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Leaving a PhD program with a Masters degree


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Can anyone give me a general idea of what the general practices and requirements are for switching to / leaving with a Masters after being accepted into a computer science PhD program?

I'm currently applying to computer science programs. I'm asking this question because I might want to go after a PhD, but I'm nowhere near sure at the moment - probably less than 50% sure. I know that I want to do research, but I'm not sure that I want to put in the extra 4 years in a PhD to do it. Are requests to switch to Masters always guaranteed to be granted? I.E. would any university force you to either choose between going for a PhD or leaving with nothing? Can I make the request a just year into the program? Two years? What about being offered acceptance to a PhD program, but deciding that I want to enter with the goal of a terminal Masters?

I was thinking of applying for a research oriented Masters (not PhD) and then deciding during the Masters whether I want to apply for PhD. From my research though, it seems like very few students are accepted in this way. Universities either want PhD students or non-research oriented professional Masters students. Does anyone have suggestions on what I should do? I want to mention that funding is not a big concern for me - getting money would of course be nice, but I'm more concerned with what kind of programs I can get accepted into.

Edit: One more question. If I'm willing to pay my way through a masters program, should I say that somehow on my application? Will that increase my chances of getting into a better program?


Edited by earlyonetoo
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It is actually pretty common to go from a Masters to a PhD, and at a lot of top schools, they sometimes admit PhD applicants into the MS program (not necessarily funded), with the option to transfer if they succeed. Some schools favor PhD applicants who already have a Masters and some don't, so it's hard to generalize about this, but I wouldn't worry about this.

I would be clear in your essay that you're interested in doing research and might be interested in eventually pursuing a PhD. Enough schools offer research-oriented MS degrees that you should be able to find an option that works for you. What I wouldn't do is apply for a PhD program with the intention of dropping out after 2 years, because that's essentially cheating the school into giving you a free Masters and won't look good. Just be honest about your goals and I think your situation is fine (and not actually too uncommon).

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Take a look at these programs at CMU. They are in the School of Engineering but you can choose research or professional track and you don't have to choose the track until after your first year (by then you should know). If you decide to not do a PhD their job placement stats are incredible and if you decide you've got access to all of the research faculty in CS/ECE there. They have students who go onto PhD's in ECE or CS every year (though most don't, not because they can't but because they don't want to). It might be the answer to your situation.

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