MS Thesis to PhD Admissions

If you are enrolled in the Master of Science Thesis (MS Thesis) Program, and you are interested in the PhD program you may apply to the program either internally or externally. Note that internal applications are by faculty invitation only.

Internal Applications


At the annual review of MS first year students, held in Spring quarter, faculty members can nominate MS Thesis students to apply to the PhD program. Faculty vote on these nominations and approved students will be invited to apply internally to the PhD program. Applications are then reviewed by the Admissions Committee. This MS-to-PhD admissions process is as rigorous as the regular admissions process; recently on average only one MS Thesis student per year has been admitted to the PhD program. This internal application is only available once.  If admitted, the MS student switches to the PhD track and commences second year PhD coursework. Students who are not accepted are required to proceed with completing the remaining MS degree requirements.

Current MS Thesis students interested in applying to the PhD program should review the PhD admission requirements and application process below.

Eligibility Requirements

  1. Biostatistics faculty invitation for the application to the PhD program following progress review

  2. Strong performance in the First Year (MS) Statistical Theory Examination

  3. Strong course grades in STAT 512 & 513 and BIOST 514 & 515. In addition, for MS students in their second year, strong course grades in BIOST 536 & BIOST 537

  4. Evidence of independent research

Note: Eligibility to apply does not guarantee admission.

Admission Review Factors

The MS-to-PhD admissions process is as rigorous as the regular admissions process. The applicant must demonstrate overall excellence, the proven ability to do PhD-level work, and engagement with the field, as described below. The Admissions Committee will consider all of the following as they review each application: 

  • Mastery of knowledge and skills demonstrated by:
    • Engagement in class, class exam scores, and overall course grades.
    • Performance on the First Year Theory Exam.
  • Strong research skills and ability to do PhD-level work (e.g., Independent Study with a faculty member resulting in a research project, RA work resulting in a project, research resulting in a publication, etc.) as evidenced by:
    • Letter of recommendation from Biostatistics faculty.
    • Publication(s), grants received, etc. 
  • Engagement with the field and department as well as a spirit of curiosity and independent inquiry as demonstrated by:
    • Regularly attending Department Seminars and interacting with the guest speaker and faculty.
    • Meaningfully contributing to Student Seminar by attending, presenting research, asking questions, and sharing feedback with the student presenters. 
    • Communicating with/asking questions of course instructors regarding class material and other aspects of the field.
    • Seeking out opportunities to talk with/learn from faculty, guest speakers, and more senior students in the department.

To Apply

  1. The student submits a revised Statement of Purpose and arranges for one Letter of Recommendation to be submitted from a Biostatistics faculty member.
  2. This material is sent to The MS-to-PhD application deadline is provided to eligible students in their progress review letter.

Review Process and Decisions

  1. The Admissions Committee reviews the application materials listed above along with the student's UW transcript.
  2. Admissions decisions are communicated by the end of July or early August.

External Applications (via

MS Thesis students are also free to apply to the PhD program through the regular process. As with all other applications, the Admissions Committee will carefully review each one, but with the limited number of PhD slots available and many strong applicants, the success rate is low - recently around 7% of all applicants have been admitted. For information about application dates, requirements and instructions see:


Internal versus External Applications

To help students assess the likely outcome of any application, please note that the faculty consider all MS students for potential transfer to the PhD program, as a matter of routine, during their annual reviews in Spring of their first year. It is also important to note that there are a limited number of PhD slots, and in some years there are no slots available for a transfer. If a PhD slot is available and you receive an invitation, transfer to the PhD program (if the MS student desires it) is then evaluated by the faculty members on the admissions committee, and assuming (as is usual) they approve, their recommendation is submitted to the graduate program, who typically approves the transfer. Under this mechanism no application fee is required. If you do not receive an invitation, you may still apply to the PhD program - but without extra information, beyond that considered during the faculty’s annual review, the faculty members on the admissions committee are likely to come to the same conclusion as was reached in the Spring annual review process. We recognize that this may be disappointing to students applying to the PhD program but want to be clear about this process and that the likelihood of a successful application is very low. For students seeking a PhD, our recommendation would be that you consider applications to other graduate programs or that you submit an application to our program once you obtain more experience in the field. Both strategies have proven to be successful for some of our MS alumni.