Special Circumstances

MS vs. PhD programs

If your ultimate goal is a PhD, should you apply to an MS or a PhD program?  Note that most PhD programs accept students with a Bachelor’s degree, and will give you an MS degree along your way to the PhD, so it’s fine to apply straight to PhD programs from your undergraduate program.

One advantage of joining a PhD program is that you’re much more likely to receive funding, whereas most MS programs require that you pay your own way (though sometimes on-campus employment is available, to help you defray the costs of the MS program).

However, the MS program at many universities will be much easier to get admitted into than the PhD program.  Thus, you might be able to get admitted to a more highly ranked program if you’re willing to enter an MS program first rather than a PhD program.  Some students will enter an MS program and do research as an MS student at a good school; on the basis of that research experience, they then get admitted to a better PhD program than they would have gotten into if they have applied straight from their undergraduate program.  Ultimately, this results in their doing better PhD work, though it also ends up taking longer for them to receive their degree (because of the detour to do an MS elsewhere).  Of course, there is also no guarantee that the research experience as an MS student will result in their getting admitted to a better PhD program.

The majority of students wanting a PhD will choose to pursue a PhD directly, rather than take a detour to do an MS elsewhere; but some students will also succeed by following the latter route.  


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