Don't know if relevant, but I'm applying for PhD programs in math.

In general for grad school apps*, if I'm asked if I want full time or part time, I choose both if I am allowed to do that.

Is there necessarily a better choice if I am not allowed to tick both or pick either?

I mean:

  • Does part time indicate I'm open to working at the university as a grad/teaching assistant (and hence full time indicates not being open to such work?) ?

  • Or does part time indicate that I would have other commitments and so would not be seen as a whole hearted student (and hence full time means that I would be a whole hearted student)?

There may be some other things I'm not considering. Please answer in general. Which option, if I have to choose only one, gives an applicant a better chance of getting in the university?

If this depends on the program, please give examples of programs where indicating full time is a better choice and examples of programs where indicating part time is a better choice

To make this clear, I'm not asking if it's better to take a PhD full time instead of part time or vice-versa. I'm asking which is better in applications assuming I am open to either and am allowed to pick only one.

*or for example databases in ETS or QS Grad School Tours

  • I would imagine that it is easier to go from full to part time than the other way around. Nov 5, 2016 at 3:27

1 Answer 1


Or does part time indicate that I would have other commitments and so would not be seen as a whole hearted student (and hence full time means that I would be a whole hearted student)?

Yes, this is my understanding of how it would be interpreted. It would definitely not mean working as a TA or RA.

Unless you have a job you'd like to keep, or other comparable responsibilities outside of studying, I'd recommend checking only the full-time box. I don't think expressing an openness to part-time study would help get admitted to a math PhD program, while it might look odd or worrisome.

In particular, in the math PhD programs I've studied or taught in, there have been essentially no part-time students. (It might have been a theoretical option, but I can't think of any actual part-time students.) For programs like this, the application might ask about it, but the expectation would be that everyone is a full-time student.

I think this is standard in U.S. math PhD programs, but some programs may run differently, so I can't say this advice is necessarily universal. (The biggest variance would be that some applied math programs may be more open to having part-time students.)

  • 1
    @JackBauer: My impression is that it cover both pure and applied math, but there's more variance in how applied math programs work. Full-time definitely always includes people who are grad/teaching assistants (in all U.S. graduate programs, at least). The variance is in how open they are to having part-time students, who typically hold a job in industry while working on a Ph.D. I think applied programs may be more open to this. Nov 4, 2016 at 17:05
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    I cannot speak to applied math specifically, but my experience in the biological sciences and with many acquaintances in other fields, full-time is definitely the norm for PhDs, much more so than for master's degrees. The only occasion where I would expect to see a part-time PhD would be in a situation where someone is an employee of a company who is also funding their research project at a university - I could imagine these situations occurring in applied math, but that would be a special case, you would not be first learning of this arrangement when you are deciding which box to check.
    – Bryan Krause
    Nov 4, 2016 at 17:09
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    And I echo @AnonymousMathematician - "full time" definitely includes any graduate appointments you would have at the university. You should NOT choose "part time" to indicate willingness to TA/RA/PA, those appointments are typical for "full time" students.
    – Bryan Krause
    Nov 4, 2016 at 17:11
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    PA = Project/Program Assistant - these are more rare in science/math/engineering, but they could include jobs like working in a writing center (not a TA because you are part of a 'program' not a 'course') or student services office, internal internship-like projects like working for the university HR or accounting departments, that sort of thing.
    – Bryan Krause
    Nov 4, 2016 at 17:22
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    Unless you have a specific reason to check part time - i.e., you already have an employer, have discussed your plans for graduate school with your employer and they support those plans, or are certain for any other reason that you will be a part-time student, you should choose full time.
    – Bryan Krause
    Nov 4, 2016 at 17:23

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