How long should my senior project or master's degree take?

Senior project

For senior projects, it’s pretty straightforward. Your senior project is made of up two classes—Senior Project I and Senior Project II—worth 2 units each. So the senior project should take two quarters, and you should devote 6–8 hours per week to your project during both those quarters.

In exceedingly rare cases, you might do both Senior Project courses in one quarter, and devote 12–16 hours per week to your project that quarter. This usually only goes well if a number of factors align—your courseload should allow you to feasibly devote this time, you must be exceptionally motivated and have exceptional time management skills, and the project is clearly defined early on.

Master’s thesis

We offer two types of MS degrees in the CSSE department at Cal Poly. The “MS in CS” and the “Blended BS+MS in CS”.

Both degrees require roughly three quarters’ worth of coursework. However, this degree involves both coursework and research. Of course things will vary based on your project, but below is roughly what I would like my students to expect coming into their programs.

MS in CS

Expect to take at least 4 to 5 quarters to complete your thesis work. Taking less time is unlikely unless several factors align before your enrolment begins: you have a prospective advisor lined up, you and your advisor have a good idea of what you will work on, and perhaps some progress has already been made toward the project.

Blended BS+MS in CS

This program is often misleadingly called the “4+1” program. It’s certainly possible to complete your blended MS thesis in one academic year (3 quarters) after completing your BS requirements. But it doesn’t happen automatically just by enrolling in the BS+MS; you actually need to “blend” your BS and MS programs.

You can do this by devoting time during your BS program toward your eventual master’s research. Possible strategies are:

If your Senior Project (and your BS in general) has nothing to do with your master’s research, then you’re not doing a blended program. You should read the MS in CS section above because that’s more relevant to you.

Of course, this all requires a fair bit of foresight—you should already be planning to pursue your master’s degree at the start of the final year of your BS, and you should already be approaching potential advisors.

All the best!