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Combined Masters and PhD Programs in the US

I was asked by a reader if one can opt for a joint master and PhD program in the United States right after an undergraduate degree. My answer to that question would be YES. Most universities in the US accept students into their PhD programs right after a bachelors degree. US universities work according to the credit system. Each degree requires that the student earns a certain amount of minimum credits. In an integrated program, once you finish your master’s coursework (in 2-3 years) and earn the requisite credits/grades you can dive into full time research and the PhD portion coursework.

What are the entry requirements of MS + PhD programs?

The entry requirements are essentially the same that the school asks from its masters and PhD applicants. Undergrad grades, test scores, letters of recommendation and work experience are taken into account. Yes, your profile must be strong enough to be considered for such a position. An applicant must prove that he/she has a strong inclination for research and can continue in the program for 7-8 years. And if English is not your native language, you will likely have to prove your English ability by taking the TOEFL or another English exam. Admissions offices need to know that you can function in an English-only environment.

Masters students are usually offered only partial scholarships, depending on the availability. Many schools at least try that the international students receive some tuition waiver/scholarship. If chosen as a combined masters-PhD candidate it’s likely that the school will offer a fellowship and offer a TA/RA position. If not immediately, the RA/TA position comes in after the first semester or even the first year. Please note, this funding is entirely on the discretion of the department and it’s best to ask admissions/graduate coordinators about such policies when applying.

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The advantages of such programs

If someone is absolutely sure that a doctoral degree is his/her ultimate goal, I would strongly advice opting for a combined degree. It’s a good career move to set on the research and PhD path right after an undergraduate degree. You’re set once and for all without the hassles of applying again. Additionally, the cost of applying to schools twice- once for masters and then for PhD- can be saved. Test scores are valid for a limited period of time and if it expires before the PhD cycle of admissions, an applicant is expected to appear for it again.

Combined programs are rigorous as there is a lot to learn before embarking on research. An undergrad is a novice when considering the demands of higher research. When choosing such a program be prepared to venture on a demanding, long and tough journey.

On the flipside, it’s completely alright if you want to pursue a doctoral program after completing your masters. Separate masters and PhD degrees offers you the flexibility to change schools, specializations/area of research and the option to work/research for a few years before heading for your PhD.

Best of luck in deciding which way you are headed after your undergrad!

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14 Responses to Combined Masters and PhD Programs in the US

  1. Shajib February 2, 2017 at 1:34 am #

    In a combined MS+PhD program does the student receive masters certificate if he/she doesn’t continue the PhD program after completing the masters?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert February 3, 2017 at 6:23 am #

      Hi Shajib,

      Typically yes, this is the case that a student earns the MS or MA qualification along the way, but it is not always in the subject matter of the PhD itself. These are questions that should be clarified with an individual university department. 🙂

  2. Rahul February 6, 2017 at 11:08 pm #

    Can you provide the list of colleges which offers combined masters and PHD course or how to discern from the official website of the college if it offers the above mentioned course ?

    • David Recine
      David Recine February 7, 2017 at 3:00 am #

      It’s hard to compile a full list of these kinds of programs, for a few reasons. For one thing, universities don’t always make it obvious that they have a combined grad program. If you see that a university offers a Master’s and PhD in the same subject, there’s a chance that their program combines the two degrees. But you may need to contact the school to find out. It’s also possible that a school may offer a Masters in one subject, a PhD in another, but combine these two grad degrees into one double-major program.

      Specific kinds of joint degrees are easier to find lists for. Some types of combined Masters/PhD are very popular and very specific, so that lists of all such programs are available. This is definitely true of the combined JD/MBA. Many different websites have lists of JD/MBA programs. I personally like Wikipedia’s JD/MBA list.

      To find a list of combined Master’s/PhD programs that’s useful for you, search just for the subject area (or areas) you intend to study. That should help you come up with a good list of your options.

  3. ayushi April 1, 2017 at 8:13 am #

    What’s the total duration for an integrated masters and PhD course. ?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert April 2, 2017 at 3:58 am #

      Hi Ayushi,

      There is no single answer for this. The masters coursework typically takes 1.5-3 years and then you progress to the PhD portion, which honestly can take a decade sometimes, but typically is a 5-6 year endeavor.

  4. sabrena hausa April 8, 2017 at 1:15 pm #


    I did only one semester in one of the Universities in the UK in English and then I have withdrawn the course, and I would like to do this Combined Masters and PhD Programs in the US.

    Do I need to provide TOEFL or IELTS to get the offer?

    Or it is enough to provide a proof from the university that I have withdrawn from?

    because I do not want take IELTS again.


    • David Recine
      David Recine April 10, 2017 at 6:46 am #


      If you have just one semester complete in an English speaking environment, most American universities will still want to see an English proficiency exam of some sort.

      Whether or not you need to take the TOEFL or retake the IELTS depends on how long ago you took the last test. If you took the IELTS less than two years ago, you don’t need to retake it. US universities accept both the IELTS and the TOEFL, so long as your scores are less than two years old at the time of application. (Or sometimes they need to be less than two years old at the time you start your studies— contact the schools you’re applying to if you need to check the exact policy.)

      However, if your IELTS scores are more than two years old, and you don’t have newer (less than two years old) TOEFL scores, you’ll need to either retake the IELTS or take the TOEFL.

      Hope this helps! 🙂

  5. Anita Joshi April 26, 2017 at 1:30 am #

    Hi can we pursue joint ms phd programme in bionformatics after doing a year in master’s from india

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert April 27, 2017 at 6:59 am #

      There is no way to answer that as it will depend on individual universities and your school’s accreditation. Reach out to the schools you want to attend and see what they say! 🙂

  6. Samalee Banerjee June 3, 2017 at 10:09 am #

    In case of these programs where I will apply for a direct PhD program(combined masters and Phd) will i earn a ms as well as phd degree or will I receive certificate of only the Phd degree at the end of the course?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert June 5, 2017 at 1:50 pm #

      Hi Samalee,

      Our expertise is in test prep, not admissions and academic advice, but I think that in most cases, the school will award you a master’s before you continue onto the PhD coursework and research. My recommendation would be to research schools and programs that interest you in order to determine their requirements and schedule 🙂

  7. Sarthak Agarwal July 11, 2017 at 11:05 pm #

    Typically, what are the achievements in the resume of a student that gets selected for the MS + PhD course?

    • David Recine
      David Recine July 13, 2017 at 9:57 am #

      That can be a little hard to predict, since grad programs look at many different factors. That being said, relevant work experience is always a plus. If you have presented at any academic conferences or gotten a subject-related paper published in an academic journal, that helps as well. Past research or TA experience is good too, of course!

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