Masters vs Undergraduate Transcript Importance

FlipFlopControl
Posts: 1
Joined: Sat Jul 11, 2015 3:35 pm

Masters vs Undergraduate Transcript Importance

Postby FlipFlopControl » Sat Jul 11, 2015 4:50 pm

Hi, I'm currently an undergrad student in Canada. I did very poorly in my first year courses and had a 1.x GPA, but then in 3rd/4th year I got my act together and had a 4.0, so my overall GPA is 3.51.

I recognize that this is quite low, and since I want to go into condensed matter theory, I likely won't make it into a PhD program in the U.S. (especially considering I count as an international student). I was wondering if any of you knew how doing a masters program affects your admissions? Is your undergraduate weighted less/does it look better? Or does it work against you, as a masters in the US seems to basically be not completing your PhD. Or is it highly dependent on the graduate school you apply to?
Thank you, let me know if you need further info.

astroprof
Posts: 95
Joined: Fri Feb 15, 2008 4:47 pm

Re: Masters vs Undergraduate Transcript Importance

Postby astroprof » Sun Jul 12, 2015 1:23 pm

There are many good reasons to enter into a Masters-only graduate program, and providing evidence of academic success after a poor start as an undergraduate is one of them. However, it sounds like you have already made this point, if you have 4.0 averages in your last two years as an undergraduate. Getting similar grades as a masters student will not have a significant impact on your application, as most graduate courses give A's and B's (anything less than a B is considered 'not passing' for most US graduate programs).

However, if you would like to improve your research record, explore possible research areas, remain in Canada for a few more years, or earn a degree that will lead to more job opportunities than a BS but does not require the same commitment as a PhD, then a Masters-only graduate program may be for you. Most US doctoral programs understand that a Canadian Masters degree is not a "terminal" degree in the same way as it is treated in the US, so you should not be at a disadvantage in that regard. However, it is unlikely that any of the course work, or research, will transfer to the US doctoral program, so you would be starting over if you choose to move to the US for your PhD.

The practical approach is to apply to both Canadian masters programs and US doctoral programs this fall. See where you get in, what your opportunities will be, and what career paths they may lead you to. You may discover that the Canadian masters program you like can also transition to become a Canadian PhD program that is well matched to your interests. You may discover that the US PhD programs you get into are better than/worse than you expected. Keeping your options open is often the best approach to the graduate application/admissions process.

TakeruK
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Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Masters vs Undergraduate Transcript Importance

Postby TakeruK » Sun Jul 12, 2015 2:58 pm

I agree with astroprof's advice!

I am also a Canadian with a Canadian undergraduate degree. For personal reasons**, I chose to do a Canadian Masters degree and then apply for US PhD programs. Having a Canadian Masters did not work against me at all at US schools because while most Americans might think a Canadian MSc is a "terminal degree" like the American MS degree, the people that make the admission decisions are more knowledgeable about how the school system works in different countries. I did not apply to US PhD programs right after undergrad, so I can't compare my results before/after my Masters degree, but I think having 2 more years of research could not have hurt.

But as astroprof says, none of my courses from my Masters degree counted for anything. So, starting the PhD program basically meant that I started grad school all over again. This is fine for me, because I'm actually in a slightly different subfield now (Planetary Science PhD, but Astronomy MSc) so it's not like a lot of courses would have overlapped anyways. However, I find that in the Canadian system, the courses are spread out over more years so it's not like I had completed very many courses anyways.

Overall, I don't think you should apply to Canadian Masters programs only because you don't think you'll make it to a US PhD program. If you are interested in US PhD programs, you should apply to both US and Canadian grad schools and see how it goes.

(**Personal reasons for choosing to do a Canadian Masters first were primarily: 1) I was not 100% sure that I wanted to do grad school so I preferred the 2 year Masters, then reapply for PhD if desired system in Canada; 2) I was not yet married to my wife at that time, so she would not have been able to move with me (and be able to work) as a secondary person on my student visa if she was not married to me. We got married during the Masters degree!)

Catria
Posts: 353
Joined: Fri Oct 26, 2012 4:14 pm

Re: Masters vs Undergraduate Transcript Importance

Postby Catria » Mon Jul 13, 2015 10:31 am

I have every right to ask whether you contemplate study in the US in an attempt to protest federal-level science policy (as I did, and also another one currently at Virginia; however I am not sure about whether US or Europe is more popular as a doctoral destination for Canadian science policy protesters). Please feel free to answer that question in a PM though.

astroprof wrote:There are many good reasons to enter into a Masters-only graduate program, and providing evidence of academic success after a poor start as an undergraduate is one of them. However, it sounds like you have already made this point, if you have 4.0 averages in your last two years as an undergraduate. Getting similar grades as a masters student will not have a significant impact on your application, as most graduate courses give A's and B's (anything less than a B is considered 'not passing' for most US graduate programs).

However, if you would like to improve your research record, explore possible research areas, remain in Canada for a few more years, or earn a degree that will lead to more job opportunities than a BS but does not require the same commitment as a PhD, then a Masters-only graduate program may be for you. Most US doctoral programs understand that a Canadian Masters degree is not a "terminal" degree in the same way as it is treated in the US, so you should not be at a disadvantage in that regard. However, it is unlikely that any of the course work, or research, will transfer to the US doctoral program, so you would be starting over if you choose to move to the US for your PhD.

The practical approach is to apply to both Canadian masters programs and US doctoral programs this fall. See where you get in, what your opportunities will be, and what career paths they may lead you to. You may discover that the Canadian masters program you like can also transition to become a Canadian PhD program that is well matched to your interests. You may discover that the US PhD programs you get into are better than/worse than you expected. Keeping your options open is often the best approach to the graduate application/admissions process.


Minnesota is one of those few schools with good condensed matter theory research where there will actually be some transfer of masters coursework, as long as you earn an A- or better in the transferred course and the course content is equivalent. Under the same stipulations, undergraduate coursework that meets the same criteria would be waived instead.




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