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The PhD Comprehensive-I (breadth) requirement ensures that a student has sufficient breadth of knowledge to undertake research at the PhD level. A student meets the requirement by taking a number of advanced courses in a broad range of categories and areas. The courses used must all have a minimum mark of B+ (78% or equivalent).

Categories and areas for breadth requirement

The breadth requirement divides the subject matter of computer science into three broad categories. Each category is subdivided into areas that represent a range of the fields of computer science as given in the table below. The Comprehensive-1 table also indicates where CS courses at Waterloo fit in these categories and areas. A student must have at least 1 advanced course in 6 of the eleven areas, including at least 1 from each category.

The following courses can be can be used to meet the breadth requirement in each of the categories and areas:

  • advanced courses taken in an undergraduate program
  • graduate courses completed at master's level
  • relevant theses completed
  • planned courses to be taken in the PhD program

At Waterloo many of the 600-level graduate courses are held with 400-level fourth year courses. For the purposes of meeting the breadth requirement, the 400-level course is considered to be equivalent to the 600-level course. Offerings of CS 690B, 698, 798 and 898 or equivalent may also count in an appropriate area. Courses offered by other departments may also have assigned areas


Within one month of entering a PhD program, a new student submits a PhD Comprehensive-1 Report (PDF) to the Director of Graduate Studies detailing relevant past courses and future plans. Written in consultation with the student's supervisor, it should indicate the following:

  • Courses or equivalent (including theses) already completed by the student which can be used to fulfil part of the breadth requirement.
  • A plan of proposed courses, and the terms in which the courses will be taken, by which the student intends to fulfil the remaining part of the breadth requirement.

Non-Waterloo courses

Although courses from other universities may not cover exactly the same material as the UW courses, they will be evaluated to determine if the topics covered and the depth of the material is appropriate.The Director of Graduate Studies must be able to determine the content, level and grade for courses used to fulfil the breadth requirement as compared to courses at Waterloo.

The student must provide sufficient evidence to convince the Director of Graduate Studies that each course listed fulfils an area requirement. The following supporting documentation will be required to show that non-Waterloo courses fulfil the breadth requirement:

  • course syllabi indicating textbooks used, schedule of topics covered and method of evaluation
  • descriptions of prerequisites or co-requisites, and references to university catalogues (web-based or otherwise accessible)
  • transcripts for all courses indicated

The Director of Graduate Studies will ask the student for more information or certification in cases of doubt and will consult with experts in the department as deemed appropriate. The Graduate Committee will be the final arbiter of whether courses taken and marks obtained satisfy the requirement.

The breadth requirement must be completed by the end of the student's fourth term.