MA vs MS

Forum for the GRE subject test in mathematics.
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MA vs MS

Post by karlweierstrass » Wed Mar 11, 2020 10:39 am

A lot of good places don't have separate Master's program and only offer PhD. Some allow students to leave the PhD Program after completing the coursework and passing the exams, thus earning an MA or MS degree while some places have separate MA or MS programs.

So how does an MA in Maths compare with an MS in Maths degree, especially when one wants to do a PhD at a better place after acquiring the Master's degree? For eg Rice allows people to leave PhD program and award MA degree. UPenn has a separate MA program altogether and Michigan has a separate MS program. How would admission committee look at these 3 degrees if one applies for a PhD?

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Re: MA vs MS

Post by quinquenion » Fri Mar 13, 2020 10:44 am

The naming is highly heterogeneous. There's no clear cut distinction between MA and MS that is true across universities. At some universities, one of them is the standalone masters and the other is the PhD dropout degree, but that is not consistently done. In some places in Europe, there are also additional abbreviations, such as MSc, MSci, MPhil, MMath, etc., all of which can mean different things depending on where you are.

As a grad admissions committee member, I'm not sure that I would know off-hand which one's which at a random university (I know for some, but not all). At the end of the day, I would simply look at letters of recommendation and coursework.

You should however be aware that there can be different expectations surrounding separate masters programs vs. masters on the way to PhD vs. drop-out masters. If it's a drop-out masters, I might be left wondering if you couldn't cut it in the PhD program. Hopefully your letter writers (ideally from the institution you got the masters) would address that directly. Certainly, if you're already in a PhD program, you should have a good reason for wanting to move, and I would see it as a bad sign if you didn't have any letters from your current institution. This concern is obviously not present if you're in a standalone masters. At the end of the day though, the primary signal is still letters of recommendation and coursework.

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