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I am currently an undergraduate at a university whose PhD Physics program is ranked 25. I plan to go into PhD for physics in condensed matter physics; I have applied to PhD programs this year but have been rejected by all of them, including my home university. I thus applied to masters programs for condensed matter physics. I have heard back from one university with acceptance. The school is not a well known university for physics (it only has a masters, no PhD program) and is ranked in the 200s. I plan to get more research experience during my masters. If I accept the offer and complete my masters there and apply to my home university (and similarly ranked schools) for my PhD will these programs frown upon the fact that I went from 25 to 200s? I have done well in my undergrad but will future universities just look at my masters program? It's already difficult to get into good schools and I am not sure if going to masters in this new place will make it more diffucult.

***PS: I have nothing against universities with lower rank. It's been a rough semester in terms of grad school applications (I never thought I would be rejected from my home university and it's making me worried)

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  • How narrow was your search for a doctoral program? Just top 25 or so? Or did you do a broader search?
    – Buffy
    Mar 13 at 12:24
  • @Buffy Schools I applied to places with rank 1 to rank 40
    – user758469
    Mar 13 at 12:25
  • It was based on cost, distance, and how much my interests aligned with there's
    – user758469
    Mar 13 at 12:26
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I can answer only for the US and only tentatively, since I don't know the basis of any rejection. But I think restricting your search to the top 40 schools for a doctorate vs top 200 for an MS is an apples and oranges comparison. I'd suggest that you first (or jointly) broaden your search for a doctoral program, say to all of the R1 universities in the US. Don't try to apply to every one, but cover the range.

Also, for a doctoral program, ignore the cost. You will almost certainly be offered a TA or RA position, which makes the cost 0 and gives you a modest stipend on which it is possible to live.

A MS program is likely to come with no tuition forgiveness and no TA. It leaves you still vulnerable for entry to a doctorate later. If you would be satisfied to end with an MS then it should be fine, but otherwise (again, US) I suggest the doctoral program is probably better. You might even consider broadening the field options a bit. Not history or philosophy, of course, but there are a lot of options in physics that might be "close enough" to get you started on a career.

But, since you were rejected by your home university, you have an opportunity to learn more about exactly why that happened. Depending on that information you might also consider how you would fill any gaps that there might be. Maybe even a "fifth year" project with a professor.

I doubt that the ranking of the school you are considering would have more than a minor effect. Much more would depend on what you do there.

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If you did well at a college ranked 25 in your subject matter, applied broadly for a Ph.D. (did you?) only to be rejected everywhere, then I’d start by looking into your application package and strategy first because that is a bit odd: are you sure your letters are good and from the right people, is your statement of purpose well-written and as tailored to where and for what you apply as it should be (have someone read it), etc, etc.

If your Ph.D. application was rejected because of a lack of relevant undergraduate research experience, then going for a masters first might help. Going to a lower-ranked place is not going to hurt you I think, but it’s not clear how much it is going to help you either.

However, as M.Sc. programs tend to be less selective than Ph.D. ones (because they usually help finance a university), to see you rejected again almost everywhere despite what you say are good credentials, there might be something off or at least sub-optimal with your application package (or you simply didn’t apply at enough colleges). You should go over it with someone experienced, like a mentor at your alma mater if you have one.

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