I'm applying for research-based Masters in Oceanography. So far, I've lined up advisors at University of Massachusetts (an intercampus program), South Florida, Georgia, and New Hampshire. According to here,they are in top 150 globally for oceanography. Moreover, my current work supervisor says 3/4 are well-known.

I've also been talking to a UCSD prof. He told me he is unsure if he will be taking on students but is more inclined to accept a PhD student (since they'd be with him longer). I would really like to go to UCSD for my PhD.

Will going to a lower ranked MS have a big effect on PhD applications?

What can I do to distinguish myself in PhD application 1.5 or 2 years from now should the MS be low rank?

  • 1
    Generally, rankings matter very little. Having good recommendation letters matters much more.
    – Thomas
    Commented Oct 16, 2018 at 3:33
  • Don't know the answer for your field but took a hacksaw to the lengthy question.
    – virmaior
    Commented Oct 16, 2018 at 8:35
  • Is there any reason you can't apply to the PhD program at UCSD now? Unless they require an MS, it might be your best option.
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 31, 2018 at 23:53

2 Answers 2


Don't get hung up on the ranking thing because it doesn't really matter when it comes to a PhD admission. Top things that make your application stronger are

  • Skills you gained during MS and prior education/work experience
  • Letters of recommendation (high impact)
  • Writing sample (usually your statement of purpose/intent)
  • Willingness to learn new things
  • Your vision for a future career

That being said, try to find a program (either MS or PhD) that is best suited to your interests and that has the faculty expertise for you to learn from.


The ranking of the institution does not matter. The ranking of the institution in the subfield in which you work may have a small impact, but the main factor of importance is the prestige of your reference letter writers. If the writers are unknown, then their recommendations do not carry much weight.

Also, smaller departments with one or two famous people have the problem that if these people leave, then the rank/influence of the department drops a lot. To hedge your bets, a department with a greater number of well-known academics is better.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .