Jul 25, 2024  
2023-2024 Graduate Catalog 
2023-2024 Graduate Catalog

Civil and Environmental Engineering Ph.D.

Admission Requirements

Applicants are required to satisfy these requirements:

  1. An M.S. degree in civil engineering, environmental engineering or a closely related discipline in engineering or the physical sciences from a U.S. college or university accredited by a regional accrediting association, or completion of an international degree that is equivalent to a U.S. master’s degree from a college or university of recognized standing.
  2. Excellent academic performance in all completed coursework, with a minimum GPA of 3.000 on a 4.000 scale.
  3. Submission of a complete application, including a statement of purpose, official transcripts for all previous undergraduate and graduate studies, and payment of appropriate application fee.
  4. Official GRE graduate school admission test scores.
  5. Three letters of recommendation from individuals who can judge the applicant’s potential success as a doctoral student.
  6. Graduates from foreign countries are required to submit a notarized financial certification form. All international students whose native language is not English and who have not graduated from an American university must submit a minimum TOEFL English language proficiency score before being considered for admission:
  • 550 – paper-based examination.
  • 213 – computer-based examination.
  • 80 – Internet-based examination.

Direct Admission into the Ph.D. Program

The Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) Department offers direct admission into its Doctoral Program for outstanding students with a Bachelor’s degree in civil or environmental engineering or related field. This special program would allow a student to move up to 18 SCH from the coursework hours requirement to the dissertation hours requirement, while retaining the 78 SCH required past the Bachelor’s degree. The minimum number of dissertation hours remains at 24 SCH. A student admitted into this program will therefore need to successfully complete a minimum of 36 SCH of coursework and a minimum of 24 SCH of dissertation with the total coursework and dissertation hours reaching a minimum of 78 SCH. The expected program of study for most students in this track is 36 SCH of coursework and 42 SCH of dissertation. A minimum of 36 SCH of the coursework must be from regularly scheduled, graduate-level courses, and cannot be one-on-one, directed study type courses. 

Admission Requirements

This direct admission program is open only to outstanding students who have demonstrated excellence in their undergraduate (UG) career and who are well prepared to excel in their graduate coursework and research. Therefore, admission into this program shall be considered on an exceptional basis.

The selective admission process shall consist of the following minimum requirements:

  1. An undergraduate degree in Civil or Environmental Engineering or related field,
  2. An UG GPA of 3.5 or higher,
  3. A GRE quantitative score of 85% or higher,
  4. Strong letters of recommendation supporting the student’s direct admission into the Ph.D. program, and
  5. A written statement of purpose that projects maturity, purpose, commitment, and a demonstrated standard of excellence.

The CEE Graduate Admissions Committee will consider outstanding applicants who have specifically applied for direct Ph.D. admission and will determine their admission into this program. Exceptions to these requirements for extenuating circumstances are possible with adviser and CEE Graduate Admissions Committee approval. For example, students admitted into an MS program may be admitted directly into the PhD program after a period of outstanding performance (e.g., high SMU GPA and outstanding research productivity) at the adviser’s request and with approval from the CEE Graduate Admissions Committee.

Degree Requirements

In addition to meeting the Lyle School of Engineering requirements for the Ph.D. degree, candidates are required to satisfy the following:

  1. At least 54 credit hours of coursework beyond the baccalaureate degree.
  2. A minor of at least 12 credit hours providing breadth and support to the doctoral program.
  3. Twenty-four credit hours of dissertation.

The major and minor courses comprising a degree plan for a doctoral student will be determined by the student’s advisory committee. These plans will vary among students depending on their background and dissertation research topic. Possible Ph.D. program focus areas include geotechnical engineering, structural engineering, transportation systems management, air pollution control and atmospheric science, or water and wastewater engineering.

Preliminary Counseling Exam (PCE)

Students with a GPA less than 3.5 on four core courses, selected by their adviser at the start of their PhD program, must take the PCE within a semester after completing the core courses. The requirements for the PCE are detailed in the General Information  section of the Lyle School’s graduate catalog.

Qualifying Exam (QE)

All Ph.D. students are required to pass a QE to be admitted to candidacy.

The QE consists of two parts:

Part 1: Comprehensive Exam

Part 1 of the QE, the comprehensive exam, is administered by an ad-hoc committee consisting of at least three faculty in the student’s major field, including the academic adviser. The ad-hoc committee should develop the exam and inform the student of its format and timing at least four weeks prior to the exam, which can be written, or oral. At a minimum, the exam assesses the student’s ability to respond to open-ended questions, apply critical thinking skills, synthesize across course topics, and demonstrate adequate knowledge and skills to complete a dissertation. The comprehensive exam should be administered no later than 18 months (or part-time equivalent) after matriculation into the program, unless an exception is approved by the ad-hoc committee. A waiver to the comprehensive exam requirement can be granted by the ad-hoc committee, at their discretion, if:

  1. The student has a GPA of 3.5 or greater; and
  2. The student has submitted a peer-reviewed paper within the same 18-month period (or part-time equivalent) since matriculation. The paper must be approved by the ad-hoc committee as sufficiently rigorous and relevant to the thesis to merit the waiver.

Part 2: Thesis Proposal

Part 2 of the QE, the thesis proposal, is administered by the student’s supervisory committee, which should be formed and approved by the department and Lyle School at least one month prior to the exam. The Part 2 exam should be completed no later than 12 months after completing 24 credit hours of coursework towards the PhD. For this exam, the student shall prepare and orally defend a written dissertation proposal. The proposal should include, at minimum, the first draft of the student’s first research paper, as well as a plan for completion of the remainder of the dissertation. The written proposal should be submitted to the supervisory committee at least 14 days prior to the oral exam. During the oral exam, the student will present a summary of the dissertation proposal and committee members will ask questions about the proposal, as well as assess the student’s ability to respond effectively to oral questioning.


All Ph.D. candidates will be required to complete and successfully defend a dissertation.