Frequently Asked Questions

Application FAQs

Please see our application packet for complete and detailed instructions and requirements to apply. Below are common questions we get from prospective students:

Students who have completed a degree at an institution in the United States can request a waiver from the GRE requirement by emailing sys_engr_info@engr.colostate.edu. The waiver will not be granted until both the student’s application has been submitted and an official transcript verifying degree conferral has been received and added to the application.

Students who have not completed a degree at a U.S. institution are required to have GRE scores before their application is considered complete.

All applicants may check their application status by logging in at http://gradadmissions.colostate.edu/apply/status at any time after they have applied.

The Systems Engineering Program will not provide updates on materials applicants are still missing.

For Ph.D. or M.S. Plan A applicants: If your application status shows a complete application, but you have not sent confirmation of a faculty advisor, your application will still be considered incomplete.

Students can take one or more classes prior to formally applying or being admitted to ensure that the program is a good fit and to demonstrate ability to succeed in graduate-level work. Taking a course does not guarantee admission to a program, but it is one additional factor that the admission committee will consider in our holistic application process.

Students are eligible to use up to 9 credits of coursework prior to formal admissions for a Master’s program and up to 10 credits for a Ph.D. Students must have earned a B or higher in courses for them to apply to the degree.

Per Graduate School policy, grades earned in courses prior to admission do not apply to your degree GPA, which must be at least a 3.0 to graduate.

The Systems Engineering Program does not have scholarships, fellowships, or grants for Master’s or Ph.D. students.

We have limited Graduate Teaching Assistantships available, the details of which may be found here. Individual faculty members may have Graduate Research Assistant positions available–you will need to contact faculty directly to inquire. Graduate Assistant positions have a residency requirements and are only available for on-campus students.

You may also explore institution or federal funding options by contacting the Office of Financial Aid.

No. Securing a permanent faculty advisor is the first step to apply either to the Ph.D. program or the M.S. Plan A (with thesis). Without a faculty advisor, your application will be incomplete and will not be reviewed.

Our Ph.D. application is competitive: the program is highly sought-after and we have limited capacity for new students each application period. Because securing an advisor can be the longest and most difficult part of the application process, we encourage you to begin well in advance of the application deadline.

Students might find they are unsuccessful at securing an advisor for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Faculty may be at capacity with advisees and simply unable to take a new student. You may continue to seek advisors for more than one application period if you are having difficulty locating an advisor who can take you immediately.
  • Some applicant research interests fall outside of the expertise areas offered by CSU’s faculty and may not be a good fit for our program.
  • Some applicants do not clearly state their research objectives and/or do not adequately demonstrate that they are prepared to begin Ph.D.-level research. You might review the information you share when corresponding with potential faculty members to ensure you are presenting a competitive and accurate picture of your skills and goals.

Ultimately, students are responsible for locating a faculty member who fits with their goals; without this an applicant’s file is considered incomplete and is not reviewed for admission.

General Program FAQs

Systems Engineering is an interdisciplinary approach and means to enable the realization of successful systems. It focuses on defining customer needs and required functionality early in the development cycle, documenting requirements, then proceeding with design synthesis and system validation while considering the complete problem (including operations, cost & schedule, performance, training & support, testing, disposal, and manufacturing).

Systems Engineering integrates all the disciplines and specialty groups into a team effort forming a structured development process that proceeds from concept to production to operation. Systems Engineering considers both the business and the technical needs of all customers with the goal of providing a quality product that meets the user needs.

A more detailed description can be found here, or you can visit the INCOSE website.

The application process, curriculum, and degree earned are all the same for both the on-campus and online program!

The On-Campus Experience

Students who attend classes at our beautiful Fort Collins campus have opportunities for increased interaction with our professors, more connections in-person with guest speakers and industry professionals, and access to labs, equipment, and other resources for cutting-edge research. On-campus student may choose to take online courses within their program.

The Online Experience

Our hybrid course technology allows online students to participate synchronously or asynchronously in courses happening on-campus. Students may also attend a selection of courses at our South Denver campus. Our Certificate, M.E., M.S., and Ph.D. programs are all able to be completed 100% online!

Yes! All courses required for our certificate, M.E., M.S., or Ph.D. are offered online and there is no residency requirement.

Ph.D. or M.S. Plan A students may be required to have weekly phone or email meetings with their faculty advisor, but this will depend on individual faculty preference. Some Ph.D. or M.S. Plan A student also choose to travel to campus for major dissertation/thesis exams, but all exams can also be completed using video teleconferencing technology.

The Systems Engineering Program does not currently offer ‘regular’ summer courses (with a set syllabus).

We do offer ‘non-regular’ independent study or dissertation credits each summer (ENGR 597, ENGR 695, ENGR 699, ENGR 795, or ENGR 799). Eligibility for these courses depends on your degree program. These non-regular courses require a faculty advisor, so if you would like to take one of these courses during a summer semester, you must check with your advisor that they will be available during that time.

Additionally, some Systems Engineering electives that are run through other departments may be offered during the summer.

Yes! Many of our students are working professionals and it is common for students to take only one or two courses per semester.

Please note that all graduate degrees have a 10-year time limit on coursework. Coursework older than 10 years when the Graduation Application is filed may not apply to the degree.

If you are relying on federal financial aid, there may be additional restrictions. Please contact the Office of Financial Aid to check on your status and requirements.

You may visit our current student research page to review the many different projects that are in-progress.

You may also visit the student exam page to see topics of completed projects.

An M.E. or M.S. student may transfer up to 6 credits provided all Graduate School requirements are met, including:

  • The credit was earned at a regionally-accredited institution
  • The course(s) must have a B or higher earned (‘B-‘ is not accepted)
  • It must be a ‘regular’ course (meaning it cannot be a seminar, special topic, independent study, research credit, or similar)
  • It must not have been used toward a previous awarded degree
  • It must be 500-level equivalent or higher
  • It must be approved by the S.E. Program as relevant to your program of study (a copy of the course syllabus will be required)

Per the Graduate School, there is a 10-year time requirement on individual courses counting toward any graduate degree. If a transfer course will be at least 10 years old at the time the student applies to graduate, it may not count toward your degree.

Please see the Graduate and Professional Bulletin for full information on transfer credit policies.

PhD FAQs

A Ph.D., or Doctorate of Philosophy, is a terminal degree that requires an intensive academic research project. Unlike bachelor’s and master’s degrees where coursework is usually most important, the primary focus of the Ph.D. is an original and useful contribution to the field of study (Systems Engineering).

While your advisor will help guide you, Ph.D. students must take initiative and are responsible for the organization and execution of this research project. Courses taken in pursuit of the Ph.D. are intended to provide skills and knowledge necessary to advance your research in the field, not to simply check boxes in a required curriculum.

Some students have found this video helpful for learning more about the Ph.D. process and expectations, and how to approach an academic pursuit that is very different than what they have previously accomplished.

The process to determine if your master’s can count toward the Ph.D. is as follows:

  1. Your faculty advisor must agree that your master’s is considered “applicable” to the Systems Engineering Ph.D. Most master’s in technical fields are considered applicable, but the initial decision is between you and your Ph.D. faculty advisor.
  2. If your advisor agrees, you will submit the master’s degree as part of your Program of Study (GS6) in the second or third semester of classes at CSU. The GS6 is required to be submitted to the Graduate School before you can register for your fourth semester.
  3. The Graduate School has final say if the master’s degree credits are transferable. Upon the approval of your GS6 Program of Study, up to 30 credits from your master’s degree will be finalized into your degree plan.

We cannot guarantee the master’s can be used until the Graduate School has approved it, but master’s degrees from regionally accredited institutions that are deemed applicable by your faculty advisor are commonly transferred in.

A Ph.D. student may transfer up to 10 credits beyond the 30-credit master’s degree provided all Graduate School requirements are met, including:

  • The credit was earned at a regionally-accredited institution
  • The course(s) must have a B or higher earned (‘B-‘ is not accepted)
  • It must be a ‘regular’ course (meaning it cannot be a seminar, special topic, independent study, research credit, or similar)
  • It must not have been used toward a previous awarded degree
  • It must be 500-level equivalent or higher
  • It must be approved by your faculty advisor and the S.E. Program as relevant to your program of study (S.E. Program will require a copy of the course syllabus)

Because coursework used toward a previous degree cannot transfer, a second master’s degree cannot be used, even in part, toward the Ph.D. curriculum.

Per the Graduate School, there is a 10-year time requirement on individual courses counting toward any graduate degree. If a transfer course will be at least 10 years old at the time the student applies to graduate, it may not count toward your degree. The 30-credit master’s degree is exempt from this 10-year requirement.

Please see the Graduate and Professional Bulletin for full information on transfer credit policies.

No! You may begin taking dissertation credits when you and your faculty advisor have determined you are ready.

Many students who are working full time aim to complete courses prior to beginning dissertation credits, as it can be quite challenging to juggle a job, coursework, research, and any other personal responsibilities.

There is no requirement to finish Ph.D. coursework within a certain time frame. It is common, but not required, for students with full-time employment to take 2-3 years to complete coursework, and then begin dissertation research. The only time limit that applies to the Ph.D. is that coursework must be no older than 10 years at the time the Application for Graduation is filed.

The Systems Engineering Ph.D. does not have a qualifying exam to test students’ knowledge of the subject. In lieu of a qualifying exam, students must earn a B or higher in required coursework (18 credits for the 42-credit Ph.D. and 39 credits for the 72-credit Ph.D.). If a B is not earned (B- not accepted), students may retake a course once for a higher grade.

Ph.D. students must pass two oral exams with their advisory committee to earn their degree.

The preliminary exam generally occurs after students have started their research credits and have an idea of their dissertation goal. Its primary intention is to determine if the student is qualified to continue toward the Ph.D. and it includes:

  • You introducing your committee to your research area, goals and any previous work or needs analysis that has already been completed
  • The committee ensuring you have a grasp on Systems Engineering fundamentals, your research, and the context of the wider academic discipline.
  • You gaining feedback on how to lead your dissertation research down a productive path and keep it within the scope of a manageable project.

After a student passes the preliminary exam, they become a candidate for the doctoral degree and generally commence with the significant research involved with producing a dissertation.

The final dissertation exam or defense must be taken at least two semesters after the preliminary exam has been passed. This is the culmination of all Ph.D. work and includes feedback for the student to incorporate into their final dissertation draft.

These exams may be taken in-person on our Fort Collins campus or students may use video teleconferencing technology to take them at a distance. It is highly recommended to schedule these exams at least a month in advance.