Stanford University
Symsys stickers image

M.S. Degree Requirements

Updated November 1, 2023

NOTE: The requirements below were modified for 2020-2021 by the program's Covid-19 policies.

General Requirements

  • 45 unit minimum to confer the M.S. degree. All courses must be 100 level and above. 
  • 50 percent of those units must be in graduate-level courses (generally, at the 200-level or above)
  • 36 of these must be graded units, passed with an average grade of 3.0 (B) or better. Any course taken as part of the 45 unit program must be taken for a letter grade unless the course is offered S/NC only. 
  • None of the 45 units to be counted toward the M.S. degree may include units counted toward an undergraduate degree (or other Master's degree) at Stanford or elsewhere. Course requirements for the M.S. degree in Symbolic Systems may be waived after a review by the program office. Waivers are granted at the discretion of the program, and only if evidence is provided that similar or more advanced courses have been taken and passed with a letter grade of B or its equivalent, either at Stanford or another institution, and as part of another degree program which the student has either completed or is pursuing in parallel with the Symbolic Systems M.S. degree. Waivers of Core skill area requirements for the M.S. degree must be approved by the end of the student's first quarter of enrollment in the program. Course requirements that are waived rather than fulfilled by courses taken at Stanford may not be counted toward the 45 units required for the Symbolic Systems M.S. degree. 
  • All general University requirements (minimum units, residency, and so on) for the master’s degree must be met through the proposed program of study.
  • Work on the Master's thesis may account for up to 15 units, usually taken as Symsys 290, Master's Degree Project. Enroll in a section under your thesis advisor. If the advisor is not listed, please contact Dacien Sims, Student Services Officer, as soon as possible and no later than two days prior to the final study list deadline. 

Covid-19 Grading Policy: The master's program in Symbolic Systems counts all courses taken in academic year 2020-21 with a grade of 'D-', 'CR' (credit) or 'S' (satisfactory) towards satisfaction of graduate degree requirements that otherwise require a letter grade, subject to a graduate GPA requirement of 3.0 or above in the courses that constitute a master's student's 45 required units. In addition, courses taken in the Spring Quarter of 2019-20 and passed with an S grade can count toward the 36 units of letter graded coursework required for the Master’s degree, provided the course is ordinarily offered for a letter grade.

Program Proposal

An initial plan of study should be delineated on the M.S. Program Proposal Form and submitted prior to the end of the student's first quarter of study. The Program Proposal is subject to approval by the SymSys Program Office and should be sent to symsys-directors [at] (symsys-directors[at]lists[dot]stanford[dot]edu), with a cc to the prospective project advisor, if in an approved project.

The final approved version of the M.S. Program Proposal, which should specify all the courses the student has taken and proposes as fulfillment of the unit requirements for the degree, is due by the end of Finals Week in the quarter prior to the student's expected graduation quarter. Advisor signature is required at this time.

Note: It is the student's responsibility to verify that they have met the program and University requirements, and any courses listed for a future quarter on their M.S. Program Proposal are scheduled to be offered. Failure by the student to verify that a course is scheduled to be offered will not be considered as grounds for a replacement petition, if a course listed on the Program Proposal form is not offered.

Course Requirements

The MS program requires students to take advanced courses in four main skill areas: formal, empirical, computational, and philosophical, which must be taken in at least three of the following departments: Computer Science, Linguistics, Philosophy, and Psychology. Each course must be taken for 3 or more units and passed with a letter grade.

Advanced courses in each of the skill areas are defined below. The courses listed are examples of those that have been approved. Other courses may be approved if appropriate.

Completion of three quarters of the Symbolic Systems Program M.S. Seminar, SymSys 291

Pre-project Research Requirements

Pre-project research requirements, including the Project Area Statement (PAS) and Qualifying Research Paper (QRP). 

Individual Development Plan

Submission of an Individual Development Plan, approved the student's primary thesis advisor, by June 1st of the year prior to the student's first full academic year working their primary advisor.

Master's Thesis

Completion of the Master's Thesis. Work on the project (SymSys 290) may account for up to 15 units of a student's program.