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Do I need to finish my Master's degree at Institution A before starting a PhD at Institution B?

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Posted

I am currently working on a Master's degree, and have firmly decided that I ultimately want to work on a PhD. I am about two-thirds of the way finished with my coursework, and will begin working on my thesis this Summer or Fall. While I know this is fundamentally an issue of department-specific policies, as a general rule, could I get away with applying for a PhD program this Fall/Winter (2010), with the intention of beginning the program Fall 2011, and simply leaving some of the coursework from my Master's degree unfinished, with the intention of either finishing it through the course of my PhD studies (through transfer credits and whatnot), or just not finishing at all?

This proposition might seem silly at first glance, a guy who is too lazy to finish his Master's degree but wants to get started on a PhD, but the motivation is purely financial and logistical. I know I need to write my thesis so that I can make contact with faculty and get recommendations (especially for applying to the school where I'm currently working on my Master's), gain some research experience to make me a stronger applicant for a PhD, and carve out a niche in the field. But I am doing my master's degree part time, with a full-time job during the day, and paying my own tuition (and my school is very, very expensive - about $4,000 per class!). So I would much rather just stop paying for these expensive classes, and concentrate on my thesis while continuing to work full time. This way I would be able to do a much better job on my thesis, while still not getting fired from work (Thesis + Full Time Job seems doable, but Thesis + Full Time Job + Coursework would mean that I would do a half-assed job with all three).

Thanks for sharing any knowledge or experiences that would help clarify the situation for me!

And in case you're curious, I am currently getting a Master's degree in Scientific Computing (basically a combination between Mathematics and Computer Science) at NYU, and am looking to apply for PhD in Computer Science programs at NYU, Polytechnic (in Brooklyn), CUNY (The City University of New York), and Columbia. Yes, I refuse to leave New York.

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Posted

As you say, it depends on the school. In general, you don't (usually) need to have a Master's degree before you can start a PhD program. However, if you present yourself as expecting to finish a Masters degree with the clear intention of dropping out as soon as you're accepted for a PhD, that might be a problem. Another potential problem is getting strong recommendations from your professors, if you drop out of their classes at around the same time. It seems that in order to avoid that you would need to at least register for Fall classes in 2010. Once you do that, it's sort of a shame not to do well in them; and once you do that, you'll have very little to complete the degree, and it's sort of a shame not to do that either. But, I do understand the difficulty, and I think that in general it should be possible to not finish the degree. But, I know nothing specific about your field of interest.

On the other hand, I do in fact know people (all internationals) who started a MA and moved to a PhD degree after its first year, without finishing. That mostly happens because BA programs (at least in Europe) are 3 years long, and it's almost impossible to apply to a PhD before finishing them, because that means you're applying after only completing two years, where most seminars and small classes are taught/written during the 3rd year. People continue on to a Masters and then either do or don't (but mostly do) finish it before getting into a PhD program. I don't think it's that common in the States to start and not finish, but the precedent is out there.

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Posted

I am in that situation right now! Fuzzy, what do you think?

I am half way through my Master's program, and I intend to finish it. I enrolled in winter quarter (Jan) and I should finish by winter quarter (next Jan). I know I want to get phD right after, but it seems like many phD program's deadlines are December and January for fall 2012. I would probably have finished majority of the classes by then but not my thesis (which is required to graduate). Can I still apply? If I miss this year's deadline so I can completely finish my Master's degree, I have to wait a year to enroll for fall 2013.

help!

Thanks

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