Masters vs PhD - What Are The Differences?

Masters vs PhD Degree - Which Is Right for You?

If you’re thinking about continuing your education after earning an undergraduate degree, 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.

masters vs phd

Which One Is Higher: A Masters or a PhD?

For most students, a bachelor’s degree is the 'first' degree, a Masters is the 'second' degree, and a 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, which 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.

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.

Masters vs PhD: 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 and is therefore 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, but they may have high interest rates that can 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.

Psychology: Masters and PhD Programs

Typically, in order to become a psychologist, you need to earn a doctorate in psychology. However, for some school and industrial organizational positions, a masters degree may be sufficient.ii There are many roles in the field of psychology you can pursue by earning a masters degree in psychology or it could be a stepping stone to earning your doctorate.

Click on some of the sponsored listings below to learn more about each of the schools and the various graduate programs in psychology that they offer.

Masters Programs in Psychology:

Roger Williams University:

Pursuing excellence in education through engaged, hands-on learning and teaching that helps strengthen society, Roger Williams University provides every student an opportunity for real-world learning experience. Roger Williams, a 17th century leader, believed in the freedom of conscience and social justice. RWU uses those tenets as inspiration and guidance.

RWU offers two types of master’s degrees in psychology:

Chatham University:

Located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Chatham University prepares students to build lives on purpose, value, and fulfilling work. Founded in 1869, Chatham is a fully coed university with over 2,200 students and was selected as one of the Top 50 Green Colleges in 2017.

With small classes and individualized attention, Chatham offers a variety of masters degree options in psychology and counseling, such as:

Medaille College:

As a private, nonsectarian four-year college, Medaille College is focused on your success as a student and as a future professional. This is through learning that extends beyond the four walls of a lecture hall and allow you to go out into field to help solve real-world problems.

Medaille, offers three counseling and psychology programs, two of which are:

Doctorate Programs in Psychology:

Loyola University of Chicago:

With more than 16,000 students, three international campuses, and 13 schools, colleges, and institutes, Loyola University of Chicago is one of the nation’s largest Jesuit, Catholic Universities. Guided by a simple promise of preparing people to live extraordinary lives, Loyola works to expand knowledge through justice, learning, and faith.

Two of the doctorates degrees in psychology awarded at Loyola are

Northcentral University:

Northcentral University is a regionally accredited online university serving students worldwide. By committing to helping students achieve academic successes and become valuable contributors to their communities, Northcentral is a premier online graduate university.

The online psychology degree programs are committed to uniting a global community of expert faculty and students dedicated to improving the human condition through research and practice. Two of the psychology programs are:

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology

As a not-for-profit accredited institution, the Chicago School of Professional Psychology has been an innovator in the field of psychology and related behavioral science since 1979. Their groundbreaking approach, called The Engaged Professional Model of Education, leverages the talents and experience of faculty practitioners to provide students with a rich spectrum of clinical training.

Two of the doctorates in psychology offered at the Chicago School are:

Graduate Nursing Programs

There are many graduate degrees in nursing available because of the variety of specialties and roles that nurses can take. With so many options, it’s important for you to understand all of the elements, including the difference between a NP and a DNP, direct-entry nursing programs, and ways for you to improve your nursing resume.

Check out some of the schools that offer a master’s degree or doctorate degree in nursing. Then click on any of the sponsored programs that interest you to learn more about how each program is structured and the application process.

Masters Degree Options in Nursing:

Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing

Founded on the principle that pursuing big ideas and sharing what we learn can make the world a better place, Johns Hopkins University is globally focused and driven by curiosity. The school consists of nine academic divisions, plus the Applied Physics Laboratory and more than 260 programs regularly recognized among the nation’s best.

Two of the many nursing masters degrees offered at JHU are:

Saint Xavier University

As Chicago’s oldest Catholic University, Xavier was founded the by the Sisters of Mercy in 1846. Originally serving as a higher education institution for women and the poor, Saint Xavier University now serves a diverse population of men and women who seek a Mercy education that prepares them to become productive and compassionate members of society.

As nurses assume greater responsibilities and more diverse roles, the Master of Science in Nursing program at Xavier prepare students to assume leadership and advanced practice roles.

University of New England

The University of New England is Maine’s largest private university. As an innovative community with a robust offering of degree programs, UNE attracts internationally recognized scholars to allow students to engage in research alongside dedicated faculty.

With a rigorous curriculum and with relationships with 30 hospitals across the region, UNE offers a variety of graduate degrees in nursing, including a Master of Science in Nurse Anesthesia and CRNA.

Doctorate Degrees in Nursing:

Sacred Heart University

Sacred Heart University has been ranked as one of the Best Colleges in 2018 by both The Princeton Review and U.S. News and World Report because of the school’s focus on providing a top education to a diverse student population. With more than 40,000 alumni, 297 full-time faculty, and more than 70 academic programs, SHU strives to create academic opportunities for students.

The College of Nursing at Sacred Heart offers Doctor of Nursing Practice. This program is designed to build upon your masters-level education and to develop the expertise needed for leadership roles.

Andrews University

By aiming to make sure that students achieve a balance between theory and practice, Andrews University places serious scholarship, quality research, and a strong focus on practical Christianity as the important aspects of attending the school. Their motto is: “Seek Knowledge. Affirm Faith. Change the World.”

With almost 50 years of impacting healthcare around the world, Andrews University offers a Doctor of Nursing Practice.

University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences

The mission of the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences is the development of professional health care practitioners through innovative, individualized, and quality classroom, clinical, and distance education.

As the health care industry continues to evolve, nurses need to have the right education and expertise, which is why St. Augustine offers two DNP bridge programs:

Business Graduate Programs

Deciding on which graduate business degree to pursue can seem like an overwhelming challenge. You want your degree to jumpstart your career and give you applicable tools that you can put to use immediately, and in the future. That’s why researching all of your options, including the difference between an MBA and a MS in Business Administration, is an important step in finding the perfect program for you.

Below are some of the schools that offer a masters or doctorate degree in business as way to help you start your research. Follow any of the links to these sponsored programs to learn more about the degree, the curriculum, and when the next starting date is.

Masters Degrees in Business

Syracuse University

As a private research university, Syracuse combines extraordinary academics, distinctive offerings, and an undeniable spirit. With nearly 150 years of history, Syracuse University is made for those who want the quintessential college experience and who know how to dream big.

The business programs at Syracuse are designed to provide you with a collaborative and customized experience to prepare you for success in today’s fast-changing global marketplace. One of their primary master’s degree options in business is their Full-Time MBA program.

Canisius College

Canisius College believes that the value of a Jesuit college education goes beyond merely a degree, which is why they help you gain a greater understanding of your field of study, but also of yourself and your purpose in the world.

That’s one of the reasons why the school offers two MBA options for students who want different types of learning experiences:

Utica College

Designed to inspire and prepare students to create a future that is beyond their imagining, Utica College educates students for rewarding careers, responsible citizenship, and enlightening leadership. Utica’s mission includes individual attention for students, an emphasis on lifelong learning, and the open sharing of ideas and creativity.

All the MBA options at Utica include a new take on the traditional MBA with a modern, real-world approach to graduate-level business education. Two of the options are:

Doctorate Degrees in Business

Walden University

Proud to have an online learning community that is as distinctive as it is diverse, Walden University practices a policy of nondiscrimination in admission to, access to, and employment in its online degree programs. The school’s mission is to provide a diverse community of career professionals with the opportunity to transform themselves as scholar-practitioners so that they can effect positive change.

Two of the doctoral degrees available in business at Walden include:

California Southern University

California Southern University helps you take control of your academic and professional goals through rigorous and robust academic programs. However, what truly sets CSU apart is its unique, student-centered culture, personal touch, and total commitment to delivering a superior learning experience.

Through a rich, advanced education to help you pursue a senior leadership role, California Southern University offers a:

Grand Canyon University

For more than 65 years, Grand Canyon University has been the gateway to success for countless scholars and industry leaders. GCU carries out a Christian worldview in a loving way that provides greater unity across the entire university population and has been one of the contributing factors to the school’s rapid growth.

Two of the doctoral business programs offered at GCU are:

how many years is a masters degree?

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 can allow specialization or concentration within a field so that you can 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 can 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 can 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 can 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.i Even for those few who can find teaching positions with only a Masters, most schools want to see progress toward a PhD.

A PhD can 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 engineering, information 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 can include Dr. in your title

Don’t forget, if you can’t or 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.

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 can 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 can be. Therefore, pursuing a masters degree or a PhD can seem like your choice, which motivates some students to perform better.

Still Deciding Between a Masters and PhD?

To summarize, a PhD may be worth it if:

  • You truly love your field
  • You enjoy your studies
  • 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.

However, it is worth noting that you may be able to get more financial aid for a PhD. 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 can 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.

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.

Whether you’re searching for masters degree programs or if you’re looking for the perfect PhD program for you, check out some of the common graduate degrees above. Keep in mind that these are just a sample of some of the degrees and the schools available.

Or, you can use the form at the top of the page to get matched to the perfect program for you.


    [i] bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm#tab-4 [ii] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm#tab-4

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