MS Software Engineering

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Last updated December 7, 2007.

With a large number of prospective students and many current students in the MSSE program, I receive a daunting amount of email. I cannot respond to all questions personally. Most questions can be answered by reading the material at this web site, including this FAQ.

Invariably, there will be some questions that will go unanswered. Before sending email to me, students should first join the sjsu-msse-program Yahoo! group and pose your question there (if it is not of a personal nature). Note that you must include your first and last name in the Real Name field of your Yahoo profile before you will be allowed to join sjsu-msse-program Yahoo group. All MSSE students and I participate in this Yahoo! group. Other students may be able to answer your questions quicker and more effectively than I.

If your questions are not answered by this web site or the program Yahoo group; or if your question is personal or strictly related to your situation, please feel free to contact me by email at Please follow the guidelines below for writing effective email messages.


Dan Harkey
Director and Graduate Advisor
MS Software Engineering

General Issues

Q: Can you give me any tips for writing effective email queries?

A: I get a lot of email, often from thoughtful people with good questions. But I also get a fair amount of email that appears ineffective. Hence this FAQ entry...

Avoid these common problems:

  • Asking questions that have obvious answers or can easily be found by a google search or visiting the SJSU web site.
  • Sending duplicate email. Even though I have other email addresses that you may discover, all of my email addresses get forwarded to one inbox so duplication is not necessary, costs me time and effort to delete, makes it difficult for me to follow my email on my mobile device, and only delays a response to your question.
  • Not including sufficient information to identify who you are. Please ALWAYS include your First and Last Name and a student ID if you have one. Using your maiden name, someone else's email address, and incomplete or nicknames is confusing, a waste of time, and only delays a response to your question.
  • Asking questions that the recipient isn't likely to be able to answer ("I need legal advice about my immigration status...")
  • Using poor grammar of poorly worded questions.
  • Bizarre spelling ("I rqst 2 nrol in ur dprtmnt..."). Please do not use abbreviations for words.
  • Misleading message subjects (Please use your email subject lines effectively)
  • Inappropriate greetings ("Hey Dan")
  • Unreasonable demands ("I need to know by 9 am tomorrow...")

I also recommend Eric Raymond's useful article " How to Ask Questions the Smart Way ". 


About the MSSE Program

Q: I work during the day. Can I obtain the MSSE degree while working?

A: Yes—the graduate courses are offered in the late afternoons and evenings. You have up to 7 years (!) to finish the degree, although we naturally don't recommend that you actually take that long. Many of our students are professionals who obtain the MS degree while working full-time.


Q: I have been in California for X months/years. Am I entitled to in-state tuition?

A: I don't know. This information should be obtained from the online catalog at, the SJSU web site at, or Graduate Student Services.


Q: I am an international student. Is there additional information available?

A: The International Programs and Student Services office has an excellent web site at .


Q: What form of financial assistance is available from the department?

A: Unfortunately, financial assistance is very limited. The department does not offer full scholarships or tuition waivers. A limited number of teaching associate, grader and lab assistant positions are available. However, these positions are generally not open to incoming students. The salary for these positions is not high, and you should not rely on them for financial support. You may also be able to obtain more information from the Financial Aid department at


Q: I am an international student and need to be enrolled in a degree program to obtain a student visa. However, I do not qualify for admission to the MSSE program. How can I take the courses that I need to prepare myself?

A: You may consider enrolling in the BS in Software Engineering (BSSE) program. If you already have another college degree, the "Second Baccalaureate" program may be appropriate for you. Note that San Jose State University is currently not offering admissions for Second Bachelors programs.


Q: What does it mean to enroll as a "second bachelor student"?

A: Second bachelor students are students that possess a bachelors degree in another field. When pursuing a second bachelors degree, these students are exempt from the core GE courses—except that they have to take US and California history and government (usually 6 units) if they haven't already. They are expected to satisfy all of the major requirements. The Software Engineering program allows courses taken elsewhere to count just as for ordinary transfer students. Applications are made for an undergraduate degree at (please indicate the current degree you possess). Foreign students are required to have a minimum TOEFL score of 550 (or 213 computer based). For more information on the BSSE degree, please see

Q: What is "Open University"?

A: "Open University" at SJSU allows individuals that are not registered in a degree program to take university courses. There are a number of restrictions.

  • There must be space available in the course after all degree program students have registered
  • The instructor must agree to admit the student
  • The student must fulfill all prerequisites to the course
  • Students who have been denied admission in a graduate program cannot register for graduate courses

Open University classes are not available to students that intend to apply for a degree program. Note also that open university courses must be transferred into a degree program. Requests to transfer open university courses to the MS Software Engineering degree program will be denied if an application to the MS Software Engineering program was submitted while the course was in progress.


Q: I concluded that I need to take quite a few courses before I am ready to apply for the MSSE program. Can you advise me what courses I should take?

A: If you need "quite a few courses", your best bet is to pursue a "Second Bachelors" degree. An undergraduate advisor for the BSSE program can then best help you chose courses.



Applying to the Program

Q: How do I begin my application?

A: Please follow the application submission process at

Q: What are the application deadlines?

A: University admission deadlines are listed at News about MS Software Engineering admission deadlines is also posted at


Q: Do you accept late applications?

A: Occasionally late applications are accepted. If you wish to inquire about a late application, contact Dan Harkey at


Q: What is the Graduate Studies and Research office?

A: Applications are evaluated in a two-step process, first by the Graduate Studies and Research (GSR) office then the department. The Graduate Studies and Research office administers all graduate admissions. It checks that your applications fulfill the minimum university criteria for admission. It checks your transcripts, degree certificates, TOEFL scores, visa status, and financial information. Once Graduate Studies is satisfied that you are qualified to join the university, then it forwards your file to the department. In the Computer Engineering department, we check your qualifications for the master's program in software engineering.

Q: I have questions about providing documents (such as transcripts and degree certificates) and test scores (such as TOEFL and GRE scores). Whom do I contact?

A: These documents and test scores are handled by Graduate Studies. Please see for contact information.


Q: What are the application fees?

A: Please check with the university web site ( for university fees.

Q: I need to know NOW whether you will accept me later, so that I can decide whether to work on undergraduate prerequisites, or whether I should try applying at a different university.

A: Unfortunately, we cannot give you a guarantee now that we will admit you later.


Q: I fulfill all requirements for admission. Am I guaranteed to be accepted?

A: Unfortunately, no. When there are more qualified applicants than we have space available in the program, we offer admission to those whom we consider the most promising applicants, until all space is filled. 


Q: What is an ABET accredited program?

A: ABET is the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. It is the official accreditation board for Software Engineering, Computer Engineering, and Computer Science programs in the United States. You will find a list of accredited universities at the ABET web site.


Q: My undergraduate degree is not from an ABET accredited program. What should I do?

A: Although the GRE is not required at this time it is strongly recommended that you take it. Admissions is competitive and a good score on the GRE can give you an edge over another applicant that has not taken the GRE or is has a lower score.


Q: What TOEFL and GRE scores do I need to have to be accepted?

A: If you are an international student (and your medium of instruction for your undergraduate studies was NOT in English), you need a minimum TOEFL score of 550 paper based, 213 computer based, or 80 Internet based. This is a University Graduate Studies and Research requirement. Students that submit TOEFL scores lower than the minimum will be denied admission.

For the GRE test, there are no hard cut-offs. We use the scores to compare and rank candidates.


Q: What is the status of my application?

A: The status of your application can be found on


Q: Did you recently change the admission requirements?

A: Admission to the MSSE program is a competitive process. We continually monitor the number of applicants and the number of spaces in the program. We periodically revise our guidelines to give students accurate guidance for submitting successful applications.


Q: What are my chances of being admitted?

A: Please note that I cannot predict your "chances" of being admitted to the program. However, you may find the following guidelines helpful. We are looking for students with a recent BS Computer Science, BS Computer Engineering, or BS Software Engineering from an ABET accredited program, or from similar background. Students with professional experience in the software field will also be considered if you you have a strong academic background. If you meet these criteria, we encourage you to apply.


Q: I took certification courses in (such as for CISCO, Novell, Unix, or NT) system administration. Can I use them instead of college courses as course equivalencies?

A: No.

Q: I took professional development classes (such as UC Extension). Can I use them instead of college courses as course equivalencies?

A: No.

Q: What is a typical set of computer science, computer engineering, or software engineering courses that you might expect of an applicant?

A: Here are some typical courses. This is not a complete list, but it should give you a flavor of the kind of courses that are typically a part of a BSSE, BSCmpE, or BSCS degree.

  • Data Structures
  • Java Programming
  • Database Management Systems
  • Computer Networks
  • Software Engineering
  • Operating Systems
  • Software Engineering
  • Computer Architecture
  • Computability Theory
  • Computer Graphics
  • Graphical User Interface Programming
  • Object-Oriented Programming
  • Compiler Design
  • Analysis of Algorithms
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Parallel Processing
  • Information Theory
  • Coding Theory
  • Cryptography and Computer Security
  • OO Analysis and Design


Q: I am self-taught in the computer related field, and I don't want to take a lot of undergraduate courses that repeat what I already know. Is there another way to prove my programming knowledge?

A: Take the GRE CS Subject Test.


Q: I have already taken some graduate level computer related courses at another institution. Can I transfer them into the SJSU MSSE program once I am admitted?

A: Yes, but there are restrictions:

  1. You can transfer at most 6 semester units (five quarter units = three semester units)..
  2. These courses must not have counted towards any prior degree ("no double dipping")
  3. The course(s) must be graduate courses
  4. The courses must be less than 7 years old.
  5. The grade for each class transferred must be a B or better.
  6. Each course transferred must be applicable to the MSSE program and equivalent to a course at SJSU. In general the courses should be related to distributed systems or emerging technologies, software engineering processes, or networking advanced topics. Traditional computer science courses (for example, advanced algorithms) will not be accepted.

    Transfer courses must be evaluated and approved for transfer. The process can be started by completing the form at and submitting a request for transfer to the Computer Engineering office using the appropriate form and procedure at

Q: I already took some graduate courses at SJSU before I was admitted to the MSSE program. Can those courses count towards graduation? 

A: Yes, but there are restrictions:

  1. You can transfer at most 6 units (2 courses). At least 24 units (8 courses) must be taken after admission to the MSSE program.
  2. These courses must not have counted towards any prior degree ("no double dipping")
  3. The courses must be less than 7 years old.

    You can petition for transferring the courses with the form at

Q: I concluded that I need to take quite a few courses to prepare myself for admission to the MSSE program. Can I be conditionally admitted and take the courses as an MSSE student?

A: We may admit students on a conditional basis if the number of fully qualified applicants is less than the available space in the MSSE program.


Q: I will be completing my undergraduate degree in the same semester in which I submit an application. Is that ok?

A: For students in the US, yes. Be sure to clearly indicate that you expect to earn your BS in the current semester. Completing the degree will be a condition for admission. For international students, the Graduate Studies and Research office wants to see a degree certificate, so you will need to complete your undergraduate degree before you apply. Note that the date that the degree is conferred must be before the first day of classes in the graduate program.

Note that for Indian students, the MS Software Engineering program has an expedited admissions process, and can evaluate an application for admission (and the necessary I-20) as soon as the 7th semester mark-sheet is available.


Q: I do not have a 4-year Bachelor degree. Can I be admitted to the MSSE program?

A: A 4-year Bachelor degree is a minimum requirement for admission to the graduate school. Note that two degrees in the same subject area can be used to meet the minimum degree requirement. For example an applicant from India can use a three-year bachelors degree plus a masters degree to meet the requirement. The degrees must have been completed. If you do not have the minimum degree requirements, you should consider a Second Baccalaureate degree in Software Engineering. Dr. Weider Yu , coordinator for the BS Software Engineering program, can best help you with understanding the requirements for a Second Baccalaureate degree in Software Engineering.


Q: The California State University policy states that in unusual cases, the department may make exceptions to the 4-year Bachelor degree requirement. Does your department make these exceptions?

A: Very rarely. We may make an exception if you can demonstrate a strong background in a computer related field.


Q: My application was rejected, but I disagree. Can I appeal?

A: No.


Q: My application was rejected. Can I find out why?

A: No. We rank applications, and pick the highest ranking ones. For privacy reasons, it is not possible for you to compare your application against others.

If you were not accepted, then that does not mean that we find you unqualified. It usually means that we have had more applicants than we were able to accommodate, and that you did not rank among the top ones.

Q: My application was rejected. Can I join the program on a part-time or conditional basis?

A: No. There is no separate part-time program. If we had been able to accept you on a conditional basis, then we would have done so. If your application was rejected, your only recourse is to reapply.


Q: My application was rejected by the Graduate Studies office. Can you intervene on my behalf?

A: No. The Graduate Studies office determines whether you fulfill the minimum entrance requirements to join a graduate program at San Jose State University. If the Graduate Studies office determines that you did not meet those requirements, or that you did not submit required documents in a timely manner, the computer engineering department cannot intervene.

Q: My application for a previous semester was rejected, but I would like to be reconsidered for the next semester. Can I submit additional materials without reapplying?

A: No. Your previous application is no longer active. You need to reapply. The Graduate Studies and Research office may be able to locate your old transcripts. Check with the Graduate Studies office to see if your old materials are still available.

Q: My application was rejected, and I would like to reapply. What can I do to improve my chances?

A: Here are some suggestions:

  • Complete an undergraduate computer-related degree such as Software Engineering.
  • Submit letters of recommendation that show exceptional promise
  • Submit other evidence of exceptional promise such as publications, open-source software contributions, patents, etc.
  • Take the GRE CS Subject test and do well in it.

Current MSSE Students

Q: How can I learn about the various policies and procedures that graduate students need to follow?

A: The Graduate Studies & Research office has several important resources:

Q: How can I get various forms (such as CPT, OPT, transfer of credit) approved by the department?

A: First visit Select the action you want to accomplish and provide the requested information to the Computer Engineering office in Engineering 284. You do not need to meet with or contact an advisor to submit these forms.

Q: I am currently Conditionally Classified. How do I reach Fully Classified Status. How quickly should I obtain "fully classified status"?

A: You should complete your admission conditions as soon as possible. Here's a handy graph to summarize the unit rules: You need 30 units (10 courses) to graduate, subject to these constraints:

  • Undergraduate condition courses will not be counted for master degree credits.
  • Each condition course can be satisfied by
    1. Obtaining a waiver from the Course Coordinator, or
    2. Passing a challenging exam given by the Course Coordinator, or
    3. Enrolling in the class and receiving a “B” or better grade.
  • Challenge exams might not be available for all condition courses. In general, challenge exams, if available, will be given during the first two weeks of each semester.
  • A student can take a challenge exam for a particular condition course only once.
  • After receiving a grade lower than “B” of a particular condition course, a student must repeat the same course and can not take the challenge exam.
  • A student can take a condition course at most twice.
  • Some prerequisites for undergraduate courses can be waived with instructor’s consent.
  • A passing grade in the CMPE 101 exam is required prior to taking CMPE 126 and is equivalent to completing CMPE 046.
  • A permission code for an undergraduate class can be obtained through the Department office.
  • A maximum of nine (9) graduate units earned prior to completing your admission conditions may be applied to your master degree program.

Filing a Request for Classified Status form is not required. You will be given fully classified status when you file for Candidacy.

Q: I was accepted with a condition (such as to take certain undergraduate courses), but I don't like the condition. Can I negotiate to have it waived or changed?

A: If feel that you know the material taught in the prerequisite course, then visit the course coordinator of the course and convince him that you know the material.


Q: I was admitted as a conditionally classified student and fulfilled my conditions a long time ago. Why am I still listed as "conditionally classified"?

A: There isn't anyone who is monitoring your admission conditions and completed courses on your behalf. YOU need to apply for "fully classified status". You will be "fully classified" after you have completed your conditions AND have applied for change of status.


Q: I have been accepted to the program but I won't be able to attend for another semester. Can I defer my acceptance?

A: Unfortunately, you will need to reapply. However, if you inform us that you were accepted in the prior semester, then you need not supply transcripts again. You will need to pay the application fee. If more than one semester has passed since your acceptance, you will need to reapply and resubmit all materials.


Q: I have already been admitted to the MSSE program and would like help in planning my program of study.

A: Please see a MSSE graduate advisor. An advising schedule is posted at


Q: I have already published a master's thesis, a PhD dissertation, or a book or article solely authored by myself. Do I still have to take Technical Writing at SJSU?

A: Your publishing work will be evaluated first by the graduate coordinator. If the work is deemed substantial enough for consideration, a memo will be written to the Director of Graduate Admissions for further review. If the work passes this review, taking CMPE 294 or ENGR 200W will be waived.

Q: I have completed a Technical Writing course in another university? Do I have to take Technical Writing at SJSU?

A: Your technical writing course needs to be evaluated by Dr. Jeanne Linsdell, Director of Technical Communications in the College of Engineering.


Q: I have taken a ENGR 100W or similar course at another California State University. Do I need to take ENGR 200W?

A: No.


Q: I am taking a class that is not part of my program of studies. Will the class count towards my GPA?

A: Yes. All classes that you take once you are admitted to the program count towards your GPA.

Q: What happens if my GPA drops to 3.0 or less?

A: If your cumulative GPA is < 3.0, then you are on probation. If you are on probation, you

  • cannot register without seeing an advisor first
  • cannot graduate
  • cannot start your master's project or thesis
  • will be disqualified from the MSSE program if your semester GPA is <= 3.0


Once your cumulative GPA is again >= 3.0, you are no longer on probation.

You should try very hard not to get onto probation in the first place. You should plan on getting a B+ or better in all your courses. If you do end up getting a B or less in one course, make sure that you have another course to make up for it.


Q: What happens if I get a C- or lower in a class?

A: (1) You cannot use that class for graduation. You can repeat it or select another course. (2) Your GPA will suffer, and you'll probably go on probation. For more information, see the graduate program section in the university catalog at


Q: I was put on probation, and now I can't register for classes. What should I do?

A: See the graduate advisor. 

Q: I got disqualified from the program. What should I do?

A: First see the department chair. Be prepared to explain your situation. With the approval of the department chair, you can file a petition for reinstatement. Usually, such a petition involves your committing to take a selection of undergraduate (!) courses, to be approved by the graduate coordinator, that (a) more adequately prepares you for graduate study and (b) lifts your cumulative GPA. These courses do not count towards your graduate degree. 

Q: I would like to take a course from another department. What should I do?

A: Before you register, see the graduate coordinator. Bring a copy of the syllabus for the course with you. The graduate coordinator will evaluate the syllabus, or ask a faculty member who is familiar with the subject matter to carry out the evaluation. Courses may be approved as elective courses, at the discretion of the graduate advisor.

Q: How many courses can I take from other departments?

You can take up to 6 credit hours (i.e. 2 courses) from outside the department. Note that this 2-course allowance includes transfer courses.

Q: What happens if I need to suspend my studies?

You can skip taking classes for one semester and not suffer any impact. No paperwork is required. However, if there is any possibility that your leave may extend beyond one semester,then you should file a Leave of Absence form before your leave begins. Otherwise you will lose your student status and have to reapply to the university. The catalog also provides more information at

Q: Can CMPE 271 be used as an elective course to satisfy my degree requirements?

NO. Students admitted into the MSSE program are expected to already know an objected-oriented language such as Java or C++. Consequently, CMPE 271 is considered a remedial course.

Q: How do I change the MSSE specialization that I wish to pursue ?

There is no form required to change your specialization. Simply take the specialization core courses for the specialization that you will complete. You will be required to declare your specialization at the time you file your candidacy form.


Office Hours and Appointments

Q: When are your office hours and how do I schedule an appointment?

A: Group advising hours for prospective and current students are listed at Advising hours can change so visit this site before going to an advising session.


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