higher level course listed in each chosen core area or a strong letter of support from the course instructor is expected (an A grade generally provides much stronger evidence of mastery of the area, so students should exercise caution if considering submission of a portfolio without A grades in their chosen core courses). Up to two of these courses may come from another university, in which case the approval of the Program Coordinator is required. Another mechanism for demonstrating mastery includes a strong research publication record in a given area.

Students must also demonstrate potential for research. A research paper in which a significant component of the writing was done by the candidate must be included. The paper should be of sufficient quality to indicate that the student has the ability to conduct original research and make an acceptable written presentation of the results. Although not required, students are strongly encouraged to submit the paper to a journal, conference, or workshop. For such submissions, the student may be the sole author or may be a co-author with other faculty and/or other students. However, if the paper has joint authorship, the other authors must submit written documentation identifying those sections of the paper that were written by the candidate. The paper should exhibit the scope and quality of a publication-worthy paper, but it does not have to be accepted or published to be included in a successful portfolio. Although a published paper provides more convincing evidence for research potential, a rejected submission, along with peer reviews, can also be used to evaluate potential. The paper may or may not be related to the student's eventual dissertation area. A candidate's MS research paper, thesis, or a derivative thereof may be used to satisfy this requirement.

Additionally, the student must provide:

  • A statement of purpose
  • A brief curriculum vitae
  • Two supporting letters of recommendation from School of Computing faculty

Optional material may be included at the discretion of the student, and in consultation with the student’s Major Advisor. This material may include:

  • Significant accomplishments - An informal statement of the two or three things that the student is most proud of in this period. Examples include earning an "A" in a difficult course, finishing an M.S. research paper, or having a peer-reviewed paper accepted.
  • Honors and awards, such as awards of competitive fellowships and induction into honor societies.
  • Presentations - Typical categories include seminars, professional presentations, and tutorials. Workshop, class, and conference presentations may be included.
  • Proposals in preparation, in review, and accepted - Include fellowship applications, grant applications, applications to industrial affiliates, requests for travel money from conference organizers, etc. Note the status of the proposal: in preparation, under review, accepted, rejected, or under revision.
  • Professional Reviewing - Include reviewing for journals, conferences, workshops, and book prospecti. Significant internal reviewing may also be included; for example, if more than a few hours were spent reviewing drafts of papers or proposals for faculty members.
  • Service - Include University and School of Computing service other than research and teaching. Examples include service on standing and ad hoc School of Computing committees or as a graduate student representative.

Dissertation Proposal

The dissertation proposal serves several purposes. It ensures that the student has a clear grasp of a specific problem or set of problems; it provides a format for discussion of the solutions or approaches to solving the problem(s); and it provides documentation that the student has undertaken a reasonable survey of the literature related to his or her research.

The proposal itself is presented to the student's Advisory Committee. The purpose of the proposal is to inform the committee of the nature and scope of the proposed dissertation and to obtain their approval and guidance concerning the proposed research. The written proposal should include the following items:

  • an outline of the included material
  • a review of the state of knowledge in the general area of interest
  • a description of the proposed dissertation area, along with a concise review of the state of knowledge in the specific area of the proposed dissertation
  • an explanation of the problem(s) to be investigated
  • a discussion of the results expected from solving the problem(s) and their impact on the state of knowledge in the general and specific areas of interest
  • a bibliography

The written proposal must be presented publicly, and approved by the student’s Advisory Committee. The presentation must be scheduled in consultation with the Advisory Committee, and the written document must be available to the Committee at least two weeks before the presentation occurs. The Advisory Committee will be asked to give written approval of the proposal after the presentation, and that approval will be based primarily on the written document. If the proposal is not approved, it may be repeated an indefinite number of times, subject to the consent of the Committee, but the proposal must be approved at least six months prior to the completion of the dissertation.

Students can schedule their presentation by submitting this form.

Dissertation Requirements

The doctoral dissertation is the written record of the research that the student has conducted and must provide evidence of the student's ability to independently perform original research leading to the discovery of significant new knowledge. Thus, the dissertation should demonstrate the student's technical mastery of the subject, independent scholarly work, and conclusions that modify or enlarge what has previously been known. The dissertation is expected to:

  • Identify a significant open question or problem in computer science.
  • Describe the current state knowledge of the area(s) involved.
  • Present a solution or solutions to the problem that was identified.
  • Report on the results of the research conducted, substantiate those results, and demonstrate the originality and contribution of the results.

The format of the dissertation must conform to the current SOC and Graduate School standards. Copies of the dissertation must be delivered to the student's Advisory Committee members at least two (2) weeks prior to the final oral examination.

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