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All in the title -- I really want to join the PhD program, but I'm considering "hedging my bets" in case there aren't enough spots or the stars don't align by applying to the MSc program in the same department, which also happens to be extremely strong. Since it's to the same department, I'm guessing the same committee will be looking at the two applications.

My question is, would it weaken my applications in any way to do so? (If so, please elaborate?)

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  • I'm confused. If you've not nearing finishing your masters yet, why do you apply for phd, especially formally?
    – Lodinn
    Sep 27 at 19:12
  • @Lodinn: Unless things have changed substantially from when I was a student, it is not particularly unusual to have people enter a PhD program straight from an undergraduate degree with honours. Plenty of people have come into their PhD candidature without a masters degree.
    – Ben
    Sep 27 at 23:40
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    @Lodinn I'm guessing you are not in the US; in the US it is most typical to apply to PhD programs after the bachelor's degree. There may be an opportunity to earn a master's along the way, and some people may choose to do a master's first to get additional research experience before applying.
    – Bryan Krause
    Sep 27 at 23:50
  • @BryanKrause Correct; I did not realize the depth of my folly - most of the people I've collaborated with in the US were PhDs and I silently assumed US follows a similar system to the Bologna process. It is so confusing, in fact, that I'm about to ask a separate question about it! Thank you.
    – Lodinn
    Sep 29 at 10:47
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I see no problem with this. Departments are well aware that people often need to make multiple applications in case they are not accepted into their preferred program. To ensure you don't waste the department's time you should be explicit in your application for the masters program that this is a "fallback" position if your application for a PhD candidature is unsuccessful. That way, if they decide to accept you into the PhD program, they will not spend much time over your other application.

I would love to be able to reassure you 100% that adding a masters application will not harm your chances of acceptance to a PhD program. Ideally it shouldn't, but I will add this slight caveat. ​There is a fairly well-known principle in behavioural economics that says that the "choice architecture" of a decision can affect the result. In particular, when people are presented with a set of ordinal options, there is sometimes a slight cognitive bias in favour of the middle one --- this is sometimes called "the Goldilocks effect". By giving a set of two options, there is no clear middle option, but the cognitive effect may be to make you look less appealing for admission to the PhD program. I'd love to think that the admissions committee would be immune to this heuristic bias, but you never know.

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