Graduate Admission Prerequisites:

The Hydrology, Water Resources & Environmental Fluid Mechanics (HWR&EFM) group wants to ensure as a graduate applicant you are well-prepared for your graduate coursework. We have identified a set of required courses; students who have a civil engineering or related degree will most likely have taken these courses already.

If you are coming in with a different background, you may still be admitted, but will need to make up these requirements. You may either take these courses at another institution before arriving at CU Boulder, or complete them within your first several semesters during graduate study.

Below is the list of specific courses identified by the HWR&EFM group, with CU Boulder equivalent course numbers listed.

  • Calculus 1 APPM 1350
  • Calculus 2 APPM 1360
  • Calculus 3 APPM 2350
  • Diff Eq/Lin Alg APPM 2360
  • Physics PHYS 1110
  • Physics PHYS 1120
  • Physics PHYS 1140
  • Fluid Mechanics CVEN 3313


Master of Science

Most prospective students who do not already have an MS degree will apply into the MS degree program. If you do not have an MS but wish to apply directly to the PhD program, you may do so, but are advised to consult with an HWR&EFM faculty member first. Students admitted to the MS program can later apply to the PhD degree program through a relatively informal application process. More information can be found here.

MS Degree Plan

As an MS student in the Hydrology, Water Resources & Environmental Fluid Mechanics program, you can opt for one of several degree plans as prescribed by departmental rules. The Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering Department offers two types of Master of Science degrees, Plan I and Plan II. Plan I includes a written thesis, with reduced coursework. Plans II(a) and II(b) focus on coursework with the option of including up to two semesters of independent study.

Plan I (Thesis Option):
This degree requires 24 hours of course credits and six hours of thesis credits. Usually, this translates into eight courses (most courses are worth three credits), and research leading to a Master of Science thesis. Plan I degrees can only be pursued under the direct supervision of a research advisor, and you must formally defend your thesis. This option will give you experience in the research process, including writing and potentially publishing a research paper.

  • Plan IIa (Coursework Option):
    This degree requires a total of 30 credits. The 30 credits may be obtained by taking 10, three-credit courses. This plan typically offers a faster route to an MS degree with a wider variety of coursework.
  • Plan IIb (Report Option)
    This degree requires 30 credits, but up to six credits of independent study may be included toward the 30-credit requirement. An independent study usually includes research leading to a report (a "mini-thesis") completed under the guidance of a faculty member. This degree plan is the least common of the three.

Doing research for a Master of Science thesis or independent study may not be possible for all students admitted to the program. If you are interested in doing a thesis or independent study: (1) get to know the faculty in the program, (2) do well in your classes, and (3) express your enthusiasm for doing research with faculty whose research areas interest you. While it is rare for incoming masters students to be offered research assistantships, most MS students who are interested in doing research are able to associate themselves with some kind of paid research project during their time here.

MS Course Requirements
All MS students, regardless of degree plan, are subject to the following coursework requirements. We sometimes make exceptions to these requirements when your research or interests would benefit. All exceptions must be approved in writing by your academic advisor. Courses in which you receive a C+ grade or below may not be counted toward a degree plan.

Analytical Skills (6 credits)
CVEN 5537: Numerical Methods in Civil Engineering
CVEN 5454: Statistical Methods in Civil Engineering

Core Content (9 credits)
CVEN 5313: Environmental Fluid Mechanics
CVEN 5333: Physical Hydrology
CVEN 5353: Groundwater Hydrology

Modeling Skills (3 credits) includes, but is not limited to:
CVEN 5343: Transport and Dispersion in Surface Water
CVEN 5363: Modeling of Hydrologic Systems
CVEN 5383: Groundwater Modeling

Advanced Skills (3 credits)
One CVEN 6000-level course, or an advisor-approved 5000-level course from outside the CEAE Department.

Electives (9 credits, must be approved by your advisor)
Plan I: 3 coursework credits plus 6 credits for MS thesis
Plan IIa: 9 coursework credits
Plan IIb: 6 coursework credits plus 3 credits for MS report

Graduate Seminar
MS students are required to register for two semesters of CVEN 6393, the Graduate Seminar, and must make at least one seminar presentation. Note that the seminar credits cannot be used as elective credits, and thus do not directly contribute toward your MS degree.

Mortenson Center Graduate Certificate

If you wish to obtain a graduate certificate in Global Engineering in conjunction with your MS in Hydrology, Water Resources & Environmental Fluid Mechanics, you must fulfill the MS course requirements above in addition to the courses required for the Mortenson Center Graduate Certificate. These courses do not count toward the modeling skills, advanced skills, or elective courses required for the MS in Hydrology, Water Resources & Environmental Fluid Mechanics. Although the above description provides general guidelines, graduate students who need to take courses relevant to their areas of research are allowed some flexibility in course plans with approval of their advisors and graduate committees.

Doctor of Philosophy

A PhD requires: (i) a Preliminary Examination, (ii) a Comprehensive Examination, (iii) a Dissertation Defense in addition to courses and a dissertation. Dissertation credit hour requirements and examination details can be found in the CEAE current student guide. Students who apply to the PhD program typically already have an MS degree, or are currently enrolled in an MS degree program. Students without an MS who wish to apply directly to the PhD program may do so, but are advised to consult first with an HWR&EFM faculty member first.

PhD Course Requirements
In accordance with Graduate School rules, a minimum of 30 credit hours of coursework at the 5000-level or above is required for a PhD degree. Courses taken prior to enrollment in the PhD program may be transferred as follows:

  • Up to 21 credit hours of 5000-level or above course work may be transferred from another institution and applied toward the 30-hour minimum coursework requirement (even if those credit hours were counted towards another degree).
  • For a student who obtained an MS degree at the University of Colorado Boulder, all 30 credit hours of 5000-level or above coursework may be transferred (even if those credits were counted toward MS degree).

Preliminary Examination

After you have completed your core coursework, all PhD candidates must take a Preliminary Examination. The goal of the Preliminary Exam is to determine if you are adequately prepared to pursue a PhD degree, and to identify subject matter areas in which additional study may be needed. You must pass this examination in order to continue in the PhD program.

The Preliminary Exam is a written test of the knowledge you have accumulated through MS-level course work. The Preliminary Exam is an open-book, closed-colleague exam. The exam is typically offered once a year in January.  The exam consists of three questions, each corresponding to one course in the graduate program.  Each question is allotted six hours. Students can complete the questions at their convenience over a seven-day period.

In consultation with their advisor, students must select one course from the Core Content, one course must come from Analytical Skills, and the remaining will be an advisor-approved graduate course within the HWR&EFM-taught courses.

Students must select these subject areas for the preliminary exam and convey these selections to the preliminary exam administrator one month before the exam.

Each problem set is graded out of 5: 5 = satisfactory understanding of all concepts, 4 = satisfactory with minor gaps, 3 = marginal understanding, 2 = marginal with major gaps, 1 = poor understanding, 0 = poor understanding with incomplete responses.

The final score is computed as the average score across questions

  • Unconditional pass: an average score of at least 4.0 without a score of 1 or lower on any given problem;

  • Conditional pass: an average score between 3 and 4: if important gaps in student knowledge are identified, the following actions are recommended with the goal for the committee to render a decision by the end of Spring semester. Potential student follow-ups are at the discretion of the committee and may include: 

    • (i) providing a written document detailing relevant analysis and/or peer-reviewed literature, 

    • (ii) taking a relevant course to fill knowledge gaps.

  • Does not pass: an average score below 3.0; this will necessitate the student retaking all questions on the exam in spring or summer at the discretion of the committee. If the student does not pass the retake exam this would result in a request that they discontinue the Ph.D. program.


Comprehensive Examination

The comprehensive examination consists of a written research proposal and an oral defense of the proposal to a committee of three faculty members.  The comprehensive exam is typically completed within one year of passing the preliminary examination and at least one year prior to the dissertation defense.  More information is available on the CU graduate school website.

Dissertation and Dissertation Defense

The dissertation is a formal written document of the PhD research.  As a general guideline, the dissertation should contain content for three refereed journal publications, some of which may have already been published or be in review.  The dissertation defense is an oral public defense of the dissertation that consists of a public presentation, followed by a private question and answer session with a committee of five faculty members. More information is available on the CEAE current student guide.