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- Master’s vs PhD | A Complete Guide to the Differences
Master's vs PhD | A Complete Guide to the Differences
Published on November 27, 2020 by Lauren Thomas . Revised on June 1, 2023.
The two most common types of graduate degrees are master’s and doctoral degrees:
- A master’s is a 1–2 year degree that can prepare you for a multitude of careers.
- A PhD, or doctoral degree, takes 3–7 years to complete (depending on the country) and prepares you for a career in academic research.
A master’s is also the necessary first step to a PhD. In the US, the master’s is built into PhD programs, while in most other countries, a separate master’s degree is required before applying for PhDs.
Master’s are far more common than PhDs. In the US, 24 million people have master’s or professional degrees, whereas only 4.5 million have doctorates.
Table of contents
Master’s vs phd at a glance, which is right for you, length of time required, career prospects, costs and salaries, application process, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about master's and phd degrees.
The table below shows the key differences between the two.
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A PhD is right for you if:
- Your goal is to become a professor at a university or some other type of professional researcher.
- You love research and are passionate about discovering the answer to a particular question.
- You are willing to spend years pursuing your research even if you have to put up with a lot of dead ends and roadblocks.
A master’s degree is the better choice if any of the following apply:
- You want to continue studies in your field, but you’re not committed to a career as a professional researcher.
- You want to develop professional skills for a specific career.
- You are willing to pay a higher upfront cost if it means finishing with your degree (and thus being able to work) much faster.
- You want the option to study part-time while working.
The length of time required to complete a PhD or master’s degree varies. Unsurprisingly, PhDs take much longer, usually between 3–7 years. Master’s degrees are usually only 1–2 years.
Length of a master’s
Master’s degrees are usually 2 years, although 1-year master’s degrees also exist, mainly in the UK.
Most of the degree consists of classes and coursework, although many master’s programs include an intensive, semester-long master’s thesis or capstone project in which students bring together all they’ve learned to produce an original piece of work.
Length of a PhD
In the US, a PhD usually takes between 5 and 7 years to complete. The first 2 years are spent on coursework. Students, even those who choose to leave without finishing the program, usually receive a master’s degree at this point.
The next 3–5 years are spent preparing a dissertation —a lengthy piece of writing based on independent research, which aims to make a significant original contribution to one’s field.
Master’s degrees tend to prepare you for a career outside of academia, while PhDs are designed to lead to a career in research.
Careers for master’s graduates
There are two types of master’s degrees: terminal and research-intensive. The career prospects are different for each.
Terminal master’s degrees are intended to prepare students for careers outside of academia. Some degrees, known as professional degrees, specifically prepare students for particular professions; these include the Master of Public Policy (MPP), Master of Business Administration (MBA), Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), Master of Fine Arts (MFA), and Master of Public Health (MPH) degrees.
Other master’s degrees, usually Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Sciences (MS or MSc) degrees, do not necessarily lead to a specific career, but are intended to be a final degree. Examples include an MS in Communications or MS in Data Analytics.
In research-intensive master’s programs, students take coursework intended to prepare them for writing an original piece of research known as the master’s thesis . Such programs are usually intended to prepare for further study in a doctoral program.
Careers for PhD graduates
As research degrees, PhDs are usually intended to lead to an academic career. A PhD can be thought of like an apprenticeship, where students learn from professional researchers (academics) how to produce their own research.
Most students aspire to become a university professor upon the completion of their degree. However, careers in academia are highly competitive, and the skills learned in a doctoral program often lend themselves well to other types of careers.
Some graduates who find they prefer teaching to producing research go on to be teachers at liberal arts colleges or even secondary schools. Others work in research-intensive careers in the government, private sector, or at think tanks.
Below are a few examples of specific fields and non-academic careers that are common destinations of graduates of those fields.
- Computer Science
- Lab Sciences
Many government jobs, including economists at a country’s central bank, are research-intensive and require a PhD. Think tanks also hire economists to carry out independent research.
In the private sector, economic consulting and technology firms frequently hire PhDs to solve real-world problems that require complex mathematical modeling.
Graduate students from the humanities are sometimes hired by museums, who can make use of their research and writing skills to curate exhibits and run public outreach.
Humanities PhDs are often well-suited to research and grant-writing roles at nonprofits. Since so much of research is funded by grants, PhD students often gain a lot of experience applying for them, which is a useful skill in the nonprofit sector.
There are a wide range of non-academic research jobs for lab scientists with doctorates in subjects like chemistry, biology, ecology and physics.
Many PhD graduates are hired by pharmaceutical companies that need to perform research to create and test their products. Government agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), also hire lab scientists to work on research projects.
Job prospects after graduation vary widely based on the field. In fields like management, computer science, statistics, and economics, there’s little underemployment—even graduates from less well-known programs can easily find jobs that pay well and use the skills they’ve gained from the PhD.
However, in other fields, particularly in the humanities, many PhD graduates have difficulty in the job market. Unfortunately, there are far more PhD graduates than assistant professor roles, so many instead take on part-time and low-paid roles as adjunct instructors. Even non-academic careers can sometimes be difficult for PhDs to move into, as they may be seen as “overqualified” or as lacking in relevant professional experience.
Because career options post-PhD vary so much, you should take the time to figure out what the career prospects are in your field. Doctoral programs often have detailed “placement” records online in which they list the career outcomes of their graduates immediately upon leaving the program. If you can’t find these records, contact the program and ask for them—placement information should play an important role in your choice of PhD program.
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Although PhDs take far longer to complete, students often receive a living stipend in exchange for being a teaching or research assistant. Master’s degrees are shorter but less likely to be funded.
Both master’s degrees and PhDs lead to increased salaries upon graduation. While PhDs usually earn a bit more than those with a master’s degree, in some fields, the wages are identical, meaning that no financial benefit is gained from going on to a PhD.
Cost of a master’s
The upfront cost of a master’s degree is usually higher than a doctoral degree due to the lower amount of financial aid available. However, increased salaries also arrive faster than with a doctoral degree, because people graduate much earlier from a master’s program.
Some master’s students do receive stipends for their degrees, usually as compensation for being a teaching or research assistant. In addition, many people complete master’s degrees part time while working full-time, which allows them to fund their living costs as well as tuition.
The cost varies significantly by school and program. Public schools are usually cheaper than private ones. Some master’s degrees, such as MBAs, are notoriously expensive, but also result in much higher wages afterwards that make up for the high cost.
The master’s wage premium , or the extra amount that someone with a master’s degree makes than someone with just a high school diploma, is 23% on average. Many universities provide detailed statistics on the career and salary outcomes of their students. If they do not have this online, you should feel free to contact an administrator of the program and ask.
Cost of a PhD
PhDs, particularly outside the humanities, are usually (though not always) funded, meaning that tuition fees are fully waived and students receive a small living stipend. During the last 3–5 years of a PhD, after finishing their coursework (and sometimes before), students are usually expected to work as graduate instructors or research assistants in exchange for the stipend.
Sometimes students can apply for a fellowship (such as the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Program in the United States) that relieves them of any obligations to be a teaching or research assistant. Doctoral programs in the US tend to be better funded than in the rest of the world.
Sometimes, PhD degrees can be completed part-time, but this is rare. Students are usually expected to devote at least 40 hours a week to their research and work as teaching or research assistants.
The main cost of doctoral programs comes in the form of opportunity cost—all the years that students could be working a regular, full-time job, which usually pays much better than a graduate school stipend.
The average wage premium for PhDs is 26%, which is not much higher than the master’s degree premium.
In the US, the application process is similar for master’s and PhD programs. Both will generally ask for:
- At least one application essay, often called a personal statement or statement of purpose .
- Letters of recommendation .
- A resume or CV .
- Writing samples.
Applications for both types of programs also often require a standardized test. PhDs usually require the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), which tries to measure verbal reasoning, quantitative, critical thinking , and analytical writing skills. Many master’s programs require this test as well.
Applying for a master’s
Master’s degrees programs will often ask you to respond to specific essay prompts that may ask you to reflect upon not just your academic background, but also your personal character and future career ambitions.
Northwestern University’s Kellogg Business School requires Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) applicants write two essays, one about a recent time they demonstrated leadership and the second about their personal values.
Who you should ask for your letters of recommendation varies by program. If you are applying to a research-intensive master’s program, then you should choose former professors or research supervisors. For other programs, particularly business school, current work supervisors may be a better choice.
Some professional master’s programs require a specific test. For example, to apply to law school, you must take the Law School Admissions Test, or LSAT. For business school, you must take either the GRE or the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT).
Applying for a PhD
When applying for a PhD, your resume should focus more on your research background—you should especially emphasize any publications you’ve authored or presentations that you’ve given.
Similarly, your statement of purpose should discuss research that you’ve participated in, whether as an assistant or the lead author. You should detail what exactly you did in projects you’ve contributed to, whether that’s conducting a literature review, coding regressions, or writing an entire article.
Your letters of recommendations should be from former professors or supervisors who can speak to your abilities and potential as a researcher. A good rule of thumb is to avoid asking for recommendations from anyone who does not themselves have a PhD.
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A master’s is a 1- or 2-year graduate degree that can prepare you for a variety of careers.
All master’s involve graduate-level coursework. Some are research-intensive and intend to prepare students for further study in a PhD; these usually require their students to write a master’s thesis . Others focus on professional training for a specific career.
A PhD, which is short for philosophiae doctor (doctor of philosophy in Latin), is the highest university degree that can be obtained. In a PhD, students spend 3–5 years writing a dissertation , which aims to make a significant, original contribution to current knowledge.
A PhD is intended to prepare students for a career as a researcher, whether that be in academia, the public sector, or the private sector.
This depends on the country. In the United States, you can generally go directly to a PhD with only a bachelor’s degree, as a master’s program is included as part of the doctoral program.
Elsewhere, you generally need to graduate from a research-intensive master’s degree before continuing to the PhD.
This varies by country. In the United States, PhDs usually take between 5–7 years: 2 years of coursework followed by 3–5 years of independent research work to produce a dissertation.
In the rest of the world, students normally have a master’s degree before beginning the PhD, so they proceed directly to the research stage and complete a PhD in 3–5 years.
A master’s degree usually has a higher upfront cost, but it also allows you to start earning a higher salary more quickly. The exact cost depends on the country and the school: private universities usually cost more than public ones, and European degrees usually cost less than North American ones. There are limited possibilities for financial aid.
PhDs often waive tuition fees and offer a living stipend in exchange for a teaching or research assistantship. However, they take many years to complete, during which time you earn very little.
In the US, the graduate school application process is similar whether you’re applying for a master’s or a PhD . Both require letters of recommendation , a statement of purpose or personal statement , a resume or CV , and transcripts. Programs in the US and Canada usually also require a certain type of standardized test—often the GRE.
Outside the US, PhD programs usually also require applicants to write a research proposal , because students are expected to begin dissertation research in the first year of their PhD.
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Bachelors vs Masters vs PhD – Explained in Pictures
Ever wondered what is the difference between Bachelors vs Masters vs PhD?
This the the Best damn good explanation of What is PhD and while explaining that, you will know the difference in Bachelors vs Masters vs PhD. I have I have come across.
Bachelors vs Masters vs PhD
With a bachelor’s degree, you gain a specialty:
A master’s degree deepens that specialty:
Reading research papers takes you to the edge of human knowledge:
Once you’re at the boundary, you focus:
You push at the boundary for a few years:
Until one day, the boundary gives way:
Of course, the world looks different to you now:
So, don’t forget the bigger picture:
Now you know “ What is PhD ” and understood the major difference between Bachelors vs Masters vs PhD.
Are you ready to push the boundaries of human knowledge?
You might be undecided about studying PhD. Maybe this article inspired you to push the knowledge boundary.
If not read the following 2 articles.
- 5 Years, 20 Countries and 25 Universities to get into PhD
- Internship at Large Hadron Collider, PhD and Researcher in US Army
Next, you have to understand timeline and steps to get a PhD degree .
Remember – You need passion and time commitment to do PhD. Don’t apply for PhD because you can earn more money.
7 questions to ask when your grad school applications are rejected.
I have been reading your blogs pretty much regularly, and I think you are the expert who can help me with my problem. Please I’m desperate and anxious and hope you would help me. GRE score : Verbal 150, Quant 161, Writing 3.0 Degree CGPA : 8.65 BE in Electronics from Punjab Engineering College, India…
Public vs Private Universities
What is the different between public and private universities? Is it worth spending lot of money to study in Private universities? Does higher tuition fees equate to better quality of education and high salary? Lets find out in this article. Public Universities State University System tag attached to it Funded from State Tax payers (majority),…
How to Select Universities for a Particular Major
Jithamanyu wrote: I am going to take my GRE on Aug 24th. I studied ECE in my B-tech and got 85%. I want to know some univs that are good in VLSI, Microelectronics and Digital communication so that when I write GRE I can send them my scores. By this I can save money. The…
Q&A: How Do I Get into Top 20 Universities with GPA 3.0?
Ashruta Asks: “Hello, I have my GPA around 3. If I were to choose 1 among the top 20 universities, what should be my probable GRE score. I’m planning for Fall 2010 semester, which I would complete 2 years of my work experience. I want to specialize in computer science, and I have completed my…
Which is Better: MS as a Fresher or With Job Experience?
Im an engineering (CS) 4th year student. My plan has always been to go for master after completion of engineering as i wasn’t sure if id get placed or not as my btech aggregate is a low (68%). I gave my gre and i have scored 1340 (740+600+3.5) and expecting a toefl score of 100+….
Universities in New York – Deadlines
Deadlines for Universities in New York State. If deadlines entries are incorrect, post a comment to this blog post. It’s tough to collect precise deadlines from universities, since when departments have their deadlines which is different from Graduate school admission deadlines. Following deadlines are for International Student applications. Also read – Deadlines for Universities in…
Well put and easy to understand and above all challenging.
The teaching of linear thinking as we have seen for centuries focusing in on one item of interest while many topics of research are related. In order for a person to find solutions to problems understanding matrices of related subjects leads to many doors of possibilities to finding solutions instead of satisfying a theory. Great diagram. While you see a circle, we should be visualising a globe. Life is not flat! Thinking should not be shallow nor linear.
When one takes a phd one wants to laser focus that research topic.
I’m just a 12 year old ensuring my future by knowing all of these stuff before I need to know it
I m pursuing 2 yr MBBS and i want to know whether to focus on csir ugc net for doing PhD or ms or MD which one has a good payscale
hiii every one i completed my btech in 2011 with 59.09% for these completing i spend 6 years 5months to complete it … … After that i started Mtech with in 2 years i have completed and i have a 3. 4 years of experience as a developer ….. now i want to do job in USA what was salary i can get for this profile …….. OR i need to study MS
Do you have the talent with the Node.js and the Mongo DB? Is you have proven track record of doing needful? Do you have doctorate?
Very good example, made me think better of where I need to be.
This is brilliant! To its creators and the admins of this website…thank you! 🙂
remember, even PhD, its look like an acne from a knowledge face
Sorry. I would have to disagree. I only have my masters. But I have encountered so many doctorate individuals who know far less than me. Sorry to disappoint you and contradict your article.
I think the big differnce, is that with masters you’ll only know more and more about more topics but not further than the human knowledge at the time. A PHD will mark you as someone that introduced something new to human knowledge that didn’t exist before, and that doesn’t imply the person knowing more or less, but that they pushed those boundaries.
does buisness schools accept GRE scores?what if i give GRE and then apply in the universities?any possibility?
Yes! Business schools do accept GRE scores. Here is the current list of business schools accepting official GRE scores for MBA admissions. Have a look. http://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/about/mba/programs
I always thought it was “BS” for “Bull Shit”, “MS” for “More Shit” and “PhD” for “Piled Higher and Deeper”. Ah well…learn something new every day….
hi…. i am presently doing m.tech in gitam university. b.tech-74.21 m.tech-9(cgpa) up to first year i am taking gre on october… i dont have publications is there any chance to get the phd admission or can i apply for ms program only… help me
im get ready to do for phd in abroad. so what is essential factors my btech 58% and mtech 72%
Accurate admission requirements are to be found on university websites, not on public forums such as these. If you can’t find it, contact the admissions department of the university you want to apply to. Masters degrees are not always a requirement for PhD programmes, but sometimes they are.
Essential factors for PhD admissions: Again, check the websites. Research skills, vision and motivation are really important. You’ll need a research proposal.
It’s good to hear that you are interested to pursue Ph.D program. In vast majority of cases, prior academic publications are not required for Ph.D admissions in case if you are applying for Ph.D programs after completing of masters or bachelors degree program. Although after joining in Ph.D program, a student produces ‘n’ number of academic publications. So producing a publication prior to Ph.D admission is not so mandatory.
I am working as asst professor in engineering college of india.
hello, I am working as asst. professor chemical engineering, want to do PhD in chemical engineering field , how would i get admission in UK/USA universities and what is the chances to get admission there and how much investment I need ? Please give full information regarding it.
Full information is generally available on the websites of the specific universities. Admissions requirements, application processes and programme cost (I assume this is what you mean by “investment”) are all found on the websites of the respective universities. Chances of admission vary from university to university and not all universities put those statistics on their website, but if you put in some effort to go looking for it yourself, I think you should be able to find it.
I have 16+ Years and completed my DECE in 97, Btech (CMJU) in 2012 and Masters (Middlesex,UK) in 2013. I am looking for Phd opportunities in US for telecom field.
Can you provide me some details of the good consultants in India who is good in helping such cases. Also what are all the other preparation I should take care.
Hello,is medical degree a bsc or masters?thanks
Neither. BSc is bachelor of science. Medical degrees are bachelor of medicine and surgery (MBBS, MBChB, BMBS, MBBCh etc depending on how you abbreviate Medicinae Baccalaureus, Baccalaureus Chirurgiae). You generally carry the title of “doctor” afterwards, though, even without a PhD.
this one some what explainable…but good.
Thank you.. Raghu ram. This info has helped me allot to know about ph.d in Abroad..
I like to read more about it.
This is a most innovative way to describe “what is PhD ?” and I am indeed lucky to be associated with Dr. Matt Might.
I am working as Asst Prof. In India with Highest qualification of Masters in Engineering. Masters in engineering is the course which does not belive only on semester patern but gives lot of exposour to research work. Now I am very interested doing research in the domain of Image Processing . What are the different job aportunities ( Excluding Education Industries) after PhD form USA in Computer Engineering ( specifically in Image Processing Domain) u can suggest???
You will find most of the opportunities in research laboratories. After completing a doctoral program, it is very obvious that you would be involved in full time research. In fact many students go ahead for a post doctoral program as well and take up teaching jobs at the respective Universities.
I am working as Asst Prof. In India with Highest qualification of Masters in Engineering. Masters in engineering is the course which does not belive only on semester patern but gives lot of exposour to research work. Now I am very interested doing research in the domain of Image Processing . What are the different job aportunities ( Excluding Education Industries) after PhD in Computer Engineering ( specifically in Image Processing Domain) u can suggest???
very interesting and so true! !!
A nice explanation… Cleared all doubts…
This is one of the best way to visually understand the difference between BS, MS and PhD.
well, tat was Awesome !!
Amazing post! I don’t know like such a supportive and motivational article in my life.
Amazing post! Even though I don’t think I will pursue a Ph.D. , I really want to come close to making that dent in my life.
WOW, this is an amazing and innovative way HSB. The post deserves more comments and appreciation. Keep it up 🙂
Very nice I hope to read more like this.
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- Masters vs PhD – Differences Explained
- Types of Doctorates
The decision of whether or not to pursue a Masters or PhD (or both) after you complete your undergraduate studies is not necessarily a straightforward one. Both are postgraduate degrees but are different in terms of the academic experience and the career paths taken afterwards.
In short, a Masters degree involves a year of study, primarily through taught lectures and a final dissertation research project, whilst a PhD (also referred to as a doctorate degree) is a three-year commitment of independent research on a specific subject.
There’s more to it than that, however – read on for more information.
What Is a Masters Degree?
A Masters degree is the next level of education after the completion of an undergraduate degree, commonly known as a Bachelors.
These degree levels are often referred to in terms of cycles so that a Bachelor’s is a first-cycle degree, a Masters is a second-cycle and finally, a PhD is the third-cycle of higher education (and the highest).
Masters degrees demand an intense period of study, usually centred around a core series of lectures and taught modules, coupled with coursework assignments and exams, followed by the completion of a contained research project usually taking students 3-4 months to complete.
These types of degrees are attractive to recent graduates who want to delve deeper into their specific field of study, gaining some research experience and more specialised knowledge beyond what an undergraduate degree can offer.
Equally, some pursue a Masters degree program in a subject that is only tangentially related to their Bachelors degree, helping them gain a broader depth of knowledge.
These degrees also serve as a significant stepping stone for those already in employment who want to progress their current career development and earn a higher salary. They can also be an excellent method for helping in changing careers completely by learning new skills and subject knowledge.
What Is a PhD Degree?
A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is the highest academic degree that can be awarded and is the third and final cycle in the progression of higher education.
A doctoral degree is earned on the basis of producing a significant, independent and novel body of work (a Thesis) that contributes new knowledge to a particular research topic.
These are research degrees that are a significant investment of a candidate’s time, resources and energy and are all but a pre-requisite for anyone considering a career in academia, such as eventually becoming a professor.
There are some exceptions to this, such as those with a medical background who may earn an MD (Doctor of Medicine), which is the equivalent of a PhD.
Doctoral degrees can also have a significant positive impact on career development outside of academia, especially in fields such as engineering, business and finance that have a high demand for highly qualified and capable people.
A graduate student engaged in PhD study is commonly known as a PhD student, PhD candidate or doctoral student.
What are the Benefits of a Masters Degree?
There are several reasons one might consider doing a Masters degree rather than a PhD in their graduate education. These include:
- It takes approximately a third of the time to do compared to a doctorate degree and costs less too.
- It’s a good way to differentiate yourself from those that hold only an undergraduate degree without having to commit to a substantial research degree.
- The end goal is more career-focused as opposed to research-focused. For example, it is practically an ‘easier’ route to changing or progressing your career if that aligns with your professional goals.
What are the Benefits of Doing a PhD?
You may continue on into a doctoral program after a Masters or you may even dive straight in after completing your undergraduate studies. So, what are the advantages of completing this third-cycle?
- You’ll have developed a wealth of transferable skills at graduate school, such as effective communication of complex concepts, multi-tasking time-management and the ability to adapt to and solve unexpected problems.
- A doctorate helps to establish you as an expert within your chosen subject area; your work will hopefully have furthered the knowledge in this.
- It will open up career paths and teaching positions within academia that may otherwise be very difficult to get a hold in (although these career paths will still be very competitive).
- You can add the title ‘Dr’ in front of your name!
Which Degree Is More Impactful: A Masters or a PhD?
On paper, the answer should be clear: A doctorate degree is the highest degree you can earn, so has more impact than a Masters, which in turn has more impact than a Bachelors.
The reality is that the size of the impact (if any) really depends on the subject area and the career path you choose (if the measure of impact is how it positively improves your career prospects, that is).
For someone with aspirations of becoming a professor, a PhD will be of greater value than a Masters alone.
Equally, it’s also possible that someone with a PhD entering a different field or one that doesn’t require a PhD may find that their degree has no bearing on their career or in some cases may even be seen as a ‘negative’ with a concern of the person being ‘over-qualified’ for a position. There are many scenarios in which professional experience would be more valuable to an employer than a doctorate degree.
Check out the links below to our interviews with Prof. Debby Cotton and Dr Nikolay Nikolov to read their experiences of when a going through a PhD program has had a clear benefit (Prof. Cotton) and when it hasn’t been helpful (Dr Nikolov).
Do You Need to Have a Masters to do a PhD?
This really depends on the university, department and sometimes even the project and supervisor.
From a purely application process perspective, some institutions may formally require you to hold a Masters degree relevant to the subject of the PhD project before you can enter their doctoral program.
In another scenario, most universities are unlikely to accept candidates that were awarded below a 2:1 (in the UK) in their undergraduate degree but may consider someone who has ‘made up’ for this with a high-grade Masters.
Lastly, some universities now offer PhD programmes that incorporate an additional year of study in which you would complete a Masters degree before carrying directly on into a PhD project. As you’d expect, even if a university doesn’t formally require you to hold one, a Masters degree can help separate you from other applicants in being accepted on the project.
Check out our detailed guide to doing a PhD without a Master’s .
Why Do a Masters before Your PhD?
Even if you don’t need to have one, it could still be beneficial to begin your postgraduate study by doing a Masters first before you embark on your doctorate journey.
As mentioned previously it’ll help you stand out from applicants that don’t have one, but beyond that, it’ll give you a taster of what research life could be like, especially if you stay at the same university and department for your PhD.
The one-year commitment (in the UK at least) of carrying out a Masters first, and in particular your research project, will help you better understand if this is truly something you want to commit the next three or more years to.
You’ll learn some of the skills of independent research, from performing detailed literature searches to more complex, analytical writing.
At the end of it, you should be in a stronger position to consider your options and decide about whether to continue into a PhD at graduate school.
Finding a PhD has never been this easy – search for a PhD by keyword, location or academic area of interest.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Masters Degree?
In the UK, a full-time Masters degrees take students one calendar year to complete: The programme of study usually starts in September, the final research project the following April and final project viva around August. Part-time degrees are usually double the time.
How Long Does It Take to Get a PhD?
In the UK, most PhD projects take 3-4 years to complete , as reflected by the majority of funded projects offering stipends to cover living expenses of about 3.5 years.
For many reasons, projects may end up taking longer to complete, however. This might be because of difficulties in collecting enough data, or if the project is being done part-time.
Which One is More Expensive to Do?
As you’d expect, as a PhD takes three times as long to complete as a Masters degree, it will cost you more to do as far as university fees are concerned.
Another thing to consider is that many PhD projects come with some level of funding equivalent to a low salary, which may cover the cost of tuition fees and living expenses, whilst it is usually more difficult to obtain funding for Masters study.
Conversely, a Masters graduate may progress into a higher (versus PhD funding) salary sooner whilst a PhD student will endure three years of a comparatively low income.
A Masters vs a PhD: Conclusion
If you’re considering continue further graduate study after your undergraduate degree, the question of doing a Masters vs a PhD is likely to come up. They are both considered an advanced degree, each with their own advantages.
There are benefits to doing either of these graduate programs or even both of them; your decision here can be easier if you have an idea of the career you want to follow or if you know you have a love for research!
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Master’s vs PhD — These are the Main Differences
The consideration between earning a master’s vs PhD is not always an easy choice. While many careers and personal aspirations may be complete with just an undergraduate degree (Associate’s or Bachelor’s), a lot of people continue their higher education to obtain graduate degrees. These include a master’s and/or a PhD.
Neither a master’s degree nor a PhD is considered to be a walk in the park. Therefore, it’s useful to understand why you would earn either and then decide how far to go.
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Definitions: master’s vs phd.
Bost a master’s and PhD are defined as postgraduate degrees, but they require different commitments and styles of learning.
1. Master’s Degree:
Mostly all master’s degrees will require the completion of an undergraduate bachelor’s degree to enroll. They generally all share the same common requirement for a thesis or dissertation to graduate.
Earning a master’s degree through a taught program will result in the completion of a Master of Art (MA), Master of Science (MS), or Master of Philosophy (MPhil). For those who earn their master’s degree through research, they will earn a Master of Research (Mre), in a tailored field of study. There are also degree-specific master’s programs like Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Master of Education (M.Ed).
After earning a master’s degree, the next step is a PhD, which entails both working and performing research at an institution. A PhD is an abbreviation for “Doctor of Philosophy.” It is the highest academic degree one can achieve. As such, it is a time-consuming pursuit that requires a lot of studying and research.
You may be wondering, “Do you need a master’s to get a PhD?”
Technically, the answer is not always. Some students skip a master’s and go straight for their PhD, but they may lack research experience. While it could save money, the transition between a bachelor’s and a PhD is incredibly sharp. It may be harder to complete a PhD without the experience from a master’s.
Yet, some institutions may allow for the possibility to earn both your master’s and PhD in conjunction with one another. This will alleviate the transition between skipping a master’s and going straight to earning a PhD.
Should You Get a Master’s or PhD?
There are many considerations to factor when deciding between a master’s of PhD. For starters, it’s useful to consider the amount of time it will take, the cost, and the benefits and disadvantages of each. It is also of utmost importance to explore your own personal goals and reasons for wanting a graduate degree.
If your desired career of choice requires a PhD, like becoming a university professor, then you have your answer. If you want to start a business and benefit by networking while in school, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) could be a good idea. Consider what you want to pursue as a career and find out the requirements first.
Another useful thing to note is that a master’s degree can be used for a shift in careers. For example, if you attended college and earned a bachelor’s degree in humanities, but now you want to pursue science, you can still earn your master’s degree in a scientific discipline. On the other hand, a PhD is tailored to your field of study and specialty, so it will require that you are sure of your direction when you first earn your master’s degree.
Length of Time
A typical master’s degree program takes about two years full-time. However, there are accelerated programs that can be completed in just a year or so.
A PhD, in general, requires five to six years of studying, teaching, and research. However, it may even take some students up to eight or nine years to graduate. With this significant investment in time, it’s necessary to know if a PhD is right for you before starting.
The cost of both programs varies by institution and enrollment status of part-time versus full-time. However, since a PhD takes longer to complete, it will end up costing more. With that said, if you look into your return on investment, a PhD could end up yielding a higher salary, and therefore end up “costing less.”
Additionally, there is also the possibility of being paid to complete your PhD. Some students may receive an academic stipend, a university fellowship or apprenticeship or a reduced fee to earn their PhD while completing research (or teaching) at an institution. It’s also possible to get financial aid through a scholarship or grant.
As tuition rates continue to rise, it’s useful to look into alternative institutions for affordable education. For example, the University of the People offers a tuition-free master’s program in Business Administration and Education. This means you can study 100% online and graduate for less than the cost of most programs.
Weighing the Benefits
When comparing the two degree types, here are some benefits of each:
- Can open the door for more job opportunities
- Costs less than a PhD
- Takes less time than a PhD
- Helps you stand out from those with only an undergraduate degree
- You can perform research in your field of choice
- You become an expert in your field
- The prefix Dr. is added to your name
- You can teach in academia at the highest level
Required Commitment and Reasons to Pursue
Both a master’s and a PhD require a huge amount of hard work and utter commitment. You must be dedicated and motivated to complete either degree. Since most careers only may require a bachelor’s degree, having a master’s or PhD will set you apart from the competition. However, this should not be the sole reason to pursue either.
You may be wondering why would you earn either degree. Here’s a look at some motivational factors:
Reasons to Study for a Master’s
- Your career requires it (see next section)
- You want to advance your subject knowledge
- You want to experience graduate school and network with peers
Reasons to Study for a PhD
- You want to contribute new research to your field of choice
- Your career requires a PhD
- You want to earn the title of Dr.
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Required degrees by career.
Most people are motivated to pursue higher education because their desired careers require they do so. Here, we will break down those fields that require the completion of a master’s degree as it’s high on the list of reasons why to get one.
- Education Administration: To work as an administrator in an educational institution, you need to hold an advanced degree. A Master’s in Education (M.Ed) will provide you with the necessary knowledge and required skills to succeed in the field.
- Executive Level Business: A Master’s in Business (MBA) will not only place you ahead of the competition to land high-level positions in the field of business, but it can also be the jumping off point for becoming your own boss.
- Environmental Science: With issues in climate change and technological advancement, careers in Environmental Science are growing. As with most scientific careers, it requires a master’s degree where you will learn Applied Ecology, Environmental Policy, Environmental Chemistry, and more.
- Mental Health: To become a licensed practitioner and assist in mental health counseling, you will continue your education through a master’s degree in the field.
- Physical Therapy: Employers of physical therapists often prefer them to obtain a master’s degree in the discipline as the field is highly specialized.
Of course, some careers require a PhD. These careers are easy to spot because they have the prefix Dr. in front of them or the suffix like J.D. (Juris Doctor). To become a lawyer, doctor of medicine, veterinary medicine or psychologist/psychiatrist, you must obtain a PhD in the respective field.
Salary Differences Between Master’s and Ph.D. Graduates
According to a study performed by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce , the overall evidence shows that the higher the degree you have, the higher your salary potential. However, the differences vary by subject level and field.
In general, the expected lifetime earnings of those with each degree level is as follows:
- High School Diploma: $973,000
- Bachelor’s Degree: $1.3 million
- Master’s Degree: $2.7 million
- Doctorate Degree: $3.3 million
The Bottom Line
Aside from the financial cost and length of time, the opportunity to earn a master’s and a doctorate degree can offer several benefits.
However, it is an undertaking that requires a lot of dedication and motivation on behalf of the student. As such, it’s important to perform research on your desired career’s requirements, as well as your personal interest in pursuing either a Phd vs master’s.
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- Before You Apply
- Choosing a Graduate Program
Masters Vs PhD: What is the Difference Between Masters & PhD/Doctorates
Masters vs phd degree - which is right for you.
If you’re thinking about continuing your education after earning an undergraduate degree, you might wonder what the differences are between a Masters vs PhD . As many reasons as people have to pursue a graduate degree, there are just as many degrees available to you.
As a result, there are many things to consider when choosing between a Masters degree programs and PhD programs , including which degree is higher, which one costs more, and the types of degrees available.
Which One Is Higher: A Masters or a PhD?
For most students, a bachelor’s degree is the 'first' degree, a Masters is the 'second' degree, and a Doctorate degree, such as the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), is a 'terminal degree'. But that doesn’t mean it’s the same path for everyone or for all subjects.
For instance, some nursing schools offer nursing bridge programs , which allow students to go straight from an ADN to MSN, or an entry-level MSN, which is designed for students with a non-nursing degree.
Do You Have To Get A Masters Before A PHD?
There are some graduate programs that provide a formal plan of study for completing a Masters and PhD at the same time. Referred to as dual degrees, joint degrees, or master’s and PhD combined degrees, grad schools with these practical programs are a great way to earn both degrees at the same time. Find 11 Grad Shools that Offer Dual Masters and Phd Degrees here !
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's Degree?
Usually a full-time graduate student might acquire a Master's degree in about two years. Master's degrees typically require less time than doctoral degrees. Either way, earning a graduate degree is a significant investment of time.
How Long Does It Take to Get a PhD?
A PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) usually requires at least five to six years in an accredited graduate school. Many students might take seven to nine years to complete depending on exams, coursework and dissertations required.
Which One Costs More?
Because a PhD takes longer to complete, it usually costs more money. The flip side to this is that a PhD may yield a higher salary upon completion and is therefore worth the increased cost long-term.
Whichever graduate degree you decide to pursue, you’ll have expenses, such as tuition, fees, books, and others. In addition, there is also a significant loss of money if you’re unable to work or only earn low wages through assistantships or part-time employment. Student loans are always an option to pursue, but they may have high interest rates that can take years to pay back.
Another thing to consider is that each school charges a different amount for graduate degrees. Therefore, be sure to consider the cost of each school before making a final decision.
Masters vs PhD: Weighing your Options
We know that graduate school requires time, money and commitment for both Masters and a PhD. So, which should you choose?
Masters degrees tend to be more career-oriented while PhD's tend to be more focused on research since they are preparing people for research-oriented careers or in academia. If all you want is a raise, a PhD is probably not the road to choose.
On the other hand, if you love learning in and of itself, research, and if you want to pursue a career as a professor, then the work required for PhD may be just for you. Also, many PhD programs require that you have earned a Masters, though there are exceptions. Therefore, check with the admissions requirements of all schools and programs before applying.
What Is a Masters Degree?
A Master’s degree is a second-cycle academic degree and the first level of graduate study, which means it is after a Bachelor’s degree and before a PhD.
The Master's degree can allow specialization or concentration within a field so that you can focus your studies in-depth on a particular aspect of a subject. Pursuing a Master’s works especially well if you’ve been working in a particular career for some time and hope to qualify for a leadership position within your field.
A Master’s degree can also be an excellent method of changing careers. If you’ve been in the workforce and found that your career or undergraduate education are not leading you in the direction you’d like, a Master's degree can allow you to start in a different direction by gaining new knowledge and skills.
Benefits of Earning a Master’s Degree
Some of the benefits of earning a master’s degree are:
- Less time and money than a PhD
- More career-oriented than a PhD
- Sets you apart from those with only a Bachelor’s degree
- May have greater employment opportunities
- May lead to greater career advancement
What Is a PhD?
Doctor of Philosophy, or PhD, are considered terminal degrees, or the highest degree you can earn. PhDs are research-based academic degrees which are awarded in many fields. One of the many reasons to get a PhD is if you’d like to become a professor because a PhD is practically mandatory to become a postsecondary teacher. i Even for those few who can find teaching positions with only a Masters, most schools want to see progress toward a PhD.
A PhD can also be helpful outside the world of academia in today's increasingly competitive job market. Businesses are searching for extremely qualified people who have demonstrated intelligence, perseverance and the ability to learn in a variety of fields, including engineering , information technology , or many others.
Benefits of Earning a PhD
PhD work requires original research that contributes new information to the field of study. One of the less tangible, though very important, reasons to get a PhD consists in the idea of creating knowledge.
Some of the benefits of earning a PhD include:
- You’ll be regarded as an expert in your field
- Enhance your transferable skills, such as critical reasoning, problem-solving, and in-depth analysis
- Add to the research and knowledge in your field
- Improve your analytical skills
- You can include Dr. in your title
Don’t forget, if you can’t or don’t want to relocate to earn your graduate degree, there is always the option of earning your degree through distance learning. Search for accredited online graduate programs for additional online masters and doctorate programs.
Commitment to Earning a Masters vs PhD
There’s no way around it, graduate school takes work. However, many students who drifted through college are surprised to find that graduate school requires a much larger commitment in terms of work and intellectual energy.
For instance, graduate schools can be very competitive. On top of a full course load, many students are working or teaching, plus trying to balance their personal and family responsibilities. This competitiveness between students, added responsibility, and number of courses that require in-depth analysis and reading, leads many students to find themselves overwhelmed.
This is true for both masters and PhDs. However, the number of years required to earn a PhD requires perseverance on a scale above and beyond what both undergraduates and those pursuing a masters degree experience.
One of the key differences between undergraduate and graduate degrees, whether you pursue a masters or PhD, is the ability of graduate student to focus on a field and subject in which they are very interested. Plus, while a graduate degree may jumpstart your career, it is not perceived as mandatory as an undergraduate degree can be. Therefore, pursuing a masters degree or a PhD can seem like your choice, which motivates some students to perform better.
Still Deciding Between a Masters or PhD?
To summarize, a PhD may be worth it if:
- You truly love your field
- You enjoy your studies
- You want the benefits and prestige associated with the doctoral degree
On the other hand, if you are simply looking to change fields, gain a promotion, or are nervous about five to six more years of school, then a Masters is probably a better choice.
However, it is worth noting that you may be able to get more financial aid for a PhD. Since it takes longer, schools recognize that those trying to acquire their PhD's need more assistance than those who only want a Masters degree.
This adds an interesting dimension to the application process for two reasons:
- It is probably better to apply to the doctoral program because there is no penalty for changing your mind and deciding to leave with only a Masters degree, and it increases your chances of getting financial aid .
- PhD programs can be more competitive, and applying to it, rather than the Masters degree program, might decrease your chances of admission. If you are denied entrance to the PhD program, you could ask the school to consider you for the Masters program, if that’s allowed at that particular school.
GradSchools.com Top Schools with Graduate Degrees*
Finding the Perfect Masters or PhD Degree for You
Depending on your previous education, professional experience, and your future career goals, there are a wide variety of graduate degree programs for you to choose from.
[i] bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm#tab-4 [ii] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm#tab-4
written by Rana Waxman
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Master’s vs. PhD: What’s the Difference?
When you are at a college or university, you are likely pursuing the same goal as most other undergraduate students: an Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree. However, what happens if you want to continue your formal education ? You generally have three options. You can pursue a Master’s, a PhD, or both! In today’s guide, we will discuss some of the most important differences between a Master’s and a PhD, as well as the paths required for each one.
Master’s vs. PhD: A Comprehensive Breakdown
What is a master’s degree.
In layman’s terms, a Master’s degree is the next step up from a Bachelor’s Degree. Once you enter a Master’s program, you are officially a “graduate” student (as opposed to an undergraduate). It can be helpful to think of a Master’s as a continuation of your undergraduate studies but with a greater focus on your field of interest. For example, you might get a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and then go on to get your Master’s in Early Childhood Psychology. Getting a Master’s essentially prepares you for a future career with more intensive coursework, greater emphasis on research, and the opportunity to do more fieldwork.
How Long Does a Master’s Take?
In the vast majority of cases, if you hold a Bachelor’s Degree and want to further your education, you can apply for a Master’s program. You can technically go directly from a Bachelor’s to a PhD, but this path is more complex and less common (more on that later!). If you are accepted into a Master’s program, you can expect to finish the program in roughly two years as a full-time student. There are certain Master’s programs that take less time to complete – for example, the J-Term from Columbia Business School which allows you to earn your MBA in 16 months.
Naturally, if you opt to take fewer classes per semester, it will take longer. For example, you may want to get a part-time job to help cover the costs of your Master’s, in which case it could take you anywhere between three and five years to finish your degree. Many universities offer part-time options specifically for students who plan to work while in school.
Master’s Degree Overview
- Application Process : This varies from one program to another, but it is very similar to the application process for an undergraduate university program. You will need to choose your program, review the requirements, collect the necessary documents, and submit your application. Many schools will require a standardized test like the GRE or GMAT.
- Length of Time : 1.5 to 2 years (full-time) or 3 to 5 years (part-time)
- In-School Experience : If you majored in a certain subject in undergrad, you were likely required to take a number of courses on that specific topic. You can think of a Master’s degree somewhat similarly – where you’re spending a lot of time learning about going a field that you’re interested in. Master’s degree coursework generally entails a mix of different types of classes – lectures, research, and project-based courses. The workload is usually more intensive than undergraduate degrees and often requires a final project or thesis. But, remember, you’re likely getting a Master’s because you’re interested in the topic – so you should be interested in many of the classes you’re taking!
- Career Prospects : As more people go to college, the requirements for jobs become more stringent. You can greatly expand your potential career opportunities and even improve salary negotiations by having a Master’s degree. However, whether or not you really need a Master’s depends on your field of study, as well as your educational and career aspirations.
- Average Cost of a Master’s : $66,340 [ 1 ]
- Average Annual Salary with a Master’s : $77,844 [ 2 ]
What is a PhD?
While PhD is short for “Doctor of Philosophy,” it does not mean that you have to get an advanced degree in philosophy. Essentially, a PhD is the highest educational achievement that encompasses nearly all fields of study. With a PhD, you are considered an expert in your field and capable of teaching others at the undergraduate or graduate level. The exact experience varies significantly based on your chosen field of study, but PhD programs are often far more intensive than Master’s programs, with much greater emphasis on research and a final doctoral dissertation.
How Long Does a PhD Take?
This is where things can get tricky. On its own, a PhD can take anywhere between four and six years to complete as a full-time student. However, this is just the PhD program. You can finish your undergraduate degree and apply directly for a PhD program, but you will need to have excellent qualifications to make it through the application process. Moreover, many PhD programs require you to have a Master’s in a relevant field to even apply. As a result, many people first get a Master’s degree (roughly 2 years) and then apply for a PhD program. Therefore, if you add on the length of time you will need to get your Master’s, it could take as long as 6 to 10 years to get your PhD.
- Application Process : The application process is often more competitive for PhD programs, as there are fewer slots and more stringent requirements. You will likely need to provide multiple letters of recommendation, personal statements, and examples of your past work.
- Length of Time : 4 to 6 years (full-time) or 5 to 8 years (part-time)
- Experience : A PhD is a very intensive and rigorous experience, and you can expect to put hundreds of hours into research and coursework. The majority of PhDs require a final dissertation – which is essentially original research and your contribution to your field of study. For example – someone getting their PhD in Chemistry might do research on molecular properties in certain environments (that’s a real PhD title! ). Typically, completing your dissertation means you present it for review to a board of advisors at your university, and may submit it to be published in academic journals.
- Career Prospects : Many people debate how much your career prospects improve with a PhD. Oftentimes, people pursue a PhD if they wish to work in academia – teaching or conducting long-term research in their field of study. That said, some people do move out of academia after finishing their PhD. It can be helpful to look at alumni from programs you’re applying to – where do they end up after school? Do most of them work in academia, or move into another industry? This also varies by your focus – you could imagine a construction company might be more interested in hiring a PhD in Civil Engineering than a PhD in Medieval Literature.
- Average Total Cost of a PhD : Many PhD programs are fully funded, meaning the student does not have to pay tuition and is paid by the university. [ 3 ]
- Average Annual Salary with a PhD : $97,916 [ 3 ] Note – research from the U.S. Bureau of Labor & Statistics indicates that the average PhD makes 25% more than someone with a Master’s degree.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, there are a lot of factors to consider when deciding whether to pursue a Master’s, a PhD, or both. A Master’s takes less time, but it’s not comprehensive and may not yield as high a salary as a PhD. Alternatively, a PhD takes two to three times as long to complete, but it could help you advance your career even further, command a higher salary, and become a recognized expert in your field. So, while it’s a great idea to pursue higher education, just remember the pros and cons of Master’s vs. PhD programs when you are ready to apply – and ultimately make the decision that’s best for you, vs. what you feel is expected!
Matthew Jones is a freelance writer with a B.A. in Film and Philosophy from the University of Georgia. It was during his time in school that he published his first written work . After serving as a casting director in the Atlanta film industry for two years, Matthew acquired TEFL certification and began teaching English abroad. In 2017, Matthew started writing for dozens of different brands across various industries. During this time, Matthew also built an online following through his film blog . If you’d like to learn more about Matthew, you can connect with him on Twitter , LinkedIn , or his personal website !
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What Is the Difference Between a Master's, Bachelor's, Doctorate & Degree Completion?
- College & Higher Education
Business degree vs. certificate, nursing education vs. dental hygiene education, b.s. in health science vs. r.n..
- The Average Years to Earn a Bachelor's Degree
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The higher education system can be confusing, even for students currently enrolled. Sometimes it seems like a special language was created just for colleges and universities. Learning what each degree option means is a first step in planning your educational future.
The most common degree completed in college is the bachelor’s degree. Students entering college usually spend four to five years working on a specific field of study. Most bachelor’s degrees require 120 credit hours. Upon successful completion of all courses and requirements, students will earn an undergraduate or bachelor’s degree. The most common bachelor’s degrees are the B.A. or Bachelor of Arts, the B.F.A. or bachelor of fine arts and the B.S. or Bachelor of Science. A bachelor’s degree is required to pursue a master’s degree.
Sometimes students have to drop out of college for personal reasons. To assist students who would like to return to finish their undergraduate degree, a special program called degree completion was created. The degree completion program is crafted to accommodate a student who is working or cannot attend full time. Some programs are offered online or are a hybrid of online and on-campus classes. Students who wish to transfer from a community college can apply their earned credits toward a degree completion program.
Once you have completed your undergraduate degree, you may be interested in pursuing an advanced degree or a master’s degree. A master’s degree is also referred to as a graduate degree. Pursuing a master’s degree is a way to specialize in a particular area of study and usually requires one or two additional years of school. The most prevalent degree titles include the M.A. or Master of Arts, M.B.A. or Master of Business Administration and M.S. or Master of Science. In 2009, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 15 percent of the U.S. population holds an advanced degree, including a masters, doctorate, law or medical diplomas.
A doctoral degree is also knows as a terminal degree because it is the highest level of education that can be attained. The two types of doctorates awarded are the Doctor of Philosophy or Ph.D. and the Doctor of Education or Ed.D. The Ph.D. is designed for students interested in conducting research and teaching at a college level. Students with this degree often work in higher education or other scholarly fields. Students who are interested in serving as leaders in their fields or as expert practitioners typically pursue an Ed.D. Students pursuing a doctoral degree will usually be expected to spend a minimum of three years as a full-time student.
- Bachelors Degree: Bachelors Degree
Dr. Kelly S. Meier is a professor and college administrator for a large public institution in Minnesota. She received her undergraduate degree from Western Illinois University and her master's degree and doctorate from Minnesota State University, Mankato. She has published more than 15 books on education, group development and diversity.
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Choose Between a Master's, Ph.D. in Engineering
A doctorate in engineering requires a love of research and patience for several years of challenging study.
Weigh a Master's, Ph.D. in Engineering
Students who pursue a graduate degree in engineering will be more competitive in the job market than those with just a bachelor's, experts say.
When it comes to employment, graduates with a bachelor's degree in engineering are on solid footing, relatively speaking. With high salaries and some of the best odds of finding full-time work , they can escape the career angst that often plagues their peers with freshly-minted English or history diplomas.
Still, many engineers may find themselves wondering what a graduate degree could do for their career.
"With the economy improving, significant numbers of job postings are now requiring higher levels of expertise," says Ken Little, senior graduate career development adviser at Georgia Institute of Technology . At the same time, high-tech jobs are becoming more globally competitive, drawing applicants from all over the world, he says.
Students looking to get a graduate degree in engineering can choose between a master's program and a Ph.D. It's a big decision, experts say, and one that can significantly affect a student's career.
Learn why engineers may be more
Before choosing what kind of graduate degree to pursue, students should think about what they want to do with their lives after graduation, experts say.
Master's degrees prepare students for careers in industry that don't have a research focus, says Babatunde Ogunnaike, dean of the college of engineering at the University of Delaware . "If you want to work in research either in industry or in academia or for a government research lab, you need to get a Ph.D.," he says.
Eddie Machek, who is earning a master's degree in civil engineering from the University of Akron and who will start a doctoral program in engineering at Georgia Tech this fall, explains the difference between the degrees this way: "At a bachelor's level you are going to go out and do what's been done. At the master's level you are going to be in charge of the people who are doing that stuff. In a Ph.D., that's a whole other thing because you are doing the new stuff. You are in a lab."
Master's degrees in engineering can be a great fit for recent graduates who want to specialize within engineering or for those already in the field who want to switch their focus, experts say. The degrees can be research-based, which is the more common option, or professional, which lack a research component.
“It opens the door for more specialized opportunities in the workforce," Craig Menzemer, associate dean for graduate studies and administration at the University of Akron, said through email. "For example, a civil engineer with a bachelor’s degree may be expected to do a variety of day-to-day tasks, but a civil engineering major with a master’s who specialized in structures will have opportunities to work on structural-specific projects."
Aditya Srinath, who earned his master's in industrial engineering from Purdue University in 2014, says he opted for the credential because it helped him bolster his professional skills rather than research skills. "A master's strikes a good balance between having more education than a bachelor's and not as much as Ph.D but still having a more rounded-out profile," says Srinath, who works as a project engineer at 3M, which manufactures a wide array of products, including Post-it Notes.
Engineering Ph.D.s provide even more specialization than master's degrees, and a higher earning potential, but they also come with significant risks, experts say.
Research jobs within government labs and industry are quite competitive, and tenure-track faculty positions are notoriously hard to come by, says George Haritos, dean of the college of engineering at the University of Akron. What's more, sometimes employers in industry won't hire Ph.D.s because they fear they are overqualified and would have to pay them too much, he says.
Doctoral programs require students to put in a great deal of time and effort, experts say. Not everyone finishes the programs, and those who do are both gifted and passionate about their subject.
Scottie-Beth Fleming, who is earning a doctorate in aerospace engineering from Georgia Tech, says she enjoys the independence that comes with a Ph.D.
"With the master's, a lot of times, your research is driven by the government or someone who is giving money and there is an expectation of what you are going to do," she says. "In a Ph.D. you don’t have that expectation. You get to explore an area that maybe nobody else would explore."
Before making a final decision about what kind of advanced engineering degree to pursue, students should also look into the requirements of their field, says Susan Fisher, director of graduate programs at Purdue University's engineering school.
For example, chemical engineering and biomedical engineering have more employment opportunities for Ph.D. students, she says. Civil engineering, on the other hand, has more employment openings outside academia for those with master’s degrees than for those with doctorates.
One way students can gauge whether they are ready for a Ph.D is to take a few research-focused courses either in undergrad or while in a master's program, experts say.
"The goal is to find out what you are truly passionate about and find a good way to apply that to the world," Srinath says.
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Tags: education , engineering graduate school , graduate schools , STEM education , STEM , students
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Master’s vs PhD/Doctorate Degrees – Key Differences
So, you are done with your bachelor’s degree but not with studying–according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics , this seems like a good idea. In its projections for the years 2019–2029, it lists 36 occupations that typically require a master’s degree and 63 requiring a doctoral or professional degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics data also shows that the wages for these occupations are higher than the median for all occupations.
Now you might wonder: What is the difference between master’s and PhD degrees and which one should I get? Read on for all the information you need to make this important decision!
Difference Between Masters and PhD: An Overview
A master’s degree is designed to teach you the knowledge and skills that you will need in your future profession. A PhD or doctorate degree, on the other hand, is designed to develop your critical thinking as well as your analytical and writing skills and is usually a years-long commitment to independent research on a specific subject. The purpose of a PhD is to prepare you for a career in academic research—although it can also help you get into a variety of other professions, and at a higher entry/salary level. In the US, a master’s degree is integrated into a PhD program, as a necessary preparation period involving mostly coursework, while in most other countries, a separate master’s degree is required to enter a PhD program.
If you want to stand out, you should definitely opt for a PhD degree: According to the United States Census Bureau , 24 million people in the US had master’s or professional degrees in 2019, whereas only 4.5 million had PhDs/doctorates. But is it worth the extra effort? And what exactly would the extra effort be? Have a look at the table below to get an idea about the key differences between master’s and PhDs.
Master’s vs PhD
Master’s or doctorate: which should you choose, how long does a master’s vs doctorate take to complete.
While the length of time it will take you to complete a PhD or master’s degree varies significantly between institutions and countries, we will focus on the US system here. Obviously, PhDs take much longer, because they are in fact a combination of both degrees and involve a long period of independent research that can get even longer than expected, depending on your topic, the available equipment or support, and a lot of other factors.
How long to complete a master’s degree
In the US, a full-time master’s degree takes students generally 2 years to complete, while part-time degrees are usually double the time.
How long to complete a PhD/doctorate
Since US PhD programs only require a completed bachelor’s degree, they start with an integrated master’s of 2 years of coursework, followed by 3–4 years of independent research into a specific topic. That usually includes publishing results, presenting at conferences, and preparing the final dissertation. Note that stipends/funding do not always cover the entire time it can take you to complete your PhD project—make sure you are aware of alternative options and additional funding at your institution or have at least thought about a backup plan before you start.
Master’s Degree Cost vs. a PhD Cost
Most people assume that PhDs are more expensive because they take many more years to complete. However, since PhD students usually receive scholarships or stipends, sometimes just for their commitment to full-time research and sometimes in exchange for teaching, the direct costs for a dissertation can be lower than those for a master’s degree.
Additionally, while you are very likely to earn more with both degrees, the additional years of studying for a PhD should be factored into any estimation of costs vs outcomes.
Cost of a master’s degree
Master’s degrees at US universities can cost anything from $30,000 to $120,000, with tuition depending on the type of institution (public, private nonprofit, or for-profit). University rankings and general reputation also affect tuition costs.
Whether an expensive degree (e.g., MBAs are often notoriously expensive) is worth the money for you personally depends on what kind of salary you think you can expect after graduating from that specific school. The universities you consider applying to should be able to provide you with data on the career and salary outcomes of their students, either on their website or if you contact them and ask for these details.
You can of course try to get a stipend and/or apply for a teaching or research assistant position at your school, depending on your undergraduate degree and experience. Moreover, many institutions offer the possibility to complete a master’s degree part-time, while working, which allows students to fund themselves.
You might also be eligible to transfer credits toward your degree if you have a professional certification or have earned graduate-level course credit—which can significantly reduce your total cost for both degrees.
Cost of a PhD/dissertation
PhDs, unlike master’s degrees, are usually funded, which means that tuition fees are waived and stipends or scholarships take care of living costs. Phd students are, however, often expected to take on teaching or research responsibilities in exchange for their funding.
There are a variety of scholarships you can apply for if you want to pursue a PhD in the US as an international student—US-based ones like the Fulbright Foreign Student Program or the HHMI International Student Research Scholarships , but there are probably also funding opportunities in your home country for students who want to embark on a PhD abroad.
Pursuing a PhD degree part-time might sometimes be possible, but since students are expected to invest a full workweek into their research and potential teaching responsibilities, this is usually not realistic.
To estimate the overall cost of a doctoral program, the extra years that you could be working a full-time job with a regular salary also need to be factored into the equation—and take into account that projects may end up taking longer than expected, due to difficulties in collecting data, supervisors dropping out or moving on, or unforeseeable crises such as the COVID-19 epidemic.
Career Prospects for a Master’s vs PhD
While both a master’s and a PhD degree will qualify you for a variety of occupations that require higher degrees, they can also get you a higher salary in a profession that is also open to employees with a lower education level. PhD holders can in theory expect the highest wages, but since the two degrees prepare you for very different careers, that alone shouldn’t be what you base your decision on.
Master’s degree jobs and positions
Master’s degrees are overall more versatile than PhDs when it comes to employment opportunities and cover a wide range of fields and professions. The most common master’s degrees are the Master’s of Arts (MA) and the Master’s of Science (MS).
Master’s programs can generally be divided into three different types:
Research master’s degrees, such as an MA in Comparative Literature or an MS in Biology, prepare students for academic and non-academic research disciplines and usually end with a thesis based on an original piece of research. In some fields, however, you are expected to enter a Ph.D. program after completing your master’s to be competitive when it comes to finding a job later.
Professional master’s degrees teach you practical skills and in-demand competencies that qualify you for a specific field and enable you to understand issues that are relevant in a certain profession. Examples include the Master of Public Health (MPH), the Master of Business Administration (MBA), or the MA in Teaching (MAT).
Terminal master’s degrees are the highest academic degree in fields where doctorates are not offered, and prepare students for careers outside of academia. The Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, for example, or the MS in Library Science are as high as you can go in those fields.
To give you an idea, below, we listed the 10 occupations at the master’s level that are projected to have the most openings annually from 2019 to 2029, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the highest-paying occupations for master’s degree holders without required work experience, based on projections from 2016 to 2026.
Master’s degrees, apart from helping you develop professional skills tailored to the requirements of the profession you intend to enter, can also serve as a stepping stone if you are already in employment and want to progress your career development, earn a higher salary, or change careers by learning new skills and subject knowledge.
PhD/doctorate jobs and positions
PhDs are usually intended to lead to an academic career, and many students aim to eventually become university professors. However, careers in academia are highly competitive, and there are not nearly as many professor positions as there are PhD holders. The good news is that the skills you learn during your doctoral program are often “transferable” and can be applied to other types of careers.
Some PhD graduates end up (and enjoy) being colleague teachers, while others embark on non-academic research careers, for example at pharmaceutical companies, government agencies, consulting and technology firms, or think tanks. Job prospects vary widely across fields, with some—computer science, engineering, or economics—having very low unemployment rates, and others, for example the humanities, offering fewer and less desirable employment opportunities. Keep in mind, however, that someone with a PhD entering a different field or one that does not necessarily require a PhD may find that their degree sometimes does not help them or that they are even considered to be “overqualified” or as lacking practical skills and relevant professional experience.
Since there is no clear career path for PhD graduates, you should really take your time figuring out what field you want to work in later, what the career prospects for that field are, and if they are worth the time and effort you will have to invest to complete a PhD program. Your university should have data on the careers and salaries of their students, and should either display these details on their website or send you the relevant information if you contact them directly.
Master’s vs PhD: Application Process
The application process for master’s and PhD programs is overall very similar. In general, you will need to provide the following:
Frequently Asked Questions about Master’s vs PhD Degrees
How long does a master’s degree take vs a phd.
Full-time master’s degrees usually take 2 years to complete. Many universities offer the option to do a master’s part-time, which takes double the time. PhD programs in the US start with an integrated master’s of 2 years of coursework (since you enter the program directly after completing your bachelor’s degree), followed by 3–4 years of independent research.
Is a PhD harder than a master’s degree?
A PhD takes substantially longer and requires more self-motivation, organizational skills, and the willingness to carry on even when things do not go according to plan. You might also have other responsibilities, on top of your research, such as teaching or assisting your supervisor. But whether that is “harder” for you than a master’s degree that consists of mostly coursework and does not take more than 2 years depends on your interests and general working style.
Is a master’s or doctorate better?
Master’s and doctorate degrees prepare you for different occupations and work positions, and which one is the right for you depends on what kind of career you are planning to pursue. Generally, a master’s degree is right for you if you want to deepen your career-oriented knowledge and skills for a specific profession, while a doctorate degree prepares you for a career in research, whether that is inside or outside a university.
Preparing Your Graduate School Essays
Now that you have figured out whether a master’s or PhD degree is the right choice for you, all that is left to do is to put your application together! Make sure that you focus on your chosen degree and its aim (research or a professional career) in all required documents—for example, highlight your professional and personal development in your CV for an MBA program, but the publication you got out of your bachelor’s thesis and how passionate you are about doing more research on the same topic for your application to a PhD program.
As always, Wordvice can help with our professional Personal Statement Editing Services or Admission Editing Services , which help ensure that your application is error-free and showcases your full potential so that you get admitted to the graduate or doctoral program of your choice. For more academic resources on writing the statement of purpose for grad school or on how to request a letter of recommendation , head over to our Admissions Resources pages.
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Should I Pursue A Master’s or A Ph.D.?
The first step in deciding on the right graduate program for you is to figure out which degree will best serve you—a master’s or a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.). Here are a few factors to consider.
What are your career goals?
- Professional master’s: A good choice if you want to develop a particular skill set in order to practice a particular profession. This type of degree provides coursework focused on learning and practicing skills.
- Research master’s: A good fit if you want to gain expertise in a discipline and know how to teach it. A research master’s typically includes a research project or thesis and comprehensive exams in addition to coursework and provides experience in research and scholarship.
- Ph.D. (doctor of philosophy): Consider this option if your goal is to ground yourself in a body of research and develop the ability to add to that body of knowledge. Ph.D. study includes a major research project in addition to coursework, and a Ph.D. is the highest scholastic degree awarded by American universities. Contrary to common perception, career paths for Ph.D. graduates are quite varied, not just limited to academia. Ph.D. training helps you hones skills such as writing, research, teaching, data analysis, communicating complex topics—all of which can translate into many sectors, including industry, government, nonprofit, and entrepreneurship.
See career data for Duke graduate programs' alumni
How much time do you have to pursue a graduate degree?
Master’s degrees typically take two years to complete, while Ph.D. programs generally take five to seven years ( see Duke programs' time-to-degree ). That is a significant difference in commitment and opportunity costs. It might also play a key role in deciding which factors take higher priority as you evaluate a program. How does the length of the program fit with your career and family plans? How important is the surrounding community if you are going to be there for seven years instead of two? How long are you able or willing to go on a limited income while in graduate school?
How much can you afford to pay for a graduate degree?
Consider your personal financial situation (e.g., how much savings and student loans do you have), as well as how much financial aid you can get. Master’s and Ph.D. programs differ greatly in the amount of financial aid available. Ph.D. programs tend to offer significantly more financial support than master’s programs (but often will have research or teaching requirements).
A typical Ph.D. financial aid package usually includes coverage of tuition and fees, a living stipend, and some level of support for health insurance for a set number of years. For instance, Duke’s standard Ph.D. package covers tuition, mandatory fees, and a stipend for five years, as well as health insurance premiums for six years.
Within an institution, the level of financial support often differs across programs, so be sure to ask your specific program about the financial aid it offers. There are also many national organizations that provide competitive fellowships and scholarships for graduate students.
Know which degree you want to pursue? Here are some key things to look for in a program .
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Masters vs PhD: Which is right for you?
Even though a PhD usually comes after you’ve finished your Masters, there are some exceptions that will allow you to transition into a PhD program.
For example, some courses offer an Honours year that will give you the option of skipping your Masters and go straight into a PhD and some programmes offer 1+3 year courses, which means that you automatically continue to pursue a PhD once you’ve graduated your Masters.
If you are deciding on whether to pursue a Masters, a PhD or perhaps both, and you have second thoughts about which option is better for you, here are few pros and cons that can help you decide.
What do you want to do?
No matter which discipline you’re studying, the biggest decision related to whether to pursue a PhD is to ask yourself about what you want to do later in your life.
If you want to to continue into academia and teaching at a university, then a PhD is the right choice. There are very small chances of get a teaching job at a university unless you have a PhD as a minimum.
The same also applies if you are looking to get a job as a researcher or a scientist. Many research institutes require a PhD level for their applicants so if you want to be a scientist of any kind, so a PhD will open those doors for you.
On the other hand, if you have no interest in teaching and working with students and would prefer working in the industry, there’s no reason for you to apply for a PhD.
For some industry jobs, even bachelor’s degree can be sufficient, but with a Masters, you’ll have a bigger chance of progress. A Masters degree will give you the additional knowledge and experience to specialise in your chosen field.
Do you like to study?
It sounds very vague, but having a PhD means you’ll have to continue studying for at least the next 3-4 years full time, then possibly the rest of your life if you pursue the life of an academic.
Life as an academic means you’ll have to keep up with recent research and be able to transfer all that knowledge to the younger generations and students. That includes lots of reading, researching and writing – basically your learning continues but becomes more academic.
But, If you were someone that couldn’t wait for your Bachelors to end, and you can’t imagine yourself reading and studying for more than you actually need to, then pursuing a PhD might not be the right choice.
However, with a Masters you can find good jobs and establish a stable career in your industry once you graduate, so it’ll be more about using the knowledge you have in a practical way rather than a career spent acquiring new knowledge all the time.
Time and commitments
Becoming a researcher takes time, and PhD is a best way to become a scientist. However, PhD lasts typically 3-4 years full time and 6-7 years part time. That means that you have to dedicate a significant amount of your life to completing your PhD.
On a different note, Masters takes one to maximum two years and it does allow a dose of flexibility since many people who are working full-time often enroll into a Masters to get ahead in their chosen field or to gain entry into a new industry.
PhD is not something that allows you to be flexible as it requires your constant attention and progress. Even if it’s part time.
Many students can’t wait to start working, change jobs, move places, travel and generally, most people like flexibility. With a Masters, you can also enjoy established and lengthier break times.
There are still Christmas, spring and summer breaks that will allow you to travel, get some rest and balance commitments with your family and work.
On the other hand a PhD is more like a full-time job you have to finish within a certain deadline, so you might not have that option available to you if you have a lot of work, family and financial commitments to consider.
Independence and learning
One of the biggest differences between a Masters and a PhD is the way each of them is structured. Masters is organised in a similar way as bachelors, especially if it’s coursework based. You’ll have lectures, exams and essays to submit and that’s it.
A research-based Masters is a bit more oriented towards research but you are still supported by professors or supervisors and your research is highly monitored and closely supervised.
However, doing a PhD means while you still have your supervisors’ support, it’s not as much. You’re mostly on your own, making decisions and finding justifications for your research with your supervisors there to show you the way.
At some point of your PhD you’re also expected to teach (and maybe even speak in front of crowds at conferences or forums), so you’ll have to ask yourself if public speaking is something you feel comfortable with.
Whether you choose to pursue a PhD or a Masters, or both, they are advanced form of studies that require you to be strongly motivated to succeed.
The main difference between a Masters and a PhD is where do you see yourself in the future. Both of them bring excellent career opportunities and you’re not going to make a mistake with either of them.
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BA, BSc, MA, MSc, PhD - what do they all mean?
BA, BSc, MA, MSc, PhD (and more) are abbreviations of British degrees.
They reflect the specific level and discipline of a qualification achieved at university.
While most courses are conducted on a full-time basis, there are options for part-time, distance learning and other flexible learning arrangements.
Here is a breakdown of some of the most common qualifications and ones that Aberystwyth University offers.
- BA = Bachelor of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences;
- BSc = Bachelor of Sciences;
- BENG = Bachelor of Engineering (Software, Robotics and Physics);
- LLB = Bachelor of Law.
Achieved after 3 to 4 years of study. The extra year (for a 4 year course) can be from a year studying abroad or a year working in industry.
- MARTS = Masters of Arts;
- MBIOL = Masters of Biology;
- MCOMP = Masters of Computer Science;
- MENG = Masters of Engineering;
- MMATH = Masters of Mathematics;
- MPHYS = Masters of Physics;
- MSCI = Masters of Sciences and Humanities.
4 years course (3-year Bachelors, 1 year Masters) that enables you to secure a loan for the full duration rather than having to fund a Masters degree separately.
- MA = Masters of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences;
- MSc = Masters of Sciences;
- MBA = Masters of Business Administration;
- MPhil = Masters of Philosophy: Advanced research Masters degree;
- MRes = Masters of Research: Contains some taught and research elements;
- LLM = Masters of Law.
Achieved after graduation from Bachelors level, usually 1-2 years duration.
- PhD = Doctor of Philosophy: for a range of disciplines.
Achieved after graduating from Masters level, usually 3-8 years duration.
A wide range of Undergraduate, Postgraduate and Further-Research courses – across the Arts and Sciences – are available at Aberystwyth.