I'm currently pursuing a master's degree (math) in the US, and I have been accepted to a different PhD program (applied math). I've been offered funding for only four years, though, because I am already pursuing my master's degree. Is this something of a big concern? I'll essentially have to start over at the new program by trying to pass their preliminary examinations, and all other universities seem to provide funding for 5 years, even if students come in with a master's degree because in the US, the PhD process seems to take some time to complete.

Any ideas and suggestions as to whether this is something of a big concern, and whether students can get funded for an additional year even if they're coming in with a master's degree?


Here are some details about the two programs. The program that has offered me 4 year of funding has 2 qualifying exams. I will have to take classes for one of those qualifying exam. In principle, I think I can take the second qualifying exam soon, but I would still need to enroll in one one semester class to cover the last 20-30% of the material. This second exam, however, would require me to take at least some substantial time hitting 3-4 books, and practicing a lot to ensure I can actually solve the exam itself on the day of the exam.The program that has offered 5 years of funding has 3 exams, but I can fulfill the requirement for two of them by taking a sequence of graduate level course. One exam has to be written. The exams at both schools are of comparable difficulty, I suppose, with minor differences, of course.

I have been offered TA support by both schools, but I suppose this takes up a lot of time when it actually comes to getting down to doing research. I also don't know how the research experience, of course, is going to pan out.

  • Do you have other offers that come with 5 years of funding? Or are you asking if it's possible to finish in 4 years? What has the university said? – Jeff Feb 27 at 23:21
  • I have an offer for 5 years with funding from one applied math program and one statistics program. The applied math program says funding can be extended to 6 years if absolutely required. Haven't followed up with the university, but the letter says I've been funded for 4 years, and it also list the timeline that I have to abide by to complete the requirements. – user82261 Feb 27 at 23:27
  • FYI, I believe this was the policy where I got my Ph.D. At least, I was told I'd have 4 years, and this also applied to the two others who worked under the same professor I did and began with a Masters from elsewhere. However, this only pertained to guaranteed support. I think we were told that we could appeal this later if circumstances seemed to merit a 5th year. However, we all managed to finish in 4 years, and I don't recall whether any of the other graduate students in the department beginning with a Masters needed a 5th year, so I don't know how stringent the department was about this. – Dave L Renfro Feb 28 at 9:04
  • In some schools in some countries, there is no guarantee of funding even as far as the second year. This was the case for me in grad school. I had to re-win my scholarship every year. – puppetsock Feb 28 at 14:39
  • 1
    @puppetsock: In most U.S. universities, the guaranteed support was contingent upon making satisfactory progress by completing a certain minimum number of course credits in a specified time with certain minimum grade requirements and passing the Ph.D. qualifying exams within the appropriate amount of time and/or number of attempts. Failing this, you were usually dismissed from the program (maybe have one or two semesters "grace period", depending on when you "flunked out" relative to the academic year), although those without a Masters usually could stay to complete a Masters. – Dave L Renfro Feb 28 at 18:03

I don't think getting 4 years of funding is necessarily a red flag all on its own - the amount of funding you get offered will vary widely both between schools and between fields. I think there are three things for you to consider:

  1. Non-financial issues. How good is the school, where is it located, and most importantly, how good of a fit is it for you?
  2. If all else were equal, offering more years of funding is (obviously) better than offering less, since it gives you more time to work. Even if you don't think you need it now, it's still a benefit in the form of lower pressure, and padding in case something disrupts your work (illness, research setbacks, etc).
  3. Offering you better funding is potentially an indicator of how much the program wants you there. That is, the program offering you 5 years of funding (with a possibility of 6 even), is signaling their interest in you quite strongly, while the program offering only 4 less so.

The problem is how to compare number 1 to numbers 2 and 3. What are the merits of the program offering you 4 years of funding? If there's a strong non-financial argument in their favor, maybe ask the department to put you in touch with some of their current PhDs and recent graduates. Ask what the program is like, ask if they offer 4 years of funding to everyone, and ask how practical they find that deadline to be. At least in my field, this was a fairly common occurrence for prospective students.

| improve this answer | |
  • I have edited the question to include more details. Please let me know if you'd like to add anything else. – user82261 Feb 28 at 16:22
  • @user82261 the answer seems fine. – Solar Mike Feb 28 at 17:17

Look at all the requirements for the degree and look at where you are/will be at the end of the masters. Four years may be plenty or not.

In particular, look at what the comprehensive exams look like, both by topic and by rigor. You may be nearly ready to take them. If so, then four years feels to me like plenty of time. But if not, and you have to enter a period of study just to prepare for comps then it may be too short.

Nor do you say what sort of funding. If it is a grant with few or no requirements then it is quite different from a TA or RA where you have to spend part of your time on the job. Four years for research and writing seems sufficient. But if there are a lot of other requirements then it may not be.

Finally, if it is not a TA, then you may be able to finish your degree by obtaining a TA for a year or so. This is valuable experience for an academic in any case.

| improve this answer | |
  • I have edited the question to include more details. Please let me know if you'd like to add anything else. – user82261 Feb 28 at 16:22
  • @user82261 the answer seems fine. – Solar Mike Feb 28 at 17:18
  • It takes at least three years to do a mathematics PhD if you come in with a Master's and have no exams or instructional duties, as in the European system. Four years with exams and teaching sounds theoretically possible but unrealistic. – Elizabeth Henning Mar 1 at 22:53
  • @ElizabethHenning, I don't understand your comment. In my US program there were two requirements. Pass the exams and write an acceptable thesis. There was no time limit. Everyone (almost) was a TA. I had exams and was a TA and finished in three. Without the exams it might have been a bit less than two. Mathematics at an R1. – Buffy Mar 1 at 23:19
  • @Buffy My experience is that this is the minimal timeline for someone entering with a Master's: first year, written exams; second year, oral exams; third year, solve the dissertation problem; fourth year, write it up and look for a job. Outside of people from top-5 schools I don't know anyone who finished in three years and very few who finished in four. This is for pure math. Maybe applied math is different. – Elizabeth Henning Mar 2 at 6:15

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.