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The Civil Engineering Graduate Student Handbook sets forth the basic policies, requirements and procedures for graduate students pursuing Master of Science (MS) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degrees in Civil Engineering. Please visit the graduate study resources site for more information. For requests related to the application for the M.S. or Ph.D. program in the CEE department, please get in touch with the CEE graduate office.

M.S. Program Overview

The Department offers a graduate program leading to the M.S. degree in civil engineering with several areas of concentration, including coastal engineering, construction engineering management, environmental engineering, geotechnical engineering, hydraulics, structural engineering, transportation, and water resources. Here are the Admission Instructions. Administration of the M.S. program is by the Department Graduate Program Chair.

Students may choose either Plan A (thesis) or Plan B (non-thesis).  Students that do not possess a B.S. degree in civil engineering must fulfill the requirements listed below.

Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) Expected

The student learning outcomes (SLOs) for the MS program describe a skill-set that students are expected to have at the time of graduation. Specifically, our MSCE graduates will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate in-depth technical knowledge in a sub-discipline of specialization.
  2. Evaluate critically and synthesize literature to inform engineering solutions.
  3. Present effectively technical work orally in a formal setting.
  4. Produce technical reports and/or publishable manuscripts; and,
  5. Perform engineering research or conduct projects that address open-ended problems.

Each sub-discipline establishes a sequence of courses to achieve SLOs 1 and 2. To achieve SLO 3, every student is required to take a seminar course, where they are required to make an oral presentation. Also, every student presents orally during the final examination of their thesis (Plan A) or project work (typical for Plan B). To achieve SLOs  and 5, each student must complete successfully either a research-oriented thesis (Plan A) or a research or practice-oriented project report (Plan B). Graduate student writing guidance is available to help students to achieve SLO 4.

Admission Requirements

Admission is controlled by the Graduate Division.  Any applicant from outside UH must submit BS transcripts, three letters of recommendation, GRE scores or evidence of passing the EIT or hold an FE license or PE license, and a statement of objectives, along with their application form.  English test scores of TOEFL or IELTS must be submitted for most non-native speakers.  Applicants should also review the requirements on the admissions website at

Minimum Prerequisites for Students Without a B.S. in Civil Engineering

The following list of courses (or equivalent) must be completed with a grade of “C” or better prior to advancement to candidacy in the selected area of concentration.

Required Required
General Course Additional Course
Environmental 330 431
Geotechnical 355 455
Transportation 361 461, 462, or 464
Construction 375 472, 473, 474, or 476
Structures 381 484, 485, or 486
Hydraulics / Coastal 320 421

Minimum M.S. Credit Requirements*

The following table spells out the essential M.S. program requirements in CEE, for both the Plan A (thesis) option and Plan B (non-thesis) option:

Plan A


Plan B


CEE Graduate courses – 600-level
(core courses excluding CEE 700 and seminars) **
12 credits 18 credits
Graduate and/or 400-level courses
9 9
Thesis – CEE 700
(thesis topic and title to be approved by student’s Graduate Committee)
9 N/A
Major research report – CEE 695 N/A 3
Seminar – CEE 691 or approved equivalent 1 1
Minimum Total Credits 31 31
Final examination Oral thesis defense Oral project presentation
Required course during semester degree is to be awarded CEE 700 CEE 600, if all other coursework is completed

*Additional courses may be required by the student’s Graduate Committee

** A max of one CEE 699 is allowed

Only courses which receive a C or better count towards the M.S. credits. Thus, a C course would have to be repeated or the student needs to take another class to meet the minimum credit requirements.

Transfer of Credits from Another Institution

Previous graduate credits (from unclassified status or from another institution) must be transferred during the first semester after being accepted as a conditional or regular student.    Up to 15 credits can be transferred from another institution.  Those courses should have a grade of C or better.

After joining UH, an M.S. student can take courses elsewhere and request to transfer up to nine (9) credits towards their M.S. degree.

Plan Selection

A graduate student should select Plan A (thesis option), nine (9) credits of CEE 700; or Plan B (non-thesis option), three (3) credits of CEE 695.

Courses to Take

A preliminary degree plan that lists the student’s intended courses should be developed in consultation with the advisor. The list of courses may be modified at a later date.

Form I: Pre-Candidacy Progress (Plans A and B)

The Form I identifies any deficiencies the student must attend to.  This form should preferably be completed in the first semester after the student’s enrollment.

Form II: Advance to Candidacy

Admission to candidacy is at the discretion of the Department and authorized by the Graduate Program Chair.  Generally, advancement occurs after one semester and 12 credits of acceptable graduate degree coursework with a GPA of 3.0 or higher.  All listed undergraduate deficiencies must be satisfied prior to admission to candidacy.  Note that conditional students can be transferred to regular status after completing 12 credits of approved graduate degree coursework with a GPA of 3.0 or better.

Form II must show the tentative title of the student’s project report or thesis, and be signed by all committee members.  Before a student can enroll in CEE 700, the Form II must be complete.

For Plan A, any CEE 699 that is intended to be transferred later to thesis credit must be taken as credit/no credit.

Student’s Advisory Committee

Incoming graduate students must be advised by an interim Graduate Faculty who is either assigned or requested by the student.  The graduate student’s committee consists of a minimum of three Graduate Faculty members.  At least two of them must be from the Department, one of which must be the chair, who serves as the academic advisor.  Note that the interim advisor does not have to be a member of the committee.  The student must create his/her own advisory committee in consultation with their advisor.

Form III: Defense

For Plan A, the student must satisfactorily pass an oral defense of their thesis.  For Plan B, the student must satisfactorily present their project report. All committee members must attend the oral defense and/or report presentation, either in person or virtually.

Residency Requirement

M.S. students are required to be in residency for two semesters of full-time work, defined as registering for 8 credits or more per semester.

Degree Time Limit

The maximum time allowed for a student to complete the M.S. degree and utilize all graduate degree credits is seven (7) years preceding the date upon which the degree is conferred.

Ph.D. Program

The Department offers a graduate program leading to the Ph.D. degree in civil engineering with areas of concentration in construction management, environmental engineering, geotechnical engineering, structural engineering, and transportation. Here are the Admission Instructions.

The student learning outcomes (SLOs) for the PhD program describe a skill set that students are expected to have at the time of graduation. Specifically, our PhD graduates will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate foundational knowledge in civil engineering and comprehensive technical expertise in a subdiscipline of specialization.
  2. Evaluate critically and synthesize literature to inform engineering solutions.
  3. Present proficiently research plans and results orally in a formal setting.
  4. Perform original engineering research; and,
  5. Produce publishable manuscripts.

Each subdiscipline establishes a sequence of courses to achieve SLOs 1 and 2. To achieve SLO 3, every student is required to take a seminar course, where they make an oral presentation, and every student must write a dissertation, which they defend orally during the final examination. To achieve SLO 4 and 5, each student must complete successfully a research-oriented dissertation. The graduate student writing guidance is provided to help students to achieve SLO 4 and 5.



Students must satisfactorily complete a minimum of 50 credit hours in course work beyond the B.S. and a minimum of 1 credit graduate seminar as a PhD student. Based on a written recommendation of the student’s advisor, and with the approval of the Graduate Program Chair, students entering the PhD program may be granted an equivalence of up to 30 credit hours earned as part of the student’s M.S. program.  The 30 credit hour equivalents may include up to 9 credits of M.S. thesis research work but excludes graduate seminar credit hours taken as part of the M.S. program.

The courses that a student undertakes to fulfill the PhD credit hour requirements must be approved by the student’s dissertation committee.  The courses may include 600-level and 400-level courses offered by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering or other appropriate departments of the University.

Only courses which receive a C grade or better will count towards the PhD, starting from Fall 2019. Thus, a course where the student received a grade of C- or less would have to be repeated or the student will need to take another course if needed to meet the minimum credit requirements.

Qualifying Exam (and Pre-Candidacy Progress Form I)

All PhD students are required to take a qualifying examination (QE), which is administered at a time and date that is convenient and appropriate for the students and their advisors, in coordination with the Graduate Program Chair.  The QE is to be taken no later than the third semester following admission to the program.  The QE exam may be taken at any time during the Fall or Spring semesters, but the student should give one month’s notice to the Graduate Chair for this exam.  Students are required to coordinate the date and time of the QE exam with their advisor, who will chair the QE exam.

The QE consists of a 2.5-hour, closed-book, written examination, followed within one week by an oral exam.   The written exam is targeted at the student’s particular area of study.  Questions involve material that would be familiar to students who have completed an M.S. program in their area of specialty.

The oral exam is meant to complement the written part.  Its purpose is to discuss the results of the written part with the student, clarify errors through further questioning, and, if necessary, more clearly identify weaknesses so that a plan of remedial study can be designed.  Only the examination committee and the student are involved in the oral exam.

Administration of the QE

The QE is administered by a committee of at least three graduate faculty in the Department.  The committee members are appointed by the Graduate Program Chair and serve for the purpose of this exam only.   There will be a separate committee appointed for each student. The examination committee develops the written exam. Problems will be corrected by faculty members who submitted them. Corrected problems may be returned to the student. In addition, students are not allowed to ask committee members questions regarding the examination, either before the written or oral parts.  This policy is designed to provide the greatest fairness in the administration of the examination from year to year.

Only committee members may vote on passing or failing a student.  A simple majority of the committee is required for deciding the outcome of the examination.  Students failing the QE may repeat it once. A student failing the QE a second time will not be allowed to continue in the PhD program.

Once the QE is passed, as certified by the chair of the QE committee, the student’s Form I will be completed by the Graduate Chair and submitted to the Graduate Division.

Comprehensive Exam (and Advance to Candidacy, Form II)

Every PhD student must pass a comprehensive examination.  The purpose of this examination is to ascertain the student’s depth of knowledge in his/her chosen specialty and proposed dissertation topic.  Examinations are given when, in the judgment of the dissertation committee, the student has had sufficient preparation, but not sooner than six calendar months after the student has passed the qualifying examination.

The exam may be taken any time in either the Fall or Spring semesters. The student is required to assemble a dissertation committee and present their proposed dissertation topic and results of their literature review to the committee at least one month prior to the exam. The dissertation committee can provide direction and feedback to the student until the committee is prepared to unanimously approve the proposal.

Exam Committee

The examination committee consists of all members of the dissertation committee.  The examination committee will select its own chair; however, the chair of the dissertation committee may not serve as chair of the examination committee.  The role of the chair is to schedule the exam, coordinate the written questions from the members, administer the exam to the student, and chair the oral exam.

Written and Oral Exam

The comprehensive examination consists of a written part and an oral part.  The written part is a take-home, open-book, 5-day exam prepared by the examination committee.  It is to be handed to the student on a Monday morning, no later than 9:00 AM, and it is to be returned by the student no later than 5:00 PM of the following Friday. A copy of the corrected exam will be returned to the student no later than the following Wednesday.

The oral part will then take place no earlier than the Friday following the return of the corrected written exam to the student, but within a week of returning the corrected exams.  The oral exam shall be attended by all members of the committee, either in person or virtually, as per Grad Div rules, and may last a maximum of three hours. The oral examination provides an opportunity to discuss the written exam and to pose new questions to the student.

Criteria for Passing

A student passes the comprehensive examination if no more than one committee member opposes such an action.  A student who fails the comprehensive examination may, at the discretion of the examination committee, repeat it once no earlier than four calendar months after the first exam.  A student who fails the examination a second time will not be allowed to continue in the PhD program.

Doctoral Candidate

Students attain the status of doctoral candidate after forming their committee, getting their dissertation topic approved by their committee, passing the comprehensive exam, and completing Form II.


At least once a semester during their candidacy, the PhD candidate must make a presentation to their dissertation committee describing their research progress. All dissertation committee members must confirm their participation in these presentations by signing an internal Form IIa after each presentation.


A comprehensive dissertation is required of all students. It is to present results from innovative research that makes a significant contribution to the student’s selected field of specialization. The findings should be of a quality that is publishable in refereed journals and other scientific and engineering forums.

Final Dissertation Exam and Approval and Form III

PhD candidates are required to take a final examination in defense of their dissertation.  The candidate’s dissertation committee conducts the examination. Students pass upon the favorable recommendation of the majority of the committee. Any suggested changes proposed by committee members and others in attendance at the dissertation exam must be addressed by the candidate, and a final dissertation made available for review by the dissertation committee. All committee members must confirm their approval of the final dissertation after which the Graduate chair will process Form III for the candidate


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