I recently decided to apply for either a Ph.D. or a second-master program in computer science in the US.

Educational Background: I earned my undergraduate degrees in economics and mathematics (average GPA 3.2) from a university outside the US and got my master degree this past summer in quantitative finance (GPA is slightly higher than 3.5) in a US university ranked around 60 nationally.

That said, I had a few project and invited-talk experiences during my master program that are related to CS, also, I had a working experience in a fin-tech startup as a software engineer since April (I am using my OPT now to work after graduation). My only undergraduate experience relating to CS is a short summer internship as a quant in a non-US investment bank.

I also consider the possibility of applying for a second master in CS first and then preparing for a Ph.D. while reading my second master. Honestly, I know this may sound over-educated because this can take even longer time (say, 1.5-year second master plus 5-year Ph.D.) before I can come out of campus and look for a job. But there is an advantage: I suspect my current background makes it hard to enroll in a decent Ph.D. program now (I am not even talking about top universities/programs, the list below may give you a sense of the levels of schools in my mind), but by first reading a master in CS, maybe it will be easier for me to apply for a better Ph.D. program in the future?


  1. None of my referees are working in the university I am applying for (two are from my graduate program and one is my current employer)

  2. I don't have the working opportunity after the second master so that I have to read a Ph.D. later to find a job afterward. The only reason for applying a second master is it makes a Ph.D. application easier;

  3. The invited talks mentioned above are like some developer community seminar/meetup, and I don't have published papers

Should I just go for a Ph.D. now or consider a second master in CS first?

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    I realize that application fees (and hassle) are not trivial, but can you just apply for both? Identify the places you want to go for PhD, and then also identify some places you would want to do a pre-PhD masters (sometimes this can be some of the same Universities, but each institution has it's own rules). If you don't get in to places you really want to go for a PhD, but do get a good option for a masters, then there you go - no need to wait until the following year for the next admission cycle. There is so many variables in play that we can't say you will or won't get a good PhD offer. – BrianH Aug 30 '17 at 2:24
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    In the US most PhD programs do not expect you to have a masters already. In your case, since you lack CS fundamentals you would likely take a few extra classes in your first year or so. Then you might need to write a masters thesis before proceeding on after passing the qualifiers. But that is all highly program specific and is best addressed with each department. – Jon Custer Aug 30 '17 at 12:47
  • @BrianHall Thanks, Brian! Just wondering if a student applies for a Ph.D. instead of a master and he is not qualified for the Ph.D. but is qualified enough for the same university's master program. In this case, will the university still offer him the master opportunity rather than rejecting him completely simply because he doesn't apply for the master? Also as for the pre-PhD masters, what is this exactly? Is it just the Ph.D. program (why I only saw master and Ph.D. possibilities on most school websites?) and is it still tougher to enter than the comparable master just like a normal Ph.D.? – Nicholas Aug 30 '17 at 15:11
  • @JonCuster Really appreciated. When you mentioned "extra classes in the first year", "master thesis" and "qualifiers", I guess you are assuming one is already enrolled in the school's Ph.D. Program? Is this the pre-PhD programs mentioned by BrianHall above? How tough is it to enter compared to a regular master program and a regular Ph.D. prgram? – Nicholas Aug 30 '17 at 15:19

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