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I am a undergraduate student interested in doing my higher studies in USA. I am tempted to apply for PhD program offered by the colleges but I am skeptical of my selection due to high competition. So, I was planning to first do MS from a reputed college and then later do a PhD. This will improve my chances of admit as well. However, while going through the FAQs of some colleges I came to know that there is a possibility of applying for PhD in a college, and in case the application gets rejected they consider the application for MS as well. So, I just wanted to know which is a wiser decision? To apply only for MS or to apply for PhD and hope that they select you at least for MS. Also, does the chances of being selected for MS reduce if the applicant follows the latter procedure?

  • Would you have problem if they offer you MS with no funding? – scaaahu Nov 18 '14 at 6:24
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It depends on the discipline and which country/institution you are coming from. In my experience, most foreign PhD students in US physics programs have master's degrees from their home countries. Therefore I think PhD admissions committees are expecting a master's degree.

MS programs in the US are usually not selective. Most international students choose to get the MS in their home country because it is usually much cheaper.

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At the several institutions at which I have worked or attended, the graduate application and core course requirements are identical for MS and PhD students. I know of a number of cases where students applied for a PhD and were admitted to the Master's program (usually on the basis of lacking experience or grades/GRE cutoffs). I also know of a few where students were admitted to a PhD program pending taking a semester of pre-req courses to address a specific weakness in their application.

A PhD student generally has more access to career experience, teaching and research assistant-ships, tuition wavers, and a stipend. Thus it is far more financially viable to be a PhD student.

Considering that the application is no different, that there is a possibility of being admitted to the Master's program if you are not accepted to the PhD program, and that being a PhD student is the more beneficial state, I would say that there are key benefits to initially applying to a PhD program.

I am unaware of any circumstance in which applying for a PhD first would hurt your chances at applying for a Master's later.

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    I am unaware of any circumstance in which applying for a PhD first would hurt your chances at applying for a Master's later. Note that the converse of this can be true. In my field, it actually looks bad on an application to have "settled" for a Master's before attempting to gain entry to a PhD program. – Jonathan Landrum Nov 19 '14 at 0:46

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