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.