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I'm an undergraduate student and I'm about to start my applications to the grad schools. Some friends of mine recommended me to not apply to two programs offered by the same department at the same university, such as physics Ph.D. and physics master's degree, because this might make the evaluation committee feel like I'm not determined. I know the personal statement and proposal in two applications might be very different, but does it hurt to apply to both? (for the programs in the U.S. and U.K.)

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    Not an answer, but think about what sort of career you want. If you want to be an academic, why consider a masters? I assume that a masters isn't a requirement for admission to a doctoral program unlike some other (EU, say) places.
    – Buffy
    Jul 31 at 15:46
  • @Buffy Thanks for the helpful comment! I'm currently studying in the U.S and I want to be an academic. I noticed some doctorate programs in Europe require a master's degree but some don't. So I might consider applying both.
    – IGY
    Jul 31 at 16:17
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    I would simply ask the admissions contact at each school, such as their director of graduate studies of your target department. They can help you understand the intentions of each program and tell you directly how you fit given your interests. In the US, I would say that this is even expected.
    – Mike M
    Aug 1 at 0:06
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    +1 to @MikeM. Don't guess, ask! The best answer will vary depending on the culture and bureaucracy of each university. (@MikeM, I think that should be an answer.)
    – Ben Bolker
    Aug 1 at 0:20
  • @Mike M Thank you so much for the suggestions!
    – IGY
    Aug 1 at 1:28
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I can't speak for every department, of course. But, at mine, it wouldn't hurt your chances at all. For one, we are humans who understand that you are motivated in various ways, in particular, to build a sense of safety. It would be illogical to penalize you for this act.

But, even more importantly, our admissions committees are different! Different people read your MS application from those reading your PhD application. We probably wouldn't even notice that you had applied to both.

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In the US, if you want a career in academia, typically an undergraduate would apply (only) to doctoral programs. It is completely natural here. You might even get a masters along the way, but the "program" you are in is for the doctorate.

If you want a career in industry (and other than industrial research) you would probably want a master's instead. But in the US, the courses would probably be the same initially.

Occasionally, but I don't know how frequently, a person applying for a doctoral degree might be steered to a masters instead.

The problem, however, with your suggestion is that the Statement of Purpose that is probably required would need to be consistent between the two applications. If it isn't, then you'll have problems. But it seems hard to do it consistently for both a masters and doctorate.

Think about your career goals first.

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Asking in general about all graduate programs,
in the US

  • it varies enough that one would do well to ask
  • and discussing your interests with a department is often expected and will improve your application

Different areas of study might have specific, standard answers about the meaning of different degrees such as Master's versus Ph.D. versus Profession_Name.D. or D.Profession_Name ,
but in the US,
you can set that aside in large part because it is not only normal but even expected that you discuss your interests with the department before applying.

Academic departments in most universities in the US will have a specific person for this initial contact, often their "Director of Graduate Studies"/"DGS".
It is normal to talk to this person about what programs are most aligned with your goals and your qualifications.

This is really the first step in the application process -
an informal interview where you answer these important questions of fit - including what to apply to -
and they get a first impression of you as an applicant.

In addition, if both sides see a good fit,
they should help you contact one or more of the most relevant faculty for your interests.
You would set up meetings with those faculty and see if you are specifically a good fit with them. . . one of them should then be your future advisor if accepted.

.
So this flow of meetings is very important,
especially if you don't already have any connection to the department.

If one were to simply apply to a department without having these meetings and making these connections,
it is perhaps quite likely you would be ignored in favor of someone who did.

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