Systems Engineering PhD Program, (581)

The Systems Engineering Department of the Naval Postgraduate School offers study and research leading to the award of the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in Systems Engineering.  The Ph.D. degree involves required coursework, comprehensive qualifying examinations, and a research-based dissertation.  The Ph.D. degree may be pursued via resident or hybrid study (distance learning plus periodic temporary residence).

Students take graduate level course in systems engineering (as needed to pass the oral and written qualifying examinations), advanced graduate courses in systems engineering and an application domain, and perform research that leads to a dissertation involving some aspect of systems engineering.

Research topics may be selected from a broad variety of studies of the systems engineering process, applications of systems engineering to solving complex problems, systems level modeling and simulation, and systems suitability assessment.

Subject to approval of the student's dissertation committee chairman, dissertation research may be conducted away from NPS at cooperating facilities.


Admission Requirements

  • US Military Officers

  • US Government Civilians (GS)

  • International Students**

  • Students must satisfy a one-year residency requirement. This may be met by completing an NPS M.S. degree plus periodic extended stays (nominally two weeks per quarter) at an NPS campus spread throughout the duration of the student's program. The M.S. degree may be completed before enrollment in the Ph.D. program.

  • Applicants should possess an M.S. degree in Systems Engineering. Applicants with only a B.S. degree or an M.S. degree in another discipline will be required to take a number of systems engineering courses (equivalent to the coursework portion of an MSSE degree program) to pass the qualifying examinations.

  • Applicants must submit a completed online application form and provide:

    • Certified copies of all undergraduate and graduate transcripts. Transcripts from NPS are not necessary, but transcripts from other schools may be required of current and former NPS students.

    • Results of a Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Test taken within the past five years. The SE Department Doctoral Committee desires GRE information to support development and improvement of the doctoral program. However, applicants with graduate degrees and solid justification for not taking the exam may request (through the Admissions Office) to submit a proxy letter instead of taking the GRE. The SE Department Doctoral Committee will evaluate such letters to determine if the GRE requirement can be waived. 

    • A brief outline (200 words or fewer) of specific areas of interest within the proposed major field of study. This does not commit the student to those areas. 

    • Two letters of recommendation regarding academic potential. 

    • Current results of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and the Test of Written English, only for international applicants not currently enrolled at NPS whose native language is other than English or whose primary language of instruction was other than English. For specific test score requirements, see the NPS Catalog section pertaining to “International Students.”

    • Attestation by the student's sponsoring agency or nation that they are committed to tuition and salary support during the student's residence at NPS. 

**International Students: Ensure that you read and understand the eligibility requirements and application process.


Degree Requirements


Nominal Systems Engineering PhD Student Timeline and Process​​             

Students may take more or less time to complete the program based on their individual circumstances. Students often take 5-6 years to complete the program, although some students take significantly longer and some complete the program more quickly.  Program progress is marked by successful completion of coursework, successful completion of exams, forming a dissertation committee, developing and presenting a dissertation proposal successfully, writing a dissertation manuscript that is accepted by the dissertation committee, and successfully completing a dissertation defense among other activities.  Each step along the way may take more or less time for a specific individual based on many factors.


Systems Engineering PhD Program Exam Process​​​​​​​​​​​                  

Students take five written exams including two mandatory exams in probability & statistics, and in the fundamentals of systems engineering, and take three topic exams based on coursework.  Upon successful completion of the written exams and formation of a dissertation committee, students then take an oral exam.  Students are allowed to retake any specific exam only once.  Failing a specific exam twice terminates the PhD program for the student; however, there are options for students in this situation to move into a variety of other programs.  Sufficiently prepared students are generally successful in passing the exams.

For additional questions please download the SE PhD Handbook

Points of Contact: Further technical information on the SE Ph.D. program may be obtained by contacting Dr. Douglas Van Bossuyt.