Here in the southeastern US (if not elsewhere), it is common for students to be admitted to PhD programs in physics after completing a bachelor's, in other words an MS is not generally required for admission. I finished my undergraduate degree last semester, in the fall, and transferred into the master's program of the same university. My current university does not actually offer a PhD program, and I wouldn't have been able to get admission to either of the PhD programs in the area in the midterm, as they only admit new PhD candidates in the Fall.

My question is, would it be a good idea to attempt to transfer to another university in the Fall of this year so I can start studying for my PhD in earnest, or might I as well finish my master's where I am and then transfer in order to start work fresh on my PhD? Is there any good reason to transfer, or to stay where I am?

Note that I transferred most of the coursework I needed to graduate to the uni I currently attend; this my first semester as a graduate is my third semester attending the university overall.

1 Answer 1


I can only speak from my experience. To note, I am a recently graduated PhD from a top school in an engineering field. I served on an application committee as a student member. Two main issues come to mind: 1) How will your decision impact your possible acceptance into a PhD program, and 2) How will your decision influence your finances (course fees, possibility of courses taken that will not count towards your degree.)

The application process for PhD programs starting fall 2016 have closed, to the best of my knowledge. I do not know the likelihood of transferring within a Masters program - even then, you would still need to submit a PhD program application at the same school when it is next open, though you would be better set assuming you have an advisor and research ongoing.

Even with a Masters at the same school, same department, classwork does not necessarily count towards your PhD requirements. Be sure to check if it does.

If you decide to finish your Masters at your current school, your future PhD application will be viewed a little differently from a straight from undergrad application. As someone who has completed their masters and who has dedicated time specifically to research, you will be expected to have at least one publication in a refereed top conference/journal. An undergraduate should have evidence in their work/project history that they are capable of doing research, but it is not critical they have a publication. This may vary depending upon the school and department, but keep it in mind.

There are sometimes Master degrees that follow one of two plans (coursework Masters or project/research Masters). A coursework Masters is at a significant disadvantage compared to other Masters when doing PhD applications.

I don't have complete knowledge of your situation, or goals, of course, but if I was in your situation, I would try to do the following: pick and contact a couple schools to check out the possibility of a transfer within the Masters program for this term. If yes, establish contact with a couple of professors about research in their lab. With a masters at the school you plan to apply to for PhD, you can immediately start your research, develop connections, have a better chance of getting accepted into that PhD program, and are more likely to have coursework count towards your PhD requirements. If the transfer is not possible, I would complete the Masters at the current school while emphasizing research, pushing for a paper which is good evidence that capable of doing solid work.

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