Several CS graduate programs in the US have a checkbox stating something along the lines of "Would you like to be considered for MS if not accepted for PhD?" in their applications. I'm curious as to how this process works in general. Some specific questions that I also have:

  1. Do both committees (MS and PhD) review the application individually in parallel?

  2. Is there a lower chance of being accepted to the MS through this way as opposed to applying directly to the MS program?

  3. How can a single statement of purpose (and letters given by recommenders) state the purpose of attending MS, if the application is for PhD? To rephrase, how would an applicant state in the SoP that they would be willing to go for MS, without killing the application for PhD?

2 Answers 2


These questions are pretty much impossible to answer as every university will have its own procedures. There might, actually, only be one committee.

If you want a doctorate from such places, then focus on that, and check the box for masters if you like. But write the application and the LoR with the doctorate in mind.

It is even hard to predict in general whether a place has more or fewer masters "slots" than doctoral ones. There is probably limited space in the doctoral program, but if they focus on that then maybe there are few masters students.

Note that a doctoral student in the US will probably be offered a teaching assistantship (TA). This provides a useful service to the university in managing the undergraduate program and these are seldom open to masters students.

But you need to decide which degree you want. Spend some time thinking about your long term career if you are undecided. If it is a doctorate, then focus everything on that whether you check the "masters" box or not.


I would take this at face-value. You're submitting an application for a PhD and want to do a PhD, so design everything around that, no need to change anything in your application materials to leave room for a masters option.

Then, upon submitting your application for a PhD, if you would consider a MS admission if not admitted for a PhD, check the box saying so; if not, don't check the box. No need to play a game with it beyond that.

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