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Graduate Curriculum

UC San Diego offers the PhD with areas of emphasis in Composition, Computer Music, and Integrative Studies, and the Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) in Contemporary Music Performance. All applicants admitted to the graduate program will be officially entering the PhD or DMA program, with the prospect of completing a doctoral degree. Concurrent PhD or PhD and DMA degrees are not allowed. Admitted students who have not previously earned a master’s degree in a music-related field from another institution will earn the MA while completing doctoral requirements. 

Core Graduate Curriculum

Methods: All students are required to complete both courses during their first quarter at UC San Diego.

  •  MUS 291: Introduction to Research Methods
  •  MUS 501: Introduction to Teaching Methods 

Performance: All students must complete at least eight units.

  • MUS 200, MUS 201, MUS 202

Depth: All students must complete at least 32 units from among these options (20 units for Master's degree).

  • MUS 206
  • MUS 207
  • MUS 210
  • MUS 272
  • MUS 271 A-B-C 
  • MUS 215 A-B-C (IS Area requirement; see “NOTE” below) 
  • MUS 267
  • MUS 270 A-B-C (Computer Music Area requirement; see “NOTE” below) 
  • MUS 170-177 (no more than one course from this series can count towards this requirement)

NOTE: Courses may not be used to satisfy both area requirements and Methods/Depths units unless specifically stated.

All courses in the "Methods" and "Depth" series above must be taken for a letter grade to count towards a student's degree progress.


Breadth: All students are encouraged to take at least one graduate-level or upper-division undergraduate course outside of the department, which, by petition and on a case-by-case basis, may count toward the depth requirement.

Focus: All students (except for computer music) are required to enroll in the appropriate area focus course (S/U grading option only) every quarter in residence (for PhD students), or until advanced to candidacy (for DMA students).

  • MUS 204, MUS 205, MUS 245

Research: All students must complete at least six units of MUS 299 and are encouraged to pursue independent research on a continuing basis. Students must also complete at least six units of MUS 298 enrolled with members of the student’s doctoral committee in preparation for the qualifying exam.

  • MUS 298, MUS 299

Teaching: Participation in the undergraduate teaching program is required of all graduate students at the equivalent of 50  percent time for three quarters =(six units total).

  •  MUS 500

Engagement: All students are encouraged to explore outreach and service opportunities during their graduate study and to engage in sustained and substantive ways with our diverse local communities as an integral part of their creative and scholarly research.

Area Requirements

In addition to the core graduate and PhD or DMA curriculum, students (according to their area of emphasis) must complete the following courses prior to the qualifying examination:


  •  MUS 203A-B-C—successful completion of the jury process is necessary to obtain a passing grade in the corresponding seminar.
  •  MUS 203D—every quarter in residence with committee chair after successful completion of 203C.
  •  MUS 210—must be taken twice (one time can count toward the depth core requirement).
  •  MUS 228
  •  MUS 229
  •  MUS 271A-B—both courses can count toward “depth” requirement.

Courses may not be used to satisfy both Area requirements and Methods/Depths units unless specifically stated.

Computer Music

  •  MUS 270A-B-C—must be taken within the first year of the program.
  •  MUS 270D—required to be taken a total of three times.

Courses may not be used to satisfy both Area requirements and Methods/Depths units unless specifically stated.

Integrative Studies

  •  MUS 215A-B-C
  •  MUS 215D—must be taken twice after successful completion of 215C prior to qualification.

Courses may not be used to satisfy both Area requirements and Methods/Depths units unless specifically stated.


  •  MUS 200, 201, or 202—every quarter in residence.
  •  MUS 232—every quarter in residence.

Courses may not be used to satisfy both Area requirements and Methods/Depths units unless specifically stated.

Preliminary Examination

Each graduate program has area-specific requirements that function as a “preliminary exam” that takes place during fall of the student’s second year. The purpose of the preliminary examination is to evaluate a student’s potential to succeed in the program and their command of content presented in the first year of course work. If the participating professors unanimously agree that the student has not passed the exam, then the student will be allowed to finish the second year and to submit MA completion requirements but will not be allowed to continue with the doctoral program. The overriding purpose of the exam, however, is constructive rather than punitive. 

  1.  Composition—The student’s second jury piece will be evaluated.
  2.  Computer Music—Students submit one research paper for evaluation.
  3.  Integrative Studies—Students complete an exam consisting of written responses to questions provided by the professors who taught in the core MUS 215 A-B-C sequence.
  4.  Performance—Students are asked to give a presentation showcasing and/or discussing portions of the material planned for their first recital.

Master’s Degree Completion Requirements

If a student opts for the terminal MA or wishes to earn an MA along the way to the doctorate, they would fulfill these completion requirements. However, students are not required to complete the MA en route to the doctorate.

  1. Successful completion of the core curriculum to the MA level and all curricular requirements of the student’s area of emphasis.
  2. Formation of a master’s committee (see UC San Diego policy on appointment of the master’s committee).
  3. Submission of a substantive and polished research paper (which may have originated as a graduate seminar paper) to the student’s MA committee for approval.
  4. Students emphasizing composition must submit a folio of three chamber compositions (supplemented by audio or audio-visual recordings for at least two).
  5. Students emphasizing computer music must submit a second substantive and polished research paper along with either a thesis demonstrating original research, or a lecture-performance in which the scientific, technological, and musical aspects of an original computer music composition are documented, played, and discussed.
  6. Students emphasizing integrative studies must complete a thesis of roughly sixty pages demonstrating original research and critical insight, which may also include documentation of their creative practice.
  7. Students emphasizing performance must present a major recital that merits approval by the student’s committee chair and submit either two additional creative projects with accompanying documentation or one creative project plus a second research paper.

All of the above master’s requirements must have final approval from all members of a student’s committee.

Qualifying Examination/Advancement to Candidacy

All students are expected to advance to candidacy (i.e., qualify) by the end of the student’s third year of graduate study. 

Requirements prior to taking the qualifying examination:

  •  Successful completion of the core curriculum and all curricular requirements of the student’s area of emphasis for the PhD or DMA degree. Students should enroll in MUS 298 with the committee members who will be providing qualifying questions for the exam.
  •  Appointment of the doctoral committee per UC San Diego Senate regulations.
  •  All PhD students must submit one research paper (not previously submitted for any other degree) that is judged by the student’s committee to be of publishable quality. The topic and scope of the publishable paper will be developed with, and approved by, the student’s PhD committee chair.
  •  Composition students must submit a folio of no fewer than three compositions. 
  •  DMA students must give at least one recital.

The qualifying examination for all doctoral students will consist of the following:

  • A written and oral defense of three questions provided by the doctoral committee pertaining to appropriate areas of specialization. Qualifying exams must be well supported with appropriate and proper citations and are most often in the range of twenty-five pages of written text for each question. Students have a twelve-day period in which to write the qualifying exam and must deliver copies of their responses to each committee member and to the graduate staff adviser within that twelve-day period. Final deliveries must be made on a regular UC San Diego workday, followed by a normative period of at least five workdays before the exam defense can be held, so please schedule accordingly. Students are advised to schedule an agreeable date and time for the exam with their committee members and then work backwards to arrive at an acceptable date for receiving their questions. For integrative studies students, one question will involve a defense of the student’s dissertation prospectus. This prospectus is a document that presents the research topic of the dissertation, places it in the context of relevant literature and/or in the context of recent artistic developments, discusses its significance, specifies and justifies the research methods, theoretical orientation and/or artistic approach, and indicates the anticipated steps leading to completion.
  •  Students are expected to advance to doctoral candidacy within their first three years. If final approval is not obtained, students will either not be allowed to continue in the program or will be placed in a one-quarter probationary period and asked to redo aspects of the qualifying process. If a student fails to gain final approval during this period, they will not be allowed to continue in the program and will receive no further funding or support.
  • Successful completion of the qualifying exam marks the student’s advancement to doctoral candidacy.

PhD and DMA Completion Requirements

After successful completion of the qualifying examination, all students must remain in residence for at least three quarters, during which time they must enroll in twelve units of MUS 299 every quarter with their committee chair or other committee members. Students must provide a full copy of the doctoral research they wish to defend to the student’s doctoral committee members four weeks prior to the doctoral defense. Materials previously submitted for other degrees are not acceptable, and in all cases a final public defense of the student’s doctoral work is required. It is understood that the edition of the dissertation given to committee members will not be the final form, and that committee members may request changes or revisions be made to the text after the defense. In extreme cases, another public defense may be merited.

  •  For composition students, completion of a major composition project.
  •  For computer music students, completion of an acceptable dissertation.
  •  For integrative studies students, completion of a book-length dissertation demonstrating original research and critical insight, or presentation of a major creative work and a substantive written defense of that work.
  •  For DMA students, completion of two more recitals, or one recital plus one of the following: (a) a thesis or research project; (b) a concert or lecture recital that is innovative in design and/or content and which is supported by appropriate documentation as determined by the committee; or (c) two approved chamber music concerts, with appropriate documentation as determined by the committee.
  •  All of the above doctoral completion requirements must have final approval from all members of a student’s committee. Acceptance of the dissertation by the university librarian represents the final step in completion of all requirements for the PhD.

Materials previously submitted for degrees at other institutions are not acceptable for submission at UC San Diego.

Time Limits

There are four time limits listed on your student record, but only three of the time limits affect students:

  • Pre-Candidacy Time Limit (PCTL)-The amount of time you may be registered/enrolled in the Ph.D. program before advancing to candidacy.
  • Support Time Limit (SUTL)-The amount of time you are eligible to receive funding support (work as a Teaching Assistant or Associate-In, grants, fellowships, etc.) from the university.
  • Total Registered Time Limit (TRTL)-The amount of time you may be registered/enrolled in the graduate program.

Note: Students are also limited to 18 quarters of appointments as either Teaching Assistants or Associate-ins (summer appointments do not count).

To learn more about time limits please visit the Graduate Division website.

Time Limits:

You can check your time limit by logging into the Graduate Student Portal.

Graduate Student Portal: