Master’s Degree – Thesis or Non-Thesis – Which is Better?

masters degree thesis vs non thesis option

A master’s degree at U.S. universities takes one to two years to complete depending on your degree plan.

Let me qualify the above statement again.

Most Masters Degree would take two years to complete.

Some specialized Masters Degree can be completed in one year.

Should you complete the degree in a shorter duration?

There’s no single and easy answer.

But, I have given a true story below.

Let go back to the duration of MS in the USA.

Why does it take two years to complete the Master’s Degree?

Masters Degree Options

Here is an overview of the three possible degree paths that are available based on the program structure offered by a university.

Some schools offer thesis and course work based options.

Other schools offer all three program structures, which includes a non-thesis option. But, Most universities offer thesis and course work only plan.

The project option is offered only in a few universities.

Here are the three program structures:

  1. Thesis Option
  2. Non-Thesis – Course Work Only (or Structured) Option
  3. Non-Thesis – Project Option

Irrespective of the track the cost of the Master’s Degree would be around the same.

Master’s Degree Program Structure

As a Masters Degre student in the USA, you can expect the following plan for a 2-year program.

 

Masters Degree Plan

Master’s Degree Plan

Master’s Degree – Thesis Option

Here’s a look at Masters Degree Plan with Thesis Option at UC Davis.

Master's Degree Thesis Plan UC Davis Grad Studies

What do students taking Thesis Track actually do?

Thesis students will work as part of a large research project under the guidance of a Professor.

Thesis work will likely involve one to three semesters of research work.

These students must write a thesis, which is a large document that is likely to be published as a research paper in a journal or conference.

The thesis option is for those who want to get a good taste of research work or if you plan to pursue a Ph.D.

  • Students usually start working on their thesis after the 1st year.
  • Professors will assign a research problem
  • It takes two or more semesters to solve a research problem.
  • Work on Thesis for Two Semester (minimum)
  • Successfully defend your thesis in front of a panel, and you graduate
  • Total Credits Required – 30 to 36

Since we are talking about Thesis track, why not compare Masters Thesis Milestones with Ph.D. Research Track.

Here’s a Milestone Graphics for Ph.D. from UC Davis.

Doctoral Degree UC Davis Grad Studies Milestones

Non-Thesis – Course Work Only

Here’s an example of Non-Thesis Track from Masters in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Texas at El Paso.

non thesis masters Degree Progrma Plan

What does Non-Thesis student do?

The non-thesis option is designed to be more flexible and is tailored for students who don’t necessarily need a great deal of research training.

Non-thesis students will take a few elective courses or take specific courses in a Specialization.

The non-thesis student would still have tasks related to research by reading papers or reading several papers and summarizing them.

In the above example, you can see the last semester Project/Internship as a degree requirement?

  • Total Credits Required – 30 to 36
  • Complete required number of courses (typically 12 Courses)
  • Complete all the required courses with a GPA above 3.0
  • Optional: 1 or 2 semesters of internship

Non-Thesis – Project

As you can see Project is offered as a necessary component at some universities where Thesis option is not provided.

  • Some universities offer the option of completing a project
  • A project runs for one semester or maybe two semesters
  • You have to meet the minimum GPA requirements.
  • Optional: 1 or 2 semesters of internship
  • Total Credits Required – 30 to 36

Internship

  • Some schools require three months of internship in addition to the above 3 degree plans.
  • When the internship is optional, you can work as an intern for 1 or 2 semesters.

Best Option?

  • It depends on your interests and plans.
  • Thesis – If you plan to do a Ph.D. later or inclined to do research.
  • Non-Thesis – If you need to improve your skills and find a job after M.S.
  • Internship – If you are in a thesis or non-thesis program, try to do at least one semester of internship.
  • Internship increases your chances to get a job.
  • An internship is a MUST for students without work experience

Thesis or Non-Thesis – What Do I Recommend?

I would suggest taking the Thesis Track.

The Degree of Diccifuilty with Thesis is higher than Project and the Course only option.

I will give a real-life example with me and my room-mate.

masters degree thesis non thesis which is better

My roommate and I were equally matched in terms of academics and skills.

Same city, similar grades in the 12th standard. We both studied Bachelors in Computer Science from two different Colleges in Tamil Nadu.

And he came to the US for Fall, and I began the following Spring, and we were roommates at the University of Texas at Arlington.

I took the structured option (Non-Thesis or course only).

He tool Thesis track because that’s the only way to get Research Assistantship.

I tried for a Thesis, and things did not work out due to funding issues for the Bioinformatics Project.

He got good with Java Programming with Robotics Research work.

I got exposed to multiple Programming languages. With Structured option, each course tends to have various assignments from different languages.

I would learn like four different Programming Languages from four different assignment.

In the end, I never got good at one specific language, until I tool Systems Programming course with multiple assignments using Perl.

He ended up with Microsoft, and I went to General Electric.

I never really got the hang good at one specific language.

I started as a Software Engineer and switched to Software QA Engineer. He became a Software Developer from the get-go.

Thesis Track would give you the Mental Toughness and a Specific Skillset using which you can build up your Career. If you want to elevate your potential and your self-confidence, take the Thesis Track.

You will struggle through solving the problem, but in the end, that’s what it takes to succeed.

You will be more Gritty than your Counter Parts.

What is Grit?

Grit is passion and perseverance for long-term goals.

One way to think about grit is to consider what grit isn’t.

Grit isn’t talent. Grit isn’t luck. Grit isn’t how intensely, for the moment, you want something.

Instead, grit is about having what some researchers call an”ultimate concern”–a goal you care about so much that it organizes and gives meaning to almost everything you do. And grit is holding steadfast to that goal. Even when you fall down. Even when you screw up. Even when progress toward that goal is halting or slow.

Talent and luck matter to success. But talent and luck are no guarantee of grit. And in the very long run, I think grit may matter as least as much, if not more.

By Professor and Author of Grit – Angela Duckworth.

 

Don’t chicken out to take the more comfortable option.

From my experience, students who have applied via Consulting Companies for US College Admission, those taking the easier route tend to have some limits or limiting believes when it comes to fighting through, trust me; it will catch up to you.

If you are going to get by day by day by doing the bare minimum, life has mysterious ways of teaching the lesson highlighting your weakness. 

The impact of taking on severe problems and solving them gives confidence that will take you places.

Thinking back, I should have taken the Thesis Track.

I should have taken the thesis track with a different professor when the project funding failed.

Instead, I took the non-thesis option and worked as a Full-Time Intern for Fall and Spring semester. That Internship converted into Full-Time Offer and Career kickstarted from there.

 

Do you Want Financial Aid?

The chances of getting financial aid are high when you are in thesis track, working as Research or Teaching Assistant under a Professor.

The following screenshot is from the University of North Carolina.

Assistantships - Funding - The Graduate School at UNC-Chapel Hill

Summary – Thesis vs. Non-Thesis

  • Both Thesis and Non-Thesis has its pros and cons
  • Take the Thesis Track if you want to Challenge yourself.
  • If I were to do Masters all over again, I would pick the Thesis over Non-Thesis
  • Sometimes Thesis Track could take over two years to complete, but it would be worth the effort.
  • Take Non-Thesis Tack if you already have work experience and want to get into Job Market ASAP.

53 Comments

  1. Srikanth on January 31, 2013 at 9:15 PM

    I’m a three year undergraduate from an Indian university.i heard that some of U.S universities offers MS with three indian degree too.can you post the list of such universities????.But i want to pursue my MS that leads to PhD in Astronomy at Harvard university.it willl be appreciated if you furnish the course details also.

  2. ANILA NAIR on November 9, 2012 at 2:14 PM

    Really informative one. Thank you very much for your attempt 🙂

  3. Chinmayee on August 21, 2012 at 9:29 AM

    Hi,
    My gre score is 298 V-150,Q-148 AWA-3
    Toefl :-80
    Currently working in Tata Consultancy Services as a ASE.
    My GPA is:-3.5
    Aggreagte:-67%
    Plzz suggest me some good universities for MS in Computer Science.

    • Vaibhav Singhal on August 28, 2012 at 7:00 PM

      Hi Chinmayee,

      I have a similar profile like yours, Let me know were are you located at TCS.
      May be we could get in touch and discuss things.

      Thanks
      Vaibhav

  4. oladele ebenezer on July 20, 2012 at 5:50 AM

    Someone please help me out. I am a Nigerian but is it compulsory I write GRE or any other US-based exams before I can get to secure a place for my masters programme in any US university?

  5. Saiman on July 10, 2012 at 12:44 AM

    have a GPA of 8.82/10 till the sixth semester of my electrical engineering from a decently good college in Karnataka, India. I am looking forward for a decent score in the GRE and the TOEFL as well.
    I have been an active quizzer and debater, won a few prizes in intercollegiate quizzing and debating. I have also done a few projects on high voltage engineering, that have won prizes and my final year project is on the way. I have 89% in my 10th and 92% in PreUniversity Course.
    I have also presented one paper based on my High voltage project and it had won prizes at 2 competitions. Besides this, I often spared time for volunteering activities as well. I have undergone training in 2 major companies (BSNL and MRPL) after my second year and also a minor Internship in the Gulf after my first year.

    I wish to pursue an MS in Electrical Engineering (Dynamics and Control) from a reputed US university soon after my graduation and later continue my career in research.. Given my profile, please suggest me which universities to apply to so that I stand a good chance of being accepted, so that I do not have to undergo the dejection of not being accepted by the ones i apply to.

    • yo on August 2, 2012 at 6:00 AM

      harvad

  6. suhru on July 1, 2012 at 8:44 AM

    Hey m planning to take a gre in august and i would like to apply in prior to the universities and so please let me know how to score around 310 in new pattern n on what areas should i concentrate more?

  7. Ashokan on June 22, 2012 at 9:21 AM

    Dear brothers,

    I am a mechanical engineer(2011 passout) from INDIA.I have graduated from a Anna university affiliated engineering college.Now,I am working as a Mechanical Design Engineer(R&D) in INDIA’s 3rd largest windturbine manufacturing company.I am an aspirant to come to US.I got 1160(Quants-780 & English-380) in GRE and 6.5 in IELTS.I am having aggregate of 72% ,But i had a backlog in Heat and Mass Transfer.I am working in Design using Pro-E.And I want to improve my knowledge in CAD & CAE.Please suggest some universities which suits my profile.

  8. Mohd. Faisal Ismail on June 21, 2012 at 6:03 PM

    Hey…HSB… Please help…i have done petroleum engineering in 2010 with a relevant work ex of 8 months…tryin to break into US universities…My profile is as follows for fall 2012 for Non-thesis MS
    GPA 3.2-3.3/4
    GRE 308 ( Q= 156, V= 152)
    IELTS 7.5
    Uni applied : USC, University of Houston ( I have a penchant for this particular uni as it is situated in houston)

    Can you help me finding out which of the above universities i have a chance in. It has been months since i applied in dem widout getting any replies. Please help

    • vivek on July 8, 2012 at 4:50 AM

      go for georgiatech university,atlanta

  9. Vaanya on April 23, 2012 at 8:44 AM

    I completed my b.tech in electrical engineering with 68%aggregate from a top college of uttar pradesh. Also I’ve studied in a convent ICSE school.My 10 score is 86.8% and my 12 score is 82%.
    I’m yet to take GRE.
    Currently I’m working as a systems engineer in infosys.
    I wish to pursue my MS in computer science or in electrical engineering(power system or energy) from a reputed US university.
    Please suggest me some good universities to which i should apply based on my academic performance and also which have an excellent placement track.
    Also is it a must give gre subject test if I wish to change my stream from electrical to computers.

  10. NELLY on April 18, 2012 at 10:18 AM

    Im looking for 4 top universities that offers Masters in pharmacy in the USA for international students.

  11. NELLY on April 18, 2012 at 10:17 AM

    Im looking for 4 top universities that offers Masters in pharmacy?

    • melky on May 5, 2012 at 5:33 AM

      I suggest Michigan State University or University of Michigan

  12. Art on March 18, 2012 at 5:43 AM

    Can anyone speak on need blind assistance for international student.

    • atharva on March 24, 2012 at 2:32 AM

      i will appearing in GRE in september, so can i get admission in us universities ?

  13. mahi98 on March 8, 2012 at 10:44 PM

    Hi due
    My ug score is 60pc and i want to do ms management in us or Canada which colleges are likely to accept me and also am i suppose to appear for gre or gmat?

    • charles on March 15, 2012 at 6:51 PM

      Good day,i study biochemistry please i will ask if i can do my master in pharmacy in canada or in any other university.please kindly direct through the universities.thanks

  14. Leela Kiran on March 7, 2012 at 1:22 PM

    Hi,

    I got 273 in new gre
    and my ielts score is 6.0
    and my academics are 10th-69%,10+2 – 65%,UG – 63%.

    Can i get the admission in any usa university in computer Science program. Basically I am from electronics background is it possible to get into computer Science Program ?If so please suggest which are the best universities I can get the admission. Mostly I am looking in EST. I have 2+ years experience in US IT Staffing as Sales BDE. Please help me out with required information and also which are the best universities I can apply.

    Thanks and regards,
    Leela Kiran

  15. Ambaiowei on March 5, 2012 at 6:17 AM

    Can I have admission to any university in USA with a third class degree honours(mechanical engineering) to study oil and gas engineering

  16. Pranav on March 2, 2012 at 12:07 PM

    I have received admit from ”WORCESTER POLYTECHNIC INSTITUTE, MA” and also from PACE UNIVERSITY,NY” for MS in MANAGEMENT INFORMATION SYSTEM . I have seen course of both the univ. n I Like it. guys please help n tell me which the better univ.

  17. velangn on March 1, 2012 at 3:07 AM

    Hi every one,
    I have completed my Bachelors in Pharmacy and interested in pursuing masters in US/CANADA. I am interested in MS in Pharm/Pharmacology/Pharmaceutics. My profile is
    B.Pharm—68%
    10+2 86%
    10 78%
    gre 298/340(v-141 q-157)(a-2.5)
    ielts 7.5band
    please suggest me some universities where i can get admission into the respective courses . Am trying for this fall 2012. Thanks in advance.

    • Padshala Naresh on July 4, 2012 at 2:10 PM

      Thank You

  18. sameer on February 23, 2012 at 12:53 PM

    Hi,
    I completed my B.E(civil) with a “not good” 54% aggregate,96 % in 10+2( I was too good in school),I had 13 backlogs and cleared all,I got 6.5 band in IELTS, I desperately want to know is there any chance of me getting admission into Masters course(civil) in an average UK University, I approached some Consultancies ,they said you have some chances,but what % chances,they dint tell me.

    Do i have chances to get admission into A VERY AVERAGE UK university,please answer me,i am so worried about it.
    Thank you

  19. Rashmi on October 12, 2011 at 2:13 AM

    My daughter has done B.Tech in Electronics and Communication this year . But she wishes to pursue her MS in Environmental Engineering and continue with P.hD.She is taking her GRE exam this November. I would like to know whether Universities in the US/Canada/Germany take students who are shifting their stream.

  20. S on June 30, 2011 at 8:07 AM

    i am from ELECTRONICS AND COMM. ENGG dept in btech and would like to

    take MS in CS…i am in a dilemma..I want to know which option is

    better…

    1—apply for electrical engg for i20 and after getting into the

    university, shift to CS major …

    or

    2—–apply directly for CS major to get into college..

    i am asking this because i heard that the admission chances for a

    student changing his major become less…and also most universities

    have prerequisites for students from other depts…this can be

    burdensome and if admitted as a provisional student, 1 year would be

    wasted in completing the prereqisites…

  21. aditya shah on March 29, 2011 at 8:11 AM

    hi what about the plan for M.Eng in Canada.

    • parthiban on February 26, 2012 at 9:46 AM

      have you got any feedback for your comments!!!

  22. klrao on February 6, 2011 at 8:31 PM

    Please let me know the US univerisities offering MS in Computer Engineering

    • Ruth Sobande on March 29, 2012 at 7:12 PM

      same here to. This is my own plight, Please help me too.

  23. vipin gandhi on January 31, 2011 at 9:22 PM

    which one id gud, thesis or non-thesis option. I dont have any plan fo Phd after MS. I would like to do job after my MS, so do u think internship one option is better or not ?

  24. sagar on November 26, 2010 at 6:48 PM

    HSB

    I have got admit for MS in mech Engg in Michigan Tech for spring 2011.
    I wanted to know am I eligible to apply for Summer internship(May 2011) in Europe or my home country(India).
    What are the options spring semester students can consider?

    • SHASHANK SINGH on September 28, 2011 at 8:56 AM

      hey…. I myself is planning to applying for Michigan Tech for Fall 2012… can u provide some details like ur credentials which would help me to evaluate my own performance.
      Thanks in advance

  25. Gautam Chopra on September 10, 2010 at 8:23 AM

    People say that getting admission into MS with thesis into a univ. is easier than MS – non theses…….. But in thesis plan internship is more difficult…….. I wanna know if we can change our MS thesis plan to non thesis plan after goint to university and talking to graduate advisor………

  26. Sagar on August 29, 2010 at 6:43 PM

    Hi, HSB

    I need u r help. And, proper information about MS in USA. I'm 2009 passed out later i worked in a software company for 9month as Software Trainee. I this period of time i taken my GRE(540) , TOEFL(108) my academics in CS with 62% having 8 backlogs completed in time. I try for this AUGUST 2010 intake but my visa got rejected twice. So, i dropped my plans for this intake and trying for next intake (JAN-2011). In the mean while is it necessary to take GRE again or not.

    My Question is —-

    Is Visa again be problem for me for the next intake 2011. Is it a risk case. If, then how to over come the risk case and get succeed in getting VISA for 2011.

    Please Please Help Me. I have to decide my career. MS or JOB.

  27. puneeta on July 23, 2010 at 4:13 AM

    Hi!

    I had done BE in electrical engg and i am interested doing masters in electrical department from U.K.

    can you please provide any information regarding study in top universities and after that job opportunities??

    Thanks

  28. nitish on June 10, 2010 at 11:12 AM

    will i be able to earn any money through my internship? if yes much can i expect? and one more doubt in india a normal b.tech students when placed in a company get a pay around 20k-25k, how much starting pay i expect in the usa for a ms.

    • Andy on June 10, 2010 at 9:46 AM

      One word answer to your question: Depends.

      Most internships in US are paid, but unpaid (voluntary) internships exist too. It depends on where you are located in USA (usually, more salary in NY than KS, since living costs are more), your major (engineering/business/arts/science etc), the company where you get an internship (Google will pay more than some small techie company) and your past experience/achievements. It can range from $15/hr to $35/hr, with a median of $25/hr. Similar factors decide your full-time salary. For full-time, range: $35,000/year to $95,000/year and median: $58,000-$62,000

  29. Apoorv Gupta on June 10, 2010 at 9:00 AM

    hello everyone
    i have a ‘lil confusion, whether a student who don’t intend to go for Ph.D. after completing MS (from US) and just want to go for the job should select Project or Course work as his option in 2nd year. Which would make his options wider and more comfortable for the companies to hire him.
    Also, can you provide me a link which diversify the Project and Course work schedule in a more understanding manner? A student choosing Project work – has to attend the classes or solely concentrate on the project work. What kind of Project is appreciated.

  30. Chaitanya on March 15, 2010 at 9:59 PM

    Thanks a lot. The information you provided is very useful for me in clearing my doubts regarding MS.

  31. urvi on February 19, 2010 at 12:12 AM

    what are the ms courses in us for physical therapists

  32. Neal Schmiott on December 13, 2009 at 10:39 AM

    Great chart! As a project for our marketing class, we constructed a video addressing some concerns older, working adults might have about trying to fit graduate school into a hectic life. We'd love some feedback.

    Thanks,

    Neal

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Of4Us3sw9gg

    • HSB on December 13, 2009 at 5:39 PM

      @Neal – Looks good and conveys the message. It's good to have Official Twitter, Facebook Page and Youtube channel for the University. Also, they have to monitored and updated regularly.

  33. Gangadharan on December 12, 2009 at 5:47 PM

    Hi Everybody,

    This masters chart is very useful.But i have a doubt.

    1.what if the student who has opted for a thesis option decides to get a job and not further studying Ph.D??

    2.after Ph.D what is the job prospective of the student apart from becoming a professor?

    • HSB on December 12, 2009 at 6:52 PM

      Thats what most of the students do. They select Thesis option, because that's easier way to get RA/TA.
      Every company has research department and they hire PhDs

  34. vivek on December 12, 2009 at 5:45 AM

    What are the pay scales after completing M.S in manufaturing or production engg. from U.S universities

    • HSB on December 12, 2009 at 6:55 PM

      35,000 to 75,000 per year based on job location.

      • vinay on December 20, 2010 at 10:41 PM

        HSB thats the only pay we get after Masters in manufacturing/mechanical/automobile/industrial enigneers.

        • DHEERAJ on April 4, 2012 at 12:58 PM

          YA EVEN I WANT TO KNOW PAY FOR MECHANICAL ENGINEERING

  35. vasant on December 12, 2009 at 12:51 AM

    please send the same plan for uk universities also

  36. Krishna on December 11, 2009 at 9:51 PM

    HSB can you tell about internship? I know about it but i want to know if that internship is offered by university or should we search for the internship like a job during our semester?

    • HSB on December 12, 2009 at 6:56 PM

      Internsip will with a company. It's same as searching for a job. You apply for internship, attend interview and get the internship position.

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