Master's Program Handbook

Updated 2023-08-30

For requirements, please see the Master's program requirements page.

Your Advisor

When you enter our Master’s program an advisor will be assigned to you, based on your interests as expressed in your application. This person will discuss your initial course selection with you and be available to sign necessary forms. You may stay with this advisor for your entire time at Brown, but you’re free to choose someone else to be your advisor (if they agree). In particular, you’re not committed to work with your initial advisor if you choose to do a research project – you’re free to select any CS faculty member as your research advisor.

Master's Contract

So that you can be sure you have an approved plan for your master’s program and so the department can track its students, we ask that you fill out a master’s contract, which is a PDF document you can find here. You might print it out and bring it with you to your first meeting with your advisor. Once it is filled out and signed by your advisor, please make a copy of it for yourself and give the original to the Master’s program coordinator (currently Elena Quinonez). For new students, please do this by the end of the second week of the semester.

If you make changes to your plan (which most students do), it’s not necessary to update the contract immediately, but you should make sure it is up to date soon after the start of each semester.

Full-Time Status

Being a full-time student at Brown is important both for international students and for students with college loans to pay off. Our policy is that if you are registered for two or more courses in a semester, then you are a full-time student. If you are in your final semester and need only one course to complete, being registered for that one course makes you a full-time student. Thus, since eight courses are required to complete our requirements, a number of sequences are possible. For example, you might start with two courses the first semester, then take three in each of the next two semesters. You might start with three courses the first semester, then take two in each of the next two semesters and finish off with one course the fourth semester. Or you might take two courses in each of four semesters. Again, as long as you’re registered for at least two courses in all but your last semester, you are considered a full-time student.

Note that it’s important that you stay registered for at least two courses for the entire semester. If you decide to drop a course towards the end of the semester (perhaps because you’re concerned about your grade), you might jeopardize your full-time status. If you get a C or an NC in a course, while it won’t count towards your degree requirements, it does count towards the two courses required for full-time status. Please, don’t drop a course without first discussing it with your advisor or the Director of Graduate Studies (Master’s)

Taking Additional Courses

While at Brown, you might want to take courses that are not part of your Master’s program. While doing this is fine (assuming you pay tuition for them!), note that if you are an international student, once you have completed eight courses, it’s possible your visa may be terminated (since you were given the visa to complete the eight courses required of our Master’s degree). If you would really like to take additional courses, you might do so during the last semester of your Master’s program (but check with OISSS before registering).

Which Track? The Advanced Component

You may choose to participate in a research project as part of your Master’s, or you may choose to simply take courses. In either case, you will take two 2000-level courses as the advanced component of your Master’s. For the “courses-only” track, our intent is that you not be directly involved in research and thus not take reading and research courses (i.e. CSCI 2980). If you are doing research as part of your Master’s, then your advanced component should consist of two instances of 2980.

Should you start the Master's program with the intent of doing research but decide after one semester of 2980 that you'd prefer to do the courses-only track, we will allow one semester of 2980 to count toward your requirements. However, you should make sure you arrange with the professor the work you will need to do to pass (with an A or B) 2980. Note that it’s common for professors to give grades of “Incomplete” for the first instance of 2980, to be changed to an A or B after the research is completed (typically when the second instance of 2980 is completed).

What if you start your Master’s program with the intent of doing the courses-only track, but get interested in a research project for your final semester? For this situation, you may take two instances of 2980 in one semester, thus devoting a lot of time in that one semester to completing your research.

The Research-Project Report

If you are doing a research project as part of your Master’s, you are required to prepare a report describing the research. The format of this report is agreed upon by you and your advisor. Your project (and thus your degree) is not complete until your advisor approves your report. The report should describe what you did and what you learned from the project, and will appear on the department’s web page. (Examples of past reports can be found at

If your research was a group effort, perhaps a project led by your research advisor that involved a number of students, it’s likely that a joint paper was written by you and others describing the work and was published or presented at a conference. In such cases, you should write a separate project report that references the group paper and describes your part of the project. It is this separate report that will appear on our web page (and that must be approved by your advisor).

Transferring Courses From Other Institutions

Brown’s School of Professional Studies allows at most one course taken elsewhere to be transferred to Brown to be used towards your Master’s requirements. This course must have been taken after you received your bachelor’s degree and must not have been used towards any other degree. The course should be a four-credit course taken in the semester system (as opposed to a three-credit course or a course taken in the quarter system). If, for example, you’ve taken two three-credit courses in the semester system, or two or more courses in the quarter system, they might be combinable into something equivalent to a Brown course. It’s also important that the course (or combined courses) cover the same material as one of our courses (and thus replace that course). If you think you have a course (or courses) that qualifies please contact the Director of Graduate Studies (Master’s). You must receive a B or higher for a course to be considered for transfer credit.

Please note that 5th-year Master’s students may not use transfer courses to satisfy degree requirements.

Brown has a cross-registration agreement with Harvard. We allow Harvard CS (and related) courses to be used for Master’s credit even if they aren’t equivalent to Brown courses, as long as you get approval from the Director of Graduate Studies (Master’s). A course taken at Harvard counts as a transfer course, thus the one-course limit applies.

The Professional Track

If you are an international student, you might be interested in the professional track, which requires you to complete an internship (in addition to the other degree requirements) as part of completing your Master’s degree. Since the internship is a requirement, you will qualify for a CPT (curricular practical training), which allows you to do a paid internship in the US. (Note that if you are not an international student, you don’t need a CPT to do an internship and thus this track is not really relevant for you.)

The internships should be for a total of two-to-six months of full-time work that’s related to your course of study in Computer Science. Since you are expected to be a full-time student during the academic year, we generally grant CPTs for internships only for summer work. You may do any number of internships as long as the total time is no more than six months, and each takes at least one month.

Fifth-Year Master's Students

Fifth-year Master’s students are those who were undergraduates at Brown and were accepted into the fifth-year Master’s program, which allows them to use two courses taken as an undergraduate towards their Master’s requirements. Any two courses may be used (as long as they satisfy requirements of the Master’s), but you must have received an A or a B in them (an S is not sufficient). It doesn’t matter whether they were used to satisfy undergraduate concentration requirements. You indicated which two courses you were to use in your application materials, but you may choose to use different courses if you’d like.

A Fifth-year Master's student must complete the degree requirements in one year by taking at least 3 courses each semester.

Again, please note that 5th-year Master’s students may not use transfer courses to satisfy degree requirements (this is a University rule).

Passing Courses As A Master's Student

Students must have a B average over all courses used to satisfy the requirements. All courses must be taken for a grade, and all grades must be C or better (S's may not be used).