Degree Requirements by Graduate Program
- Admission Requirements
- Course Requirements
- Satisfactory Academic Progress
- Candidacy and Proposal Defense
- Dissertation Defense
The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) at Northwestern University is a premier research and academic department ranked among the top CEE departments in the nation. With approximately 30 experienced faculty members, CEE provides graduate students with an exceptional range of opportunities to advance their knowledge and careers in a scholarly community small enough to assure individual attention and effective mentoring.
CEE prepares students to become the next generation of leaders in research, academic, corporate, and public service settings. It offers the Master of Science (MS) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degrees in civil and environmental engineering through Northwestern University’s Graduate School. Students work with their advisor to construct study plans suited to their unique interests. These include extensive options for courses outside civil and environmental engineering that address a wide variety of social, economic, and physical challenges in constructing and managing the industrial and public works infrastructure.
The department is divided into five Programs of Study: Environmental Engineering and Science, Geotechnics and Environmental Geotechnics, Mechanics of Materials and Solids, Structural Engineering and Infrastructure Materials, and Transportation Systems Analysis and Planning. In the following sections, MS and PhD degree requirements will be outlined for each Program of Study.
CEE graduate students come from throughout the world with degrees in a variety of fields including engineering, mathematics, the physical sciences, management, economics, and other social sciences. Admissions decisions are based on the overall academic picture presented through GRE exams and transcripts, as well as the statement of purpose and letters of recommendation.
The minimum course reqirement for the Master of Science degree is 12 courses. Among which are a minimum of 8 courses from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, 4 Department approved electives, and 3 quarters of program related seminar series (zero course credit). The PhD progams usually require additional courses and a dissertation. For more in depth information about each program's course requirements please visit their individual Degree Information Pages.
Environmental engineering and science (EES)
Mechanics of materials and solids (MMS)
Structural engineering and infrastructure materials (SEIM)
Transportation systems analysis and planning (TRN)
Project management* (MS only)
*See the MS in project management page for more information on this program.
Environmental Engineering and Science: The first element of evaluation is performance in course work, which is measured both by the student’s grades and individual evaluations by professors. These are discussed in our EES group meetings. Students must maintain a 3.00, but those students whose GPA falls below 3.50 are given careful consideration before they are allowed to move on to research.
Geotechnics: All students must maintain a minimum GPA in accordance with Graduate School rules (3.00). Any students supported by Research Assistantship funding must satisfy project needs. Students will attend weekly group meetings. The required thesis must satisfy the principal advisor and at least one additional geotechnical reviewer.
Mechanics of Materials and Solids: All students must attend weekly meetings to discuss progress. In addition, each student is required to make monthly formal presentations to the entire group, where the results are discussed, debated, and criticized.
Structural Engineering and Infrastructure Materials: The first element of the evaluation is performance in course work, which is measured both by student’s grades and individual evaluations by professors. Students must maintain a 3.00, but those students whose GPA falls below 3.7 are given careful consideration before they are allowed to move on to research.
Transportation Systems Analysis and Planning: Student must maintain a minimum GPA of 3.5 and a good performance on graduate course work, based on subjective assessment by all TRN faculty. For admission to the PhD program, students must pass a qualifying exam based on course work and research exercise with both oral and written components. Student must also have support of at least one faculty member to serve as the research advisor.
Environmental Engineering and Science: Each student must demonstrate competency in the program's core courses and in an appropriate research area by passing a preliminary qualifying examination (PQE); students must take the PQE within one year after entering the graduate program. This involves the preparation and presentation of a short research proposal before an examining committee of three EES faculty. Students can only take this exam if they have been accepted into a research group and have a thesis advisor. Upon passing the PQE, the student is allowed to move into PhD candidacy and proceed with their research and to prepare for the Qualifying Exam (QE).
The Qualifying Exam is based on a defense of a written research proposal—that is, the dissertation topic. Ideally, the QE is taken in the 6th quarter (end of the 2nd Academic Year) after the student passes the PQE. The QE must be completed by end of the 7th quarter (or Fall Quarter of the 3rd Academic Year). The student enters official Ph.D. candidacy after passing the qualifying examination which is determined by the QE committee. The QE committee must have a minimum of four members, three of whom must be EES faculty. We encourage at least one member outside the department and students may have additional members beyond the minimum. Students will provide a yearly update of their progress to their committee in the form of a meeting, a two-page summary of progress and short presentation.
Geotechnics: Upon completion of course work or the second year, students complete a written and oral Preliminary Qualifying Exam and formal written dissertation proposal (Prospectus). An External MS is counted as year one. Students must maintain a minimum GPA in accordance with TGS rules (3.00), and must pass the Qualifying Exam. This consists of a written exam, a comprehensive oral exam, and a written thesis proposal and presentation for a committee of at least three professors. Students will receive written guidelines and example schedules for qualifying exams as exam date approaches.
Mechanics of Materials and Solids: Students must take an oral qualifying exam, which is primarily an oral defense of the proposal before the PhD Qualifying Committee (Prospectus).
Structural Engineering and Infrastructure Materials: The PhD candidacy exam is typically taken at the end of the second or into the third year where students prepare and defend a research proposal before a committee (Prospectus).
Transportation Systems Analysis and Planning: At the end of the first academic year in the program, students take a comprehensive qualifying exam with written and oral components. The exam is intended to assess a student’s proficiency in the field, as well as research potential. Satisfactory completion of the exam results in advancement to PhD Candidacy.
By the end of their third year in the program, students are expected to convene a committee and defend their dissertation proposal (Prospectus).
Environmental Engineering and Science: PhD dissertation research and thesis writing typically takes 3-6 years. If a problem arises, students will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Students must provide an oral defense of their thesis before their dissertation committee, revise their thesis as advised, and receive the approval of each committee member.
Geotechnics: All students who are supported with Research Assistantship funding must satisfy continuing project needs. Meetings are required every or every other week with a supervisor as a group or individually. In addition, students must make one or two presentations on thesis work at Geotechnical Seminars during the winter and spring quarters Average completion time is four to five years after BS.
Mechanics of Materials and Solids: Students must provide an oral defense with the PhD Final Committee.
Structural Engineering and Infrastructure Materials: PhD dissertation research and thesis-writing typically takes anywhere from 3-6 years. In most cases, students will complete their work, defend their thesis, and graduate.
Transportation Systems Analysis and Planning: Average completion time for dissertation is four to five years.