Pros and Cons of Getting a Master’s before a Doctorate, Part 2: The Pros and Cons of a Master’s Degree

Pros and Cons of Getting a Master’s before a Doctorate, Part 2: The Pros and Cons of a Master’s Degree

Is the time and money of a master’s worth it? If you are considering going to graduate school, you are most likely pondering which degree to get. There are pros and cons to earning a master’s degree before pursuing a doctorate. Master's degrees are more career-oriented and doctoral degrees focus more on research. If all you want is a raise, pursuing a doctorate is probably not the route to choose. If you love learning and you want to pursue a career in education or research, then the work required for a doctorate may be worthwhile.

When considering the advantages of each program, remember that masters and doctoral programs will give you in-depth training in a specialized field and the usefulness of each degree depends on your academic and career interests/goals. When carefully considered, graduate school earns you more than just another fancy paper to go on your wall.



There are numerous benefits of a master’s degree. There is a reason so many people return to school after working for a few years. A master’s program narrows your field of study and delves you deeper in to the field, forcing you to master the subject. While it may be difficult to consider more schooling, consider making graduate school your next step, especially if you want a job that requires more training or a higher starting salary. Unlike your undergrad degree, there are no general studies requirements in graduate school, which is ideal for those with a thirst for knowledge.

A Master’s Degree will introduce the Process of Graduate Study

Graduate work is on a different level than the work you did as an undergraduate. A master’s program will introduce to you the process of graduate study. Students coming straight from an undergraduate program will probably be surprised at how theoretical the material in a doctoral program is. People coming in with a master’s degree will have already learned some of this, and are less surprised at the content of doctoral courses. Typical college courses present a broad overview of a subject. Graduate school can be very competitive and is a lot of work. Many students who floated through undergrad are surprised to find that graduate programs require a much greater commitment, and it is not until students immerse in a field that they truly come to know the depth of their interest.

Although most undergraduate degrees allow students the opportunity to choose subjects of interest, a Master’s degree does this to a greater extent, where you will conduct independent research in order to develop your thoughts and ideas. For many students with passionate academic interests, there’s little need to question the value of a Master’s degree; the experience itself provides plenty of satisfaction by attending extracurricular activities and meetings, hearing from guest speakers and lecturers, and one-on-one supervision.

A Masters May Help Admission into A Doctoral Program

Become an expert in your area of interest. If you’re intent on contributing to the world, professionally or academically, you will need to know your field inside and out—starting with a master’s degree.

Not all college graduates are competitive doctoral program applicants right out of undergraduate school. A master’s program can help you improve your academic record and show that you are committed, interested, and qualified in your field of concentration.  As a master’s student, you will have contact with graduate faculty who teach in the doctoral program, as well as doctoral students (who often take many of the same classes as master’s students), which will give you a chance to get some insight from current graduate students on what life is like in a doctoral program. However, admission to a doctoral program is not guaranteed.**

**Before you choose this option,
be sure that you can live with yourself if you don’t get accepted.**


Continue reading
6884 Hits

Pros and Cons of Getting a Master’s Before a Doctorate Part 1: What’s the Difference?

Pros and Cons of Getting a Master’s Before a Doctorate
Part 1: What’s the Difference?

Are you ready for graduate school? As a potential applicant to graduate school, you have quite a few decisions ahead of you. If you are considering a graduate degree, you might wonder what the differences are between the Master’s and Doctorate, or which one is right for you. When you enroll in a graduate degree program, be prepared for a different experience from undergrad.

Eddie Machek describes the three types of higher education degrees perfectly: “At a bachelor’s level, you are going to go out and do what’s been done. At the master’s level, you are going to be in charge of the people who are doing that stuff. In a Ph.D., that's a whole other thing because you are doing the new stuff. You are in a lab.”[1] When considering the merits of a master’s versus a doctoral program, remember that both will give you in-depth training in a specialized field. However, as I stated in my How to Deal with Grad School Competition blog, the usefulness of each degree depends on your academic and career goals.

 Comparison Chart of Basic Differences between Masters and Doctoral Degrees 




Types and examples

Academic or research (MPhil), Professional (MPA, MSW), Terminal (MFA, MBA)

Academic or research (Ph.D., Ed.D)
Professional (M.D., J.D.)

Why get this degree?

To research, is necessary for profession, is an intermediate step before doctoral, broaden your knowledge of an issue/subject area, increase your skill set for a job

To research, teach at the university level, is necessary for profession

Time to complete degree

1-3 years, full-time.
Longer, part-time.

2-8 years, full-time.
Longer, part-time.

Chart taken from “What's the difference between a masters and a doctoral degree?”, LinkedIn 2015, URL:


What are Masters’ Degrees?

A master’s degree is the first level of graduate study and typically takes one to three years to complete. Master’s degrees are also considered more versatile than doctorates as they tend to be more career-oriented. Upon completion, program graduates are expected to have advanced knowledge within their specialized field including how to apply their newly acquired skills. Generally speaking, there are three types of masters programs:

Research Master’s

Although primarily used in the UK, the term Research Masters’ degree is the application of these types of degrees is typically for academic and applied research disciplines (e.g., Master of Arts in History or Master of Science in Biology). In some fields, earning a “research master’s” without a doctorate restricts professional options—as research jobs within government and industry labs are competitive, and tenure-track faculty positions are notoriously hard to obtain.

Professional Master’s

Professional masters degrees prepare you to do professional work by introducing the skills and frameworks for understanding the issues and services of that field. Professional masters degrees sometimes are also a means of qualifying you to practice in that field (e.g., Master of Social Work or Master of Business Administration).

Terminal Master’s

Most degrees considered terminal are doctorates, however, some master’s degrees “terminal” if the field does not offer a doctorate. Therefore, terminal masters degrees are the highest academic degree in their field (e.g., Master of Fine Arts or a Masters in Library Science). While some master’s degrees may serve as a steppingstone towards a doctorate, these are the highest academic accreditation in those fields.

Recent comment in this post
John Bayne
... Read More
Tuesday, 31 October 2017 11:54
Continue reading
4657 Hits
1 Comment

How to Write a Proposal: For a Master’s Thesis or Dissertation

How to Write a Proposal: For a Master’s Thesis or Dissertation

Note: Many thanks to fellow PhDStudent blogger Ryan Krone for his contributions and insight to this post.

Your thesis/dissertation proposal provides an overview to your committee of your plan of research; including the general scope of your project, research questions, methodology, and significance of your study. Most universities offer guidelines for their dissertation and theses requirements with information about how to set up and organize the document. Most dissertations are organized into four or five chapters. The proposal generally consists of the first three chapters because it is designed to justify and plan the project as well as explain how it contributes to existing research.

Understand and accept that the proposal will be a scrutinized document that will most likely be redrafted and resubmitted before approval. Think of the proposal as an introduction to your thesis, bridging the gap between existing work and your research. Remember that the proposal is not binding or meant to limit your ideas- you will likely modify and refine your scope, argument, and methods throughout the submission process.

Parts of a Proposal

Theses and dissertation proposals across different programs generally include some form of these sections:


At this stage in your proposal, you need only provide a working title. Don’t worry if you compose a lengthy title, the aim of a title is to convey the idea of your investigation. A good title should:

·         Familiarize the audience to the topic.

·         Indicate the type of study to be conducted.


If required (since some fields and universities do not require abstracts), the abstract should provide a brief (350 words for Dissertation, 200 words for Thesis) overview of the proposal that gives the reader a basic understanding of your proposal. The abstract should summarize your introduction, statement of the problem, background of the study, research questions or hypotheses, as well as methods and procedures.


Your introduction should put your project in conversation with other similar projects and provide necessary background information that establishes the purpose of your study. A good introduction establishes the general territory in which the research is placed and includes some references to existing literature (which will then be looked at in a later section called the Literature Review).

Statement of the Problem

This section may be incorporated into your introduction or stand independently (ask your advisor for the most appropriate format). Regardless of placement, you need to clearly identify the problem or knowledge gap that your project is responding to. To do so, be sure to limit the variables you address while stating the problem.

Purpose/Research Questions

Like the “Statement of the Problem,” this section can be included as part of the introduction or it can be separate. The statement of purpose/research objectives involves a description of the question(s) the research seeks to answer or the hypotheses the research seeks to advance. Once you begin your research, you may find that your questions or hypotheses may change- so don’t stress. What is important for you at this point is to specify your study’s focus and concisely explain the goals and research objectives. When doing this, however, remember to show how your approach will be different from the previous research and add to the field of knowledge.

Review of Literature

The literature review is a critical look at the existing research that identifies potential gaps in knowledge and is significant to the research you are proposing to carry out. Here, you need to be able to identify the key texts which contribute to your thesis or dissertation. Literature reviews often include both the theoretical and empirical approaches in order to effectively demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and the appropriate approaches to studying it.

Tips on drafting your Literature Review:

·         Categorize the literature into trends/themes and begin each with an appropriate subheading, then synthesize related information. Remember to:

o   stake out the various positions that are relevant to your project

o   build on conclusions

o   point out the places where the literature is lacking or flawed

·         Avoid defenses, praise, and blame. Your task is to justify your project given the existing knowledge.

Continue reading
11102 Hits

Should you work towards a Master’s or Doctoral degree? Which is right for you?

Should you work towards a Master’s or Doctoral degree? Which is right for you?

If you are considering going to graduate school, you are probably wondering which degree to get. The choice should not be too difficult once you understand the differences among the two types: doctorate and masters. Graduate school is a lot of work and can be very competitive. Many students who floated through undergraduate work are surprised to find that graduate school requires a much larger commitment. Students who are taking a full course load as well as teaching or working other jobs often find themselves overwhelmed. The difference between college and graduate school lies in the ability of the student to focus on their field and areas of most interest.

When considering the advantages of each, remember that both will give you in-depth training in a specialized field and the usefulness of each degree depends on your academic and career interests/goals. However, the higher the degree, the longer it takes to earn and the more specialized the focus becomes. For that reason, here are some things to consider.

What is a Doctoral Degree?

The most common doctorate, and main focus of this post, is the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.). Obtaining a Ph.D. degree means you have exclusive specialty in your field of choice. Bear in mind that one of the very important aspects of getting a Ph.D. consists in the ideal of creating knowledge. Ph.D. work requires original research that contributes new information. In order to earn your Ph.D., you will be required to pass comprehensive exams and a dissertation. What many students don’t know is that they can apply for a Ph.D. program directly after completing a bachelor’s degree, although some schools do require a master’s degree before entering a Ph.D. program.

Purpose and Uses of a Doctorate

Continue reading
2500 Hits

Things I Wish I Would've Known Before Applying to Grad School

Things I Wish I Would've Known Before Applying to Grad School

Looking back on my time in grad school is a bittersweet feeling. I had a lot of difficulties but I still treasure the hard work and tears (maybe that’s the cognitive dissonance speaking). I thought I’d share with you some wisdom from my time in grad school: the things I wish I would’ve known. If you understand and take seriously some of these things, then maybe you can avoid some of those tears in grad school (literal and/or figurative tears).

Continue reading
3742 Hits

7 Myths About Getting a PhD

7 Myths About Getting a PhD

Should you get a master’s degree or should you go on to get your PhD? If you’re considering getting even more education, be aware of some of these misguided assumptions surrounding the elusive PhD.

Continue reading
19933 Hits