Welcome to the Systems Engineering Advising Corner for Johns Hopkins Engineering for Professionals.

The following provides helpful information for recently admitted students related to the nature of the program, admissions requirements, career planning, and program development.

These discussions are based on frequently asked questions that arise during advising sessions. The intent is to provide a quick online home for this information. The final authority on all matters is the academic catalog.

Please also note that official decisions can only come from the admissions committee. If you have comments or questions, please e-mail us at ep-se@jhu.edu.

The following provides a general discussion with perspective for recently admitted students in the JHU graduate Systems Engineering Program related to the nature of the program, admission requirements, career planning, and program development. The discussion is based on frequently asked questions that arise during advising sessions. The final authority is Engineering for Professionals (EP). Only official decisions can come from the Systems Engineering Admissions Committee. Please direct program course questions to the advisor you were assigned upon admission. Further assistance is always available by emailing ep-se@jhu.edu.

General Program Comments

The JHU Systems Engineering Program is intended for students who have a technical background and are now engaged, or desire in their career, to lead in the development of complex systems. The JHU program has the objective of providing students with the knowledge and problem solving skills that are required to guide the engineering development of modern complex systems. These include the broad technical literacy necessary to integrate multidisciplinary system elements, and to make the system-level tradeoffs between performance, cost, and schedule. The students are expected to develop skills and habits of thought employing the principles of systems engineering.

In this program, students learn from reading and from interactive presentations by experienced systems engineers, and by applying this knowledge to solving practical systems problems. They exercise their skills in analysis, synthesis, and coordination of the various disciplines required to develop, produce, and operate complex technical systems to meet a customer’s need. Through this “hands-on” approach under the guidance and tutelage of instructors experienced in systems engineering, the students develop the ability to think through the entire complex process of systems development from analyzing requirements to specifying operating procedures. They learn the systems engineering software tools available and can focus in domain areas most appropriate to their employment and careers.

The JHU SE Program has several defining characteristics:

  • Integrated curriculum of systems engineering and management courses
  • Systems engineering centric courses with optional focus areas
  • Uses project life cycle to teach best practices and skills needed by today's engineers
  • Legacy of excellence over 25 years and over 150 graduates per year
  • Practically oriented with a focus on applications and problem solving
  • Currency in best practices and SE concepts from various communities
  • Academic SE source of choice by numerous defense and security organizations
  • Experienced in collaboration and in handling sensitive and proprietary information
  • Practically oriented with intent to be immediate useful knowledge
  • Emphasizes learning by doing
    • Courses built around team projects
    • Apply principles to specific systems
    • Highly interactive class sessions
  • Provides multiple viewpoints
    • JHU and industry co-instructors for each course
    • All practicing senior systems engineers and managers
    • Several expert guest lecturers
  • Uses case studies and examples from instructors' experiences
  • Available through live classroom instruction or online
  • Tailored curricula and delivery methods for partnership organizations
  • Experience in international program delivery

There are now nearly 1300 active students in the program and over 170 graduates a year in the program. The growing online public offering has nearly 400 students enrolled. An overview of the field and the textbook for the Introductory course was written by the program founder and recently released as a second edition:

Kossiakoff, A., Sweet, W. N., Seymour, S., & Biemer, S. M. (2011). Systems Engineering Principles and Practice (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
ISBN-10: 0470405481 ISBN-13: 978-0470405482

What is Systems Engineering?

The function of systems engineering is to guide (lead, manage, or direct, usually based on the superior experience in pursuing a given course) the engineering (application of scientific principles to practical ends; as the design, construction, and operation of efficient and economical structures, equipment, and systems) of complex (diverse and have intricate relationships) systems (a set of interrelated components working together toward some common objective) (Kossiakoff).

A system is a construct or collection of different elements that together produce results not obtainable by the elements alone. The elements or parts, can include people, hardware, software, facilities, policies, and documents; that is, all things required to produce systems-level results. The results include system level qualities, properties, characteristics, functions, behavior, and performance. The value added by the system as a whole, beyond that contributed independently by the parts, is primarily created by the relationship among the parts; that is, how they are interconnected (Rechtin).

Systems engineering is an interdisciplinary approach and means to enable the realization of successful systems. It is an engineering discipline whose responsibility is creating and executing an interdisciplinary process to ensure that the customer and stakeholders needs are satisfied in a high quality, trustworthy, cost efficient, and schedule compliant manner throughout a system's entire life cycle (INCOSE).

It is a robust approach to the design, creation, and operation of systems (NASA Systems Engineering Handbook).

It is the design, production, and maintenance of trustworthy systems within cost and time constraints (Sage).

It is a holistic, product oriented engineering discipline whose responsibility is to create and execute an interdisciplinary process to ensure that customer and stakeholder needs are satisfied in a high quality, trustworthy, cost efficient, and schedule compliant manner throughout a system's life cycle (Bayhill).

It is a discipline that concentrates on the design and application of the whole system, as distinct from the parts. It involves looking at the problem in its entirety, taking into account all the facets and all the variables and relating the social to the technical aspects (Ramo).

Students who do not have a technical background, but have work experience in design and development of systems products in software or hardware, can succeed in this program as has been demonstrated by many students over the years. The challenge for such students is to engage in logical thinking, sequential processing, and analytical problem solving that is characteristic of the systems engineer. The more experience a student has in the workplace conducting engineering and developing systems components as part of or leading a technical team, the better the match to the program.

A good reference book for prospective students is Systems Engineering-Principles and Practice, by A. Kossiakoff and W. N. Sweet, Wiley Interscience, 2003, a treatise and a textbook, the capstone of over 50 years of fundamental research in systems engineering at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and its application to real world problems. Dr. Kossiakoff was an early founder of the JHU/APL and was Director 1969–1980, and Chief Scientist from 1980–2005.

A notable outcome of the research is that systems engineers need "to develop the ability to think in a special way—to acquire the 'systems engineering viewpoint' and to make the central objective the system as whole and the success of it mission." The book provides several systems engineering models that have their origin in the work of the Laboratory: 1) a hierarchical model of complex systems; 2) a systems life cycle model related to evolving engineering activities and the participants; 3) the concept of "materialization" that represents the process of taking an abstract idea to a tangible product; 4) the theory of "sectionalization" that divides a system into components and identifies and manages the interfaces; and 5) a framework for including the human element in systems design and defining the role of the systems engineer in each phase of the acquisition life cycle. The text lays the basis of understanding for the development of systems, systems-of-systems, and enterprise systems. It describes the systems engineering concepts and methodologies required by large, complex problems containing multiple technology disciplines and a variety of enterprise contributions that are part of the solution. Kossy's textbook is the basis of fundamental systems engineering knowledge used by thousands of graduate students across the nation. Dr. Kossiakoff started the JHU Technical Management and Systems Engineering graduate programs and this book is used in the Introduction to Systems Engineering course.

The Kossiakoff text describes in detail the typical process the systems engineer engages in for a traditional development project as shown in the next figure.

Kossiakoff's System Engineering Process image

According to Kossiakoff, "the systems engineering life cycle model consists of three stages, the first two encompassing the developmental part of the life cycle, and the third the post-development period. These stages mark the more basic transitions in the system life cycle, as well as the changes in the type and scope of effort involved in systems engineering. These stages are: 1) The concept development stage, which is the initial stage of the formulation and definition of a system concept perceived to best satisfy a valid need; 2) the engineering development stage, which covers the translation of the system concept into a validated physical system design meeting the operational, cost, and schedule requirements; and 3) the post-development stage, which includes the production, deployment, operation, and support of the system throughout its useful life. The above names for the individual stages are intended to correspond generally to the principal type of activity characteristic of these stages.

"The concept development stage, as the name implies, embodies the analysis and planning that is necessary to establish the need for a new system, the feasibility of its realization and the specific system architecture perceived to best satisfy the user needs. Systems engineering plays the lead role in translating the operational needs into a technically and economically feasible system concept. The level of effort during this stage is generally much smaller than in subsequent stages. The principal objectives of the concept development stage are to:

  1. Establish that there is a valid need (and market) for a new system that is technically and economically feasible.
  2. Explore potential system concepts and formulate and validate a set of system performance requirements.
  3. Select the most attractive system concept, define its functional characteristics, and develop a detailed plan for the subsequent stages of engineering, production, and operational deployment of the system.

"The engineering development stage corresponds to the process of engineering the system to perform the functions specified in the system concept, in a physical embodiment that can be produced economically and maintained and operated successfully in its operational environment. Systems engineering is primarily concerned with guiding the engineering development and design, defining and managing interfaces, developing test plans, and determining how discrepancies in system performance uncovered during test and evaluation should best be rectified. The main bulk of the engineering effort is carried out during this stage. The principal objectives of the engineering development stage are to:

  1. Develop any new technology called for by the selected system concept, and validate its capability to meet requirements.
  2. Perform the engineering development of a prototype system satisfying the requirements of performance, reliability, maintainability, and safety.
  3. Engineer the system for economical production and use, and demonstrate its operational suitability.

"The post-development stage consists of activities beyond the system development period, but still requires significant support from systems engineering, especially when unanticipated problems requiring urgent resolution are encountered. Also, continuing advances in technology often require in-service system upgrading, which may be just as dependent on systems engineering as the concept and engineering development stages. The post-development stage of a new system begins after the system successfully undergoes its operational test and evaluation and is released for production and subsequent operational use. While the basic development has been completed, systems engineering continues to play an important supporting role in this effort."

The conduct of systems engineering during a systems development is also often illustrated in the form of spirals, "v," or iterative loop diagrams. Each of the process diagrams and approaches can be considered for use depending on the nature of the system under development, the organization or enterprise traditions, and the systems maturity of the contributors. An example of a system life cycle, using the loop and a description of the activities in each phase, is shown below.

system life cycle image

Critical Needs: Operational data collection, or mission analysis, may reveal a need to achieve new capabilities. Scientific evidence from experimental work may reveal the need for a new scientific instrument to collect specific new information towards a scientific discovery. Analysis and planning are performed to define the need for a system, both operational and technical, and then determine its feasibility. These needs can be communicated through such diverse media as scientific papers, studies, or official military documentation.

Capability Assessment: Once a need is recognized, it is always prudent to determine whether presently available systems and operational capabilities could be leveraged to meet the need, for instance, via new tactics or procedures. This can be via analysis or studies, further data collections, or critical experiments. If it is determined that a new system is needed, an appropriate architecture compatible with related systems may be identified.

Concept Exploration: If a new system capability is needed, whether it is the first of its kind or a spiral upgrade of an existing system capability, candidate concepts and corresponding modeling and analyses are often developed. These are then used in "strawman" form to trade off which approach is the potentially lowest risk, highest performance, closest to operational, and/or most economical. One next explores technology readiness and alternative systems concepts, conducting critical experiments and studies of new features of the system design. The one or few concepts emerging as the leading candidates are often modeled and defined in increasing detail to gain more definitive characterization of these metrics and to support drafting of operational requirements and specifications.

Solution Validation: If a significantly different capability, or significant development risk, is accepted for the selected conceptual approach, prototyping of parts or all of a system may be required. This may be for one of several purposes such as to validate an emerging technology, to validate and refine production requirements, and to verify that the design can be produced in numbers and is operationally suitable. Often this involves formal demonstration in a representative laboratory or simulated operational environment.

Solution Implementation: During this phase, fabrication of the production article, and operational tests and evaluation activities are conducted to validate the satisfactory performance of the system leading to full-scale production of an affordable and functional system.

Deployment: The system is taken to the field for operational use with data collected to ensure that the system continues to meet its operational requirements and satisfy the need for which it was built. If a new threat or needs gap emerges, or there are advances in technology that indicate a new need, then the spiral of activities shown in the Figure may be re-entered, and a new round of the activities described above may be initiated.

Career Planning Notes

The field of systems engineering is relatively new, but has significant and increasing relevance in the development of both government and civilian systems. Systems engineers are highly sought after because their skills complement those in other fields and often serve as the "glue" to bring new ideas to fruition. Career choices and the related educational needs for those choices is complex, but they can be considered in the context of the following diagram.

system life cycle image

Four potential career directions are shown, where there are varying degrees of overlap between them. The systems engineer focuses on the whole system product leading and working with many diverse technical team members, following the systems engineering development cycle, conducting studies of alternatives, and managing the system interfaces. The systems engineer generally matures in the field after a technical undergraduate degree with work experience and a Master of Science degree in systems engineering, with increasing responsibility of successively larger projects, eventual serving as the chief or lead systems engineer for major systems, or systems-of-systems development. Note the overlap and need to understand the content and roles of the technical specialists and the program manager.

The project or program manager with a technical or business background is responsible for interfacing with the customer and defining the work, developing the plans, monitoring and controlling the project progress, and delivering the finished output to the customer. The program manager often learns on the job from experience with projects of increasing size and importance, enhancing the toolset available with a Master of Science degree in Technical/Program Management. While not exclusively true, the Chief Executive Officer is frequently found in the ranks of the organization's program managers.

The financial career path that ultimately could lead to a Chief Financial Officer position usually includes a business undergraduate and MBA degrees. Individuals progress through their careers with various horizontal and vertical moves, often with specialization in the field. There is overlap in skill and knowledge with the program manager in areas of contract and finance management.

Many early careers start with a technical undergraduate degree in engineering, science, or information technology. The technical specialist makes contributions as part of a team in the area of their primary knowledge, honing skills and experience to develop and test individual components or algorithms that are part of a larger system. Contributions are made project-to-project over time and recognition is gained from innovative, timely, and quality workmanship. Technical specialists need to continue to learn about their field, and stay current in order to be employable compared to the next generation of college graduates. Often advanced degrees (MS and PhDs) are acquired to enhance knowledge, capability, and recognition; job responsibilities can lead to positions such as lead engineer, lead scientist, or Chief Technology Officer in an organization. The broader minded or experienced specialist often considers careers in systems engineering.

Systems Engineering Admissions

Admission requirements in the JHU systems engineering program focus on academic and professional experience credentials. No standard exams or tests are needed. There are no specific prerequisites or make-up courses. The applicant is to have one year of relevant work experience as shown on a current resume. Relevant means that the applicant has been engaged in some activity in the design, development, or testing of a system. The requirements have some degree of flexibility with longer years of work experience balancing a lower GPA, or a higher GPA balancing less than one year of experience. It is desired that the student be prepared to understand and utilize the knowledge gained in class the next day, so maturity and experience will assist in this preparation.

Two master’s degree distinctions are offered by the JHU systems engineering program:

  • Master of Science (MS) in Systems Engineering
  • Master of Science in Engineering (MSE) in Systems Engineering

There is no curricular difference between the two programs, as they can be earned by completing the same coursework. The only difference is the undergraduate degree with which the students enter. The MSE in Systems Engineering will be awarded to those with ABET-accredited undergraduate degrees, while the MS in Systems Engineering will be awarded to students with different qualifications upon entry. Please refer to the catalog for further details. Applicants do not need to specify the degree, since it is determined by your undergraduate transcript.

Official admission decisions come only from the admissions committee. Please direct all admission issues and pre-admission questions to ep-se@jhu.edu.

An official response from JHU typically takes two to four weeks.

The admissions committee has three options: fully accept into the program based on completely meeting the program admissions criteria; conditional accept, where the criteria are not quite fully met, and the student may take only one course at a time for two semesters and earn an A or B grade; or reject, where the student's credentials fall below the expectations needed to be able to succeed in the program.

The field of systems engineering has traditionally been populated by engineers. However, it is recognized that complex systems encompass multiple fields such as finance, medicine, education, infrastructure, communication, and information systems, etc., such that now more than 25 percent of the JHU students have non-engineering backgrounds.

The JHU official notification of admission will come only after receipt of the official transcripts. Please request these be sent ASAP after you apply. The receipt of the transcripts is on the critical path for an admission decision. This step takes the longest time.

Admissions are done on a rolling basis. Applications are processed in the order received. To be sure there is enough time, it is suggested that you apply by March 1 for the summer term, by June 1 for the fall term, and by October 1 for the spring term.

If you are interested in pursuing your degree online, even earlier applications are encouraged due to high enrollments.

Admissions are determined within each systems engineering focus area. Each has specific expectations and prerequisites listed in the catalog. The routine admissions are to the systems engineering and the technical management focus areas.

Advisors can authorize a prospective student to enroll in one course prior to an official admission decision if there is good reason to believe that the student will achieve acceptance. The advisors must review a current resume and a copy of the student's transcripts during an open house or an advising session. The courses that can be authorized will only be Introduction to Systems Engineering or Management of Systems Projects.

If there is not adequate time for the application materials to be received by Johns Hopkins Engineering for Professionals after a student applies, the student may contact the program's vice-chair for consideration of enrollment permission in one course in parallel with the admission decision process. A current resume and an unofficial copy of the student's transcript(s) must be e-mailed to the vice-chair for consideration. This is not a desired situation, since in the period just prior to the start of a semester, many course sections are already filled and placement may not be possible.

Letters of recommendation, as part of the application package for systems engineering, are not required. If the student credentials do not meet initial expectations, then employee recommendations can assist the admissions committee in understanding the extent of the current relevant work experience and the employer support of the student during the academic period of performance.

Systems Engineering Focus Areas

The JHU Systems Engineering Program has available a number of different focus areas where many of the courses are uniquely required for a specific focus. Students are admitted into the MS SE Program by focus area, since each have different admissions requirements. Please refer to the JHU EP website and the catalog descriptions under the Systems Engineering Program.

  • Systems Engineering (SE)
  • Program Management Systems Engineering (PM)
  • Biomedical Systems Engineering (BM)
  • Model and Simulation Systems Engineering (M/S)
  • Software Systems Engineering (SW)
  • Cybersecurity Systems Engineering (CyS)
  • Human Systems Engineering (HSE)

For all focus areas, students are required to take the core systems engineering courses and then continue with focus related courses. Applicants are admitted to the program by focus. See the EP catalog for descriptions for specific admissions requirements of each focus. The majority of students are admitted into either the Systems Engineering or Program Management focus areas. The Biomedical Systems focus is not available in the online format.

Degree Audit Tool

The JHU Engineering Professionals programs (including Systems Engineering) are now using an automated software system by Conclusive Systems called Degree Audit for all master’s degree students. This tool incorporates a web application (Advisor) that has been built for the purpose of evaluating student progression toward degree completion. It allows the systems engineering program to enter its degree and course requirements in a logical format, and then uses those requirements to create degree audits on students. Degree audits are the evaluations of a student's progress against the student's degree and focus requirements. These evaluations are useful not only as status reports, but also as planning tools.

Admitted students are presented the Systems Engineering Area of Study Selection Form to indicate the focus area they will pursue in the systems engineering program. Degree Audit then provides the courses that would be expected for that focus area with the course prerequisites. Current and new students will be notified that degree planning will still be maintained between them and their advisor, but using degree audit as a tool to show their progress as well as tracking changes and exceptions to their degree paths.

An exceptions system in Advisor provides a set of tools to help customize a student's degree requirements when he/she do not meet the course prerequisites. Exceptions are created by an advisor within an audit by first turning on the exception creation mode, then selecting the requirement at which you wish to make the exception. This exception may only be done by the student advisor or EP staff.

Systems Engineering Advisors

Academic advisors are assigned to students in the admissions letter sent by JHU EP. Any advising question prior to admission can be addressed to ep-se@jhu.edu. The academic advisor will, as needed:

  1. Provide oversight of the student's academic progress by:
    • assisting in the selection of elective courses;
    • reviewing degree audit for consistency with admitted focus area, course schedule by semester, and course prerequisites;
    • approving degree audit plan deviations;
    • approving course enrollment during information sessions or advising sessions;
    • ensuring the student is meeting degree milestones in a timely manner;
    • being available for contact with students;
    • assessing and developing the student's interests and abilities; and
    • writing letters of reference if needed.
  2. Provide leadership in matters of academic expectations by:
    • being knowledgeable about issues that pertain to academics and practice;
    • helping students interpret and understand institutional policies and procedures; and
    • directing students to appropriate institutional resources or contacts.

Academic Advisors: (with primary focus areas)

Dr. Larry Strawser – Partnerships
Larry.Strawser@jhuapl.edu 443-778-2989
Mr. Chris Ryder – SMHEC
Christopher.Ryder@jhuapl.edu 443-778-4696
Mr. Dave Flanigan – APL and MOCO
David.Flanigan@jhuapl.edu 443-778-8129
Mr. Charles Fidler – Crystal City
charles.fidler@mantech.com 703-907-3988
Mr. Jack Keane – Test Pilot School
Jack.Keane@jhuapl.edu 443-778-8826
Dr. Matthew Henry – APL
Matthew.Henry@jhuapl.edu 443-778-2585
Mr. Ted Smyth – APL
Ted.Smyth@jhuapl.edu 443-778-6342
Dr. David Brown – HEAT Center
Cdbrown.gm@gmail.com 410-652-3296
Mr. Robert Sweeney – Online
Robert.Sweeney@jhuapl.edu 443-778-1673
Mr. Bart Paulhamus – Online
Bart.Paulhamus@jhuapl.edu 443-778-8514
Mr. Daniel P. Syed – APL
Daniel.Syed@jhuapl.edu 443-778-6827
Mr. Mark R. Campbell – APL
Mark.Campbell@jhuapl.edu 443-778-2958
Mr. Mathew Montoya – Online
Matthew.Montoya@jhuapl.edu 443-778-9658

Focus Area and Course Selection

In their acceptance letter, degree candidates will be asked to complete a form to designate their choice of Focus Area. The acceptance letter will also indicate the focus areas the student is eligible to take. A systems engineering Degree Audit page will be created for the student. The Degree Audit provides a listing the sequence of courses that are intended to be taken to meet the focus requirements for the systems engineering MSE or MS degree. Course enrollments can be done without advisor intervention if the Degree Audit course prerequisites are followed.

If it becomes necessary to deviate from the Degree Audit, a request for deviation should be submitted for advisor approval. The student's advisor should be contacted for permission to enroll in a course not on the approved plan, to waive a course prerequisite, or to select an elective (in the systems engineering focus area). The request should be sent with the reason for the change, and the new course identification. The student advisor or EP representative will make an approved change to Degree Audit or respond with a denial of the request. If the advisor has concerns about a student's request he/she will contact the student by e-mail or phone to resolve the issues.

The JHU Systems Engineering Program has several course schedules that vary with focus area, location, delivery means, and partnership agreements. Students should only use the schedule of courses that applies to the campus or campuses or online mode where/how they plan to take their courses. While there is a high degree of similarity between the offerings, care must be taken and advisor approval given for any deviations that cross curricula shown on the long range schedules. In general, students can “mix and match” public-live classroom courses with online courses that best fit their work and life schedules. However, once enrolled in a specific classroom or an online course, the student must stay in that same course modality.

Currently, long range course schedules are available for each focus area at:

  • Public Offerings (APL, Dorsey Center, and SMHEC)
  • HEAT Center
  • Crystal City
  • Online Distance Program

There are also course schedules for various focus areas that are discussed below:

  1. Select the course list schedule that matches your primary campus.
  2. Select the systems engineering focus area you have been approved for in your admissions letter and that you have indicated your intent to pursue.
  3. Complete a list of courses in a chronological order that is consistent with each course prerequisite. You can check this in your Degree Audit. The course materials are designed to expect the student to take the courses in sequential order. Deviations from following the prerequisites require advisor approval based on a rationale that includes both lack of course availability and prior experience in the course content area.
  4. Verify that each course is offered in the location and the semester you write down on your schedule.
  5. Verify that you have listed all the required courses needed for your degree focus area.
  6. Please note that not all focus areas are available at all campuses.
  7. The systems engineering program with the "SE focus area" is your only option if you are always taking classroom courses at the HEAT Center, SMHEC, or Crystal City. You may need to visit other campuses or take courses online to complete another focus area that you were admitted into.
    • In the SE focus area, you should have noted the eight required SE courses. If you are at APL, Dorsey, HEAT, or SMHEC, then one of those eight SE courses will be either 645.771, or 645.753, or 645.761, or 645.742 depending on which is available at the time it is appropriate to take in your schedule (usually after completion of 645.769).
    • You are eligible to take two technical elective courses in the SE focus area.
      • Any JHU EP 400 level or above course is usually acceptable as an elective.
      • SE students need to meet the prerequisites of the elective course or gain permission from the instructor for any course taken in JHU EP not in the SE program.
      • SE focus area students can take two additional courses from the set of 645.771, or 645.753, or 645.761, or 645.742 usually after they have completed 645.769.
  8. After enrollment in the JHU EP MS SE program, courses taken concurrently at other institutions are not eligible as transfer elective courses.
  9. Systems Engineering students MAY NOT take 595.460, nor 595.464, nor 595.763 courses from the Technical Management Program.
  10. Verify for other focus area selections in systems engineering, that you have listed all 10 required courses for the selection as described in the catalog.
  11. The sequence of courses 645.462, 645.467, 465.767, 645.768, and 645.769, with their prerequisites, is the best and time honored planning approach for students. The course 645.764 is inserted as the schedules permit.
  12. Students are encouraged not to enroll in a second course with the systems project, 645.800; to very rarely enroll in 645.768 or 645.769 without taking 645.767 first; and not to enroll concurrently in 645.767 and 645.768 unless they have extensive SE experience or when the course offering schedules do not permit the normal sequence. Advisors need to waive prerequisites in these cases.

Course Load

Students in the EP program are professionals who work during the day and are advancing their education on evenings and weekends. EP courses require substantial dedication from the students and are often time-consuming due to homework assignments, projects, and so forth. This is particularly true with online students, as much of the learning experience is self-driven. As such, most students enroll in one course at a time, though some are able to make time to complete two courses in a semester. Students are discouraged from taking a second class while working on their master's project or thesis, as these efforts require exceptional focus and dedication.

Instructors put in their syllabus, and discuss in class, their expectation for submission of homework in the face of student travel. Our general expectation is that students will always submit assignments when due independent of travel, unless they have prior approval from the instructor based on lack of Internet access. Attendance to class sessions (not online courses) is expected for all students. Absence from class may, at the instructor's discretion, lead to an assignment for the student to write a summary of the lecture material to be fair to the students who attended, and to show the student went through the material. For a 14 week semester, students could miss up to three excused sessions as long as they are not in the beginning or end of the term. Missing four or more sessions should lead to a discussion with the student to withdraw unless there are special circumstances approved by the instructor. Summer sessions need more diligence by the instructors to encourage not missing more than three sessions. The instructor has the lead in working this out with each student and seeking the best path for student success.

Systems Engineering Course Enrollment

A few months prior to the start of a semester, the EP website opens for student enrollment in courses on a first-come-first-served basis. Please check the annual EP calendar for key dates. Each student must enroll in their next course(s) each semester and can do so conveniently online. If the Degree Audit is up-to-date, enrollment is allowed in the course(s). Academic advisor permission is needed via e-mail if the enrollment system will not process the request.

Most systems engineering course sections are filled or are nearly filled with 20 students each semester, so it is important to enroll in a timely manner. If a course section is filled, you may request to be put on a wait list in hopes an additional section will open. When the wait list exceeds six or more students, and instructors and classroom space can be found, every effort is made to accommodate the wait-listed students by opening new sections.

If for legitimate reasons, enrollment does not occur in a timely manner, the student is encouraged to seek advisor assistance prior to start of the semester to enroll on an open course where there is eligibility.

If there is not adequate time for the application materials to be received by EP after a student applies, the student may contact the Program Vice-Chair for consideration of enrollment permission in one course in parallel with the admissions decision process. A current resume and a copy of the student transcript must be e-mailed to the Vice-Chair for consideration. This is not a desired situation, since in the period just prior to the start of a semester, many course sections are already filled and placement may not be possible.

Academic advisors do not have current enrollment information. Please call 410.516.2300 to confirm your enrollment registration if you do not receive a written confirmation within two weeks of registering or the Friday before the first day of in-person registration.

Systems Engineering Master's Project

The Systems Engineering Master's Project (645.800) is a course that provides the experience of applying systems engineering principles and skills learned in the formal courses to a specific practical project that is suggested by the student and is presented in a formal proposal.

The product of this project is a final report, as well as interim reports and an oral presentation to permit review of the project objectives and approach. A student typically has a mentor who is a member of the systems engineering faculty (please note that a student’s project mentor may be different from his/her academic advisor).

The total time required for this course is comparable to the combined class and study time for the formal courses, but it is self-paced and often takes more than one term to complete.

All students that are enrolled in Test and Evaluation (645.769) should be allowed access to the Systems Engineering Master's Project (645.800) website on Blackboard. In here, they can access the course guidelines, view the list of mentors, and view numerous example projects. This should help provide some level of guidance, as well as give students an idea of what to expect during their artifact development. In addition, our Test and Evaluation instructors should be able to provide initial guidance in starting to think ahead for the project course.

Tips for Selecting a Project Topic

  • Before you start your Systems Engineering Master's Project, it is good to think about your project approach. The first item is what your project topic will be. Many students will have some level of difficulty selecting a topic. It does not have to be a work-related topic, and in many cases that should be avoided; you may know too much about the topic and be tempted to dive right into the solution space, rather than using the systems engineering process.
  • Consider picking a topic that you have some interest in, as you will be studying this topic for the entire term. It can contain both hardware and software elements, but we discourage doing a software-only system. You will need some form of concept, both functional and physical, to complete the project, and a software-only approach will not provide that capability.
  • Start with identifying some system needs: look around you either at work, home, or areas that you think might need some improvements. Can you succinctly define what the gaps/needs are with the current system(s)? Being able to quantify these objectives and gaps is a good start.
  • Next, look at the context of your proposed system. How can this concept or capability help address the gaps? What should it interact with (either current or future systems)? What is the envisioned output of this capability? Here is where a context diagram can help solidify your concept and understand the system boundary of what is in and out of scope for your project.
  • Think about the different perspectives of your system concept. Who would use this? Are there different types of activities and outcomes that would result from different users? These may help identify some of the activities that your system will need to perform, as well as types of interfaces and performance that the system is expected to perform. Developing several stories, such as use cases or scenarios, can help bring these perspectives to life, and make interaction with your stakeholders easier to help elicit both functions and requirements as you walk through the different phases or states of operation of your system. Having several different scenarios can provide a richer systems perspective in order to fully develop your functions and requirements to ensure you don't miss a particular phase or attribute of your system.

More Tips on Getting Started

As a head start, students can review the updated project overview and project guidelines, so that they can plan accordingly. The overview is a high-level view of the different types of artifacts required for the project, as well as the timeline. The guidelines provide a more detailed description of the artifacts and offer some guidance.

Students can also listen to the recording of our most recent virtual open house in which mentors and instructors offered additional tips for the master's project, and answered students' questions in a live Q&A. Students are welcome to download the slides from the virtual open house as well.

Additional details should be discussed with the project mentor.

Systems Engineering Master's Thesis

The two-semester thesis option is strongly recommended only for students planning to pursue doctoral studies. This course is designed for a very few students in the systems engineering master’s program who work with a thesis advisor to conduct independent academic research in the field of systems engineering leading to a paper that is publishable in a refereed journal or conference proceedings. The intent of the research is to advance the body of knowledge and the understanding of systems engineering practices, the improvement of systems engineering practices in industry and in government, the evolution of systems engineering tools and techniques, and the solution of systems development problems in the acquisition of advanced systems.

A student wishing to pursue a thesis in lieu of a master's project will write a concise (one or two pages) description of his or her thesis research intent and submit it to the thesis course instructor no less than two weeks prior to the beginning of the course enrollment period in which the student wishes to begin his or her thesis work. The paper should describe the problem the student intends to study and a preliminary plan to address it, including support from representative literature. The thesis course instructor will work with members of the faculty to determine whether the student is a suitable candidate for the thesis course and, if so, help identify an advisor to work with the student.

The student, if selected for the thesis course, will work with his or her advisor to develop a plan for thesis completion, including dates for a thesis proposal review and final thesis defense. The proposal review and final defense will be attended by a committee consisting of the student’s advisor, the thesis course instructor, and one or two additional faculty selected by the student and advisor on the basis of particular expertise needed to suitably evaluate the student’s work. The research plan will also list candidate journals and conferences for publication. This list will be considered as part of the proposal review.

If the thesis proposal is deemed suitable by the committee, the student will proceed with his or her research. Otherwise, a second proposal review will be scheduled. If the second proposal is rejected, the student will withdraw from the thesis class and enroll in a future offering of the master's project class. The same guidelines apply equally to the final thesis defense. The thesis will nominally require two semesters to complete. However, the student can extend this period as needed to complete his or her work, subject to the judgment of the thesis course instructor and his or her advisor. Contact Dr. Larry Strawser for further information, Larry.Strawser@jhuapl.edu.

Transfer Courses

The Admission Committee at the time of admission makes decisions regarding approval of up to two courses for transfer into the MS SE program. Transfer courses are only applicable to the SE Focus or as exact replacement/match to JHU SE core courses. Transfer courses from outside the JHU EP must:

  • come from an accredited college or university;
  • have been taken within the last five years;
  • be clearly graduate level courses;
  • have academic empirical "substance," e.g. technically challenging;
  • not be used for any other degree or certificate;
  • have received an A or B grade and be accompanied by an official transcript;
  • not have been taken at an international institution;
  • not have been taken after admission into the MS SE program; and
  • be relevant to the systems engineering degree.

"Relevant to the SE degree" means that the "technical" course is from science, engineering, mathematics, or computer science areas (e.g. not business, history, social science, etc.). Identifying an equivalent EP course is helpful in gaining quick approval. The principle of having elective courses in this systems engineering program is based on the expectation that the systems engineer will be leading diverse technical teams and to be capable and credible, he/she should be technically current in a chosen field related to his/her career. A link to the college course description is highly recommended.

Courses that have been taken online or at small private colleges outside JHU require special consideration, with examination of the course syllabus, sample course work, exams, and homework to determine the appropriate inclusion in the JHU degree program. In some cases, contact will be made with the institution to learn more about the course. In this manner, the content and academic rigor of the proposed transfer course can be thoroughly assessed.

When a proposed transfer course provides a very close match to an existing JHU MS SE course, and if the course is approved for transfer, it may replace an existing SE course. All the course transfer criteria must be met. The proposed course(s) are likely from an institution that has a similar graduate systems engineering program. The maximum two-course transfer limit still applies. Academic advisors do not handle transfer course requests. Please address such questions to ep-se@jhu.edu.

Government and military students in the JHEP Systems Engineering program may have had the opportunity to take Defense Acquisition University (DAU) courses that can be considered for transfer credit into the program. The accredited DAU courses must be Level III courses that have been certified by the American Council on Education (ACE) with three or more graduate credits. Applicants should provide a copy of their DAU transcripts and/or copies of their Level III Certificates.

For students enrolled in the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in Patuxent River, MD; two JHU electives are authorized for transfer from the course syllabus for students enrolled in the systems engineering focus area, upon receipt of their TPS course transcript.

Typical courses that would be considered are:

PMT 401 (PMT 301) 645.467
PMT 403/405 645.467
PMT 402/305 645.467
PMT 352B 645.467
ENG 301, SYS 301, or SYS 302 645.462
CON 234/353 elective
IRM 303 elective
PQM 301/PRD 301 elective

For those students who are in an Educational Leadership Development Program (ELDP) with a corporate partnership with JHU EP, there is a plan that addresses how selected ELDP courses can be used in fulfilling the MS SE degree requirements. In some cases, up to two ELDP courses are eligible that include both required and elective courses. ELDP students should contact the corporate educational representative or ep-se@jhu.edu for discussion of this special arrangement.

JHU cannot count work experience for graduate credit.


The Whiting School of Engineering for Professionals, has adopted the university’s grading policy and it appears in the catalog, shown below. The Systems Engineering Program will comply with the university’s grading policy.

The following grades are used for the courses: A+, A, A- (excellent); B+, B, B- (good); C (unsatisfactory); F (failure); I (incomplete); W (official withdrawal); and AU (audit). The last two are not assigned by instructors.

A grade of F indicates the student’s failure to complete or comprehend the course work. If an unsatisfactory grade (C or F) has been received, that course may be retaken. The original grade is replaced with an R. If the failed course includes a laboratory, both the lecture and laboratory work must be retaken unless the instructor indicates otherwise. A grade of W is issued to those who have dropped the course after the refund period (the sixth class meeting for on-site courses), but before the drop deadline.

The transcript is part of the student’s permanent record at the university. No grade may be changed except to correct an error, to replace an incomplete with a grade, or to replace a grade with an R. The Whiting School assumes that students possess acceptable written command of the English language. It is proper for faculty to consider writing quality when assigning grades.

At the beginning of each course, the instructor will place in the syllabus the intended grading scale. It is recognized that the field of systems engineering is more qualitative than say, math or physics, so the instructors have many years of experience and use good judgment to assign grades, set clear expectations, provide detailed feedback, and minimize unexplained subjectivity in responses. Students should focus on the content of the courses and not the grades. It is expected that all sections of a course will use the same grading policy and grade distribution (percentages for homework, exams, discussion questions, etc.). Upon graduation, the impressive JHU Systems Engineering diploma will not show a GPA, nor reflect any grade earned in the program. Honors will still be reserved for students who achieve a grade of A in all their courses—this can be any combination of A+, A, and A-.

Graduate Certificate in Systems Engineering

On rare occasions, a student finds that completion of the Master of Science degree course requirement cannot be completed due to work, travel, or health reasons. In these cases a Systems Engineering Graduate Certificate can be granted by JHU if the following six courses are completed:

645.467 Management of Systems Projects
645.462 Introduction to Systems Engineering
645.767 Systems Conceptual Design
645.768 System Design and Integration
645.769 Systems Test and Evaluation
And ONE of the following:
645.764 Software Systems Engineering
645.800 Systems Engineering Project

On rare occasions a student can be admitted into the Systems Engineering Program only for the certificate, but this is generally discouraged. The demand for the program at the MS level often limits the space available, and the remaining four courses for the MS degree increase the richness and diversity of the academic experience. Those who might seek the certificate may already have a PhD or other MS degrees and further credentials would not benefit their career.

Example Systems Engineering SW Tools

The development of complex systems across the enterprise increasingly needs to have the participants employ a number of systems engineering software tools. Students in the JHU SE program are exposed to such tools, and in some cases, are expected to use them in systems course projects. As a graduate program, students are encouraged to access and learn the use of job relevant tools outside of the classroom. An excellent reference source for a tools list is provided by INCOSE.

Microsoft Office Project provides project management and scheduling tools to manage projects more efficiently and effectively. You can control project work, schedules, and finances; keep project teams aligned; and effectively communicate and present project information.

Microsoft Office Visio 2007 allows you to visualize, explore, and communicate complex information with data-connected diagrams that communicate information at a glance.

IBM® Rational® DOORS® provides solutions for requirements definition and requirements management, improves quality by optimizing communication and collaboration, and by promoting compliance and verification.

The CORE environment synchronizes system requirements, behavioral models, architectures, and design solutions with test procedures and system specifications. The resulting integrated executable architecture can be simulated using the COREsim discrete event simulator to gain insight into potential performance issues enabling better risk and contingency management for any size project. CORE's object-oriented environment delivers the same robust functionality from single user workstations to large, distributed, client-server teams.

Model Based Systems Engineering Tools are now on the “must have” in your toolbox. JHU APL (Joe Wolfrom) has recently developed training material on Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) with the Object Management Group Systems Modeling Language (OMG SysML™). MBSE is the formalized application of modeling to support systems requirements, design, analysis, verification, and validation activities beginning in the conceptual design phase and continuing throughout development and later life cycle phases. SysML is a general-purpose graphical modeling language for specifying, analyzing, designing, and verifying complex systems that may include hardware, software, information, personnel, procedures, and facilities. In particular, it provides graphical representations with a semantic foundation for modeling system requirements, behavior, structure, and parametric equations that can integrate with a broad range of engineering analysis. The material is based substantially on the book A Practical Guide to SysML by Freidenthal, Moore, and Steiner.

Students are encouraged to learn more about the tools available and most relevant to your work environment. Using System Modeling Language (SysML) – Enterprise Architect + MDG Technology for SysML (Sparx Systems); MagicDraw + SysML plugin (No Magic); UModel Enterprise Edition (Altova); Rational Rhapsody Developer (IBM) ; and Artisan Studio (Atego). Consider also Telelogic’s Harmony; INCOSE’s Object Oriented Systems Engineering Method (OOSEM); and Vitech’s Model Based SE Methodology.

JHU Systems Engineering Internet Technology

The successful SE student must have access to a modern computer with Microsoft Office software, e-mail, and full Internet connectivity. The computer should have audio capability. It is helpful, but not generally required to have a video camera capability as well, except for online courses.

JHU EP Systems Engineering courses use web software to augment or to deliver the course material. Students will be provided access and training to such course management tools as Blackboard. They are a combined set of software tools designed to help instructors, researchers, and students create websites for collaboration, help keep classes organized, help post announcements to keep students informed, help students stay organized, and help provide resources and information. Students submit their assignments online, and take online self-grading quizzes and anonymous surveys. To access Blackboard, you will use your JHED ID and password. If you do not know your JHED ID, please see our instructions on how to find your JHED ID.

JHU has licensed software called Adobe Connect to provide enhanced synchronous communication tools, chat, and whiteboard. Connect has a whiteboard, text chat capability, two-way audio using Voice Over IP (VoIP), and two-way streaming video capabilities. Sessions may also be recorded so that you can view all the content and interactions later if you can't make a class session.

For students in the Systems Engineering online program, it is expected that they will have a small computer camera and a head set microphone to enhance communication with your instructors and other students. For group projects and live weekly office hours, an Adobe Connect link will be created to allow video interaction to supplement the screen, audio, and textual exchange.

Selected Systems Engineering Textbooks

Berenbach, B., Paulish, D., Kazmeier, J., & Rudorfer, A. (2009). Software and systems requirements engineering: In practice. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.
ISBN-10: 0071605479 ISBN-13: 978-0071605472

Bernard, S. A. (2005). An introduction to enterprise architecture (2nd ed.). Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse.
ISBN-10: 1420880500 ISBN-13: 978-1420880502

Blanchard, B. S., & Fabrycky, W. J. (2005). Systems engineering and analysis (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
ISBN-10: 0131869779 ISBN-13: 978-0131869776

Buede, D. M. (2000). The engineering design of systems: Models and methods. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN-10: 0471282251 ISBN-13: 978-0471282259

Dam, S. H. (2006). DoD architecture framework: A guide to applying system engineering to develop integrated executable architectures. Charleston, SC: Booksurge Publishing. ISBN-10: 1419632965 ISBN-13: 978-1419632969

De Weck, O. L., Roos, D., Magee, C. L., & Vest, C. M. (2011). Engineering systems: Meeting human needs in a complex technological world. Combridge, MA: MIT Press ISBN-10: 0262016702 ISBN-13: 978-0262016704

Eisner, H. (2002). Essentials of project and systems engineering management (2nd ed.). New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN-10: 047103195X ISBN-13: 978-0471031956

Fargnoli, T. (2007). A bridge to simplicity through diagrams. Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse. ISBN-10: 1434334783 ISBN-13: 978-1434334787

Friedenthal, S., Moore, A., & Steiner, R. (2011). A practical guide to SysML: The systems modeling language (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Morgan kaufmann OMG Press. ISBN-10: 0123852064 ISBN-13: 978-0123852069

Grady, J. O. (2006). System requirements analysis. Boston, MA: Elsevier Academic Press. ISBN-10: 012088514X ISBN 13-978-0120885145

Hatley, D. J., Hruschka, P., & Pirbhai, I. A. (2000). Process for system architecture and requirements engineering. New York, NY: Dorset House. ISBN-10: 0932633412 ISBN-13: 978-0932633415

Hitchins, D. K. (2007). Systems engineering: A 21st century systems methodology. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN-10: 0470058560 ISBN-13: 978-0470058565

Holt, J., & Perry, S. (2008). SysML for systems engineering. London, England: The Institution of Engineering and Technology. ISBN-10: 0863418252 ISBN-13: 978-0863418259

International Council on Systems Engineering. (2011). Systems engineering handbook: A guide for system life cycle processes and activities (version 3.2.2). C. Haskins (Ed.). San Diego, CA: INCOSE. ISBN-10: 0972056297 ISBN-13: 978-00972056298

Kasser, J. E. (2007). A framework for understanding systems engineering. Charleston, SC: Booksurge Publishing. ISBN-10: 1419673157, ISBN-13: 978-1419673153

Kossiakoff, A., Sweet, W. N., Seymour, S., & Biemer, S. M. (2011). Systems Engineering Principles and Practice (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
ISBN-10: 0470405481 ISBN-13: 978-0470405482

Parnell, G. S., Driscoll, P. J., & Henderson, D. L. (2008). Decision making in systems engineering and management. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN-10: 0470165707 ISBN-13: 978-0470165706

Rechtin, E., & Maier, M. W. (2002). The art of systems architecturing (2nd ed.). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press. ISBN-10: 0849304407 ISBN-13: 978-0849304408

Ross, J. W., Weill, P., & Robertson, D. C. (2006). Enterprise architecture as strategy: Creating a foundation for business execution. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press. ISBN-10: 1591398398 ISBN-13: 978-1591398394

Rouse, W. B. (2001). Essential challenges of strategic management. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN-10: 0471389242 ISBN-13: 978-0471389248

Sage, A. P., & Rouse, W. B. (2009). Handbook of systems engineering and management (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN-10: 0470083530 ISBN-13: 978-0470083536

Wasson, C. S. (2005). System analysis, design, and development: Concepts, principles, and practices. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN-10: 0471393339 ISBN-13: 978-0471393337

Weilkiens, T. (2008). Systems engineering with SysML/UML: Modeling, analysis, design. Boston, MA: Morgan kaufmann OMG Press. ISBN-10: 0123742749 ISBN-13: 978-0123742742

Witten, J. L., & Bentley, L. D. (2007). Systems analysis and design methods (7th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw Hill. ISBN-10: 0073052337 ISBN-13: 978-0073052335

JHU Systems Engineering Program Accreditation

The JHU Whiting School of Engineering's programs are ABET accredited. Recently, the INCOSE and IEEE initiated an ABET process for advanced SE degree programs and in 2012, two universities had their graduate SE programs accredited. The JHU MS SE program has sought accreditation in 2012. Accreditation assures that a program has met quality standards set by the profession. To employers, graduation from an accredited program signifies adequate preparation for entry into the profession. For the nearly 24 years of the JHU SE program existence, and the many hundreds of graduates, the JHU curriculum has set the standard and is the model for dozens of new programs that have been recently created at other universities. It is the program of choice of government and business employers across the nation. The JHU MS SE program is fully consistent with the Draft Graduate Reference Curriculum for Systems Engineering (GRCSE), December 2011.

Systems Engineering INCOSE Certification

Certification is a formal process whereby a community of knowledgeable, experienced, and skilled representatives of an organization, such as International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE), provides formal recognition that a person has achieved competency in specific areas (demonstrated by education, experience, and knowledge). Certification differs from licensing in that licenses are permissions granted by a government entity for a person to practice within its regulatory boundaries. Certification also differs from a "certificate" that documents the successful completion of a training or education program. Read about the INCOSE certification program.

The INCOSE released an extension of its Systems Engineering Professional Certification program that targets systems engineers who work in or support the US Department of Defense acquisition environment. This effort was a collaboration between INCOSE and the ODUSD(A&T) Systems and Software Engineering Directorate.

The certification program is referred to as the Certified Systems Engineering Professional with U.S. Department of Defense Acquisition (CSEP-Acquisition or CSEP-Acq). In addition to the core CSEP examination, which is based on the INCOSE Systems Engineering Handbook (SEH), Version 3.1, the CSEP-Acq has additional questions based on the Defense Acquisition Guidebook, Chapter 4, Systems Engineering. The INCOSE SEH is available on the international systems engineering standard, INCOSE website. Version 3.1 is based on ISO/IEC 15288:Systems and Software Engineering-Systems Life Cycle Processes.

INCOSE also has launched a new Associate Systems Engineering Professional (ASEP) certification that targets junior systems engineers with less than the five years of experience required for CSEP. ASEP uses the same core examination as CSEP. Visit INCOSE's updated certification website to learn more about these exciting new certification opportunities.

JHU System Engineering Schedule Planning Documents by Focus Area