I notice that the majority of admission questions on this site regarding admissions specifically refer to Ph.D admissions. That being the case, are Master's applicants evaluated any differently in regards to focus on research, grades, letters of recommendation, etc.? For instance, research potential is a big determining factor for Ph.D admissions I know, but the Ph.D is a research oriented degree. Is there the same focus on research potential for Master's students?

This is specifically focused on STEM fields, particularly the "E."

  • Are you interested in Masters with a research and thesis component, or just coursework? The criteria will likely vary a lot between these options.
    – Mangara
    Jun 6, 2015 at 7:15
  • I'm assuming a thesis, but I'm curious as to how much different a non-thesis option applicant would be decided as well. Jun 6, 2015 at 15:31

3 Answers 3


The difference is huge, at least in my field, computer science. Master's programs are typically money-makers, with students paying full tuition. Some programs are purely coursework; others require Master's theses or projects.

In contrast, PhD programs accept many fewer students, none of whom pay tuition, instead receiving stipends paid for by fellowships, teaching assistantships, and research assistantships.

Because of the difference in the size of these programs and who pays whom, PhD programs are far more selective.


A masters in research applicant is usually assessed for very similar things to the PhD, all the things that you mention but to a lower level, the amount of experience and strength of the candidate is not required to be as high, the masters is much less of a commitment than a 4 year PhD for example and so the entry requirements aren't as stringent.

It is for this reason that some bachelor students who cannot obtain a PhD offer may do a masters first or why a thesis not good enough to gain a PhD may be awarded a masters instead. A purely taught masters candidate would not be necessarily assessed on research potential, mainly grades and motivation instead (which could include desire to do future research).


In universities I've been at (in Sweden & Belgium), students apply for a masters at the department level or higher and all candidates are assessed collectively. PhD candidates are assessed by the individual professor who holds the grant that will pay the student.

A few important additional criteria used to assess PhD candidates include:

  • Is the candidate's background and interests suitable for this particular project?
  • Is the candidate likely to fit into the research group?
  • Is the candidate likely to last the distance?
  • Is the candidate likely to become independent?
  • How creative is the candidate?
  • How does the candidate approach problem solving?

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