This question might be a variation of similarly asked questions, however, there is some different details that I think might make it different. So thank you in advance for reading.

I was admitted into a M.S. program in Electrical and Computer engineering as a full-time student in a good private research university in the U.S. I finished my B.S. in 2017 and been working full-time since then. My goal was to apply for PhD programs, however, I didn't have the necessary research experience or academic record to give me a good chance of being admitted to top-tier PhD programs.

I'm doing my M.S. as a stepping stone to take rigorous graduate courses and gain experience in doing research towards writing a M.S. thesis. Afterwards, I'm hoping if the fit is right, I'd continue as a PhD student at the same institution or apply for PhD programs at other universities.

Now comes the main point of the question, my program doesn't usually fund M.S. students and I'm seriously thinking of starting as a part-time student while working full-time till I can secure funding or finish the M.S with thesis as a part-time student. Is this a reasonable idea?

My areas of interest lie in the fields of communication theory, control, and optimization. And since, the professors whose work lie in those fields mostly do theoretical research or a hybrid between theory and implementation, it can be possible to do a Master's thesis project as a part-time.

To Summarize the previous information and the implied questions:

  • How likely is it to find a professor or thesis advisor who will want to work on a part-time M.S. thesis project if M.S. funding is not available?

  • If such arrangement is possible, will it hurt my chances if I want to apply to PhD programs in the future? Or PhD admission committees won't see it problematic if a thesis was completed part-time?

Thank you and hope everyone is staying well and safe.

2 Answers 2


Almost everywhere your application for a doctoral program will depend on your academic record and on recommendations from professors. The time it takes you to complete a masters is of almost no consequence.

However, in the US, neither a masters nor research experience is generally required for entrance into a doctoral program. Moreover most doctoral students (as opposed to MS students) get some form of funding, including forgiveness of tuition fees and some payment as a teaching (or research) assistant. If you aren't supporting a family it is enough and many people even manage while having a family.

The first part of such a program will be advanced coursework, much as you will find in a masters. The coursework is there to prepare for comprehensive exams. Some programs allow you to get a masters along the way, sometimes just by filling out a form, but usually some additional project/thesis.

So, I think that the only real reason for spending the time to get a masters (in the US) is to improve a spotty academic record. If you truly have a poor record then you might consider it. Otherwise a direct application to a doctoral program is worth the effort.

The above is very US specific. It applies to a few other places, but isn't universal.

  • Thank you for the answer. This confirms my understanding. The reason I'm going for a Masters first is to improve a spotty record but eventually, I do want to apply for PhD programs.
    – kmhrm
    Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 16:25

If you are serious about it, then applying to a doctoral program is much better. If you are still undecided, and want to pursue a Master's first, then I would suggest that you pursue an online Master's from a reputed university, and keep the current job. For reference, Columbia, UCBerkeley,Purdue etc have good online Master's programs.

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