Masters Vs PhD: What is the Difference Between Masters & PhD/Doctorates

Masters vs PhD Degree – Which Is Right for You?

Thinking about continuing your education after earning an undergraduate degree? Then you might wonder what the differences are between a Masters vs PhD. As many reasons as people have to pursue a graduate degree, there are just as many degrees available to you.

As a result, there are many things to consider when choosing between a Masters degree programs and PhD programs. Including which degree is higher, which one costs more, and the types of degrees available.

Which One Is Higher: A Masters or a PhD?

For most students, a bachelor’s degree is the ‘first’ degree. Second is a Masters degree. Third is Doctorate degree, such as the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), is a ‘terminal degree’. But that doesn’t mean it’s the same path for everyone or for all subjects.

For instance, some nursing schools offer nursing bridge programs. Nursing bridge programs allow students to go straight from an ADN to MSN, or an entry-level MSN, which is designed for students with a non-nursing degree.

Do You Have To Get A Masters Before A PHD?

Some graduate programs provide a formal plan of study for completing a Masters and PhD at the same time. These programs are referred to as dual degrees, joint degrees, or master’s and PhD combined degrees. Grad schools with these practical programs are a great way to earn both degrees at the same time. Find 11 Grad Schools that Offer Dual Masters and Phd Degrees here!

  • Some of the nation’s most affordable tuition rates, from a private, nonprofit, NEASC accredited university
  • Qualified students with 2.5 GPA and up may receive up to $20K in grants & scholarships
  • Multiple term start dates throughout the year. 24/7 online classroom access

How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s Degree?

Usually a full-time graduate student might acquire a Master’s degree in about two years. Master’s degrees typically require less time than doctoral degrees. Either way, earning a graduate degree is a significant investment of time.

How Long Does It Take to Get a PhD?

A PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) usually requires at least five to six years in an accredited graduate school. Many students might take seven to nine years to complete depending on exams, coursework and dissertations required.

Which One Costs More?

Because a PhD takes longer to complete, it usually costs more money. The flip side to this is that a PhD may yield a higher salary upon completion. Therefore it may be worth the increased cost long-term.

Whichever graduate degree you decide to pursue, you’ll have expenses, such as tuition, fees, books, and others. In addition, there is also a significant loss of money if you’re unable to work or only earn low wages through assistantships or part-time employment. Student loans are always an option to pursue. Although they may have high interest rates that may take years to pay back.

Another thing to consider is that each school charges a different amount for graduate degrees. Therefore, be sure to consider the cost of each school before making a final decision.

  • Accredited online university.
  • Capella University offers doctoral programs designed to take you to the forefront of your profession.
  • Competency-based curriculum delivers both foundation knowledge and real-world skills, so that what you’re learning in your courses is immediately applicable to your career goals.

Masters vs PhD: Weighing your Options

We know that graduate school requires time, money and commitment for both Masters and a PhD. So, which should you choose?

Masters degrees tend to be more career-oriented. While PhD’s tend to be more focused on research since they are preparing people for research-oriented careers or in academia. If all you want is a raise, a PhD is probably not the road to choose.

On the other hand, if you love learning in and of itself, research, and if you want to pursue a career as a professor, then the work required for PhD may be just for you. Also, many PhD programs require that you have earned a Masters, though there are exceptions. Therefore, check with the admissions requirements of all schools and programs before applying.


What Is a Masters Degree?

A Master’s degree is a second-cycle academic degree and the first level of graduate study, which means it is after a Bachelor’s degree and before a PhD.

The Master’s degree may allow a concentration within a field so that you may focus your studies in-depth on a particular aspect of a subject. Pursuing a Master’s works especially well if you’ve been working in a particular career for some time and hope to qualify for a leadership position within your field.

A Master’s degree may also be an excellent method of changing careers. If you’ve been in the workforce and found that your career or undergraduate education are not leading you in the direction you’d like, a Master’s degree may allow you to start in a different direction by gaining new knowledge and skills.

Benefits of Earning a Master’s Degree

Some of the benefits of earning a master’s degree are:

  • Less time and money than a PhD
  • More career-oriented than a PhD
  • Sets you apart from those with only a Bachelor’s degree
  • May have greater employment opportunities
  • May lead to greater career advancement

What Is a PhD?

Doctor of Philosophy, or PhD, are considered terminal degrees, or the highest degree you may earn. PhDs are research-based academic degrees which are awarded in many fields. One of the many reasons to get a PhD is if you’d like to become a professor. Because a PhD is practically mandatory to become a postsecondary teacher. Even for those few who may find teaching positions with only a Masters, most schools want to see progress toward a PhD.

A PhD may also be helpful outside the world of academia in today’s increasingly competitive job market. Businesses are searching for extremely qualified people who have demonstrated intelligence, perseverance and the ability to learn in a variety of fields, including engineeringinformation technology, or many others.

Benefits of Earning a PhD

PhD work requires original research that contributes new information to the field of study. One of the less tangible, though very important, reasons to get a PhD consists in the idea of creating knowledge.

Some of the benefits of earning a PhD include:

  • You’ll be regarded as an expert in your field
  • Enhance your transferable skills, such as critical reasoning, problem-solving, and in-depth analysis
  • Add to the research and knowledge in your field
  • Improve your analytical skills
  • You may be able to include Dr. in your title

Don’t forget, if you don’t want to relocate to earn your graduate degree, there is always the option of earning your degree through distance learning. Search for accredited online graduate programs for additional online masters and doctorate programs.

Key Differences in a Masters Versus PhD

Take another look at the differences. Like all forms of higher education, it is up to you to know what is best for your future. Here is a bit more of a comparison between these postgraduate degree options.

A master’s program typically is one of several forms. It could be a Master of Arts (MA), a Master of Science (MSc), or a Master of Research, (MRe). This type of degree program is much like an undergrad program. Classes are taught. Some may involve lectures. Seminars are common. You may complete lab sessions. To conclude them, students may need to complete smaller pieces of work. That may include a paper. This leads up to a final thesis. A PhD is a bit different. It is like completing one long dissertation program. Much of the work in a PhD is completed independently. That means you work alone or in small groups to complete the study. There is expert supervision provided in most cases. The focus is your own research, though.

Commitment to Earning a Masters vs PhD

There’s no way around it, graduate school takes work. However, many students who drifted through college are surprised to find that graduate school requires a much larger commitment in terms of work and intellectual energy.

For instance, graduate schools may be very competitive. On top of a full course load, many students are working or teaching. Plus trying to balance their personal and family responsibilities. This competitiveness between students, added responsibility, and number of courses that require in-depth analysis and reading, leads many students to find themselves overwhelmed.

This is true for both masters and PhDs. However, the number of years required to earn a PhD requires perseverance on a scale above and beyond what both undergraduates and those pursuing a masters degree experience.

One of the key differences between undergraduate and graduate degrees, whether you pursue a masters or PhD, is the ability of graduate student to focus on a field and subject in which they are very interested. Plus, while a graduate degree may jumpstart your career, it is not perceived as mandatory as an undergraduate degree may be. Therefore, pursuing a masters degree or a PhD may seem like your choice, which motivates some students to perform better.

It is not always necessary to complete a master’s degree before going on to complete a PhD. Some students do this.

Still Deciding Between a Masters or PhD?

To summarize, a PhD may be worth it if:

  • You truly love your field
  • Likewise, you enjoy your studies
  • Lastly, you want the benefits and prestige associated with the doctoral degree

On the other hand, if you are simply looking to change fields, gain a promotion, or are nervous about five to six more years of school, then a Masters is probably a better choice. Some students do not do well or like a totally independent course of study. Others may want more pre-structured education.

However, it is worth noting that you may be able to get more financial aid for a PhD. Financial aid may be available to those who qualify. Since it takes longer, schools recognize that those trying to acquire their PhD’s need more assistance than those who only want a Masters degree.

This adds an interesting dimension to the application process for two reasons:

  1. It is probably better to apply to the doctoral program because there is no penalty for changing your mind and deciding to leave with only a Masters degree, and it increases your chances of getting financial aid.
  2. PhD programs may be more competitive, and applying to it, rather than the Masters degree program, might decrease your chances of admission. If you are denied entrance to the PhD program, you could ask the school to consider you for the Masters program, if that’s allowed at that particular school.

Keep in mind that your final career goals matter. Does your desired career goal require a PhD? If so, that may be the goal to work towards during your education. Your career path may determine your degree level needs. Doctoral students may also have to figure in just how long it takes to reach this goal. A PhD candidate may spend a significant amount of time studying to meet these professional goals.

Finding the Perfect Masters or PhD Degree for You

Depending on your previous education, professional experience, and your future career goals, there are a wide variety of graduate degree programs for you to choose from.

Schools With PHD & Masters Programs


written by Rana Waxman