I'm an undergraduate currently applying for Fall 2016 Master's programs in Statistics (or sometimes Applied Statistics, depending on the program).

One of my applications has this question:

If you are applying for a master's degree, do you intend to continue for the doctoral degree?

The options are yes/no/not applicable.

Here's the thing–I honestly don't know. I could really see myself doing either. My eventual goals are something like data analysis/statistical modeling, especially with social science implications–although I've done a little bit of undergraduate "research" coding web apps that involve visual inference and statistical tests.

I'm not applying to any PhD programs not because I definitely don't want a PhD, but because my academic record is a bit weaker than most (I got a D in a math class my freshman year, cleared up some ADHD issues before my sophomore year, and have done really well since).

Soul-searching about what I really want more notwithstanding, would it be a greater sin to say "yes" and then not go on for a doctorate, or would the alternative be worse? If I say "yes," will my application be judged more harshly?


Correct me if this doesn't apply to your case but applications generally provide one or several areas where one can explain their interests and future plans (e.g. statement of purpose). Thus, I doubt that this question is all that important. It might even just be used for administrative purposes within or outside the department.

My take on this is that - so long as you are completely honest about your intentions/uncertainty elsewhere in the application - fudging/randomly choosing your response isn't that big a deal.

So what option should you circle? I would go back and reread the program/department webpages to get an idea of graduate placement. (It is also completely legitimate to ask for past placement if it isn't posted.) If most people go on to grad school, circle yes. If most don't, no. So long as you don't feel like you're lying as you circle, nobody can fault you. They should have provided a "don't know" option in the first place.

Finally, I'm not a big fan of the "NA" response because (a) the question is, in a sense, applicable to you and (b) it may raise unnecessary red flags.

  • I think the NA applies when the university does not offer a corresponding PhD program (or, at least, that was my interpretation). Your suggestion to explain more in the statement of purpose section is of course a very good one. Thank you!
    – Alex
    Aug 6 '15 at 3:12

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