McCormick’s combined BS/MS program allows undergraduates to pursue a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree simultaneously.McCormick’s combined BS/MS program allows undergraduates to pursue a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree simultaneously.

Academics
  /  
Undergraduate Study
Combined BS (or BA)/MS Degree Program

The combined BS (or BA)/MS degree program allows you to work on a master's degree in electrical engineering, computer engineering, or computer science at the same time you are completing your bachelor's degree. In most cases it is possible to complete both degrees in five years or fewer. Some students are able to complete both degrees in four years.

Jump to a Section

The Benefits

The benefits of a BS/MS or BA/MS are many, including better job prospects and efficient use of your college experience. Studies show that newly employed computer engineers and computer science graduates holding a master's degree have the potential to make almost 50 percent more money than engineering candidates with only a bachelor's degree and no experience.

Job candidates with a master's degree generally stand out in a field of applicants more so than similar candidates with a BS and no experience. For students whose bachelor's degree is not electrical engineering or computer engineering, the master's degree can provide entry into these lucrative fields.

In the shorter term a BS/MS or BA/MS degree is an efficient use of your college time. Individuals who wait for completion of the BS or BA to enter a MS program usually take two years to complete the MS. Most candidates will complete the BS/MS or BA/MS in fewer than five years. The time it takes to complete the program is partially based on the amount of AP credit you brought to Northwestern, and partially based on a carefully constructed curriculum that balances your course load and course requirements to ensure that you will complete the requirements for both programs in a timely fashion.

Return to Top

Eligibility Requirements

Any Northwestern undergraduate enrolled in the Weinberg College or the McCormick School is eligible to apply. Students in the undergraduate EE, CE, or CS/CIS programs are especially encouraged to consider the programs, as are McCormick and Weinberg students more generally. You do not need to be an electrical engineering, computer engineering, or computer science major to be admitted.  Students in McCormick with a 3.5 GPA at the time of application, who have completed the prerequisite courses are typically admitted, but all students with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher are welcome to apply, once they have completed the prerequisite courses.

You are eligible for admission to the program once you are within four courses of completing your undergraduate degree. You are required to have completed the appropriate set of prerequisite courses prior to being accepted to the MS program. The prerequisite courses for each program are listed below.

  • MS in electrical engineering: EECS 221, 222, 223, 224, and 225.
  • MS in computer engineering: EECS 205, 303, 214 (formerly EECS 311), and 361.
  • MS in computer science: EECS 101, 111, 211, 212 (formerly EECS 310), 213, 214 (formerly EECS 311).

​NOTE: Computer science majors applying for the BS/MS in computer science may substitute one 300-level class for EECS 101. This substitution may only be made by computer science majors. 

Return to Top

Finding an Adviser

Your graduate adviser should be a faculty member in the department who specializes in an area of study in which you wish to specialize. You may discuss your interests with the graduate director who can answer questions and then direct you to an appropriate faculty member.

You may also visit faculty web pages to read about their current research interests and find links to their recent publications in order to determine which faculty member might share your own interests. Once you have identified a faculty member or two whose research interests you, you should meet with him or her to discuss your plans.  

Return to Top

When You Should Start to Plan

Sometime in the later part of your sophomore year or early in your junior year you should talk to Bruce Lindvall about your intentions and you should start looking for a graduate adviser. Sometime during your junior year you should formally apply (see below).

Return to Top

Applying

There is a specific application for the combined degree that you need to complete. We recommend you follow the steps outlined below.

  • Pick up an “Application for Admission/Combined Degree Program” from Dean Bruce Lindvall in Tech L261 or from the EECS Graduate Office (Tech L351), or
  • Download the PDF Application File.
  • DO NOT apply online through The Graduate School.
  • Solicit two letters of recommendation from faculty members. Letters of recommendation can be e-mailed by faculty members to Dean Lindvall. Letters of recommendation are not necessary if you have a GPA of 3.5 or higher at the time you apply.
  • Obtain a copy of your unofficial transcript (can be obtained from within CAESAR). Please attach your unofficial transcript to the BS/MS application.
  • Meet with your undergraduate adviser to compile a list of the courses you need to complete your BS or BA degree.
  • Meet with your graduate adviser to discuss and plan your course of study for the MS.
  • Complete the course listing on the reverse side of the application. The course listing should reflect all courses necessary to complete both the BS/BA and the MS. Please note that you may not use a course that is required for your BS/BA as one of your courses for the MS; in other words you may use a course to fulfill requirements for the BS/BA or the MS but not both.
  • Have your undergraduate adviser review and sign your application.
  • Have the director of admissions in EECS (Goce Trajcevski) review and sign the application.
  • Once you have completely filled out the front of the application, you have your course plan completed, you have your undergraduate adviser's signature and the director of graduate studies' (Matthew Grayson) signature, you may return the application to the Dean Bruce Lindvall (Tech L261). Once the BS/MS or BA/MS application is approved by the Undergraduate Engineering Office, Dean Lindvall will deliver the application to The Graduate School (TGS).
  • Once your application is approved by The Graduate School they will mail you an official letter of admission which will specify your quarter for admission.

Please be aware of the following deadlines! If you are applying for admission to the BS/MS for:

  • Fall, the deadline is August 1
  • Winter, the deadline is November 15
  • Spring, the deadline is February 14

Return to Top

When to Apply

The BS/MS, BA/MS application is submitted the quarter prior to your being within four courses of completing your undergraduate degree. It is important to note that the earlier you start planning the easier it is to tailor your course selection to allow you to complete both degrees in a timely fashion.

Return to Top

Requirements to Complete the MS

The general requirements are that you satisfactorily complete 12 courses (that means pass each course with a B or better) and pass a MS exam. Three of the courses must be 400 level courses. Beyond the general requirements, however, there are three options available for the MS program: coursework, project, or thesis. The coursework option requires you to complete 12 substantive courses and pass MS exams. The project and thesis options require you to complete 10 substantive courses and 2 courses designated as “research” or “thesis” courses during which you will engage in active, independent research with your graduate adviser.

Return to Top

Counting Undergraduate Work Toward an MS

Yes, but you may not use those same courses to fulfill requirements for both your BS/BA and MS. In other words, a course can only fulfill requirements for one degree (the BS/BA or the MS) not both.

Return to Top

Undergraduate Courses Versus Graduate Courses

There are two answers to that question. First, graduate level courses are formally defined as those that The Graduate School has accepted for graduate credit. In EECS, this includes all 400+ level courses and most 300-level courses.

The second answer is that graduate courses are more rigorous than undergraduate courses and they will require more work from you. Graduate courses will require more reading, more discussion, and more writing than you find in most undergraduate courses. Undergraduate courses are designed, generally, to ground the student in the basic foundations of a discipline. Graduate courses are designed to prepare the student to contribute to the future direction of the discipline.

Consequently, undergraduate courses spend time making sure that students understand and can apply the fundamental building blocks of electrical engineering, or know how to select or design an appropriate data structure. Graduate courses, by contrast, will delve into theory, examine cutting edge research or programs and discuss the implications of the research, and engage the student in independent research. For example, many 400+ level courses are based around reading original, cutting edge research papers and working on research ideas. Graduate studies will challenge your critical thinking skills and your creativity. 

Return to Top

Choosing a Master’s Program in electrical engineering, computer engineering, or computer science

This depends on your interests and your career or research goals.

If you are already in the EE or CE undergraduate program, the choice of an MS EE or CE will let you acquire considerably more depth (and thus market value) in these areas.  On the other hand, the choice of an MS in CS will broaden the range of positions for which you are suited.

If you are already in the CS undergraduate program in McCormick or in the CS undergraduate program in Weinberg, similar reasoning also applies: An MS in CS will give you added value by giving you considerably more depth in your specialty, while an MS in EE or CE will give you added value by broadening your expertise.

If you are in another undergraduate program at Northwestern, either master's degree will considerably broaden your expertise and thus marketability.

Generally speaking, the MS in EE or CE has a greater focus on hardware, while the MS in CS has a greater focus on software.

In making your decision, you may also want to consider the research by the various faculty and the various EECS Research Interest Groups. Once you find the area that attracts you most, it becomes easier to choose. The EECS research interest groups are listed below.

  • Solid State and Photonics: The dominant focus here is in electrical engineering. The MS in EE or CE is best for interaction with this research interest group.
  • Signals and Systems: The dominant focus here is in electrical engineering. The MS EE or CE is best for interaction with this research interest group.
  • Computer Engineering and Systems: This research interest group focuses on all of computer engineering and the computer science field of systems (including networking and security). The MS EE, MS CE, and the MS CS work great for interaction with this research interest group.
  • Computing, Algorithms, and Applications: This group focuses on the computer science field of theory. The MS CS is best for interaction with this research interest group.
  • Cognitive Systems: This group focuses on the computer science field of artificial intelligence. The MS CS is best for interaction with this research interest group.
  • Graphics and Interactive Media: This group focuses on the computer science field of interfaces. The MS CS is best for interaction with this research interest group.

If you are unsure where your specific interests fall, your graduate adviser and the director of graduate studies will be happy to discuss options based on your specific goals.     

Return to Top

Course, Project, and Thesis-Based Master’s Options

The MS program has three options you may choose from in order to complete the degree. Your long-range goals as well as your academic strengths should determine the path you choose. The coursework option gives you the opportunity to take a greater number of traditional courses. If you have no interest in a PhD or in conducting research after completion of the Masters, this is probably the best path for you. If on the other hand you are interested in pursuing a PhD at some point or you are interested in obtaining a research position within a company, then you might want to consider the thesis or project option.

The project option requires you to complete 10 traditional courses and 2 research courses during which you will design and complete a research project under the guidance of your graduate adviser. You will write a final project document as part of your work. The thesis option requires you to complete 10 substantive courses and 2 thesis courses during which you will design and complete an original research project under the guidance of your graduate adviser. Your final product will be a master's thesis document. The thesis path is highly recommended for those who may be interested in pursuing a PhD at any point in the future.

It is important to point out that a project-based master's requires substantial effort on the part of your graduate adviser, and a thesis-based master's requires even more. For this reason, project-based and thesis-based master's can be selected only at your graduate adviser's discretion. If you are interested in either a project-based or thesis-based master's, please talk to your graduate adviser or the director of graduate studies as early as possible. 

Return to Top

Changing Courses After Submitting an Application

You may change your courses, but you must submit any changes to Dean Lindvall who will forward your notice of change to the McCormick registrar, The Graduate School, and to the director of graduate studies in EECS. These individuals will review the changes to make sure that the proposed change will not adversely affect your progress toward the respective degrees.

Return to Top

Changing Coursework to Project or Thesis Option Once You’ve Started MS Work

Students may do this; however, you must convince your graduate adviser to agree to advise the project or thesis, or find another adviser who is willing to do so.

Return to Top

Sample Curricula

The links below illustrate course proposals that have been used to complete the BS/MS. The time it will take you to complete the program is dependent upon how well you have managed your undergraduate degree and careful planning in structuring your master's plan. Students who enter the University with several AP credits can, with planning, complete the degree in four years. Students who switched majors and had little or no AP credit will probably take five years. The course outlines below may help you determine your own position:

Return to Top

Completing the Program

The time it will take you to complete the program is dependent upon how well you have managed your undergraduate degree and careful planning in structuring your master's plan. Students who enter the University with several AP credits can, with planning, complete the degree in four years. Students who switched majors and had little or no AP credit will probably take five years.  

Return to Top

Cost

The quarterly tuition for the BS/MS or BA/MS is the same as the tuition for a BS or BA. The bottom line is that if you plan well and complete both degrees in five years you will pay for an extra year of college, but you will have two degrees (two diplomas). If you entered Northwestern with AP credit it is possible to complete both programs in four years, but you should talk to your graduate adviser to make sure you have a plan that completes all of the requirements for both degrees.

Return to Top

Financial Aid

Undergraduates are eligible to receive NU scholarship assistance up to the equivalent of 12 quarters of enrollment. It may be possible that some of the courses for the master’s degree could be taken before you complete your undergraduate degree. You should contact the McCormick registrar, or your adviser to see when your undergraduate degree will be awarded and if you have room to take some graduate-level courses. You may also want to contact Bruce Lindvall, assistant dean for graduate studies, about the BS/MS program. There is no scholarship assistance for the MS portion of the program. As a graduate student, however, you will be eligible for Federal Direct Student Loans. The Student Financial Services Office (student-financial-services@northwestern.edu) will be able to counsel you about your eligibility.  

If you have questions regarding your undergraduate financial aid please contact the Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid at undergradaid@u.northwestern.edu. Ken Brown in the Office of Student Financial Services works with McCormick graduate students.

Return to Top

Deciding You Don’t Want an MS

This is your choice and it will not affect your BS or BA degree. Once you complete the BS/BA requirements, you will be awarded the BS/BA. You should know, however, that The Graduate School allows you five years to complete the MS. If you simply want to complete the program as a part-time student or if you want to take time off, you should discuss your options with your graduate adviser and file the appropriate paperwork so that you will be able to complete the program at a later point in time. More generally, realize that TChe Graduate School's five-year window gives you plenty of time to consider your options.

Return to Top

Differences Between MS and PHD

Completion of the PhD degree in EE, CE, or CS signifies that you have become an effective, independent researcher. PhD degrees are required for faculty positions in academia, and top research positions in industry and government.

Unlike the MS degree, which typically takes one to two years to complete, a PhD degree can take four or more years to complete. A major component of the PhD process is a multi-year, original, individual research project that leads to a doctoral dissertation, and a defense of that dissertation before a committee. A doctoral dissertation is essentially a book about one's original research.  

Return to Top

Switching to PhD later

An individual applying to a PhD program with a master's degree in hand usually has an advantage among the pool of candidates. Programs vary, but usually students with an MS will have fewer course requirements toward the PhD. That said, if you find yourself contemplating a PhD prior to completing the master's requirements, you can talk to your graduate adviser concerning your options.

Return to Top

For More Information

Visit the the McCormick School website for more information.