How strange is it to want to spend three years on a Master's degree to take an extra six courses? A lot of programs have different curriculum for introductory PhD students vs introductory Master's. I want to be able to take some of those PhD classes, and I want to have spare room for exciting electives both within my Master's and outside it in associated fields.

When is this not possible, and does spending an extra year in a Master's program sound bad? I'd simply end up spending all my time self-studying the extra material after a two year degree anyway.

Edit: I don't know how I'd feel applying for a PhD then dropping to a Master's in a couple years to have a separate core sequence. I don't want to waste anyone's time.

Edit: I'm not enrolled yet. Funding would hopefully be a combination of resident tuition and a TAship/RAship.

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    For clarification: who's paying your tuition, and/or stipend? Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 23:35
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    Not enrolled yet. It would be a combination of (hopefully) resident tuition and a TAship/RAship. Otherwise, I'd have to work off of student loans and staying three years likely wouldn't be feasible. I plan to do a traditional Master's with thesis, so getting partial to full tuition funding should be possible by the third year even if I don't manage funding before then. I'm paying my tuition.
    – Kulgurae
    Commented Apr 13, 2018 at 0:03

2 Answers 2


Many master's programs do have a term limit associated with them. However, many master's programs may require additional classes, particularly for students coming from other backgrounds. So you should definitely check the specific programs you're interested in enrolling in, to see what is specifically allowed.

But extending the master's or PhD program just to take classes seems like a poor use of resources. One of the goals of advanced education is learning to become an expert in a new subject. After a while, you should be able to get much of the same content that you would from enrolling in a class through self-study.

  • I did say I would self study otherwise. Thanks :D
    – Kulgurae
    Commented Apr 13, 2018 at 1:28

FWIW, things at masters and PhD level can be less rigid than undergraduate. You might be able to contact your department and explain that you would like to take these classes instead of the usual electives because they relate to your field in the direction you hope to pursue.

My program encouraged that, and even let you take the classes at another school if they weren’t offered. It doesn’t even have to obviously connect as long as you can make a reasonable argument. I got a PhD in nanotech and talked my way into taking electron microscopy classes in lieu of spectroscopy classes.

It sounds like you figure two years for the masters and an additional year for the classes you want. Life doesn’t always work out that way, and you’ll want to be very careful about making sure the actual degree isn’t interrupted.

Also consider just asking if you can audit the classes. That way you gain a lot of knowledge but still get your degree on time, plus you aren’t adding to your study load and needing to worry about your grade.

But assuming it’s not classes for complete fun (e.g., a 17th century literature class for a degree in chemistry) it is not unreasonable to expand your expertise a little bit, particularly for only one year.

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