Is going straight from undergrad to a PhD program cheaper than doing a Master's degree first?

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Edited according to new information OP gave. I'm not a CS major so someone else could provide a better answer.

In my knowledge on the field of CS, I believe that most universities will give you full tuition waiver and living stipend, and you will be expected to work as RA or TA along the way. I do know some of the last year PhDs who taught intro class in undergrad CS as instructors.

I've been led to believe that it's much easier to get money (assistantships and fellowships) as a PhD student than as a master's student

PhD students are more likely to be under assistantships and fellowships, and most likely it may be required for them to be under assistantships or fellowships. Some excellent Master's student may also get such opportunities. However, if you are referring to opportunity cost, the answer becomes more of personal preference than an absolute answer. If you know that you ultimately want to do PhD, it is financially better to go straight into PhD without having to pay for your tuition for Masters. However, going through masters may provide a better chance for your admission acceptance. You will also be more sure about your research interest; jumping into PhD is a huge investment, so it's wise to explore before committing. There are many CS majors that I know personally who went on to MS before going into PhD.

And are there other significant factors in determining whether or not it's cheaper to go straight to a PhD program?

I think ultimately you have to check with the graduate programs about their funding. There are many Master's programs in CS that provide partial tuition waiver, and if you become a TA, they may even waive all your tuition in some universities. Look into your universities to see if they have such programs available.

If finance is one of your concern, the advice that I've heard is to work after undergraduate in research institutions or industry. In that way, you can earn some money for yourself, while boosting your resume and giving time for yourself to discover if you like the research topic you were initially interested in. If you end up in an industry job with little research aspect, publishing papers along the way is excellent way to show admission committee that you are interested in academia.

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Updated on August 18, 2022

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  • Bagley
    Bagley about 1 year

    I've been led to believe that it's much easier to get money (assistantships and fellowships) as a PhD student than as a master's student, and so it's cheaper to go straight to a PhD program if you know you want to get a PhD. This is supposing that you spend the same amount of time in grad school with both routes. Is this correct? And are there other significant factors in determining whether or not it's cheaper to go straight to a PhD program?

    Edit: I'm hoping to study computer science, if that's relevant. If I do a master's, it'll be in the US, but I'm not sure if I'd want to do a PhD in the US or in France. You can just assume the US for this question.

    • Austin Henley
      Austin Henley over 6 years
      It can be harder to get accepted into PhD programs straight from undergrad since you've had less time to do research.
    • eykanal
      eykanal over 6 years
      Anecdotal - Some PhD programs accept BA/BS students and have them earn their Masters along the way (e.g., after two years defend a Masters thesis, after four/five defend PhD thesis).
    • eykanal
      eykanal over 6 years
      Also, you ask about "cheaper". Not sure what you mean (most graduate programs pay you a stipend... are you referring to opportunity costs?), but even so I don't think that's the proper metric to gauge. I recommend thinking about likelihood of acceptance instead.
    • Bagley
      Bagley over 6 years
      I am referring to opportunity costs, assuming the stipend received is large enough to cover the costs of attending, but I don't know if all stipends are that large. Likelihood of acceptance into the program itself or the likelihood of getting a stipend in the program?
    • Harry
      Harry over 6 years
      The program, institution, and field will all influence the answer to this question. In biology or the biomedical sciences, an MS degree may include teaching assistantships, though these may be quite limited and competitive. Master's students may even compete with PhD students for funding (again, that's program-dependent).
    • Bryan Krause
      Bryan Krause over 6 years
      @DarylBagley I think this question is very field (and country)-specific. In some fields, in the US, you essentially get a masters degree on the way to the PhD, and might not need to do hardly any extra work to obtain the degree, besides maybe writing up your partial results or having some sort of examination. In that situation, if you start out with a masters sometimes it is trivial to switch to a PhD. In other fields, it is very very unusual to get a masters degree at all if you will eventually pursue a PhD; in other fields, a masters degree is more or less required for PhD admission.
    • Bagley
      Bagley over 6 years
      @BryanKrause I'm intending to study computer science in the US, or possibly in France. I'm going to go ahead and edit my question to include that information, since lots of people are saying it's relevant.
    • Jessica
      Jessica over 6 years
      Most CS PhD programs in the US are fully funded, in the sense that the university will pay you a tuition plus a small living stipend. If you do a CS master's beforehand, you are likely to pay tuition, although some masters students are also fully funded. So I would say it is definitely cheaper financially to go directly for your PhD. However, it is also a lot cheaper to go straight to industry after a BS than to do either a masters or a PhD, so if money is your main concern, that might be what you want to do.
    • JeffE
      JeffE over 6 years
      Some CS MS programs in the US (like mine) are also partially or fully funded.
  • JeffE
    JeffE over 6 years
    you'll start with the same coursework regardless of whether your intention is to stop with a Master's or continue for a PhD — This is not true in all departments; in particular, it is not true in mine.
  • Bryan Krause
    Bryan Krause over 6 years
    Many PhD programs in the US, for example in engineering, only last 3 years but follow a ~2-year masters, which may or may not be from the same institution.
  • aparente001
    aparente001 over 6 years
    @JeffE - As I based my answer on the only system I know well, it would be helpful if you posted an answer based on another system(s).