Graduate Journey Resource Center

Discover valuable resources to assist you in your program search and decision-making process.

Graphic of Balancing Master’s vs PhD

Master’s vs. Ph.D.: What’s the Difference and Which One to Choose?

If graduate school is on your radar, one of the first things to consider is what type of degree you should pursue . While a bachelor’s degree is required for any postgraduate study, many people think you need a master’s to pursue a Ph.D., but that isn’t always the case. While there are benefits to receiving your master’s degree before your Ph.D., it’s not always necessary or required. However, there are important differences to note when deciding which type of program to apply to.

Master’s degree

A master’s degree usually takes about two years to complete full time. There are programs that allow a student to attend on a part-time basis, but that of course extends the completion time. Many master’s programs require a thesis to be completed, but not all. A thesis is a research project that is completed during the final year of a master’s program under the guidance of your program chair or advisor.

Under the master’s umbrella, there are quite a few specific degrees you can obtain. Your professional path will determine which of these you pursue.

  • Master of Arts (MA) is given for disciplines in the arts and social sciences.
  • Master of Science (MS) is given for sciences, health, engineering and statistics.
  • Master of Research (MRes) is focused on training students to become researchers. This is advantageous to a student if they’re pursuing a research-based career or planning to apply for a Ph.D. program.
  • Master by Research (MPhil) is similar to a MRes but is more advanced and focuses on research topics to be explored in depth. It’s often considered a precursor to a Ph.D. program.

Specialized master’s degrees

There are numerous specialized master’s degrees that are categorized by profession. These are often (not always) preceded by some professional experience prior to undertaking these types of advanced degrees.

  • Master of Business Administration (MBA)
  • Master of Library Science (MLS, MLIS, MSLS)
  • Master of Public Administration (MPA)
  • Master of Public Health (MPH)
  • Master of Social Work (MSW)
  • Master of Laws (LLM)
  • Master of Education (MEd, MSEd, MIT, MAEd, MAT)
  • Master of Engineering (MEng)
  • Master of Architecture (MArch)
  • Master of Fine Arts (MFA)
  • Master of Divinity (MDiv)

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

There are many Ph.D. programs and, in general, it’s considered the most advanced type of research degree you can obtain. Ph.D. candidates are required to complete a dissertation to obtain their degree. Unlike a thesis, a dissertation is longer and consists of original research conducted throughout the entire doctoral study. In some cases, students may be awarded a stipend, or pay, to complete the doctoral program and dissertation.

Ph.D.’s take a considerably longer time to complete than a master’s, five to eight years on average, and they carry a rather high rate of noncompletion due to time and financial commitments. Many Ph.D. programs have stipends available, so it’s important to inquire about that when researching a particular program.

Specialized doctorate programs

As with master’s degrees, there are several specialized doctorate programs specific to different disciplines and areas of study:

  • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)
  • Doctor of Engineering (EngD/PhD)
  • Doctor of Education (EdD/D.Ed)
  • Doctor of Social Science (DsocSci)
  • Doctor of Professional Studies (DProf)
  • Doctor of Architecture (DArch)
  • Doctor of Theology (Th.D)
  • Doctor of Divinity (DD/DDiv)
  • Doctor of Science STEM (Dsc/ScD)
  • Doctor of Science Arts & Humanities (DLitt/LitD)

When deciding which one to get, consider your immediate or long-term career goals — which degree would serve you best? In some cases, you can obtain a Ph.D. with just a bachelor’s degree, but often it’s recommended you get a master’s first for the research experience that will be required for a Ph.D.

As with anything, there are exceptions. Students in law school obtain a J.D. (Juris Doctor) but can then further obtain a master’s in a sub-specialty like tax or immigration law. The health care occupations of physical therapist and pharmacist are also doctorate programs obtained post undergrad.

Making your choice

As with any decision, weigh your options, list pros and cons, and go from there. Once you’ve narrowed your options , you’ll have a precise list of programs and institutions generated for your specific goals.

Should I Pursue A Master’s or A Ph.D.?

Shot of back of graduate looking into the distance with chin resting on hand at hooding ceremony

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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Master’s vs PhD — These are the Main Differences

Updated: July 18, 2022

Published: October 31, 2019

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.

phd vs master's

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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:

  • Career-oriented
  • 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.

Careers in the medical field often require a PhD

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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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Demystifying Graduate Degrees: Comparing Master’s vs. Doctorate

phd vs master's

You want a graduate degree — to continue exploring your passions, make discoveries or advance your career — but how do you turn that decision into a plan?

It starts with understanding the difference between a master’s and a PhD in your field. They differ in length, intensity, curriculum and career paths, so you’ll also need a clear idea of why you want to pursue a graduate degree to determine which one you should get.

What Is a Master’s Degree?

If you’ve completed your undergraduate degree, it might be time to ask, “What’s next?”

That’s where Master’s degrees can come in.

Whether you want to specialize in a particular area or get advanced skills in your profession, a master’s degree can help you get there in 1-2 years.

The most common types of master's degrees include:

  • Master of Arts (MA),
  • Master of Science (MS),
  • Master of Business Administration (MBA),
  • Master of Education (MEd),
  • and Master of Fine Arts (MFA). 

What do you learn in a master’s program?

The short answer? A lot.

Master’s degree programs are designed to build on the foundational knowledge gained during your undergraduate studies, and the curriculum focuses on advanced knowledge and skills in a particular field.

Here’s what you can expect to encounter in a master’s program:

Advanced coursework:  Master's programs provide advanced courses that build upon the foundational knowledge gained during your undergraduate studies. These courses delve deeper into specific topics within your field and often explore the latest research and developments. 

Specialization:  One of the primary goals of a master's program is to allow you to specialize in a particular area. Whether pursuing a Master of Arts, Master of Science, or a professional degree like an MBA, you can focus your studies on a specific subfield or concentration within your discipline. 

Research and analysis:   Many master's programs require you to engage in research projects and analytical work. This could involve conducting independent research under the guidance of a faculty advisor or participating in group research projects with fellow students. Through these research experiences, you’ll develop critical thinking and analytical skills, learn how to gather and evaluate relevant data and draw meaningful conclusions.

Practical applications and internships:  Some master's programs incorporate practical training opportunities like internships, practicums, or field experiences; hands-on experiences allow you to apply the knowledge and skills gained in the classroom to real-world settings.

Collaboration and networking:  A Master's program is a rich collaboration and networking environment. Collaborative projects, group discussions, and professional events allow you to exchange ideas and build connections within your field, often leading to long-lasting professional relationships and potential career opportunities.

Thesis project:   Outside of building skills like project management, problem-solving, project management, and effective communication, thesis projects in master's degree programs serve as a cornerstone for building advanced skills, expanding professional networks, and contributing to the body of knowledge in your respective field. 

Why get a master’s degree?

Career advancement: One primary advantage of getting a master’s degree is an edge in the job market. Employers value the specialized knowledge and advanced skills that come with a master’s degree, opening up new and exciting career opportunities.  The cherry on top? Individuals with a master’s degree often earn more than those without an advanced degree — you can take that to the bank, especially if you set yourself up for financial success during your studies. Flexibility: Another aspect to consider is the flexibility that a master’s degree offers. Many programs offer part-time or online options, allowing you to balance your studies with work or other commitments.  This flexibility can be particularly helpful if you’re already established in your career but want to gain additional qualifications.  Growth opportunities: Depending on your field, a master’s degree can be a stepping stone toward a PhD or other doctoral programs. It gives you a solid foundation in research methods and academic rigor — a boon if you want to pursue a career in academia or conduct advanced research.

What is a Doctoral Degree or PhD?

A doctoral degree is a terminal degree — it represents the pinnacle of academic achievement and is the most advanced degree you can attain. Doctoral students want to become authorities in their chosen fields and develop the skills to conduct independent and original research. 

Doctoral programs usually span 3-6 years of full-time study, during which students complete advanced coursework, pass comprehensive examinations, engage in extensive research and ultimately produce a dissertation that contributes new knowledge to the field. 

There are several types of doctoral degrees based on different academic and professional aspirations, including:

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD),
  • Doctor of Education (EdD),
  • And Doctor of Psychology (PsyD), among others. 

What do you learn in a doctoral program?

When you successfully defend your dissertation and complete your degree, you also become an expert in your field — but it doesn’t happen overnight. Here's what you can expect to encounter in a doctoral program:

Advanced research: If you’re looking for a hard emphasis on research, a doctoral program is the place to be. Over several years, PhD students engage in extensive research activities — including conducting independent research, producing scholarly publications, and contributing to the knowledge base of their field through original research contributions.

Theoretical and conceptual frameworks:  PhDs are an incredible opportunity to deepen your understanding of theoretical and conceptual frameworks in your field of study. You'll critically analyze existing theories, evaluate their applicability, and develop your theoretical frameworks to advance knowledge and understanding in your chosen area of research.

Advanced methodological training:  Because a dissertation is an original research project, you’ll gain advanced training in research methodologies and data analysis techniques, like designing robust research studies, collecting and analyzing data, and drawing valid and reliable conclusions from your research findings.

Critical thinking and intellectual independence: Both academia and industry employers highly value independent thinkers and workers. Doctoral programs foster critical thinking and intellectual independence by challenging you to evaluate existing research, identify gaps in knowledge, and propose innovative research ideas. Teaching and Mentoring Experience: Being a teacher or mentor is a great opportunity to share your hard-earned knowledge, and universities agree. Doctoral programs often provide opportunities to teach and mentor undergraduate students, develop effective pedagogical skills, and contribute to the academic community.

Dissertation project:  Your dissertation is the culmination of years of hard work within your field. By enrolling in a doctoral program, you’re also given the chance to participate in a significant and original research endeavor that demonstrates the expertise you’ve worked so hard to cultivate.

Why Get a Doctorate?

Having a doctorate doesn’t just open doors; it can kick them down. A doctorate might be right for you if you’re looking for a door to these things:

Expertise and specialization:  Doctoral degrees can be a labor of love. They help you delve deeper into a specific subject area, gaining expertise and specialization.

Research opportunities:  Extensive research training, opportunities for conducting original research, and contributing new knowledge to the academic community — these three things make a doctorate coveted by students, universities, and employers.

Salary potential and career advancement: In some fields, having a doctorate can lead to higher earning potential and increased salary opportunities. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics , doctoral degree holders made an average of $1,885 per week in 2020, while master’s degree holders made an average of $1,545 per week.

Contribution to society:  Doctoral research often addresses pressing societal issues, contributing to advancements in technology, healthcare, education, and other areas for the benefit of society — for many students, contributing to the greater good is just as rewarding as career advancement or personal development.

What’s the difference between a dissertation and a thesis?

You might have heard “thesis” and “dissertation” used interchangeably, but they’re not quite the same. Here are the general distinctions to consider:

  • A thesis is usually associated with a master's degree program. Students undertake a research project in the final stage of their degree.
  • It typically involves conducting original research or analyzing existing research to answer a specific research question.
  • The length of a thesis varies based on the field and program requirements, but it’s usually shorter than a dissertation.

Dissertation:

  • A dissertation is typically associated with a doctoral degree program. It is an extensive, in-depth research project that marks the culmination of a doctoral program.
  • in-depth exploration of a research topic
  • comprehensive literature review
  • methodology section
  • data collection and analysis
  • substantive discussion of findings and conclusions.
  • Dissertations are usually longer than theses and may take several years to complete.
  • Once you’ve completed your dissertation, you participate in a formal defense of the research, where you’ll present your findings to a committee of experts in the field.

Key Differences: Master's vs. PhD

Deciding between master's vs. phd programs.

“Should I get a master’s degree or a PhD?”

Answering that question can be exciting — and a bit intimidating. You must consider long-term career objectives, personal interests, and the time you can commit. Plus, the level of specialization you wish to achieve based on your career path is also a factor. Typically, a PhD is a prerequisite for those aspiring to research careers in academia, while professional roles in various industries may require only a master's degree. 

It’s still worth noting that students have the option of completing a master's degree first and then, based on their experiences and career aspirations, deciding whether to pursue a PhD.

Find the right graduate degree at SMU 

A graduate degree is a big investment, so investing in the right program is important.

SMU offers a diverse array of master's and PhD programs tailored to align with your unique interests and career goals, and personalized support, from the applicant to the graduate, is always available. 

Whether you're interested in pursuing a PhD in Chemistry or are almost finished with your MBA, we can help you find the right advanced degree.

This could just be the beginning of your journey. Get a closer look at applying to graduate programs of your choice with our guide, How to Get a PhD: A Guide to Choosing and Applying to PhD Programs .

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Doctoral degrees at SMU, and how you can choose the right program and thrive in it, in our Guide to Getting a PhD.

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Phd Vs. Master's: Which Degree Is Right For Me?

Many college students choose to go directly into the workforce once an undergraduate degree has been achieved, and others choose to continue their education by enrolling in graduate school. So, what type of degree is considered a graduate degree? Undergraduate degrees are associate and bachelor degrees.  Master's and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees at the postgraduate level are graduate degrees. Graduate school can be costly and requires much time and dedication from the potential student. Any person considering this type of education must be informed of both options.

Potential students often do not understand the difference between these two types of postgraduate degrees offered at the University of California Merced. Both degrees require a bachelor's undergraduate degree. Both will also require acceptance into the graduate school containing general requirements and specific requirements depending on the student's field. Those are where the similarities of the two end. The differences are much more defined. 

On average, a bachelor's degree will take four years to achieve. These four years are required for any postgraduate degree. Depending on the type of degree chosen, the second cycle degree will take approximately 2 to 6 years. How quickly the pupil intends to start their career will have to be taken into consideration. These lengthy-time constraints can be a detriment for many potential students. Most of the time, students going into graduate school are adults who need to begin their careers to support themselves and sometimes their families, and this amount of time may not be conducive to their plans.

Expenditure

Cost is one of the major considerations a potential student should account for. As of 2020, the average price of an undergraduate bachelor's degree for a public university in California is $1300 for an in-state student and $8000 for an out-of-state student. Private universities are more expensive, $20,000 regardless of the state of residence. On average, the second cycle degree or the master's can incur a cost of $17,000 for in-state upwards to $32,000 for out-of-state students per year. As discussed previously, the average master's degree takes approximately one to three years to obtain after the undergraduate degree has been obtained. To receive a Ph.D., the student must commit to approximately three to seven more years of education. One difference between a master’s degree and a Ph.D. degree at UC Merced is that 97% of all Ph.D. students are fully funded. Ph.D. students have their tuition and a living stipend covered through teaching assistant and research assistant positions and through fellowships.

What is the person's reasoning for wanting to achieve additional education? This can range from a larger salary, current or potential employment requirements, or career changes. Any of these reasons would be conducive to enrolling in a graduate program, specifically the master's degree program. This postgraduate degree is most beneficial to those already in the workforce looking to excel in their careers or change careers. There are times that companies will hire within but want a more advanced degree, so the person will seek out the degree to obtain a higher position. There are also times in which a person has a goal to change his or her career path. They may already have an undergraduate degree and decide to seek a higher education degree to change their careers. The reasons for entering the Ph.D. program can be much more specific. Most students enter this type of education or want to teach or provide some other way to advance the field further. 

The Learning Process

The learning process for each degree is very different. The master's program uses the undergraduate degree knowledge and puts it into practical formats and applications. The year(s) spent in this will consist of book study and in-person or online classes taught by professors. It will have work that will be graded and those grades recorded. Projects, including group projects, will make up the bulk of the study. A capstone course will also be required to accumulate all things learned into a practical application project, usually completed as a group. The Ph.D., on the other hand, is made up primarily of research. There may be classes involved with professors, but the bulk of the time will be used to complete a lengthy publishable research thesis. This type of education requires much time, and students can often not work full-time jobs and seek this degree. 

Once students have decided to further their education into graduate programs, they should thoroughly research how far they would like the instruction to reach. Are they wanting to get into the workforce while striving to obtain the degree? If so, then the master's is most likely the correct choice. Do they want the prestige that comes with the word Dr. in front of their name? Or perhaps they are striving to be an expert in a particular field? If this is the case, then the Ph.D. is the correct choice. Whichever choice is made, the acceptance and understanding of the time, money, and effort involved is a must. For more information on the types of degrees available, visit https://graduatedivision.ucmerced.edu/about/graddiv today.

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Master’s vs PhD/Doctorate Degrees – Key Differences

phd vs master's

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!

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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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phd vs master's

Master's vs Doctorate: Which Degree is Right for You?

Graduate degrees are becoming increasingly popular. 

According to the world’s largest and most sophisticated database of labor market and talent data from Burning Glass Technologies, 19% of U.S. job openings in the year 2018 requested a graduate degree. And that trend isn’t changing any time soon. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects master’s-level occupations to grow by 17% by 2026. Employment for doctoral- and professional-level degree is also projected to grow by about 13%. Both of these projections are much faster than the 7% average for all occupations. 

The demand for both master’s and doctorate degrees is high. But how do you know which level of educational attainment is right for you? Does your industry or career aspirations necessitate one degree or another? Will you personally benefit more from a master's or doctorate?

We’ll show you how to take all these factors into consideration to help choose if you should get a master’s degree, or if you should complete your master's and go on to pursue a doctorate degree.

Master's vs Doctorate: What are typical program requirements?

Whether you pursue a master’s degree or doctorate degree program, it’s a significant commitment of time, energy and finances. Before you choose, you should understand the requirements for not only getting into a program, but also completing your master’s or doctorate degree.

Masters vs Doctorate_ Overview of Degree Requirements2.png

Now that you have an understanding of what committing to a master’s degree or doctorate degree entails, compare the focus of the program and coursework. 

Master's vs Doctorate: What’s the difference in content and coursework?

The focus of master’s degrees and doctorate degrees is different. 

A master’s degree is designed to deepen career-oriented knowledge and skills. A doctorate degree is a heavily research-based degree, designed to develop critical research,analytical and writing skills in an effort to fill industry knowledge gaps.

Because of these different goals, the makeup of the coursework and content is also distinct.

Master’s programs feature three different types of courses:

  • Core courses: These courses are required to complete your master’s degree and are considered essential knowledge to advance your industry expertise.
  • Electives: These are a selection of courses that allow you to further specialize your degree with concentrated knowledge in specific areas. They can also be used to broaden your experience in related subject areas.
  • Capstone course (or thesis): The culmination of a master’s degree, a capstone course or thesis usually involves conducting research and presenting your findings.

Doctorate programs are broken down into four distinct parts:

  • Coursework: These advanced courses are required knowledge for passing your comprehensive exam. 
  • Research Core: These courses impart essential research, analytical and writing skills to prepare you to complete your dissertation.
  • Comprehensive exam: The comprehensive exam tests your understanding of key concepts learned through your coursework. Passing your comprehensive exam is essential to beginning your dissertation.
  • Dissertation: You work with a dissertation committee to identify a research topic. Then you complete in-depth research, analysis, and writing before you defend your original research to your dissertation committee. 

As you consider these degrees, decide which better fits your academic and professional goals, as well as your personal interests and learning style.

Master's vs Graduate: How much will the degree cost?

We know that cost is a top concern for individuals deciding what degree to pursue. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most difficult questions to answer. Cost estimates for a master’s degree can be anywhere from $30,000 to $120,000—and costs for doctorates can range just as widely. 

If you’re trying to evaluate the cost of a master’s vs doctorate degree you need to look at important factors like:

  • Type of institution: Whether you choose a public, private nonprofit or for-profit school will impact how much you pay in tuition. The reputation and rankings of a university also affect the cost of tuition. 
  • Time to graduation: How many courses you take at one time and the total number of credit hours you need to graduate affect the cost of both master's and doctorates. Doctorates depend highly on an individual’s time and commitment to completing the research and writing of an original dissertation. Also, keep your other personal and professional commitments in mind when estimating how long it will take to earn your degree (and how that will impact cost).
  • Transfer credit: If you have a professional certification, or have earned graduate-level course credit, you may be eligible to transfer credit toward your degree. Getting transfer credit can significantly reduce your total cost.

Remember: To complete a doctorate degree you must first complete a master’s degree. So if cost is a top concern, evaluate which institution and program will give you the best value. In some cases, you may even be able to complete both a master’s degree and doctorate degree at a lower cost than a master’s degree at a school with high tuition. 

Earning a doctorate is challenging and rewarding, but do you know what to really expect? Download this free guide for tips and insights to help you prepare for success.

Master's vs doctorate: what are the outcomes of each degree.

When it comes to the outcomes of a master’s or doctorate degree, you should look at three key factors: skillset, career prospects and salary expectations. Let’s dive into the differences between the outcomes of these two types of graduate degrees.

  • Skillset: Master’s degrees focus on the expert command of industry-specific skills, while working to develop critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. On the other hand, doctorate degrees are nearly the inverse—they heavily focus on research, analysis and writing in support of developing transferable skills that can be used to fill gaps in industry knowledge.
  • Career prospects: Career advancement is a primary goal for people who pursue master’s and doctorate degrees. Master’s degrees are seen as career-oriented degrees that prepare you for management and leadership positions. More and more, doctorate degrees are becoming the norm for top executive positions, as well as opportunities to transition your career into academia.
  • Income: Both master’s degrees and doctorate degrees significantly increase your salary expectations and lifetime earning potential. But which is worth more? According to the BLS, a master’s degree has the power to boost your earnings by 17% when compared to a bachelor’s degree, while a doctorate degree can bring in a salary 30% higher than a bachelor’s degree. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, an individual with a master’s degree can also earn more than $2.8 million in their lifetime, while a doctorate degree can earn you over $3.5 million.

Comparing the Benefits of Master's vs Doctorate Degrees

There are a lot of factors that go into choosing a master's vs doctorate degree. But as you evaluate all of the different aspects of these programs, make sure to keep your long-term goals in mind. We’ve outlined four key ways to compare the benefits of master's vs doctorate degrees against your goals.

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Master's vs Doctorate: Popularity meets possibility with online degrees

As demand increases for advanced degrees, professionals are looking for ways to make getting their graduate degree more attainable. That’s why online master’s and doctorate degrees are more popular than ever. Online degrees offer working professionals the opportunity to get their degree without stalling their career.

popularity-online-graduate-degrees.png

Getting your master’s degree or doctorate degree is a lifetime achievement that can help you advance your career. If you’re considering your options for a master’s or doctorate degree, explore Franklin University’s online master’s degrees and online doctorate degrees to find a program that can help you take your career to the next level.  

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PhD vs. Master’s in Biomedical Science: What’s the Difference?

PhD vs. Master’s in Biomedical Science: What’s the Difference?

Industry Advice Pharmaceutical Science Science & Mathematics

An advanced degree is all but required to land a position in the biomedical science field today. However, the depth of study and areas of focus covered during the pursuit of a master’s degree will differ greatly from that of a PhD. For this reason, it’s important that professionals identify their career aspirations within biomedical science, and tailor their choice in degree accordingly. 

Below we explore the differences in Northeastern’s biomedical science master’s and PhD programs and offer some advice on carving your path to success in this exciting field.

Biomedical Science Master's Degree

Pursuing a Master’s in Biomedical Science 

How long does it take to complete a master’s in biomedical science.

Northeastern’s master’s in biomedical science program takes an average of two years to complete. The program is designed to help students maintain a work-life balance , offering both full-time and part-time degree options.

What is the curriculum like in a master’s of biomedical science program?

This program is one of four tailored degrees offered within the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences. Of all the other niche areas of study—which include pharmacology, medicinal chemistry, and pharmaceutical sciences—the master’s in biomedical science program provides the most general and holistic view of the field. The curriculum ranges greatly, exploring fundamentals like pharmaceutical science and biochemistry, to practical applications such as research skills and ethics.

Students also have the opportunity to tailor their education to fit their desired career outcomes at the master’s level. 

“We offer a wide variety of electives both within [and] outside of the department,” says David Janero , director of the pharmaceutical sciences graduate program at Northeastern. These courses include those within Northeastern’s pharmaceutical sciences, pharmacology, pharmaceutics, biology, chemistry, nanomedicine, and biotechnology departments.

A Flexible Approach to Learning: Northeastern has designed all pharmaceutical sciences programs to offer the same fundamental courses, so that students can easily transfer their credits within the department if they decide later on that their interests have changed. “I often find that a person coming into the program…has some vague idea of what he or she may wish to do,” Janero says. “And after going through some of the courses, these ideas become refined. The flexibility in Northeastern’s programs is a very important and recognized part of mentorship.”

What are the hands-on opportunities like in a master’s of biomedical science program?

Northeastern’s master’s in biomedical science program offers extensive opportunities for experiential learning —a vital component of training in such a hands-on field.

“Master’s students have two very good opportunities in terms of career building at Northeastern,” Janero says. One option is to do a formal thesis, which can be based on anything from wet-lab research —which is identified by the handling of chemicals and “wet” materials in experiments—to literature—which often includes doing a deep-dive into existing publications on a specific topic. The other option is to spend time working with one of the top biomedical science organizations that make up Northeastern’s expansive professional network as part of a co-op .

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“I would say most of our master’s students want to do a co-op, and we have many biotech and pharma companies in the Boston/Cambridge ecosystem that avidly wish to take these students on,” Janero says. “The reputation of the co-op program at Northeastern has been so good that it doesn’t even follow the law of supply and demand…the demand for our students is outstanding in all of our pharmaceutical science programs.”

Did You Know: The Boston/Cambridge area is considered a national hub in the biomedical science industry. As such, Northeastern students have the unique opportunity of not only working with some of the top minds in the field, but developing integral connections with the organizations defining the future of biomedical science.

Alongside getting the chance to work and network with some of the top companies in the industry, students find great value in the chance to apply their skills hands-on during co-op.

“Students may read about this stuff, but to be a part of it and see it in day-to-day operation is unique,” Janero says. “It’s more than learning how the car is driven. You actually get into the front seat, behind the wheel, and I think that’s really important for students at the [graduate] level.”

What kind of career outcomes can graduates of a master’s in biomedical science program expect?

A master’s degree in biomedical science is designed to prepare professionals for hands-on positions in the field. Individuals at this level are likely to pursue “a technical-level position at the bench in a laboratory, actively doing research,” Janero explains. 

He notes that graduates of a master’s biomedical science master’s program can also parlay their knowledge into a role outside of the lab. Most often these individuals will have additional training or backgrounds in the application of biomedical science—such as marketing, legal, sales, etc.—that they wish to work in.

Some of the top positions for those with a master’s in biomedical science include biomedical laboratory technician, biomedical scientist, clinical research associate, medical writer, and medical chemist.

Pursuing a PhD in Biomedical Science

How long does it take to complete a phd in biomedical science.

It can take four to five years for students to complete a PhD program in biomedical science. 

In some cases, however, students who have already completed their master’s can fast-track the completion of their PhD within the same university. This occurs most often at universities (like Northeastern) that offer both a master’s and PhD in biomedical science. Since the faculty of both programs are aware of how the curricula overlap, they are willing to make adjustments for those who have completed a master’s so that they don’t have to repeat foundational coursework.

“We had a student this year…who was on the medicinal chemistry track, and is now starting his PhD in the fall,” Janero recalls. “He has already taken and done very well in his master’s courses, so he doesn’t need to retake any of that. He’s proven himself, so we can start him off at an advanced level.”

What is the curriculum like in a biomedical science PhD program?

The PhD program at Northeastern offers a cross-disciplinary study of some of the most vital practices pertaining to biomedical research. This includes the integration of human (patho)biology, and drug action, invention, and clinical utility. 

Students will apply their skills both in the classroom and in hands-on research environments, exploring common topics ranging from drug design and profiling to toxicology and pharmaceutical biochemistry/cell biology.

Another core component of a PhD candidate’s curriculum is the completion of their dissertation. During this time, students have the chance to identify a topic of interest, conduct their own research, and sometimes even lead a team of master’s students through the research process.

Did You Know: Mentorship is an integral component of the biomedical science program at Northeastern. “At the PhD level, the role of mentorship—individually as well as at the level of the dissertation committee—is very critical in guiding students…so that they come out with not only the fundamental knowledge in the field, but also the ability to adapt and cope with new information, turn that information into knowledge, and apply that knowledge in a positive and productive way.” 

What are the hands-on opportunities like in a biomedical science PhD program?

Another significant difference between a master’s and a PhD in biomedical science is an elevated focus on lab work. “The main purpose of a PhD is getting into a laboratory as quickly as possible,” Janero says.

What happens within a lab setting also differs for students at each level. For example, where master’s students may have the chance to contribute to an ongoing project in the lab—and carve out their niche area of focus—PhD candidates are “charged with independently and continuously contributing new knowledge to the field,” Janero says. They may also be tasked with overseeing or guiding the work of master’s students, effectively honing their leadership and managerial skills within a research environment, as well.

What kind of career outcomes can graduates of a biomedical science PhD program expect?

As a PhD requires students to further their understanding of the field and produce novel findings based on elaborate, personal research, individuals with this degree are often quite flexible in their work. This allows them to specialize in a certain aspect of biomedical science, or tailor their career path to fit their unique interests—such as biomedical sales, marketing, law, and more.

For those who want to pursue hands-on research in a lab environment, a PhD can still be a strategic move. This degree often allows students to advance into a more managerial role within a lab, overseeing or leading the work conducted by those with master’s-level training.

Some of the top careers for those with a PhD in biomedical science include senior biomedical scientist, principal investigator, medical sales director, pharmaceutical marketing manager, tenure track biomedical science professor, and more.

Advancing Your Career in Biomedical Science with a Degree from Northeastern

The faculty within Northeastern’s master’s and PhD programs are dedicated to crafting the unique educational experience each student needs to get ahead in their desired career within the vast biomedical science field.

Janero explains that, at the start of a student’s time at Northeastern, he and his colleagues will make a point to ask them “‘What do you feel, at this point, is your career trajectory?’ and ‘What courses does the university at large offer—not merely our department—to address these career projections?’ Then we’ll look far and wide at what that student needs in order to get him/her as prepared as possible for the future.”

This is the goal of career-oriented programs like Northeastern’s—to meet students where they are and help provide them with the knowledge, skills, and experiences they need to get ahead.

Ready to take the next step in advancing your biomedical science career? Explore the master’s in biomedical science and PhD in biomedical science programs at Northeastern, and get in touch with an enrollment coach today for advice on which might be the best fit for your goals.

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PhD vs Masters in Psychology

phd vs master's

Key Takeaways

  • A master’s degree in psychology takes about 2-4 years to complete, while a PhD takes 4-7 years to complete.
  • A master’s degree in psychology prepares graduates for careers in counseling, therapy, or organizational psychology.
  • A PhD in psychology can offer a deeper expertise and broader opportunities in research, academia, and specialized fields.

Are you stuck at a point in your career despite having a bachelor’s degree in psychology? Acquiring an advanced degree can help you progress and pursue rewarding career opportunities. This comprehensive guide on PhD vs master’s in psychology covers all that you’ll need to know to make an informed decision.

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Phd vs master’s in psychology.

Individuals seeking an advanced degree in psychology have two options: A PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) in psychology and a master’s in psychology (either an MA, Master of Arts, or an MS, Master of Science).

Your choice will significantly influence your career trajectory. A PhD is typically research-focused and oriented towards academia, while a master’s program is often more practice-oriented and can lead to licensure for clinical work.

When choosing between a master’s in psychology and a PhD, it’s crucial to consider your career aspirations, academic interests, time availability, and financial resources to make the best decision for your future.

Overview of PhD in Psychology

PhD in psychology , also known as a doctorate in psychology or doctoral degree, is a graduate degree that emphasizes original research and is designed for those aiming to become professors or researchers in academia or clinical psychologists. The program dives deep into complex statistics and research methodologies. You’ll typically need a bachelor’s degree and sometimes a master’s as a prerequisite.

A PhD program will often include comprehensive examinations, a thesis based on original research, and a longer timeline for completion, usually between 4 to 7 years. Due to the rigorous research component, many PhD programs offer various forms of funding, including assistantships, which may cover tuition and offer stipends.

Graduates with a PhD may pursue careers in a range of fields including health services, law, business, and government. Additionally, obtaining a doctoral degree is necessary for those looking to achieve licensure as a practicing psychologist.

Overview of Master’s in Psychology

Master’s in psychology, which can be obtained as a Master of Arts (MA) or a Master of Science (MS), generally takes a shorter time to complete than a doctorate—around 2 to 4 years. A master’s degree  typically requires about 30 credits of graduate-level coursework and may include a capstone project or thesis.

The master’s curriculum focuses on giving you practical experience through fieldwork or internships, preparing you for careers in areas such as school psychology, family therapy, or counseling psychology. With a master’s degree, you can expect to work in varied settings like hospitals, private practice, educational institutions, or business corporations.

Although a master’s degree may provide various career opportunities, for certain positions, especially those in clinical settings where you’re looking to work with patients, further licensure might be necessary. Additionally, those with a master’s degree may also work as research assistants in larger research projects, under the guidance of PhD holders.

A Comparison Between PhD and Master’s in Psychology

Before deciding between a PhD and a master’s in psychology, it’s important to understand how these degrees prepare you for different career paths and involve different financial and time commitment levels.

Similarities

  • Prerequisite : Master’s and PhD degrees equip you with a deeper understanding of psychology  and a completed bachelor’s degree  is required to enroll.
  • Research : In both programs, you will complete research projects to varying degrees and gain extensive knowledge of psychology.
  • Employment : Both programs prepare you for diverse career opportunities within the field of psychology, such as positions in academia, clinical settings, or business.

Master’s and PhD degrees equip you with a deeper understanding of psychology, and require you to have completed a bachelor’s degree . In both graduate programs, you’ll be involved in research projects to varying degrees and gain foundational knowledge that can contribute to diverse career opportunities within the field of psychology, such as positions in academia, clinical settings, or business.

Therapist showing a kid's drawing to her parents during a family therapy session

Differences

  • Education : A PhD is usually focused on preparing you for a career in academia or advanced research positions. You will spend a significant amount of time conducting original research and completing a dissertation. Whereas, a master’s degree typically takes less time and is often seen as a stepping stone to a doctoral degree or a terminal degree.
  • Licensure and career: If you’re aiming for roles that require licensure, like a licensed therapist or clinical psychologist, the path can differ. PhD programs usually include the required internships and practical experiences for licensure. Some master’s programs may also include them but most often require additional supervised clinical hours post-graduation.
  • Time required: Completing a PhD can take anywhere from 4 to 7 years, whereas a master’s program can be finished in 1 to 3 years.
  • Graduate school demand: Acceptance to PhD programs can be highly competitive due to funding opportunities like assistantships that cover tuition and offer stipends. For master’s programs, funding is less common, and they’re generally in higher demand.
  • Tuition and funding : PhD students often receive tuition waivers and stipends through teaching or research assistantships, while master’s students may need to rely on scholarships, loans, or out-of-pocket payments to fund their program.

Major Distinguishing Factor

The most prominent distinction lies in the focus of the degree: A PhD is research-intensive, aiming to produce scholars who contribute original research to the field and may continue to teach or lead advanced studies. On the other hand, a master’s degree is more about direct practical application, preparing you for immediate employment within various psychology-related roles .

Whether you pursue a PhD in psychology for an academic or high-level research career or opt for a master’s to begin work sooner in a practical setting, understanding these differences is vital for aligning your education with your career aspirations.

When to Consider a PhD in Psychology

Enrolling in a PhD in psychology program signifies a commitment to deepen your expertise in the field and is a step in the right direction if your career aspirations include academia or high-level research positions. If you’re driven by a passion for original research and have a strong desire to contribute to the body of knowledge in mental health, a doctoral program is what you should aim for.

  • Academic and teaching careers : With a PhD, you become qualified for faculty positions at universities where you can teach, mentor graduate students, and lead significant research projects.
  • Higher salary potential : Although it depends on several factors, a PhD graduate may earn a higher salary than a master’s graduate, especially in roles like university professor or specialty researcher.
  • Licensure and professional recognition : A PhD is often required for licensure as a clinical psychologist. This credential is important for practicing independently or holding senior clinical positions.

Here’s a quick breakdown of careers where a PhD is particularly beneficial:

With the demand for mental health professionals on the rise, job opportunities also expand. Your contribution to graduate studies could affect change and influence the direction of your chosen field. Additionally, funding for a doctoral program, though competitive, often covers tuition and provides a stipend, easing financial obstacles in your educational journey.

Remember, a PhD is a long-term investment in your education and career. It’s tailor-made for those who envision a future steeped in research, education, and advancing the psychological sciences.

Woman wearing graduation robes and holding her graduation cap

When to Consider a Master’s in Psychology

If you’re contemplating higher education in psychology or aiming to improve and increase your career prospects without the extensive commitment of a doctoral program, a master’s in psychology  could be the right fit for you.

  • Career and licensure:  If you desire to start practicing sooner, many roles in counseling, social work, and mental health require only a master’s degree for entry. This path can lead to licensure as a professional counselor or a marriage and family therapist, getting you into the field quicker.
  • Education and teaching:  For teaching at a high school or community college level, a master’s degree is often enough. Educational institutions value the focused expertise a master’s program provides.
  • Cost and duration:  Financial considerations are vital. Master’s programs generally take less time - typically 2 years - and psychology master’s programs present more affordable tuition options  compared to a PhD, meaning less potential student debt.
  • Job opportunities:  With a growing demand for mental health professionals, a master’s degree can open various career opportunities in both government and private practice. Employers appreciate the diversity of skills that graduates bring to a wide array of jobs in the field.
  • Funding:  While funding is more limited at the master’s level than for PhD programs, the general investment is often lower. This balances out, especially when considering the earlier salary earning potential due to a shorter education period.

Remember, you want to align your educational choices with your career aspirations. If your goal is to make an impact in the mental health sector without a focus on research or academia, a master’s degree could be your gateway to a rewarding professional journey.

PhD vs Master’s in Psychology: Which is Better?

When deciding between a PhD and a master’s in psychology, consider your career goals and the skills required. Each program equips you with a different set of credentials.

Master’s in psychology:

  • Education : Requires less time, typically 1-2 years
  • Career opportunities : Primarily suited for those seeking to enter the workforce quickly Job roles may include human resources, market research analysts, and social services managers
  • Licensure : A master’s may lead to licensure for clinical practice in some states
  • Tuition : Often less expensive due to the shorter duration of the program
  • Salary and earnings potential : Pays less than a PhD graduate

PhD in Psychology:

  • Education : A more extensive educational journey, often 4-7 years, including a dissertation
  • Career opportunities : Ideal if you are aiming for a career in academia, teaching at the university level, or high-level research positions
  • Licensure : Offers a pathway to becoming a licensed clinical psychologist
  • Tuition : Psychology doctoral programs  can be more expensive, they may also offer more funding opportunities, such as stipends and teaching assistantships
  • Salary and earnings potential : Generally higher due to the qualifications for specialized and senior roles

Industrial-organizational psychologists  and clinical psychologists  are examples of roles where a doctorate might significantly impact your earnings potential and job market competitiveness. A doctoral program prepares you for rigorous research and academic responsibilities, potentially in the field of mental health.

Deciding which is “better” between a PhD or a master’s degree heavily relies on your personal career trajectory and how you define success within the area of psychology. If your aim is to quickly join the workforce within a clinical setting or a corporate environment, a master’s could serve your needs. Should your aspirations include teaching at the university level or conducting advanced research, a PhD will offer you the necessary credentials.

Woman lying on a sofa couch while her therapist listens to her during their session

Related Questions

Is a master’s in psychology the same as a phd.

Master’s programs in psychology and related fields vary in their emphasis on research. While some may include research components, others may focus more on practical applications. It’s important to research individual programs to determine their research orientation and align them with your career goals.

How long is a PhD in psychology?

Pursuing a PhD in psychology is a rigorous journey , typically lasting between 4 to 7 years. This duration includes advanced coursework, extensive research endeavors, and the completion of a dissertation. The exact timeline can vary based on factors such as program structure, research focus, and individual progress.

Is it better to have a Master’s or PhD?

Both degrees are valuable. A PhD offers deeper expertise and broader opportunities in research, academia, and specialized fields. A master’s degree provides valuable skills for careers in counseling, therapy, or organizational psychology.

When choosing between a PhD and master’s degree, it’s important to reflect on your professional aims and the kind of educational experience you prefer. While a master’s program provides foundational knowledge and professional skills, a PhD will allow you to go deeper into research methodologies and advanced scholarly study.

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PhD vs Master’s: What You Need to Know

Updated on 15 march, 2024.

Kanika Pruthi

Kanika Pruthi

Sr. content writer & study abroad expert.

Kanika Pruthi

The PhD vs Masters   question bugs many young aspirants with bachelor’s degrees. Now that you have an undergraduate qualification, which is the best option out of the two? It may get confusing, since some PhD programs accept students with bachelor’s degrees. Alternatively, many students first complete master’s courses before applying for PhDs.

Table of Contents

  • PhD vs Master’s Courses- Highlights

PhD vs Master’s - Content and Coursework

  • PhD vs Masters - Cost

PhD vs Masters - Application Process

Phd vs masters - eligibility criteria, phd vs masters - career prospects.

Here is a guide to the core differences and how they align with your career/academic objectives. 

PhD vs Master’s Courses- Highlights 

Here are some key-highlights worth mentioning with regard to the differences between PhD and master’s programs. 

Here are some core differences between master’s and PhD programs in this category. 

Master’s Programs- 

  • Some types of degrees include MA, MFA, MSc, MRes, MM, MBA, MPA, MPH, MSW, MArch, MEng, and MEd.
  • These degrees offer qualifications that certify expertise and knowledge at a higher level in any chosen discipline. 
  • Every master’s program has its own courses required for graduation. 
  • Master’s programs also have elective courses that students may choose as per their interests. 
  • These courses may require a thesis if they are research-based. At the end of such courses, students have to undertake research on any specific topic and write a thesis that showcases their findings. 
  • Examinations are required for graduating. 

PhD Programs- 

  • Doctoral or PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) degrees are offered. 
  • These are research degrees, where students undertake research work on any aspect and then transform the same into a dissertation or thesis at the conclusion of the course. 
  • This has to be presented to an expert panel where students may defend their findings and answer questions. 
  • PhD programs involve coursework required by the university. 
  • Outside coursework, students have to do research independently after choosing a topic with their advisors. 
  • Doctorate programs usually include examinations for testing the knowledge of students. 
  • A dissertation has to be written about the findings of research projects and presented to a committee. 

PhD vs Masters - Cost 

Master’s program costs may vary across universities, depending on the location and subject. However, they are more affordable than PhD programs which require more time to complete and require a mix of both coursework and independent research. However, some PhD programs may offer stipends for researchers which may help cover tuition costs and living expenditure. On average, master’s courses may require anywhere around $20,000-45,000 per year. PhD programs, on the other hand, may require anywhere between $28,000-55,000 per year. 

The application process varies for master’s programs. You have to apply mostly on the official websites of universities by filling up the requisite forms and submitting documents like your educational transcripts, recommendations and references (if required), proof of funds, English language proficiency (if required), and so on. For PhD programs, you have to apply online at the websites of universities after selecting your area of research and contacting potential supervisors. You should also submit your application after checking the funding options that are available. 

The eligibility criteria for both master’s and PhD programs vary across universities. However, here are some of the general criteria for both. 

Master’s Courses: 

  • Bachelor’s degree or international equivalent. 
  • English language proficiency 
  • GRE/GMAT scores if required 

PhD Courses: 

  • Statement of Purpose
  • Letters of Recommendation 
  • College and University Transcripts

Here’s taking a closer look at the career prospects offered by both these courses. 

Here are some jobs after PhD degrees with their average annual salaries according to Payscale. 

Here are some jobs after master’s degrees with their average annual salaries according to Payscale. 

As you can see, there are several intrinsic differences between master’s programs and PhD courses. You should evaluate the pros and cons of both these degrees for your chosen career pathway and then finalize your decision. 

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Is it better to have a master’s degree or PhD?

PhD qualifications are the highest in any particular field. It may have a higher impact than a master’s course, which of course, has more impact in comparison to bachelor’s degrees. In some cases, master’s degrees are enough to build careers in various job-oriented roles, while PhD qualifications are a must for academics, research, and teaching in many cases. 

Is a master’s course harder than a PhD?

The difficulty levels may vary, depending on the subject chosen for a master’s course and the topic of research for a PhD program. In many cases, PhDs may seem harder due to the longer time and extensive research work required. 

Can I do a PhD without a master’s degree?

While most students apply for PhD programs after completing their master’s degrees, there are some PhDs which admit those with undergraduate degrees. It all depends on your chosen academic or professional pathway, understanding of the discipline, knowledge, experience, and various other factors.

Kanika has 5+ years of experience as a writer and content developer. She has written for a wide range of industry verticals, including hospitality, restaurants, non-profits, finance, IT, HR, technology, payroll, and education. She has worked as a creator for a few leading companies and has also helped brands grow through her creative writing.

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MS vs PhD: Which Psychology Degree Should You Get?

An  undergraduate degree  proves a great starting point for people interested in careers involving psychology. To advance into occupations involving greater responsibility and pay, however, generally requires a graduate degree.

For instance, a master’s degree in psychology is one of the necessities to become a licensed therapist, such as a marriage and family therapist – a career the  Bureau of Labor Statistics  (BLS) predicts to grow a whopping 16% between 2020-2030. And becoming a  psychologist  – a position with an average median annual salary of $82,180 – requires earning a doctorate in psychology.

What Are MS and PhD in Psychology Degrees For?

The  MS (Master of Science) in Psychology  and the  PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) in Psychology  are degrees for people interested in advanced study in the discipline. Students obtain a greater understanding of human behavior and how to help others. Degree earners are often interested in careers as therapists, licensed psychologists, researchers, or professors.

Choosing Between a Master’s Degree in Psychology vs. a Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology Program

The choice between pursuing a Master’s Degree in Psychology vs. a PhD in Psychology boils down to individual interests and career aspirations. Many students find a MS in Psychology sufficient for the types of jobs they want. Others discover a doctorate necessary for the occupations to which they aspire.

What Is a MS in Psychology?

An MS in Psychology is a graduate degree that prepares recipients for a variety of careers. It also can serve as a building block to entering doctoral studies, and an MS program typically takes about two years to complete. Online MS in Psychology programs sometimes offers accelerated options in which ambitious students can finish in around 18 months.

While coursework varies by institution and personal interests, students in psychology master’s programs often take these classes:

  • Lifespan development
  • Research methodology
  • Cognitive psychology
  • Social psychology
  • Personality
  • Foundations of therapy
  • Family systems theory
  • Abnormal psychology

Some students focus on general psychology. Others gear their master’s program to a specific area. Some niche choices include:

  • Educational psychology
  • Forensic psychology
  • Clinical psychology
  • Industrial-organizational psychology
  • Sport psychology
  • Health psychology
  • Counseling psychology
  • Child and adolescent development
  • Applied behavior analysis

Who Should Get a MS in Psychology?

Students who want to expand their knowledge of psychology beyond the undergraduate level often seek a master’s degree. Some students pursue an MS to become more attractive candidates to schools when they apply to doctoral programs. 

Others enter the workforce after receiving their MS in psychology. They find careers in the following fields:

  • Advertising
  • Human resources
  • Criminal justice
  • Social services
  • Mental health

What Can You Do with a MS in Psychology?

Individuals who have earned a Master’s in Psychology find their degree a gateway to various types of jobs dealing with people and what influences their behavior. A sample of possible occupations is listed below.

What Is a PhD In Psychology?

A PhD in psychology is the highest-level degree within the discipline. Earning it signifies academic excellence and dedication to the field. In addition to mastering psychological theories and concepts, PhD candidates learn how to advance scientific knowledge through their own original research.

Who Should Get a PhD In Psychology?

Obtaining a PhD in psychology is a rigorous process. It involves classwork, passing an oral exam demonstrating competency, and completing a dissertation. Practicums, internships, and teaching experiences may also be part of the program.

Students thinking about entering such a program should possess a  strong background in psychology , such as a bachelor’s and/or master’s degree. They also should look closely at their career goals and decide whether a PhD puts them on the right path.

What Can You Do with a PhD In Psychology?

The expertise obtained from earning a PhD in Psychology opens doors to a variety of careers. Three sample positions include:

Many PhDs remain in academia. They teach classes at colleges and junior colleges as well as perform research in their area of interest within the field of psychology. The BLS lists the mean annual wage for postsecondary psychology teachers as $85,050. 6

Clinical psychologists diagnose and treat a variety of mental, emotional, and behavioral problems. Some specialize in certain areas, such as treating depression or eating disorders. Others work with specific populations, such as children or the elderly. The median yearly salary for a clinical psychologist in 2020 was $79,820 per the BLS. 7

These professionals apply their knowledge of psychology to the workplace. Companies and governmental organizations hire them to examine issues such as productivity, morale, teamwork, hiring, and organizational development. Their suggestions lead to workplace improvements. The BLS reports the median annual salary for an industrial-organizational psychologist in 2020 as $96,270. 7

PsyD Vs PhD at a Glance

Individuals wishing to earn a doctorate have another option besides a PhD in Psychology. They may pursue a PsyD (Doctor of Psychology). Selecting which to earn depends on the student’s educational and career interests.

In general, PsyD programs:

  • Focus heavily on applied psychology
  • Take 4-7 years to complete
  • Attract students interested in working as therapists inc community mental health, hospital, and private practice settings

By comparison, PhD programs in psychology:

  • Focus extensively on generating new knowledge through scientific research
  • Attract students interested in remaining in academia as professors and researchers, though many do  seek licensure and become practicing psychologists

What to Look for in Psychology Graduate Degree Programs

Online vs. on-campus learning.

Whether a student wishes to pursue a master’s degree or a doctorate, choices exist regarding the learning format. Some schools offer graduate-level psychology programs online. Choosing such a route can prove beneficial in terms of access, flexibility, and cost. 

Online studies remove geographical barriers when selecting an institution, which opens up a greater pool from which to choose. Remaining at home eliminates expenses related to travel and campus housing, and students with spouses or children do not need to upend their family’s lives to further their education and careers.

Students seeking online degrees should check the terms, however. Some programs include short residency requirements. Likewise, individuals may need to go to campus or other physical sites to complete research projects, internships, practicums, or other hands-on experiences.

Of course, regular on-site programs remain an option for students preferring traditional graduate school. A consistent schedule and the social aspect of attending classes physically alongside others still appeal to many students.

Psychology Certification and Licensure

Psychology-related occupations often require state licensure. Knowing the specifics for the state in which one hopes to find employment can guide educational and career choices and prevent unwelcome surprises down the line.

Psychologists, for example, typically need to complete the following:

  • A PsyD or a PhD in Psychology
  • An internship
  • A post-doc or 1-year supervised professional experience after the internship
  • A passing score on the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology 
  • Completion of a dissertation or case study

States usually require all licensed therapists to complete the following:

  • A master’s degree
  • A range of 2,000-4,000 hours of post-degree supervised clinical experience
  • A successful exam score

Applying to Psychology Doctoral Programs

Acceptance into a Doctoral in Psychology program involves applying to individual institutions. Competition for spots can be substantial, so candidates should apply to several schools in order to increase the chances of getting in. 

Some places are more selective than others and may present harder entrance requirements. Someone who has not completed an undergraduate degree in psychology or a sufficient number of psychology courses will likely need to address this gap before seeking admission.

Admissions Requirements for PsyD and PhD Programs

Depending on where a student applies, the prospective school may ask for the following::

  • Official transcripts from past collegiate studies at the undergraduate and graduate level, including classes taken, GPA, and degree(s) awarded with date
  • Proof of any internships, certifications, or licenses
  • A resume of work history, including dates and duties
  • A description of other relevant activities, such as volunteer work or participation in professional associations
  • Scores from the GRE and the GRE Psychology Test
  • 2-3 letters of recommendation that support the candidacy
  • Responses to essay prompts
  • A personal statement explaining why the student wants to pursue this degree
  • Interviews with faculty

Note that some programs look only at candidates who already possess a Master’s Degree in Psychology or a closely related field. Others accept students with a bachelor’s degree into a combined master’s/doctoral program.

Accreditation

Selecting a school with regional accreditation ensures the institution has met certain educational standards. Choose one approved by the  U.S. Department of Education  or the nonprofit  Council for Higher Education Accreditation  (CHEA). Your school’s specific graduate psychology program also should be accredited by one or both of these organizations.

Another important factor is checking if the program is accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). 8  Satisfying licensure requirements in some states can be problematic without APA accreditation. Likewise, employers will often look at only job candidates who graduated from an APA-approved program and completed an APA-accredited internship.

Graduate Psychology Career Resources

The following organizations provide further information on licensure for different careers:

  • The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards
  • The National Board for Certified Counselors
  • The Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards
  • Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification
  • Someone possessing a PhD is not a medical doctor. A PhD is a doctor of philosophy. In recognition of the expertise obtained from completing this rigorous course of study, holders of a PhD are entitled to use the title “Doctor” if they so choose.
  • One isn’t better than the other, just different. Which degree to pursue depends on individual interests and career aspirations. Aspiring therapists and counselors often choose a master’s program. Those wishing to become licensed psychologists must complete a doctoral program. Also, PhD programs focus heavily on research and often lead to working in an academic setting or consulting.
  • Some career options for people who earn a graduate degree in psychology include marriage and family therapist, mental health counselor, substance abuse counselor, counseling psychologist, researcher, and psychology professor.
  • A person holding a PhD in psychology is not a medical doctor and usually cannot write prescriptions. A few states do allow psychologists with training in psychopharmacology to prescribe a limited number of psychiatric medications. The majority of prescriptions, however, are written out by psychiatrists since they are MDs.
  • https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/marriage-and-family-therapists.htm#tab-1
  • https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm#tab-1
  • https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/substance-abuse-behavioral-disorder-and-mental-health-counselors.htm#tab-1
  • https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/market-research-analysts.htm
  • https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/training-and-development-specialists.htm
  • https://www.bls.gov/oes/2017/may/oes251066.htm
  • https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm#tab-5
  • https://www.accreditation.apa.org/accredited-programs

phd vs master's

  • Second Master’s or PhD? – A Comparison
  • Types of Doctorates

A second Master’s degree is best suited for those who want to work in industry, but first either want to acquire additional knowledge in their current field or move to a new one. A PhD is best suited to those who want to gain advanced research skills and expertise in their current field and pursue a career in research or academia.

Introduction

It’s common for Master’s students to be plagued by the thought of what they will do next as they near the end of their current degree. Whether it’s taking a gap year, starting their career or continuing education, one thing is clear: there are many possibilities.

If you decide to stay in education, you’ll likely at some point consider whether it’s better to do a second Master’s or a PhD. You’d be right to give this serious thought, as the two degrees have significant differences, from their costs and durations, to the career paths they offer.

This page explains the differences between a second Master’s and a PhD, the pros and cons of each, and will help you to decide which of the two degrees is best for you.

Second Master’s vs PhD

Level of specialisation, master’s.

A Master’s degree, regardless of whether it’s an MSc, MRes or MPhil, aims to provide you with targeted knowledge that builds on what you would have learnt from your undergraduate degree. Although each type of Master’s degree has its own focus, such as an MSc on practical knowledge and an MPhil on research skills, the specialisation they offer isn’t as in-depth as that offered by a PhD. This is because they have a wider curriculum and usually utilise several teaching methods, including lectures and tutorials, which provide a range of knowledge around several closely related subjects.

PhDs are the highest form of academic qualification you can obtain and offer more specialised knowledge than any Master’s degree. Unlike Master’s degrees, which are based on a mixture of teaching methods and curriculum, PhDs are purely research degrees and focus on a specific research question.

A second Master’s degree will provide you with specialist knowledge in various subjects in your field. A doctoral degree will provide you with research skills and expert knowledge in a single topic within your field.

Programme Duration

Most Master’s courses take one year to complete, with an MPhil two years. However, the exact duration will depend on your specific course, type of Master’s and university.

A PhD lasts on average three to four years , with part-time studies lasting up to eight years.

Since a doctorate lasts several times longer than a Master’s, it requires a much greater commitment.

Programme Cost

The cost of a second Master’s degree will vary depending on its type, subject and host universities. Based on an analysis by FindAMaster’s , which summarises tuition fees from the International and Postgraduate Fees Survey 2019 , the average academic tuition fee per year for a Master’s degree in the UK is:

The average tuition fee per year for a PhD in the UK is £4,407 for home/EU students and £19,600 for international students .

There are other fees associated with doctoral research projects that aren’t present with Master’s studies. These include bench fees, travel costs for collaborations and conferences, and potential writing up fees for late thesis submissions.

Annually, a second Master’s degree is twice as expensive than a PhD for home/EU students, and slightly cheaper for international students. However, considering the typical duration of these programmes, a PhD becomes significantly more expensive; twice as expensive for home/EU students and four times as expensive for international students:

Notes: (1) The tuition fee values for the second Master’s is based on the average fees for an MSc. (2) The above table assumes a second Master’s duration of 1 year and a PhD duration of 4 years. (3) The fees and durations are indicative – the exact values vary depending on the course and university.

It’s also important to bear in mind that many PhD programmes come with funding which covers the cost of their fees. Many funding packages also include a living allowance (known as a stipend) which is comparable to a low salary. It is usually much more difficult to secure non-repayable funding for a Master’s programme unless it’s integrated with a PhD programme.

Employability

The skills and knowledge gained through a Master’s degree are general enough to apply to other relevant disciplines. For example, a Master’s degree in statistics would enable you to work in finance, medical analysis, and specific engineering fields etc. Due to this, a second Master’s could help make you suitable for an even wider range of professional fields.

Because a PhD focuses on advanced research methods and a specific research question as opposed to the broad field, your career path is usually refined to the more advanced positions which require expert knowledge. This doesn’t mean that you cannot apply your skills elsewhere, but most PhD holders remain in their field after completing their studies.

It’s worth noting, however, that there is a growing trend for PhD holders to use the transferable skills they acquired during their degree to successfully reposition themselves in careers outside of academia. In fact, STEM PhD holders are particularly sought after in the financial sector because of their proven ability to perform complex tasks under strict deadlines.

Both a second Master’s and a PhD offer excellent employment opportunities. However, a second Master’s usually offers greater career flexibility across industries, especially at the beginning of a career. A doctorate opens up the more demanding positions within a field, but can sometimes make it more difficult to change industries.

Finding a PhD has never been this easy – search for a PhD by keyword, location or academic area of interest.

Advantages and Disadvantages of a Second Master’s

Improving skills:  A second Master’s can strengthen your skills within your current field. For example, suppose you have an MEng in Biomedical Engineering. Here, you know of the technical aspects and their application, but you do not necessarily know how to innovate and develop them further. You could fill this skills gap with an MRes or an MPhil that would provide you with complimentary research and investigatory skills. Improving your skills won’t only help you advance faster in your career faster but may also open up future roles that would not otherwise be available to you.

Career change:  After completing your first Master’s degree, you may decide that the field is no longer suitable for you. In these scenarios, a second Master’s degree can facilitate career changes. This will have obvious limitations, for example, you shouldn’t expect to be able to do a Master’s in Biomedical Engineering with a Master’s in Classical Literature, however, if you already have a Master’s in another type of engineering, this transition would be possible.

Bridge between different Industries: In STEM subjects, there is extensive interaction between different industries. Although this interaction has always existed, it has grown steadily as more industries try to innovate and tackle more ambitious projects. There’s an obvious need for multidisciplinary roles, and a second Master’s degree in a relevant subject can make you desirable for this reason.

Disadvantages

Perception: If you carry out a second Master’s in a field unrelated to your first, even if to facilitate a career change, it can lead to potential employers perceiving you as unfocused. Although this shouldn’t be the case for large multidisciplinary organisations, it may deter the more specialised companies.

Salary: While a second relevant Master’s in the same subject field may increase your earning potential, a second unrelated Master’s is unlikely to. Although an unrelated second Master’s isn’t a disadvantage if being used to facilitate a career change, it will probably be an unnecessary use of time and money if you intend to stay within your current career path.

Advantages and Disadvantages of a PhD

Establishing yourself as an Expert: Any individual who holds a doctorate is considered an expert in his or her field. Therefore, a PhD has not only a prestigious status but also opens up roles in advanced research and academia.

Commitment: A PhD shows your willingness, commitment and motivation to learn. This makes you highly desirable for employers, as a strong passion for continuous learning usually correlates with the potential to become industry leaders.

Less freedom:  Taking three to four years to complete, a PhD is a huge commitment. As a result, many feel pressured to stay in their field to ensure that their PhD was ‘worth’ it, even if they no longer feel that the field is the right one for them. Although it is still possible to change paths after your doctorate, and many do so successfully, many feel ‘locked’ into their path after they finish their studies.

Over-qualified: You may find it difficult to find a job outside of research or academia, as employers may consider you over-qualified and therefore believe that you will quickly leap from the role to a more challenging one. They may also believe you lack practical work experience compared to your counterpart, who has a Master’s degree and has been working in the industry whilst you were working on your academic studies.

Cost: While PhD programmes can come with funding that helps to finance tuition fees and living costs, the funding usually covers only the first 3.5 years of full-time programmes and the first seven years of part-time programmes. You may be determined to complete your doctorate within this timeframe, but it is not uncommon for students to experience setbacks in their research that take them beyond the period for which they’re funded for. This means they have to pay the rest of the fee themselves, which can be a significant burden for some, especially if they lack the savings to do so.

Deciding between a second Master’s and a PhD may seem like a tough decision, but ultimately it depends on what your career goals are. Therefore, the first thing to do is to ensure you’ve thought about your future and have a good idea of where you want to go after your education.

A second Master’s is best suited to those who want to either gain more specialised knowledge in their current industry or make a job change by transitioning into a new industry. A PhD is best suited for those who want to gain advanced research skills and knowledge in their field and pursue a career in research or academia.

Either way, both options offer great opportunities and will open new doors for you. Which of the two degrees is better for you depends on which door you would like to open.

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Bachelor’s vs Master’s in Public Health

May 1, 2024

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Bachelor's vs. Master's Degrees in Public Health: Unveiling the Distinctions

Public health careers revolve around safeguarding and enhancing the health of communities and populations. Professionals in this field work to prevent diseases, promote healthy behaviors, and address the factors influencing public health.

phd vs master's

These careers span a wide range of job sectors, require diverse skillsets, and contribute to the overarching goals of promoting health and preventing diseases at the community, national, and global levels.

Public health careers often require a combination of education, experience, and a commitment to improving the well-being of diverse populations.

When it comes to pursuing a career in public health, individuals usually start by obtaining a bachelor's degree in public health. The next step is deciding whether to earn a master's in public health (MPH). Earning your MPH builds upon the skills you learned while earning your BS or BA, opening the door for more career opportunities and increased salaries.

This article breaks down the differences between a bachelor's and master's in public health to help you better understand potential career paths and how you can achieve your professional goals.

What Undergraduate Major and Degree Are Best for Public Health?

If you’re hoping to pursue a career in public health, you can consider majoring and obtaining a bachelor’s degree in an area like public health, health sciences, biology, or related fields suitable for undergraduate studies in public health. The most directly relevant undergraduate degree for a career in this field will be a Bachelor of Public Health (BPH).

Bachelor’s degrees, including BPH degrees, typically come in two varieties: Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Science (BS). In general, BA public health programs focus more on the social sciences, while BS programs focus more on natural and environmental public health sciences.

When deciding whether a BS or BA in public health is better, consider your career goals and determine which focus and curriculum content is best for you. Most universities only offer one type of each bachelor’s-level degree, so your preference of a BA or BS could help shape your college choice.

A bachelor's degree may suffice for entry-level public health positions, but a graduate-level degree like a Master of Public Health (MPH) is typically required or preferred for advanced roles. Your bachelor’s degree will help you build your foundational knowledge of public health topics like wellness, disease prevention, evaluation, research, evidence-based healthcare, and disaster response planning. Then, you can pursue advanced education through a master’s degree.

If you are looking to become a public health nurse, please keep in mind there is a distinction between being a public health nurse and obtaining an MPH. A public health nurse focuses on direct patient care, while an MPH graduate may work in research, policy, or management within public health. The roles have similar focuses, but they require different educational paths.

On the other hand, your bachelor’s degree in public health can provide a solid foundation as a pre-med degree option if you’re hoping to pursue medical school.

Salary and Job Outlook

As you might expect, salaries for individuals with a bachelor's in public health vary depending on the specific role and level of experience, and entry-level positions may have a more modest wage than positions requiring advanced degrees.

An MPH is often associated with higher earning potential. The specialized knowledge and leadership skills gained through an MPH program can lead to more lucrative positions, especially in managerial or supervisory roles within public health organizations.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the growth outlook for public health-related fields looks promising. Projections show the number of careers in these fields far outpacing the national average of just 3% growth projected for all careers.

Careers: Bachelor of Public Health

Projected Growth: 7-14% (faster than average) 1,2

Careers: Master of Public Heath

Projected Growth: 7-27% (faster to much faster than average) 3,4

Bachelor's in Public Health Degree and Career Outlook

A bachelor's degree in public health typically spans four years and provides a comprehensive foundation in the fundamentals of public health. Students may study epidemiology, biostatistics, environmental health, and social and behavioral sciences. Practical experience through internships or fieldwork is also common.

You can also explore options for obtaining an online bachelor's degree in public health .

Bachelor's Degree in Public Health Concentrations and Jobs

Community Health

  • Community Health Worker median salary: $46,190 1
  • Responsibilities: Connecting communities to health care resources and providing education.
  • Settings: Community organizations, health care institutions, public health agencies.

Health Education

  • Health Educator median salary: $59,990 2
  • Responsibilities: Designing and implementing health education programs.
  • Settings: Schools, community organizations, health care institutions, government agencies.

Environmental Health

  • Environmental Health Specialist median salary: $76,480 3
  • Responsibilities: Assessing and addressing environmental factors affecting health.
  • Settings: Government agencies, environmental organizations, public health departments.

Skills acquired in a Bachelor of Public Health program include communication, data analysis, and a basic understanding of public health principles. Certifications such as certified health education specialist (CHES) can enhance employability.

Master's in Public Health Degree and Career Outlook

A master's in public health is an advanced, graduate-level degree that goes beyond the basics covered in a bachelor's program. MPH programs usually require one to two years of additional study beyond a bachelor's degree. Specializations within MPH programs include health policy, global health, epidemiology, and more.

You can also explore options for obtaining an online master's in public health .

Your career goals and professional interests can help you determine whether a master's in public health is worth it. Data compiled from sources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Indeed, Glassdoor, and ZipRecruiter shows that an MPH can significantly enhance your earning ability. Obtaining a master’s in public health also opens the door to a more comprehensive list of potential career paths.

Master's in Public Health Jobs

Epidemiologist

  • Median Salary $78,520 4
  • Responsibilities: Investigating patterns and causes of diseases within populations.
  • Settings: Public health departments, research institutions, government agencies.

Biostatistician

  • Median Salary $130,308 5
  • Responsibilities: Applying statistical techniques to analyze health data.
  • Settings: Research institutions, pharmaceutical companies, government agencies

Global Health Specialist

  • Median Salary $105,000 7
  • Responsibilities: Addressing health challenges on an international scale.
  • Settings: International NGOs (nongovernmental organizations), government agencies, global health organizations.

Emergency Preparedness Coordinator

  • Median Salary $73,600 8
  • Responsibilities: Planning and implementing strategies to respond to emergencies.
  • Settings: Public health departments, emergency management agencies.

Health Communication Specialist

  • Median Salary $77,825 9
  • Responsibilities: Developing and implementing health communication strategies.
  • Settings: Public health organizations, government agencies, communication firms.

MPH graduates develop advanced skills in research, policy analysis, leadership, and epidemiology. Certifications like certified in public health (CPH) are recognized and valued in the field.

What Is the Highest Level of Education in Public Health?

There are doctoral programs (PhD or DrPH) for those seeking advanced research and leadership roles in public health. These degrees tend to dive deeper into the science, research, and policy of public health, but the two program types offer different paths for different career interests.

If you're looking to pursue a career in research and academia, a PhD in public health may be the perfect fit for you. On the other hand, if you're interested in policy and leadership within the field, a DrPH program may be more suitable.

While the PhD can help you evolve your practice in some careers that only require a master’s degree, such as biostatistician and epidemiologist, pursuing a doctorate degree opens up more public health career opportunities and earning potential.

Earn a Public Health Degree that Suits You

Choosing to stick with a bachelor's in public health or advancing your education with a master's in public health involves weighing career aspirations, time commitment, and desired level of expertise.

Both degrees are designed to help aspiring public health professionals contribute to the goal of promoting public health, but earning a master's degree provides you with a higher level of training and education, along with more career opportunities.

You can make your decision regarding whether to obtain a bachelor's degree in public health or to continue your education to obtain a master's in public health by considering all the factors discussed in this article. Norwich University’s online Bachelor of Public Health and Master of Public Health programs can prepare you to play a leading role in addressing today’s most pressing public health challenges. You can learn more about the educational requirements and see your best options by speaking with an admissions representative. Request information here.

  • Salary and Job Outlook Community Health Workers
  • Salary and Job Outlook Health Educators
  • Salary - Environmental Health Specialist.
  • Salary - Epidemiologists
  • Salary - Biostatisticians
  • Salary - Health Policy Analysts
  • Salary - Health Communication Specialists

Learn more about our online programs today

University of Wisconsin nursing deans lobbied for money to graduate more nurses. Then DEI questions arose

phd vs master's

Nursing school deans across the state were hopeful around this time last year. They were working with a Republican state senator on a plan to increase student enrollment and graduate more nurses.

But concerns about diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, became a sticking point in the process and played a role in the plan stalling out, according to recently released emails obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The records offer another example of how DEI is influencing the legislative process and reshaping how higher education leaders respond.

Leading the failed effort were state Sen. Rachael Cabral-Guevara, R-Appleton, and Kim Litwack, dean of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Nursing. Litwack told the other UW nursing school deans last June that Cabral-Guevara had the votes in the Senate to give the six UW nursing schools $1 million each, as well as $3 million to private institutions with nursing schools.

There was a caveat.

"IF … we can somehow separate UW nursing from the UW DEI issue that Robin Vos is hot about," Litwack wrote to the other nursing deans, referring to the Republican Assembly speaker who last year launched a campaign against DEI programming on UW campuses. "He is willing to support the nursing initiative IF we can find a way, truthfully, to talk about our way of doing things."

The Legislature never took up Cabral-Guevara's proposal to get nursing schools more money. The records don't show why the plan didn't pan out. Vos did not return requests for comment, nor did Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg.

Cabral-Guevara's office declined an interview request. Her chief of staff, Ryan Retza, said DEI "was not the sole reason the proposal did not come to fruition." Other nursing-related budget priorities "were given emphasis," such as a nurse educators program that Republicans continued funding at $5 million per year but declined to increase to $10 million annually as Democratic Gov. Tony Evers requested.

“This is one budget project that just simply was not able to pan out successfully,” Cabral-Guevara said in a statement to the Journal Sentinel about her plan. “The proposal would have supported our nursing students and schools, boosting retention and improving access to programs.”

UW nursing deans discuss DEI policies within their schools

Emails show Cabral-Guevara reached out to Litwack in March 2023 about nursing education legislation she was crafting. The state senator is a nurse practitioner who previously taught at the UW-Oshkosh College of Nursing.

Modeling by the state Department of Workforce Development shows Wisconsin is expected to be short by about 20,000 nurses by 2040.

Litwack asked the other deans at UW-Madison, UW-Oshkosh, UW-Green Bay, UW-Eau Claire and UW-Stevens Point for feedback on Cabral-Guevara's proposal. The records, which were part of a broader Journal Sentinel request that took the UW System nine months to turn over, show the deans agreed on a plan to increase enrollment by 10% over two years.

In mid-June, Litwack told the other deans Cabral-Guevara told her she had enough votes in her chamber but DEI remained a concern for Vos. Litwack said she explained to the senator how nursing colleges' accrediting bodies encourage a holistic admissions process that considers factors beyond GPA, how hospitals prioritize diversifying their workforce and how health outcomes improve when patients identify with their caregivers.

"I explained and Rachel being a nurse gets it," Litwack wrote, but she asked the deans for help explaining their position. She also asked them to confirm whether their schools gave extra points for diversity in the admissions process or employed their own diversity officer.

UW-Green Bay nursing dean Christine Vandenhouten thanked Litwack for "taking on this behemoth of an issue" and answered Litwack's questions.

"Good luck," Vandenhouten signed at the end of the email.

Litwack then asked about schools' pronoun policies and mandatory diversity statements. She said UWM didn't require students to designate their pronouns but respected students who made their own requests.

Seon Yoon Chung of UW-Oshkosh confirmed the nursing college has no personal-pronoun requirement, no diversity statement mandate and no diversity officer.

Vandenhouten weighed in again, saying UW-Green Bay also didn't require students to declare personal pronouns or sign a diversity statement. "Good grief," she wrote.

"This is all coming from RV, not Rachel," Litwack emailed back, referring to Vos.

Litwack did not respond to an interview request. UWM referred the request to the UW System. UW System spokesperson Mark Pitsch in a statement offered appreciation to Evers and the Legislature for past nursing program funding and said additional money would "help us increase our capacity to train the next generation of nurses our state desperately needs."

DEI dispute entangled University of Wisconsin for months

Three days after the email exchange among the deans appeared to end, the GOP-controlled budget committee cut the UW System's budget by $32 million , the estimated amount spent on salaries of DEI employees. Republican lawmakers said campuses shouldn't force students to view the world through a racial lens.

The temporary cut launched a six-month budget standoff that ended when Vos reached a deal with UW System President Jay Rothman and UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin last December. The agreement required campuses to restructure 43 DEI positions, among other provisions.

The deal also reversed the $32 million cut but redirected the money toward workforce development initiatives. Under this plan, nursing schools received $4.5 million more, but the UW System's overall budget held flat.

Contact Kelly Meyerhofer at  [email protected] or 414-223-5168. Follow her on X (Twitter) at  @KellyMeyerhofer .

COMMENTS

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  19. PhD vs Masters in Psychology

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  20. PhD vs Master's: What You Need to Know

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    The MS (Master of Science) in Psychology and the PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) in Psychology are degrees for people interested in advanced study in the discipline. Students obtain a greater understanding of human behavior and how to help others. Degree earners are often interested in careers as therapists, licensed psychologists, researchers, or ...

  22. Second Master's or PhD?

    Notes: (1) The tuition fee values for the second Master's is based on the average fees for an MSc. (2) The above table assumes a second Master's duration of 1 year and a PhD duration of 4 years. (3) The fees and durations are indicative - the exact values vary depending on the course and university. It's also important to bear in mind ...

  23. Masters vs. PsyD vs. PhD in Clinical or Counseling Psychology

    We recommend reading Chapter 2 "Choosing the PhD or PsyD program" in the Insider's Guide to Graduate Programs in Clinical and Counseling Psychology. This book, written by Michael A. Sayette (a faculty member at Pitt!), and John C. Norcross (University of Scranton) provides much more details than we can go into here.

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    A master's in public health is an advanced, graduate-level degree that goes beyond the basics covered in a bachelor's program. MPH programs usually require one to two years of additional study beyond a bachelor's degree. Specializations within MPH programs include health policy, global health, epidemiology, and more.

  25. DEI concerns clouded UW plan to expand nursing enrollment

    Under this plan, nursing schools received $4.5 million more, but the UW System's overall budget held flat. Contact Kelly Meyerhofer at [email protected] or 414-223-5168. Follow her on X ...