Asked Questions: The Master's Programs
can I find information on the various degrees offered?
official source of information about the graduate program is the
Graduate Program Web site,
in the Programs section.
long does a Master's degree typically take?
two years. It is possible in principle to complete a thesis Master's
degree in one academic year plus one quarter (e.g., the following summer
quarter), but this is rarely done. Of course, if you enter with transfer
credits from another graduate program, you might be able to complete
your degree in a shorter period of time.
done graduate work at another university. Can I get transfer credits?
If the Graduate
Program Coordinator approves, you may petition the Graduate School for
up to 6 transfer credits for courses that are equivalent to 500-level UW
math courses applicable to a Master's degree. Transfer credits are
not granted for 400-level courses or for the PhD degree.
is Normal Progress in the Master's program?
rules are described under Normal
Progress on the Web. Briefly, in order to be making normal progress,
you must maintain a GPA of 3.0 or better and satisfactorily complete at
least eight one-quarter courses applicable to your degree (with grades
of 3.0 or better) during your first year.
is used for support decisions - as long as you are making normal progress
and your teaching performance is satisfactory, renewal of your financial
support for your second year of study is more or less automatic.
the difference between the thesis and a non-thesis Master's degrees?
speaking, for a thesis degree you will write a Master's thesis (and register
for 9 credits of Math 700, Master's Thesis), while for a non-thesis
degree the thesis is replaced by an extra three-quarter 500-level course
sequence. Details are in Degree
the difference between the MS and MA degrees?
The MS degrees
are far more rigorous than the MA degree, and closely resemble the first
two years of the PhD program. Basically, if you obtain an MS degree,
you will have completed a lot of the course work required for a PhD degree,
and you will be prepared to use specialized mathematics in industry, or
to teach mathematics at the advanced secondary or community college level.
The MA degree is primarily for students who want to enrich their general
mathematics background or to teach at the K-12 level.
I don't finish my Master's degree in two years, what options do I
have, assuming I really want to get a degree?
If you are
continuing to make reasonable progress toward completing your degree requirements,
you are welcome to remain in the program as a self-supporting student until
you complete your degree. But the Math Department virtually never
provides financial support to Master's students beyond the second year.
course work is required for a Master's degree?
requirements are described in Master's
Degree Requirements on the Web. Briefly, for an MA degree, you
need twelve one-quarter graduate math courses, at least six of which must
be at the 500-level. For an MS degree, you need twelve one-quarter
graduate math courses, including two quarters from each of three 500-level
core courses, plus either a Master's thesis or another 3-quarter
500-level sequence beyond the core level.
is a typical first-year Master's program?
For the MA degree, your
courses must include at least two quarters each in algebra, analysis, and
one other field.
For the MS thesis degree,
any 2-quarter 500-level sequence can be substituted for the third core
For the specialized
MS degrees (Numerical Analysis or Optimization), there are specific 500-level
courses that must be included in your program.
first-year Master's students take two 400-level courses (including either
often both) and one 500-level core course (usually 504/5/6
I take two or even three 500-level courses my first year?
take more than one 500-level course, if you really are prepared to do so,
but this is rarely the case. Be sure to discuss this carefully with both
your advisor and the instructors of the 500-level courses, however, to
ensure that your undergraduate real analysis and algebra courses were sufficiently
rigorous to prepare you for the 500-level courses you wish to take.
Again, it is unusual for a first-year Master's student to be really well
prepared for more than one 500-level course.
if I'm not prepared to take any 500-level courses my first year?
advisor's approval, you may register for three 400-level courses during
your first year. Be aware, however, that it will be nearly impossible
to complete an MS degree in two years if you don't complete at least one
3-quarter 500-level sequence during your first year. Thus you may
need to continue working on your degree without departmental support after
the second year.
is a typical second-year Master's program?
For an MS
non-thesis degree, a typical second-year program would include two 500-level
core courses plus one more advanced 500-level sequence. For
an MS thesis degree, the advanced 500-level course would be replaced by
a Master's thesis (3 credits of Math 700 each quarter).
I allowed to take courses outside the Math Department?
you are otherwise meeting the Normal
Progress and registration
requirements, and your advisor approves. Otherwise you'll need
the permission of the Graduate Program Coordinator.
if I can't find a 3-quarter advanced sequence to take during my second
there may not always be an advanced 3-quarter sequence offered in your
area of specialization, there is room for negotiation about what counts
as fulfilling this requirement. For example, if the Graduate Program
Coordinator agrees, you might substitute a 2-quarter sequence plus a related
independent study course, or two separate 2-quarter sequences. Talk
to the Graduate Program Coordinator as early as possible and, in any case,
before the beginning of your second year if you feel that you will have
a problem finding an appropriate 3-quarter sequence.
are the registration requirements for Master's students?
Master's students must register for at least 10 credits, including
three graded courses applicable to their degrees. With your
advisor's permission, one of the courses may be a graded independent
study course. Other exceptions require the permission of the
Graduate Program Coordinator. For details, see Registration
plan to register for three courses that amount to only 9 credits.
How can I meet the 10-credit requirement?
If you take
three 3-credit courses, you will need to sign up for at least one extra
credit to bring the total up to 10. For most Master's students, the
most appropriate option would be one or more credits of Math 600B in conjunction
with a three-credit course. (See What is
is Math 600B?
number is for Supplemental reading in connection with a math course.
If you need additional credits to bring your total up to 10 credits, one
easy way to get them is to sign up for two credits of 600B in conjunction
with one of your 3-credit courses. You should reach an understanding
with the instructor of that course at the beginning of the quarter about
what work will be required for the extra credits. It could involve
outside reading, doing extra problems, or regular discussions with the
instructor, for example.
do grades mean in graduate courses?
grades for graduate students are in the range 3.0 - 4.0. Grades below
3.0 do not count for graduate credit in the Mathematics Department, and
may not be used in fulfillment of any math graduate degree requirements
except by special permission of the Graduate Program Coordinator, and then
only if the grade is 2.7 or higher. In 400-level and core graduate
courses, a grade of 4.0 means you have attained a superior mastery of the
material, while a grade of 3.0 means you are just barely performing at
the level expected of a graduate student.
is the 15-credit rule?
It was a
Math Department rule requiring all supported graduate students to register
for at least 15 credits every quarter. It was repealed in 2000, and
replaced by more specific registration
requirements tailored to the educational needs of students at different
levels in the program.
than courses, what work is required for a Master's degree?
if you choose a thesis degree, you will have to write a Master's thesis.
Besides that, the only additional requirement is your final exam, which
is an oral presentation of material in your area of specialization followed
by an opportunity for people to ask questions. (If you write a thesis,
the final exam is your thesis defense.)
involved in writing a Master's thesis?
Master's theses are expository, and typically do not involve original research
on the part of the student. The thesis should usually be a synthesis
of some relatively recent mathematics (say from the past 50 years) beyond
what is typically covered in elementary and intermediate graduate courses
should I do when I'm ready to get my Master's degree?
end of the second week of the quarter in which you wish to complete your
degree, you must complete a Master's Degree Application. The easiest
way to do this is by applying on the Web. See Application
Instructions for Master's Degrees.
I change my advisor? How do I go about that?
may change advisors at any time, provided all parties agree. Get
an advisor change form from the Student Services Office (C-36), fill it
out and, after it has been signed by yourself, your old advisor and your
new advisor, put it in the Graduate Program Coordinator's mail box for
his/her approval. (Your new advisor must sign to indicate that s/he agrees
to be your advisor. The purpose of getting your old advisor's signature
is simply to ensure that he or she has been notified of the change.)
does the final Master's exam work?
the final exam is an oral presentation of material you have learned in
your area of specialization. (If you write a Master's thesis, it
will be an oral presentation of your thesis--also known as the "thesis
defense.") A typical Master's exam consists of a 50-minute presentation
by the student, followed by an opportunity for anyone in the audience to
ask questions. Then the general public is asked to leave, and the
faculty members present are given an opportunity to ask questions in private.
Finally, the committee meets to decide on the outcome of the exam.
The student is notified of the outcome immediately.
I transfer from the Master's program to the PhD program? How?
all Master's students are given an opportunity to apply to transfer to
the PhD program. The application deadline is the end of the second
week of the Spring quarter. To apply, submit the following to the
Student Services Office, Padelford C36:
started in the PhD program but now I want to finish with a Master's degree.
What do I need to do?
At least two of the
letters must be from instructors of mathematics courses you have taken
for graded graduate credit at UW. If you have been employed as a
Teaching Assistant in the Math Department, the third letter should be from
a faculty member who supervised your work as a TA; otherwise, it should
be from a third course instructor. Forms can be obtained in the Student
Services Office (firstname.lastname@example.org,
206-543-6830). (Note that there are different forms for academic
recommendations and teaching recommendations.) It is not necessary
to submit transcripts or to pay an application fee. See Transferring
to the PhD Program for more details.
A completed Application
for Change of Status in Mathematics;
A Statement of Educational
and Professional Objectives;
Three letters of recommendation
from faculty members in the UW Mathematics Department.
If you have
completed two full years in the PhD program, you have probably already
completed the course requirements for a Master's degree. See Master's
Degree requirements for details. The only other things you need
to do are file a Master's
degree application during the first two weeks of your final quarter,
and complete your final Master's exam. (See How
does the final Master's exam work?)