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I am nearing the end of my bachelor's degree and wish to know what my options are for continuing. Optimally, I would be able to immediately pursue a PhD, but I get conflicting information on the matter by different professors, advisors, and online sources.

The institutions I am mainly interested in are: EPFL, ETH Zürich, University of Edinburgh, Technical University of Darmstadt (TU Darmstadt), UCL, and University of Warsaw, as this is where I could find advisors most relevant to my research interests.

I was told that, besides the advisor being interested, the university has to have a precedent or a way for the master's degree requirement to be bypassed, but I am having a hard time locating such information. Any and all insight on previous cases of the aforementioned universities accepting or explicitly denying a PhD candidate on the basis of not having a master's degree is very useful.

Personally, I will have four to eight publications to my name by the time I graduate, but probably six at the time of sending out applications, and a very very strong research thesis. If that is not enough regardless of universities accepting without a master's degree or not, that would also be some useful information to have.

I repeat; I do not care about the rest of the criteria, just whether or not not having a master's degree is an absolute deal breaker for a PhD in the aforementioned institutions.

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    Have you checked the official university websites? E.g. for EPFL, this page suggests that you can apply with a Bachelor's degree: epfl.ch/education/phd/edic-computer-and-communication-sciences/… – GoodDeeds May 24 at 13:08
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    Have you asked these universities explicitly? You will probably get a more useful answer than our general speculation here. – astronat May 24 at 13:31
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    You must ask the universities directly. We won't be able to help you. Even if the official rules are crystal clear and would technically disqualify you, you may qualify for a specific exception that isn't even published... – user2705196 May 24 at 13:37
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    Btw 4-8 publications is absolutely incredible as an undergraduate. Well done! That should also give you plenty of contacts to push for you personally within their academic network. – user2705196 May 24 at 13:38
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    ETH has a direct doctorate program for exceptional students. – user2723984 May 25 at 9:16
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In contrast to Stephen McMahon's answer, which holds absolutely true for the UK, the situation in most of continental Europe is the opposite.

On the continent, it would be very unusual to start a PhD directly after one's BSc, hence the suggestion to look for "precedent or a way for the Master's requirement to be bypassed" at your Unis of interest. This is in direct contrast with the UK, where this is not even a requirement.

(Source: PhD from France, professional network from all over the EU, followed by a postdoc and a permanent position in the UK.)

As a side-note, PhD programmes in the UK often offer different levels of funding for home and international students (it used to be home+EU, but, alas, Brexit) -- or worded alternatively, some/most PhD programmes in the UK are only fully funded for British students. In my anecdotal experience, the international students that do apply to a very limited number of available fully-funded positions tend to be finishing an MSc while applying (or already hold one), despite it not being a requirement. And given a choice between an applicant with an MSc and an applicant with a BSc only, the one with an MSc typically has more to offer simply because they have had more time to demonstrate their skills. (However, your specific situation of 6 publications at the time of application + 2 submitted is definitely "a lot to offer" from your side, and on par with MSc applicants.)

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    Why would you need an MSc to apply for a PhD in France? I only did my post-doc in France, so I am sure you know better, but I thought that the French DEA is often (usually?) part of the PhD and the DEA is equivalent to an MSc. Is that not correct? – terdon May 25 at 18:12
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    @terdon From what I know, a DEA (or DESS) is a short post-Master degree which is equivalent to the non-research part requirements of a PhD. Not saying there is no way to apply without a MSc, but that's certainly highly unusual. – Cedric H. May 26 at 7:49
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    @terdon I don't know about the DEA (honestly I tried figuring out their education below university level and it just spinned my head around), but my PhD in France certainly expected a MSc qualification (most of my peers got their positions during a MSc internship), and didn't provide any sort of a MSc-equivalent as far as I remember. This was almost 8 years ago now, so stuff might have changed. – penelope May 26 at 8:49
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At least in the UK, a Master's is not a typical requirement for PhD entry, with the minimum level usually being a good undergraduate degree. E.g. pulling a random CS PhD project from the University of Edinburgh website, it says under candidate profile:

A good Bachelors degree (2.1 or above or international equivalent) and/or Masters degree in a relevant subject (computer science, artificial intelligence, engineering, mathematics or related subject)

Similar language can be found in other PhD advertisements, indicating that while a Master's is desirable, it's not a requirement. And I imagine this phrasing is typical across the vast majority of PhD advertisements in the UK - I obviously can't exhaustively check, but I can't recall seeing any which explicitly require a Master's degree.

Mainly, what they're typically looking for is evidence of ability to conduct good-quality research in the field, so I think a good portfolio of papers would serve as evidence of that even moreso than a Master's (particularly given I imagine the median number of papers among UK PhD applicants is 0).

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  • It's very common now for mathematics/science/CS first degrees in the UK to be an 'integrated masters': generally four years, sometimes but not necessarily any research, a degree name like MMath. This means there will be a lot of PhD applicants with one first degree as opposed to a bachelors+masters combination, which may influence the typical expectation. Also, in Scotland an MA is often a first degree equivalent to an English BA, which further confuses things... – dbmag9 May 27 at 4:50
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In Germany, it might be possible to start a PhD with only a bachelor's degree. Not all universities allow that, though (you will have to check their websites). To get accepted with only a bachelor's degree, you normally have to have very good grades, and it might be that you have to take additional courses.

Be aware though, that this is (still) quite uncommon and it might be hard to find a supervisor that will accept you with only a bachelor's degree, but it is possible.

You can find some general information (in German) here.

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    A relevant (apparently Germany-specific) keyword to look for is "fast track". – lighthouse keeper May 24 at 14:45
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    The general requirement (in Germany) is a university MSc in a closely related field, but exceptions/case-specific approval are possible. Such approvals are actually quite common, they are typically also needed by PhD students with MSc in a different field or from a university of applied sciences (FH) rather than a full university. The approval is typically conditional on the student passing certain exams (but less than a full MSc). I've met 1 such PhD student starting with a foreign BSc (so, yes, rare), but a whole lot with degrees in other fields or from FHs (not so rare). – cbeleites unhappy with SX May 25 at 10:05
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    It is quite usual that requirements at German universities are expressed as such-and-such or equivalent. So, I'd recommend to ask how to show equivalence in your case. – cbeleites unhappy with SX May 25 at 10:12
  • I believe some German universities have 'Fast-Track' programs which require a very good Bachelor degree, among other criteria. – Jonas Schwarz May 26 at 14:20
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You provided a long list of universities and I bothered to check two of them, which took me about 5 minutes each at most. The ETH Zürich, as a Swiss federal institute of technology, is governed by Swiss regulations. Specifically, for the doctorate it's SR 414.133.1, available in German and other languages that you can look up for yourself. In SR 414.133.1, Chapter 2, Section 1, Article 5, 2., f. you can read that

Kandidaten und Kandidatinnen mit herausragenden Qualifikationen.

can be admitted to do a doctorate at ETH Zürich. That is, you need "outstanding qualifications" and nothing else, not even a Bachelor's degree. It's up to you to prove that you are indeed outstanding enough.

For EPFL, the regulation is SR 414.133.2, available in French for example, where it says you must prove qualifications equivalent to a Master's degree from ETHZ or EPFL, but you aren't required to have any specific degree. There is an exam after the first year of doctoral studies which you can repeat once on failure and if you fail again you are expelled.

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University of Warsaw has a list of PhD programs for international students, and having a master degree is one of the requirements to apply. This list is not exhaustive though, so if you're interested, please contact the responsible person and ask directly (there is an english webpage).

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A frame challenge: Are you sure bypassing the masters is really the right thing to do? Depending on your underlying motivations, there may be more effective ways to achieve them.

On the one hand, the main good motivation I’ve heard for going directly to a PhD is to finish it sooner. But instead of skipping the masters, you can also achieve this by completing a masters and PhD more quickly than average — a 1-year masters and a 3-year PhD. Many (?most) institutions allow early completion, especially if (e.g.) you have existing high-level course credits that can be transferred forward, to reduce the course-load during the masters/PhD. Taking this route, you sound like you’d be a very strong applicant, so you should have opportunities at excellent institutions. By contrast, applying for PhD’s without a masters in continental Europe shouldn’t be impossible (as other answers say), but would certainly make the competition harder and reduce your options.

On the other hand, completing sooner has some disadvantages that many students overlook or underestimate. In many ways, working conditions as a grad student are excellent — you have more time and support for research than you probably ever will again. As you progress in an academic career, administrative and service duties soon take up more time and energy than most people foresee. And many jobs and grants are only available for a limited number of years after PhD completion — so cutting the time you take in graduate study will reduce the research track record you’ll have while eligible for such opportunities. (Of course, I do agree there are trade-offs too — I’m not suggesting that stretching graduate studies longer is always good.)

So going for the standard masters+PhD route, and aiming for early completion, seems to offer the same main benefit, but with several advantages, including being more competitive for your preferred institutions, and the possibility of falling back to the standard timeline either if you have difficulty completing quickly, or if (as you become more experienced) you reconsider and decide you don’t want to complete so quickly.

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    The main reason I am trying to avoid this is financial. I largely depend on a PhD salary to be able to live abroad, even a year would be really hard to cover. – riverwastaken May 26 at 17:50
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    @riverwastaken At ETHZ, one of the universities you mentioned, an outstanding masters student should be able to (easily) get a job as a teaching or research assistant, paid about 30CHF/hour for up to 15 hours per week. That could cover your living expenses and give you valuable experience too. – Nobody Jun 10 at 19:07
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I'm an american who did this as part of a special program at a university following the Bologna accord (which is the standard throughout continental Europe for some time now). On my records with the university they would write I was in the PhD (bridge) program to explain why I was taking 2 years of masters classes.

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My ten cents: In France, if your bachelor was 5 years long (some Latin-American countries have 5 year long bachelors) your advisor can fill a document asking the university to waive the Master on the basis that you already have 5 years of schooling, which can be considered equivalent to the French bach(3+2) system.

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