I am an international master student and I have an unconventional background. I want to apply for PhD programs in field X, which is closely related to my degree now, but not exactly. I missed some basic courses during my undergraduate in field X and I want to show that I have the knowledge covered in those courses.

One way to do it is to take those courses now but due to language problems I can't. Another way seems to be to get a good grade on upper level courses. But it is not really an ideal application and also I am not sure I can get good grades. So I decided to take those basic courses as a non-degree student somewhere after I graduate.

One thing that concerns me is that most of the schools I want to apply for PhD set their deadlines in December, while I don't know if my transcript will show that I am doing these basic courses. Even if it shows, no grades would be in there. I can't wait till the next year due to personal reasons, so I am afraid it isn't worth the money and time to do a non-degree study.

So the questions are, can taking courses as a non-degree student really increase my chances of success, and how would the selection committee view students who have taken courses in this way?

  • tl;dr: from my experience, yes it definitely worth it
    – Our
    Sep 8, 2020 at 21:00

1 Answer 1


For undergraduate students (or current masters students) applying to graduate school, it's normal that an entire year of their classes are not yet complete at the time grad school applications are submitted (and at a minimum an entire semester). That's usually the time in which students are taking the highest-level classes relevant to their major. Transcripts in my experience always show current enrollment as well as completed courses, even for registered courses that haven't started yet.

If you think you have some weaknesses in coursework areas, then it's definitely better to be able to show you are taking those classes now in some way, even if you don't have grades yet. It's also (and maybe this is a controversial opinion?) sometimes useful to take courses to just, you know, learn something, rather than just increasing admission probability by some unknown percentage point.

  • +1 for "take courses to just, you know, learn something"
    – JenB
    Sep 9, 2020 at 9:19

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