I am a second year undergraduate in in Math+CS interested in applying to some CS graduate programs (in the US).

Since I began my degree I purposefully put off taking a series of general education requirements with the intent of instead moving quickly through my main CS and Math coursework so that I could begin doing undergraduate research as soon as possible. If I continue this strategy then by the end of my third year I would have finished all the core coursework for both a Math and CS degree, along with a significant number of graduate courses in both departments. I also am actively working on some research projects which might lead to publishing as a first or second author in a relatively good journal, and some good recommendation letters.

Overall I feel like I could have a pretty competitive graduate application by next fall, except that I would not have the necessary general education requirements to be officially granted degrees by my university.

Would a graduate admissions committees be at all concerned that I did not officially complete my degree? Are there any reasons to hold out on applying until my fourth year (other than the possibility of taking more coursework, doing more research, etc.)?

  • 1
    Maybe they would be concerned that wouldn't officially complete your graduate degree, either?
    – Mad Jack
    Mar 12, 2018 at 20:34
  • @MadJack Right, I had not considered this. In my case, I am not quitting my current program because it is too hard or because I don't want to finish it. Rather I am skipping some formalities to get ahead and get to the interesting stuff (research) faster. I can obviously see an admission committee being concerned with the first scenario, but do you think they would also find the second scenario a red flag? Mar 12, 2018 at 20:41
  • 2
    Yes, what I mean is graduate school has also it's own formalities, and one must hurdle through these as well if one wants to officially complete the degree.
    – Mad Jack
    Mar 12, 2018 at 21:23

2 Answers 2


Short answer: You will almost certainly need an official bachelor's degree.

Long answer: Your main obstacle here is not the admissions committee, but the requirements of the university you'd be applying to. Any university in the US surely has it written down officially in multiple places that Masters and PhD students must hold a bachelor's degree (or its foreign equivalent) before enrolling. I believe doing otherwise may even get the university in trouble with their accreditation board.

Even if there are exceptional circumstances under which this rule can be broken, the university would have to really want you. "Pretty competitive" won't cut it. And indeed, why (from their point of view) should they admit you now if they could admit you in a year, after you have more training under your belt?

  • Are you implying that if Bill Gates decided to apply for a CS PhD, he would be declined (since he doesn't have a bachelor's degree)? Or will this be the "exceptional circumstances" you described?
    – Allure
    Mar 13, 2018 at 1:51

In my experience they do care, and in the program where I was a graduate director not being close to completion of you current degree would get your application rejected. If you can't be bothered to satisfy the requirements for a your current degree program, why would a graduate committee have a reasonable expectation that you will complete their program?

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