I'm a fresh master degree graduate from central Europe. I would like to apply to selected top graduate schools in US and Europe, and hopefully pursue a PhD degree (in applied math field). I searched though PhD programs in selected universities in US and Europe and I have a clear understanding what the program looks like.

However I'm not still sure about the topic, and if my experience is competitive enough to get accepted. I think that I would like to spend another year expanding my knowledge and have that effort recorded.

I wonder if there's a notion of "one-year-placements"/assistantships for people with Masters diploma but who aren't enrolled in PhD program yet. How I imagine such "placement":

  • I would like to be able to complete selected courses,
  • I would like to cover all expenses (!) by e.g. being a teaching assistant,
  • I would like to be part of a research group/doing research so to gain additional research experience and publications contributions.

So I guess it's exactly an initial stage of a grad school PhD program but without starting actual PhD (I see that in US, grad schools often have this first year filled with courses and after that a selection of PhD topic is made, rather than finding topic on entry).

After such year, if successful, I would like to actually apply for grad school PhD program, with completed "placement" year that would make me more competitive, i.e. I could complete such placement in middle-tier university and after that try to get to top-tier one for PhD.

(Would applying for another Master and asking for getting hired as TA fulfill this scenario?)

Please share your thoughts if my considerations make sense, and if such academic engagements are actually formalized.

Thanks for any guidance!

  • This seems unlikely in the US. See the following for information on doctoral admissions in various places: academia.stackexchange.com/q/176908/75368
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 12, 2022 at 15:52
  • 1
    They do exist. An example is the pre-PhD program at International Centre for Theoretical Physics (Italy).
    – Neuchâtel
    Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 18:38

2 Answers 2


I'm aware of this sort of thing for masters and professional programs (for example, MD or nursing programs) in the US. Simplifying a bit, the programs are generally designed to steer students to choose a particular university as an undergraduate with a promise that if they achieve some goals (such as a threshold GPA) they will receive automatic acceptance into the next stage. The benefit to the university is that they attract a high value and tuition-paying undergraduate student; the benefit to the student is that they get to skip a stressful application process.

I have never heard of a PhD program that offers similar guarantees.

Your "offer" to be a TA is not a compelling offer: TA slots are limited, and often the number of students fully admitted to a PhD program is related to the number of courses available to fund students as a TA.

Successful completion of PhD coursework is the bare minimum threshold for continuing a PhD program; completing those courses does not itself demonstrate your potential for successful research, which is the primary criterion evaluated in PhD admissions. For top programs in particular, it is not sufficient to be merely qualified: these programs receive too many qualified applications for the number of positions that they have available, so they need to reject a number of very good applicants in order to admit only the number they have space for.

Though there is no guarantee possible, yes you can improve the research potential that your resume demonstrates by doing research in an academic lab. Depending on your field, a masters program may be an avenue for accessing those opportunities, or there may be paid positions for recent graduates. Applied math is on a bit of a tricky boundary from my perspective, because while there are likely to be available positions for applying math, these may not be very closely related to doing research in applied math.


This might not exist (yet) in all fields (in particular your field of interest), but what you describe sounds like the so-called "predoc" position, which is increasing common in economics and maybe some other fields.

In economics and economic-adjacent fields, some departments now hire predoctoral fellows (or similar titles), sometimes as part of a structured programme. The position is aimed at those who are interested in pursuing a PhD. The role of a predoc is essentially that of an research assistant, but the position is one or two years long and is (roughly) full-time. A predoc is paid a stipend (or salary) and may have the opportunities to follow some courses as well.

The selling points of a predoc position are usually (1) a stronger PhD application due to research experience and recommendation letters, and (2) an opportunity to learn more whether one actually likes and wants to pursue a research career.

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