I'm currently studying for an MSc in theoretical particle physics in Israel. After I finish it I would like to study for a PhD abroad.

In the UK it seems that a PhD degree does not generally require taking any courses. In the US, on the other hand, all of the PhD programs I checked require at least one or two years of coursework as part of the PhD studies, and the actual research only starts after that.

My question is: do you know whether universities in the US allow students with an MSc degree, who have already done most or all of the graduate courses as part of that degree (and got good grades), to begin research immediately instead of taking the courses again? I really don't want to repeat the courses and waste two years.

4 Answers 4


It depends on the department. I have been looking at various applied mathematics departments in the USA and all of them want PhD students to go through the coursework and obtain an MS, even if they already did a masters degree before.

I think in general, there is no chance to skip coursework. This is probably because different universities have different standards and syllabuses for the same course. And they want to ensure everyone is up to the same standard and have taken the same syllabus.

But do check with the department, there are always exceptions.


However, it doesn't have to be a "waste" of two years. The level of the course might be higher and you are probably able to choose different courses to get broader experiences. If all else fails and you are able to ace all the courses with no problem, you can always spend the extra time looking for a thesis adviser or find research collaborators.


Even at schools that have course requirements, you may be able to satisfy some requirements by taking a proficiency exam instead of an entire course. Check with the department!


The answer greatly varies. I was in the same situation, and in my school, a Phd student with a previous MSC gets exemption from 3 courses out of the required 12.

In other schools (I think it was Stanford, but I might be wrong), the required amount of (real) classes for a Phd student, is 4.

As @Legendre said, the best way is to check with the school itself. The Graduate Students Office (GSO) should be able to give you the details or refer you to the right website (yet, many times the website is not 100% accurate..)

  • Agreed, some department websites are ancient or just 404. Best to email them directory and ask. (although for applied math the answer is generally no :( )
    – Legendre
    Oct 4, 2012 at 23:26

Many US schools generally offer a partial/full "course waiver" depending on the course load and syllabus of the previous MS degree.

However, there are some problems with MSc (by research) programs from the UK (i.e. anglo-saxon system), as such program does not require any course work.

I know one person in our lab who did MSc (by research) from the UK and had to complete a full course load during his PhD, it took almost 3 years to finish the course work (only, and getting a second MS), even being one of the most competent/experienced members in our lab.

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