Getting Into A PhD Program After Master’s- Is it Easier?

Woman in a graduation gown sitting on stairway: Getting into a PhD program after Master's
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There are numerous vital decisions you must make when applying for graduate school. At first, you must do some serious soul searching to identify an ideal field of study— this is often easy. However, you may find it nerve-wracking to decide what degree to pursue and whether it makes sense to pursue a master’s degree or a PhD. If you already know what degree you want to earn, you have to decide whether getting into a PhD program after a Master’s is ideal for you or it’s better to take the road less travelled and skip a Master’s on your way to a doctoral degree.

Earning a master’s degree is usually not an essential requirement for gaining admission to a PhD program. But sometimes, having a master’s degree can improve your chances of admission. Whether you should earn a master’s degree before applying for a doctoral program or the other way around will depend on various aspects that we will discuss in this article.

  • Introduction
  • Compelling Reasons to Earn a Master’s Degree before Applying for Ph.D. Programs
  • Master’s First vs. Straight to PhD
  • Conclusion 

Compelling Reasons to Earn a Master’s Degree before Applying for PhD Programs

Research shows that it is common for students in the U.S. to do a Ph.D. before a master’s. American universities typically have doctoral programs that run for 6 to 8 years, and students are not strictly required to have a master’s before admission. While this is the case, there are four compelling reasons to get into a master’s program before a Ph.D.

These reasons include:

It Will Help You Decide Whether You Are Ready To Commit To A Doctoral Program.

Your studies when pursuing an undergraduate degree will involve mastering the general aspects of your chosen field. Undergraduate students only specialize a little during the graduation project or final thesis. On the other hand, Master’s programs are more research-oriented and specialized. They can help you to decide whether you are genuinely attracted to a specific career path. You don’t want to commit to a 6 year PhD program only to realize that a different field of specialty is better.

Pursing a Master’s offers you an introduction to what you’ll be getting into once you enroll for your PhD. The program will also get you well-acquainted with the graduate study process, which is way more complex than the undergraduate process. If you remain motivated all through your Master’s program and even earn transferable skills such as time management skills, this will be a sign that you are ready to take on a PhD program. Likewise, pursuing a Master’s may just change your mind about enrolling for a PhD. This is more so if you find the program overwhelming or unappealing.

It Makes the Process Easier

Gaining admission to a Ph.D. program is challenging. This is especially true if your academic track record is not above average. Fortunately, such a track record can still gain you easy admission into a Master’s program. If you’re able to boost your grades when pursuing a Master’s, this will undoubtedly turn the odds in your favor when you apply for a Ph.D. Moreover, your admission chances also increase if you apply for a Ph.D. program from the same university where you pursue your Master’s.

Pursuing a Master’s also makes you a year or two more knowledgeable than a B.A. holder. This additional experience will come in handy when handling doctoral projects. Universities understand this, and while having a Master’s may not be an absolute requirement, they are likely to favour candidates with a Master’s over B.A. holders.

In Some Fields, Earning A Master’s Is The Only Way To Admission In A PhD Program

Irrespective of the university where you want to pursue a PhD, you may not make the cut for an ideal candidate if you lack the required academic background in a specific subject area. Truth be told, your chances of getting accepted for a PhD may be as low as zero in particular fields if you are not a Master’s holder.

A Master’s degree can do so much more than just introduce you to a new field of study. The learning program will help you specialize and prepare you effectively for pursuing a particular subject at a doctoral level.

It Makes It Easier To Change Fields

If you have found a new interest in a field of study entirely unrelated to your college major, this is more reason for you first to pursue a Master’s. Even if this is not a requirement to get into a PhD program, you are likely to have difficulty convincing the admission committee of your newly found interest in a field of study in which you have little to show in terms of formal experience.

At the very least, a Master’s degree will increase the odds of the admissions committee considering your application. After all, this will show them you are competent, interested, and committed to your chosen field.

With A Master’s, You May Finish A PhD Program Faster

You need to sacrifice two years to pursue a Master’s. However, your time investment may buy you time in the long haul. If you enroll in a university within the U.S. or Canada, for instance, you are allowed to transfer some of your Master’s credits towards your PhD. This can cut down the time spent pursuing a doctoral program. Even in universities where you cannot transfer credits, you will still be ahead of fellow doctoral candidates who jumped from a B.A. to a PhD program. After all, the two years spent doing definitive research topics will put you one or two years ahead of B.A. candidates.

If you’re still undecided whether getting into a PhD program after a Master’s is worthwhile, the best you can do is ask around. Seek guidance from your professors or even from other doctoral students. The most important thing is to make a personalized decision that you feel will appropriately shape your career.

Master’s First vs. Straight to PhD

Assuming you already have a Bachelor’s degree, and you want to pursue a PhD someday, should you go straight to getting a PhD, or is getting into a PhD program after Masters better? A good number of PhD programs don’t require candidates to have a Master’s to gain admission. This means it is entirely up to you to choose which option suits you best.

Let’s make a detailed comparison of these two options to help you make an informed decision.

Getting Into a PhD Program After Masters

Earning a Master’s then a PhD is the traditional route that most students highly prefer. As we have mentioned above, there are numerous compelling reasons why it makes sense to choose this option. These reasons stand even when you don’t require a Master’s to apply for a doctoral program. The main benefit is that a Master’s allows you first to dip your toes into a specific field of study. After that, you can decide whether or not you want to immerse your entire body through a PhD program.

A Master’s program can take anywhere between 1—3 years. This is a shorter period in comparison to PhD programs which typically run between 3— 7 years. Pursuing a Master’s involves lesser time and money commitment. Yet, graduates still enjoy the prospects of having more significant employment and career advancement opportunities. On the downside, Master’s programs typically don’t receive much funding, and you may have to pay from your wallet. Moreover, it is not a guarantee that you can transfer your Master’s credits to your PhD.

Ph.D., then Master’s

PhD degrees mark the highest educational achievement you can earn in a specific field of study. Employers will only consider PhD holders for those highly rewarding positions in today’s highly competitive job markets. PhD holders are perceived to be persons of high intelligence and perseverance. Hence, they are in high demand within specialized fields such as Information Technology, Engineering, and Academia.

Earning a PhD before a Master’s will make you an expert in the field right after graduating. Moreover, you’ll even earn a Dr. to your title. A program will enhance your in-depth analysis, problem-solving and critical thinking skills, making you an invaluable asset to any company or government institution. While you may have to commit up to 7 years to earn your degree, most PhD programs have funding. This means you may benefit from a significant tuition waiver. On the downside, starting with a PhD before a Master’s will throw you straight to handling long-term, perhaps multi-year projects that you may not be well-prepared to handle.

Master’s First vs. Straight to PhD Conclusion

Graduate school takes work. This is irrespective of whether you choose to get into a Ph.D. program after a Master’s or the other way around. Either way, the programs will require a lot of commitment to both work and intellectual energy. Furthermore, you may be working on the side and striving to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Getting into a PhD program after Masters allows you to test the waters before diving into a doctoral program. Such programs involve a deeper analysis of different courses and added responsibilities that could get you overwhelmed. Skipping straight to PhD is more like shifting directly to top gear, which is a massive adjustment. A Master’s prepares you for the challenges that lie ahead. It ensures you can hit the ground running once you enroll for a PhD. If you have a smooth sail pursuing your Master’s, you will be sure that a specific Ph.D. program is ideal for you.

Use your Master’s as a Stepping Stone Towards a PhD

While numerous students go straight to pursuing a PhD after earning an undergraduate degree, most candidates are better off getting into a PhD program after a Master’s. Even when a Master’s is not a requirement for PhD admission, it is a good primer for a more specialized field of study.

Just ensure that you find the right Master’s program, pursue it, succeed, and then decide whether you want to pursue a PhD Using the traditional route could make the difference between having a difficult time getting into decent PhD programs and gaining easy admission into some of the world’s best doctorate programs in your field of study.

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