Faculty Recruiting Support CICS

MS Advising Frequently Asked Questions

MS Advising Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Who is my advisor?

Elizabeth Parolski is the academic advisor for all Masters of Computer Science students.

Can I meet with my academic advisor? How do I meet with my advisor?

Yes! Elizabeth would love to meet with all the MS students! You can set up an appointment here. You can also always email Elizabeth!

Which courses should MS students take?! Can the advisor help me pick the classes?

Which courses you pick are entirely up to you as long as you meet the requirements for the MS degree.  Your choices depend on your interests, what courses you have taken so far that you liked, and courses you might think will be helpful to you. Ask your peers in the program what classes they have liked and learned a lot from! There is also a course load survey (from January 2021), where students share how much time they spent working on each class. 

How many classes should I take each semester?

It is highly encouraged that students enrolled in the residential program take NO MORE THAN THREE, THREE CREDIT CLASSES, (9 total credits) a semester. Many students will take fewer classes in their final or fourth semester. International students who are physically in the US on a student visa are REQUIRED to take 9 credits, as this the full-time credit load for graduate students. International students are allowed to take less than 9 credits in their final semester.  Many domestic students who are attending classes physically at UMass Amherst take 2 classes a semester. 

If you are in the online MS program, it is suggested you take one, maybe two, classes a semester. Each student in the online progam. should look at their personal schedules, work commitments, and life, before enrolling in two or more classes. 

Can I take more than 12 credits in a semester? 

Yes, you can, but IT IS *HIGHLY* DISCOURAGED/NOT RECOMMENDED! The department does not recommend taking 12 credits.  The form to override your number of enrolled credits can be found here.

Is course XXXX hard? Is this combination of classes too much for me?

Student abilities vary and it is very hard to predict what will be difficult for you.  Some students struggle with theory, some with systems, some with AI. 

The graduate program occasionally surveys graduate students regarding how much time students spend on specific classes. The most recent survey, from January 2021, can be found here

What courses are available in the summer or winter session?

CICS has one or two courses in security and affective computing courses available each summer.  Keep in mind that you can take courses outside of the department that can count towards your Computer Science MS.  Therefore, if you can find courses at UMass in another department (Isenberg, the business school, offers a large number of online classes) during the summer, you are able to take those classes.  See the question below all about classes outside of Computer Science. 

If you are an international student who is part of the on-campus/residential MS program (you are in the US on a student visa), and it is your LAST SEMESTER, you CANNOT TAKE ONLY ONLINE courses.  This rule applies to winter and summer courses as well. 

If you are an international student who is part of the on-campus/residential MS program, you are not required to take classes in the summer. If you do choose to take classes, you do not need to take 9 credits, you can take as many or as few classes as you wish in the summer. As long as the summer is not when you will finish your MS degree (see note above), the summer and winter classes do not need to meet in-person/on-campus. 

Can I take classes outside of CICS?

Yes, you can take graduate-level classes outside of computer science. Here is a list of the pre-approved non-CICS courses. If you want to a class that is not on the pre-approved list, please contact the Graduate Program Director and state why you want to take the class, include the course description, how the class will benefit you/further your education, and if possible attach the syllabus. We add more and more pre-approved courses every semester. 

Do 600 level seminar courses in Computer Science help fulfill the needed 600 level course requirement for the MS degree?

Yes, absolutely! Seminar courses that are 600 level or higher do fulfill the 600 level requirement for MS students. Many MS students enjoy the smaller, more hands-on approach of the seminar classes and take quite a few seminars during their CICS career. 

Do 600 level courses from outside of Computer Science help fulfill the needed 600 level course requirement for the MS degree?

Yes! If you take a 600 level class in another department or college at UMass, as long as it is pre-approved and or you were granted approval, it will count toward your needed 600 level classes for your MS degree. 

Do graduate-level courses offered via University Without Walls (UWW) count toward my MS degree?

Yes! Graduate-level University Without Wall or UWW courses at UMass can count toward your MS degree. Just be sure to check that the class is either a computer science class, or a pre-approved non-CS course, and or you were granted approval.  If the UWW course is a core course and you earn a grade of B higher, it will fulfill your core requirement. If the course is a 600 level course and it is either a CS or pre-approved non-CS course it will fulfill part of your needed 600 level courses. '

NOTE- Many UWW classes are offered online. There are rules, mentioned below, for international students and online classes. 

How many online courses can students take each semester?

If you are an international student who is part of the on-campus/residential MS program (you are in the US on a student visa), taking 9 credits, you can only take ONE ONLINE course each semester.  If you are an international student in the online MS program, you can take as many online courses as you wish.  If you are a domestic student both in the US and outside the US, you can take as many online courses as you wish.

If you are an international student, on a student visa, taking 12 credits in one semester, or 4 classes, TWO can be online classes. This is because you are going over, above, and exceeding your required classes per semester, which is 9 credits. 

If you are an international student who is part of the on-campus/residential MS program (you are in the US on a student visa), and it is your LAST SEMESTER, you CANNOT TAKE ONLY ONLINE nor only independent study style (any course ending in 96 is an independent study) courses.  This rule applies to winter and summer courses as well. 

Are UWW and online classes the same thing?

No, not all online classes are UWW classes, and not all UWW classes are online. International students cannot take more than one online class a semester. It does not matter if the online class is offered UWW or via University. 

How do I know if a course is online?

If a course is online it will NOT have a classroom listed on Spire. It will say ONLINE, or, CPE with Moodle, in the space where a classroom should be listed. Online classes may still have a meeting time listed on Spire. This is because there are some online classes that may be synchronous, where the materials are delivered online, but at the same time, regardless of where students are in the world. 

I am an international student physically taking classes at UMass in my final semester and I want to take only an independent study, which is a course ending in X96, can I?

IPO and CICS STRONGLY Encourage international MS students in the final semester as a residential student to take AT LEAST ONE CLASS, even a 1 credit class, that meets in person. Independent studies DO NOT require you to be in person. Therefore, if you are taking CS696DS as your only class in Spring, we STRONGLY encourage you to take ANY class that meets in person. This is a visa rule, not a UMass and CICS rule. 

How many credits can MS students take of Independent Studies?

Students can only take SIX credits of their 30 credits as independent studies AND OR Pass/Fail /SAT/UNSAT. This means if you take one class Pass/Fail and one independent study you cannot take another class Pass/Fail and/or you cannot take another class independent study and then have those classes count towards your MS Degree. 

How do I start doing research?  How do I find a faculty member to work with?

Check out the Independent Study FAQ.

Every professor is different. Start by identifying an area that you want to do research in, then see if you can find faculty members or Ph.D. students to speak with. Some will offer independent studies to MS students, some don't.  Some have zero MS students they work with, some have 20.  Some will want to see you get an A in their course before doing research with them, some do not require you to take their course.  It is truly an individual experience, but generally, you will have to take the initiative to find research opportunities. You also may be able to work with Ph.D. students in their labs, too!

It is not suggested that you cold email professors and share all of your accomplishments when pursuing research opportunities. Professors at CICS get so many emails all the time, it is better that you contact professors you have taken a class with, know something about, have attend a lecture, etc. 

Does the Master's Project, COMPSCI 701, count as an independent study?

No, COMPSCI 701 is not counted as an independent study. This six-credit research project does require two professors to serve as readers/graders/advisors. CS 701, all six credits, also counts as a  600+ level course.  Therefore, students who complete an MS Project, will earn 6 credits towards their MS and half of the needed 12 credits of 600-level courses are compelted. 

Can I do 701 by taking 6 credits in one semester, taking an incomplete and then finishing the incomplete in my last semester?

As of Fall 2019, you should take 701Y (Y for year-long) which carries three credits in each of two semesters. You will receive a "Y" for the first 3 credits, and then you will receive a letter grade after all 6 credits are complete.  This does not affect your credit requirements for Visas.  But you could take 9 credits in a Fall, including 3 credits of 701Y, then complete 701Y with 3 credits in the Spring.  Since the Spring would be your last semester, that qualifies you for full-time status.

I am very much enjoying research and want to get into the Ph.D. program. How do I do that?

Admissions for the Ph.D. is separate so you will have to apply to that program. Keep in mind that the CICS Ph.D. program is even more competitive than the MS program. The thing that will really put your application over the top is to have a CICS faculty member say that you should be admitted to the Ph.D. program because they want to work with you. Approximately, 2-3 MS students are accepted into the Ph.D. program every year.

Independent Study FAQ

Can I audit a course?

Yes, you can audit a class. When you audit a class you will be able to sit in on the class, participate, have access to the online materials, but you will NOT EARN CREDIT for the class. The class will show up on your transcript, with the AUD in the grade portion. There is a fee associated with auditing a class. Instructions on how to audit a class can be found here.  PLEASE NOTE:  Once you've enrolled in a course as an audit, you can't change back to a letter grade.

Can MS students use the University's grade replacement systems to wipe out an F in a class?

Unfortunately, no. That policy is only for undergraduates. You do need to have a 3.0 GPA to graduate with an MS, but keep in mind this is a 3.0 across all of the 30 credits you are using to graduate. If you have an extra class that was an F (which you can't use for the MS since you need a C), it will not count in your FINAL GPA.  Final MS GPA means the GPA AFTER your graduation. The F will always be present on your transcript. Please contact the UMass Graduate School after you complete your MS for additional details. 

How do I take a class Pass/Fail or Sat/Unsat in a semester not impacted by COVID-19?

For graduate students at UMass the pass/fail is known as Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory, professors and students use both terms. Your transcript will state SAT/F, not pass/fail.

This is a discussion you have with the instructor of the course. Graduate student policies are different than undergraduate Pass/Fail and audit policies.

 Steps you need to complete for Pass/Fail or Sat/Unsat:

  1. Ask your course instructor if they will permit you to take the course for a SAT grade which is recorded as SAT (satisfactory) or F (failure) on your transcript. Your instructor is under no obligation to say yes. Your instructor may tell you it is too late in the semester for a SAT grade option.
  2. You must complete the requirements of the course.
  3. Remind your instructor at the end of the course about your agreement so the correct grade is entered in SPIRE. 
  4. Your instructor is under no obligation to retract the p/f if you request it at the end of the semester.

You do not need to contact the Graduate Program Manager about earning a SAT grade or auditing a course.

NOTE- Students can only take SIX credits of their 30 credits Pass/Fail and or as independent studies. If a class is taken Pass/Fail it does not meet the core requirement. Core classes must be passed with a B or higher. Additionally, NO MORE THAN SIX CREDITS CAN COME FROM PASS/FAIL & INDEPENDENT STUDY.  This means if you take one class Pass/Fail and one independent study you cannot take another class Pass/Fail and/or you cannot take another class independent study and then have those classes count towards your MS Degree. 

How many classes am I able to take as Pass/Fail or Sat/Unsat?

CICS MS students are able to take up to 6 credits Pass-Failand or as independent studies.  NOTE- Spring 2020 Pass/Fail courses are a separate case, and do not count toward the total number of pass/fail classes you have taken. For graduate students at UMass the pass/fail is known as Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory, professors and students use both terms. Your transcript will state SAT/F, not pass/fail.

EXAMPLE- If a student takes 3 credits of independent study, they have three remaining credits they can use toward another independent study OR taking a class SAT/UNSAT. 

If I take a class Pass/Fail or Sat/Unsat do I still get credit for it?

Yes, if you take a class Pass/Fail and pass the class you will still receive credit for the class. This class will count towards the 30 credits needed to graduate with your MS. 

Can I/How do I drop a class after the Add/Drop Period?

Yes, you can drop a class after the Add/Drop Period. However, doing so will result in having a DR (for dropped) on your transcript. You can drop the class in Spire. You must also complete this form- https://www.umass.edu/graduate/form/adddrop-form and have your professor sign it.  You will not get your money back for this course after the Add/Drop period ends. 

INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS IN THE RESIDENTIAL/ON CAMPUS MS PROGRAM- You must be enrolled in 9 credits every semester except for your final semester. Therefore, if you are an international student, you cannot drop a class if that would being your enrollment down to less than 9 credits. The only exceptions to this are explained here on the IPO website- https://www.umass.edu/ipo/iss/exceptionsftenrollment. Read these carefully and consult with IPO if you believe they apply to you. 

Where can I get career advice?

CICS has a whole office dedicated to supporting graduate students in the job search process! CICS Careers can help every part of the job and internship process. CICS Careers can assist with resume review, interview preparation, negotiating offers, and finding positions. Plus, they put on tons of events for students like the Tech Fair (career fair), AMA's with employers, and workshops, and more! Set up an appointment with CICS Careers today! 

Where do CICS Alumni work or do after they graduate? 

CICS Careers, every year, puts together a destination report. This allows you to see where your peers are working and what they are doing after graduate school! https://www.cics.umass.edu/careers/articles/destination-report-2019

Can international students do a Curricular Practical Training (CPT) during the Fall or Spring semester?

It can be difficult to meet the requirements to do a CPT during the semester.  The only way to hold CPT during the Fall semester WITHOUT the Field Experience Concentration, is laid out below:  (without the Field Experience Concentration international students can only do 20 hours of CPT for a MAX of 20 hours a week)

  1. You must be full-time (9 credits), in the US, and in the residential MS program
  2. You can only take one course per semester that doesn't require your physical presence
  3. You must take at least one course that requires your physical presence at UMass Amherst and indepedent studies are not consdiered needed a physical presence
  4. In your last semester, you don't have to follow rule #1, but you still have to meet requirements #2 and #3.
  5. You cannot delay your graduation.
    1. You cannot even APPEAR to delay graduation. 
    2. You cannot do CPT in your final semester if you have already earned 30 credits/completed the MS requirements before the final semester.

So....if you are in your last semester in the Spring and think that you can take 696 remotely and work at Amazon in Seattle, you can't. If you have no courses left to take, you can't do a CPT because of rule #5. You can work from Amherst remotely or at a local company, as long as the work is 20 hours a week or less.  All of this is for your benefit to make sure you don't run into serious problems in the future. Check out CICS Careers Guide to CPT and OPT. 

Can international students do a Curricular Practical Training (CPT), for more than 20 hours a week, during the Fall or Spring semester?

Yes, international students who are part of the Field Experience Concentration can carry out CPT for more 20 hours a week or more. If students ARE NOT in the Field Experience Concentration, they max number of weekly CPT hours students can hold are 20 hours or less.  20 hours or more of CPT during the Fall or Spring semester is only allowable if the following criteria have been completed:

  1.  Student has passed or will pass BOTH the AI and Systems Courses required for the Field Experience Concentration before the CPT starts,
  2.  Student will have been in the US, on a student visa, for at least one whole semester before the CPT starts,  
  3. AND Student has completed the Field Experience Concentration pre-application, before the CPT is approved. 

When can I do a Curricular Practical Training (CPT)?

CPT is available to MS students enrolled in the residential MS program after completion of one full-time semester in the US via the Field Experience Concentration. If students ARE NOT a part of the Field Experience Concentration, CPT is available after two full-time semesters in the US. 

I am an international student, am I able to carry out CPT in my final semester as an MS student?

International students in their final semester CAN ONLY work 20 hours a week, part-time, CPT WHILE TAKING A CLASS THAT MEETS ON THE AMHERST CAMPUS, in their final semester. International students MUST be enrolled in an in-person class, that meets on the Amherst campus, in their final semester.  Full-Time CPT is NOT PREMITTED for Computer Science masters students in their final semester. 

Can I have TWO concentrations?

Unfortunately, no, you cannot have TWO concentrations with your MS degree.  You have to declare one and one only when you file/apply to graduate.  If you have used the Field Experience Concentration to do CPT after one semester physically in the US, YOU MUST DECLARE the Field Experience Concentration. This is because your CPT was tied to your degree requirements, CPT was allowable early, only because it was required for this concentration. 

I have questions about the UMass Health Insurance, Help!

Check out this website for the insurance cost, dates, benefits, and more. https://www.umass.edu/uhs/coverage-dates-and-cost

I have other questions that are not listed here. Who can I speak with about these questions?

Please speak with MS advisor Elizabeth. You can set up an appointment here. You can also always email Elizabeth!