Finishing your professional degree is a major accomplishment. When you finally make it to graduation and close the chapter to your undergraduate career, many different opportunities lie ahead of you.

Are you going to pursue an additional degree, or is it more fitting for you to land a job in your study field? One of the many questions I get asked is “How long does it take to get a Master’s degree?”

On average, a master’s degree takes 1.5 to 2 years for full-time students to complete. There are many factors, however, that may increase or decrease the exact length of time from enrollment to graduation.

If you decide to continue on with your schooling, you might find yourself trying to decide between a Ph.D. vs. a master’s degree.

Completing your master’s and then working towards your Ph.D. is the more traditional approach to higher education, but do you need to get a master’s degree before a Ph.D.?

It’s an excellent question, and we are going to answer it for you today! 

Ph.D. vs. Master’s Degree: The Difference Between the Two

Before we uncover whether or not you need a master’s to get your Ph.D., it’s essential first to define a Ph.D. degree and explore the different types of master’s degrees. 

What Does Ph.D. Stand For? 

Ph.D. is an abbreviation for Doctor of Philosophy. A common misconception is that a Ph.D. is short for a professional doctorate degree, but this is incorrect. A Doctor of Philosophy is very different from a professional doctoral degree, seeing as the latter has different abbreviations. 

For example, people who have completed professional doctoral degrees will have the title of DNP for Doctor of Nursing Practice, DrPH for Doctor of Public Health, or DBA for Doctor of Business Administration, to name a few. 

The main difference between a Ph.D. and a professional doctorate degree has to do with the target demographic. Ph.D. programs are tailored for college graduates looking to step foot into a specific field or further their education within a certain discipline. 

Professional doctor degrees, on the other hand, are for people who have professional work experience in a particular field, and they have the desire to advance their career further.

Also known as doctorate programs, a professional doctor degree can add credibility to the resume of someone working in their desired field already. 

A professional doctorate degree aside, a Ph.D. is not your only option if you are interested in furthering your collegiate education after completing your undergraduate degree. Pursuing a master’s degree is a very common post-undergraduate step for students to take, but what is a master’s degree?

And is there more than one type of professional degree? Let’s find out!  

The Many Different Types of Master’s Degrees

Just as there are various kinds of doctoral degrees, there are a plethora of various master’s degrees. The exact master’s degree that you pursue will have everything to do with your field of study. The two most popular master’s degrees are an MA, or Master of Arts degree, and an MS, or Master of Science. 

In addition to these two types of master’s degrees, there are fifteen other well-regarded master’s degrees worth acknowledging, including but not limited to…

  • Master of Architecture, M.Arch 
  • Master of Arts in Liberal Studies, MA 
  • Master of Business Administration, MBA
  • Master of Education, MEd 
  • Master of Engineering, MEng 
  • Master of Fine Arts, MFA 
  • Master of Laws, LLM 
  • Master of Library Sciences, MLS 
  • Master of Music, MM 
  • Master of Public Administration, MPA 
  • Master of Public Health, MPH 
  • Master by Research, MPhil 
  • Master of Research, MRes 
  • Master of Social Work, MSW 
  • Master of Studies, MSt 

As you can see, each master’s degree is titled in a way that is specific to the discipline and field that it applies to. If you are interested in pursuing a master’s degree, be sure to look into the program’s requirements. Each master’s program has its own list of prerequisites that you must abide by before applying. 

So… Is a Master’s a Prerequisite for Getting Your Ph.D. Degree?

Technically speaking, you do not need a master’s degree to get a Ph.D. The two degrees are not necessarily mutually exclusive because you can get your master’s and then go on to complete a Ph.D. degree. 

However, it is not required to get a master’s before pursuing a doctorate degree. You should always take your long-term educational goals into account when making a decision between a Ph.D. vs. a master’s degree.  

There are many reasons why some people prioritize a master’s degree before entering a Ph.D. degree program. In the same token, when discussing a Ph.D. vs. master’s degree, other people are heavily in favor of going straight into a Ph.D. program. 

No matter where you fall in the discussion of Ph.D. vs. master’s degree, there are ups and downs to both sides.

Let’s explore some of the benefits and disadvantages of getting your master’s degree first, followed by a look at the pros and cons of going straight into a Ph.D. program. 

The Benefits and Disadvantages of Getting Your Master’s First

Taking the time to complete a master’s degree before your PhD will allow you to explore your interests further. As much as you loved a specific discipline as an undergraduate student, a master’s program can help you figure out if you truly want to study the subject matter at a doctoral level. 

Master’s degrees take less time to complete than a Ph.D., so a master’s program will require a shorter time commitment. Compared to Ph.D. programs, master’s programs are much less competitive, meaning you will likely have a higher chance of being accepted into a master’s program than a Ph.D. program directly out of undergraduate school. 

The one major caveat of a master’s program is the cost of admission. Tuition for a master’s program can be quite steep, and securing financial aid is not always an easy feat to accomplish.

The Pros and Cons of Going Straight into a Ph.D. Program

If you have absolutely zero doubts that a field of study is for you, then a Ph.D. program will save you a few years in school. Instead of spending three or more years in a master’s program, you can go directly into your Ph.D. with certainty. 

In the long-run, you will save time by entering a Ph.D. program, and doing so allows you to start working in your preferred industry much sooner. Depending on the Ph.D. program you enter, it’s possible that you may receive a master’s degree as part of your Ph.D. program anyway. 

This is only the case for direct entry Ph.D. programs, so keep an eye out for that detail if this interests you. Unlike most master’s programs, there is significantly more funding for Ph.D. programs, so you have a higher chance of receiving scholarships, grants, or loans for a Ph.D. program. 

If you do decide to withdraw from your Ph.D. program at any point before completion, you run the risk of not even having a master’s degree. In essence, you will have gone through the program without anything to show for it should you decide to remove yourself from the Ph.D. program. 

how long does it take to get a masters degree in engineering

How To Decide Which Post-Graduation Option is Right for You

Making decisions about your academic career can be stressful. At the end of the day, whether you enter a Ph.D. program directly after earning your bachelor’s degree or you opt into a master’s program instead is entirely up to you. 

When figuring out your life path, there’s not necessarily a wrong answer. However, knowing that the world is your oyster does not bring much comfort when the pressure of post-undergraduate decisions weigh heavily on your shoulders. 

Instead of trying to figure it all out on your own, consider turning to graduate admission coordinators like Dr. Jonas Tellis, who can provide assistance with making decisions about your professional degree.