Chapter 2: Academic Programs and Requirements

General Information

More than 700 students attend Santa Clara University’s graduate engineering programs each quarter. The School of Engineering offers a large variety of programs to meet the needs of these engineering professionals.

B.S./M.S. Five-year Dual Degree Program

The School of Engineering offers qualified Santa Clara University undergraduates the opportunity to earn both a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Science degree in five years. This is an excellent way to save time and open-up more career possibilities early on. The degree is offered in Aerospace Engineering, Bioengineering, Computer Science Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Engineering Management and Leadership**, Mechanical Engineering, Robotics and Automation and Power Systems and Sustainable Energy. This program is also open to students in the College of Arts and Sciences who are majoring in mathematics, biology, computer science or engineering physics. Students in the College of Arts and Sciences interested in a B.S./M.S. program in Civil, Environmental, and Sustainable Engineering should consult the CESE department chapter of the graduate bulletin for details.

The application fee and GRE General Test requirement are waived. Automatic admission into the five-year program is based on a minimum GPA of 3.0 in the major. Upon notification of acceptance into the B.S./M.S. program, students may begin taking graduate-level courses in their senior year and a maximum of 20 units can be transferred into the graduate program. Students must meet with a graduate advisor and submit a program of studies with the undergraduate transfer credit listed when they officially start the master’s program.

Please Note: Undergraduate students will be charged the current undergraduate tuition rate while enrolled in those graduate courses. Once students have been matriculated into the master’s degree program, current graduate tuition rates will be charged.

**For more information on the engineering management and leadership option, please see Chapter 13.

Certificate Programs

Certificate programs are designed to provide intensive background in a focused area at the graduate level. With 16-20 required units for completion, each certificate is designed to be completed in a much shorter period of time than an advanced degree. Santa Clara’s certificate programs are appropriate for students working in industry who wish to update their skills or for those interested in changing their career path. All units applied toward the certificate program must be earned within a two year period. Students enrolled in the certificate program should only take courses that will satisfy their certificate completion. Any course substitutions or waivers must be pre-approved by the certificate advisor.

All Santa Clara University courses applied toward the completion of a certificate program earn graduate credit that may also be applied toward a graduate degree, subject to the requirements of the degree program (16-20 units can be transferred to the MS program depending on the certificate requirements). Students who wish to continue for such a degree must submit a separate application and satisfy all normal admission requirements. The general Graduate Record Examination (GRE) test requirement for graduate admission to the master’s degree program will be waived for students who have been formally admitted to and who have completed a certificate program with a GPA of 3.5 or better.

Certificate programs are offered in frugal innovation, renewable energy, digital system design, integrated circuit design and technology, digital signal processing and machine learning, digital signal processing theory, fundamentals of electrical and computer engineering, RF and applied electromagnetics, controls, dynamics and vibrations, materials engineering, mechanical design analysis, mechatronics systems engineering, and thermofluid,. For more specific information on each certificate, please see Chapter 18.

Please Note: Santa Clara University does not issue F-1 visas to applicants who wish to enter directly into the certificate program.

Master Of Science Program

The master’s program is designed to extend the technical breadth and depth of an engineer’s knowledge. Students in this program complete a program of studies approved by the faculty advisor in the major department. The program must include no less than 46 quarter units, and a 3.0 GPA (B average) must be earned in all coursework taken at Santa Clara. Residence requirements of the University are met by completing 36 quarter units of the graduate program at Santa Clara. MS students have six years to complete their Master’s degree. A maximum of 9 quarter units (6 semester units) of graduate-level coursework may be transferred from other accredited institutions that have not been applied to a previous degree at the discretion of the student’s advisor. All units applied toward the degree, including those transferred from other institutions, must be earned within a six-year period.

Students have the option to write a thesis as part of their master’s degree. Students who choose this option are responsible for obtaining an advisor for their thesis work. The maximum number of units awarded for the master’s thesis is nine. Please note that the thesis option is not available in the Engineering Management and Leadership Program.

The School of Engineering offers Master’s programs in Aerospace Engineering, Applied Mathematics, Bioengineering, Civil Engineering, Computer Science and Engineering, , Electrical and Computer Engineering, Engineering Management and Leadership, Mechanical Engineering, Robotics and Automation, and Power Systems and Sustainable Energy. The coursework requirements for the degree are determined by each of the major departments. In order to graduate, students must complete the required coursework for the program to which they are admitted and must have a cumulative GPA of 3.0 in all coursework listed on their approved program of study. In addition to this requirement, Engineering Management and Leadership degree candidates must earn a 3.0 GPA in those courses applied to their technical stem and a 3.0 GPA in their engineering management course stem.

Please note: Only classes with assigned grades of C- or higher will count toward the completion of the certificates, M.S., or Ph.D. degrees. The grades of all courses completed during the M.S., Ph.D. or certificate program are used to compile final cumulative grade point average (GPA)

Note that the number of engineering management courses accepted for other degrees in the graduate engineering program is restricted to six units in computer science engineering, electrical and computer engineering, and most options of mechanical engineering.

Graduate Minor In Science, Technology, And Society (STS)

The graduate minor in science, technology, and society (STS) is designed to help students gain a deeper understanding of the influence that engineering has on society (and vice versa). Knowledge of this kind has become essential in an increasingly complex and interconnected world, in which purely technical expertise often needs to be supplemented by additional skills. In order to successfully operate in such an environment, engineers must (at the very least) have the ability to communicate clearly, function on interdisciplinary and diverse teams, and make ethically and socially responsible decisions. The minor consists of a Core and a set of electives and entails a minimum of 12 units of coursework. It is open to all students who are pursuing a master’s degree in engineering, regardless of the specific program in which they are enrolled.

For more comprehensive information, please see Chapter 17.

Engineer’s Degree Program

The program leading to the engineer’s degree is particularly designed for the education of the practicing engineer. It is offered in the computer science and engineering, electrical and computer engineering, and mechanical engineering departments. The degree is granted on completion of an approved academic program and a record of acceptable technical achievement in the student’s field of engineering. The academic program consists of a minimum of 46 quarter units beyond the master’s degree. Courses are selected to advance competence in specific areas relating to the engineering professional’s work. Evidence of technical achievement must include a paper principally written by the student and accepted for publication by a recognized engineering journal prior to the granting of the degree. A letter from the journal accepting the paper must be submitted to the department chairperson. In certain cases, the department may accept publication in the proceedings of an appropriate conference.

Admission to the program will generally be granted to those students who demonstrate superior ability in meeting the requirements for their master’s degree. Normally, the master’s degree is earned in the same field as that in which the engineer’s degree is sought. Students who have earned a master’s degree from Santa Clara University must file a new application (by the deadline) to continue work toward the engineer’s degree. A program of studies for the engineer’s degree should be developed with the assistance of an advisor and submitted during the first term of enrollment.

Doctor Of Philosophy Program

The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree is sought by those engineers who wish to become experts in a specific area within their field. The work for the degree consists of engineering research, the preparation of a thesis based on that research, and a program of advanced studies in engineering, mathematics, and related physical sciences. The student’s work is directed by the degree-conferring department, subject to the general supervision of the School of Engineering. The school grants the Ph.D. in computer science and engineering, electrical and computer engineering, and mechanical engineering.

Preliminary Examination

The preliminary examination shall be written and/or oral and shall include subject matter deemed by the major department to represent sufficient preparation in depth and breadth for advanced study in the major.

Students currently studying at Santa Clara University for a master’s degree who are accepted for the Ph.D. program and who are at an advanced stage of the M.S. program may, with the approval of their academic advisor, take the preliminary examination before completing the M.S. degree requirements.

Students who have completed the M.S. degree requirements and have been accepted for the Ph.D. program should take the preliminary examination as soon as possible but not more than one and one-half years after beginning the program.

Only those students who pass the preliminary examination shall be allowed to continue in the doctoral program. The preliminary examination may be repeated only once and only at the discretion of the thesis advisor.

Thesis Advisor

It is the student’s responsibility to obtain consent from a full-time faculty member in the student’s major department to serve as his/her prospective thesis advisor.

It is strongly recommended that Ph.D. students find a thesis advisor before taking the preliminary examination. After passing the preliminary examination, Ph.D. students should have a thesis advisor before the beginning of the next quarter following the preliminary examination. Students currently pursuing a master’s degree at the time of their preliminary examination should have a thesis advisor as soon as possible after being accepted as a Ph.D. student.

The student and the thesis advisor jointly develop a complete program of studies for research in a particular area. The complete program of studies (and any subsequent changes) must be filed with Engineering Graduate Programs and approved by the student’s doctoral committee. Until this approval is obtained, there is no guarantee that courses taken will be counted toward the Ph.D. course requirements.

Doctoral Committee

After passing the Ph.D. preliminary exam, a student requests his or her thesis advisor to form a doctoral committee. The committee consists of at least five members, each of which must have earned a doctoral degree in a field of engineering or a related discipline. This includes the student’s thesis advisor, at least two other current faculty members of the student’s major department at Santa Clara University, and at least one current faculty member from another appropriate academic department at Santa Clara University. The committee reviews the student’s program of study, conducts an oral comprehensive exam, conducts the dissertation defense, and reviews the thesis. Successful completion of the doctoral program requires that the student’s program of study, performance on the oral comprehensive examination, dissertation defense, and thesis itself meet with the approval of all committee members.


The Ph.D. degree is granted on the basis of academic achievement. The student is expected to complete a minimum of 72 units of graduate credit beyond the master’s degree with an overall GPA of 3.0 or better. Please note: Only classes with assigned grades of C- or higher will count toward the completion of the certificates, M.S., or Ph.D. degrees. Of these, 36 quarter units may be earned through coursework, independent study and directed research, and 36 through the thesis. Deviation from this distribution must be approved by the student’s doctoral committee and must not be more than six units. All Ph.D. thesis units are graded on a Pass/No Pass basis. A maximum of 18 quarter units (12 semester units), not previously used for the completion of another degree, may be transferred from any accredited institutions at the discretion of the student’s advisor.

Comprehensive Examinations and Admission to Candidacy

After completion of the formal coursework approved by the doctoral committee, the student shall present his/her research proposal for comprehensive oral examinations on the subject of his/her research work. The student should make arrangements for the comprehensive examinations through the doctoral committee. A student who passes the comprehensive examinations is considered a degree candidate.

The comprehensive examinations normally must be completed within four years from the time the student is admitted to the doctoral program. These examinations may be repeated once, in whole or in part, at the discretion of the doctoral committee.

Thesis Research and Defense

The period following the comprehensive examinations is devoted to research for the thesis, although such research may begin before the examinations are complete. After successfully completing the comprehensive examinations, the student must pass an oral examination on his/her research, conducted by the doctoral committee and whomever they appoint as examiners. The thesis must be made available to all examiners one month prior to the examination. The oral examination shall consist of a presentation of the results of the thesis and the defense. This examination is open to all faculty members of Santa Clara University, but only members of the doctoral committee have a vote.

Thesis and Publication

At least one month before the degree is conferred, the candidate must submit one copy of the final version of the thesis to the department and one copy to the University Library. The thesis will not be considered as accepted until approved by the doctoral committee and one or more refereed articles based on it are accepted for publication in a professional or scientific journal approved by the doctoral committee. The quality of the refereed journal must be satisfied by one of two criteria: (1) the refereed journal should have an impact factor of at least 1.0 or (2) prior to submitting the candidate’s work to a refereed journal, written approvals on satisfying the journal’s quality should be obtained from the candidate’s advisor, the doctoral committee, the department chair, and the dean’s office. This written approval must be kept in the candidate’s file.

Time Limit for Completing Degrees

All requirements for the doctoral degree must be completed within eight years following initial enrollment in the Ph.D. program. Extensions will be allowed only in unusual circumstances and must be recommended in writing by the student’s doctoral committee and approved by the Dean of Engineering in consultation with the Graduate Program Leadership Council. (GPLC)

Non-Enrollment Period

Ph.D. students are required to enroll in at least one unit for the fall, winter, spring quarters and their final graduating quarter. Those who do not wish to enroll must submit a leave of absence or a withdrawal form to the Engineering Graduate Programs office. A leave of absence form is required if a student plans to miss one or two quarters, while any longer absence requires a withdrawal form. Students who wish to resume their Ph.D. studies after a leave of absence or withdrawal must submit a returning student form. The forms can be found on the graduate engineering website, under current student resources. Leave of absence or withdrawal forms must be submitted by the end of the first week of the quarter. Returning student forms must be submitted three weeks prior to the start of the quarter returning. Please note the request is not guaranteed.

Students are required to complete their degree within eight years from their original admit term date. The eight-year time frame includes quarters during which a student was not enrolled. Those who fail to complete their Ph.D. in eight years can request an extension only under special circumstances. In such cases, the student’s advisor will need to discuss the case with the Graduate Program Leadership Council (GPLC), which will determine whether an extension is warranted (and for how long).

Please Note: Students who miss one or more quarters and fail to submit the appropriate form(s) will be discontinued automatically and will have to submit a returning student form or reapply to the Ph.D. program. They will need to follow the same procedure as students who withdrew from the program.

Additional Graduation Requirements

The requirements for the doctoral degree in the School of Engineering have been made to establish the structure in which the degree may be earned. The student’s Ph.D. committee looks at the proposed research and the prior background of the student to determine whether or not there are specific courses that must be added as requirements. The University reserves the right to evaluate the undertakings and the accomplishments of the degree candidate in total and award or withhold the degree as a result of its deliberations.

The Industrial Track

In addition to our regular Ph.D. program, Engineering Graduate Programs also offers an “industrial track” for working professionals as an option to facilitate the collaboration between academia and industry. Details are as follows:

  1. The topic of the research should be coordinated with the needs of the candidate’s employer and must be agreed upon by all parties. This topic must have a component that is publishable and is presentable in open forums. If necessary, a collaborative research agreement will be enacted to indicate the rights of the School and the industrial partner.

  2. As a part of the application process, candidates must submit a letter of support from their employer. This letter should contain a pledge of financial support and must identify a co-advisor within the company. The co-advisor shares responsibilities for guiding the candidate’s research with a full- time faculty advisor. This person is also expected to be a member of the doctoral committee.

  3. The full-time study component of the residence requirement is waived, but other residence requirements remain the same. Students who opt for this “industrial track” are responsible for meeting all other requirements for the Ph.D. The awarded degree will be the same for all students, regardless of the track that they choose to pursue.

Open University Program

Engineers who wish to update their skills or learn new technologies without pursuing a specific degree may enroll in the School of Engineering’s Open University program.

If a student from the Open University program is accepted into a degree program, a maximum of 16 units may apply toward the degree (if the courses are in the same discipline to which the student is accepted). The general GRE test requirement for admission to the master’s degree program will be waived if the student has completed a set of required courses in the department to which they are applying, and has earned a GPA of 3.5 or higher. Open University students who wish to pursue a M.S. degree must submit an online application.

Open University students who are considering enrolling in the master’s program should be aware that each specialization has its own set of requirements, and that the number of “free electives” is very limited. Such students are therefore strongly encouraged to choose their classes in consultation with a faculty advisor from the very beginning.

Students should remember, however, that all coursework taken at SCU, whether as a degree-seeking or an Open University student, becomes a part of the student’s academic history.

Please Note: Santa Clara University does not issue F-1 visas to applicants who wish to enter directly into the open university program.

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