Do You Need a Master’s to Get a PhD? Discover the Truth Here.


Are you considering pursuing a PhD but unsure if you need a master’s degree first? This is a common question for many students who are thinking about their next academic step. A PhD degree is the highest degree one can achieve in academia, and it opens up many doors for career opportunities. However, the path to obtaining a PhD can be different for everyone. In this post, we will break down the traditional route of getting a PhD through a master’s degree, as well as explore alternatives for those who do not have a master’s degree but want to pursue a PhD. We will also provide tips for making an informed decision and evaluating your options.

What is a PhD?

A PhD degree, or Doctor of Philosophy degree, is a doctoral degree that represents the highest level of education in a particular academic field. It is typically a research-based degree that requires several years of focused study and original research in a specific area of interest. PhD programs are designed to train students to become experts in their field, and to prepare them for careers in academia, research, or industry. In addition to completing advanced coursework, PhD students are expected to conduct original research, publish their work in academic journals, and defend their dissertation in front of a panel of experts in their field. PhD degrees are highly valued in many fields, and they can open up many doors for career advancement and personal growth.

Do you need a master’s degree to get a PhD?

While the traditional route to a PhD degree involves obtaining a master’s degree first, there are alternatives available that do not require a master’s degree. Some universities offer direct entry PhD programs, which allow students to skip the master’s degree and proceed directly to a PhD. However, it’s important to note that direct entry PhD programs are highly competitive and may require a higher level of academic achievement than traditional PhD programs. Additionally, having a master’s degree can provide students with valuable research experience, subject background knowledge, and critical thinking skills that can be useful during a PhD program.

Ultimately, the decision to pursue a master’s degree before a PhD depends on the individual’s goals, prior experience, and available resources. It’s important for students to research their options, speak with academic advisors, and carefully consider the advantages and disadvantages of each route before making a decision.

Reasons to get a master’s degree before a PhD

  • Skill development and preparation for research: A master’s degree program can provide students with the opportunity to develop research skills and gain subject background knowledge that can be valuable during a PhD program.
  • Increased chances of being admitted to a PhD program: Having a master’s degree can demonstrate to PhD admissions committees that a student has demonstrated the ability to succeed in advanced coursework and has experience conducting research in their field.
  • Personal and professional growth: A master’s degree program can provide students with the opportunity to grow personally and professionally, and to develop relationships with faculty and peers that can last throughout their career.

Reasons to skip a master’s degree and pursue a PhD directly

  • Time and cost savings: Skipping a master’s degree and proceeding directly to a PhD can save students time and money, as they may be able to complete both degrees in a shorter amount of time and with less tuition expenses.
  • More research experience: Entering a PhD program directly can provide students with the opportunity to gain more research experience and to advance their knowledge faster than they would in a master’s program.
  • Unique research opportunities: Some PhD programs offer unique research opportunities that are not available in master’s programs, which can provide students with a competitive edge in their field.

What to consider when making a decision

  • Personal goals and career aspirations: Consider what your ultimate goals are in obtaining a PhD degree, and which route will allow you to achieve those goals most effectively.
  • Available resources and funding opportunities: Look into available funding opportunities and consider whether you have the resources necessary to complete a master’s degree or proceed directly to a PhD.
  • Competitiveness of PhD programs: Research the PhD programs you are interested in and consider their admission requirements and level of competitiveness to determine which route may provide you with the best chance of being admitted.

Overall, it’s important to carefully consider all of the available options and to speak with academic advisors and other professionals in your field to determine the best path forward for your individual situation.

Alternatives for those who do not have a master’s degree but want to pursue a PhD

For those who do not have a master’s degree but want to pursue a PhD, there are several alternatives available. Some of these alternatives include:

  • Graduate certificate programs: Certificate programs can provide students with focused, advanced coursework in a particular field that can be useful for admission to a PhD program.
  • Industry experience: Depending on the field, relevant industry experience can be valuable for admission to a PhD program.
  • Self-study and MOOCs: For those who are highly motivated and self-directed, self-study and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) can provide the opportunity to gain relevant skills and knowledge before applying to a PhD program.

It’s important to note that alternatives to obtaining a master’s degree can vary by field, so it’s important to research the specific requirements of your field of interest. Additionally, it may be helpful to speak with professionals in your field about alternative paths to obtaining a PhD.

If you’re trying to decide between studying physics or chemistry, check out this helpful post about the differences between the two fields: Physics vs Chemistry: Which One Should You Study?

Interesting facts

– According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), about 56% of individuals who earned a research doctorate in 2016-2017 already held a master’s degree.
– While it is not always necessary to have a master’s degree to pursue a PhD, some programs may require or prefer it as preparation for doctoral-level work.
– Direct-entry PhD programs, which allow students to earn a PhD without first obtaining a master’s degree, are becoming increasingly popular in certain fields.
– Double majoring in college can be challenging but may also provide additional skills and knowledge that can come in handy when pursuing a PhD. For more information on the rigor of double majoring, check out this article: How Hard Is It to Double Major, Really?


Do I need a master’s degree to pursue a PhD?

While it is not always necessary, some programs may require or prefer a master’s degree as preparation for doctoral-level work.

What are direct-entry PhD programs?

Direct-entry PhD programs allow students to earn a PhD without first obtaining a master’s degree.

What are the advantages of getting a master’s degree before a PhD?

A master’s degree can provide skills development, better preparation for research, and increase your chances of being admitted to a PhD program.

What are the advantages of pursuing a PhD directly?

Skipping a master’s degree saves time and money, provides more research opportunities, and increases research experience.

How can I decide whether or not to pursue a master’s degree before a PhD?

Consider personal goals and career aspirations, available resources and funding opportunities, and the competitiveness of PhD programs in your field.

What are some alternative options for those who do not have a master’s degree but want to pursue a PhD?

Graduate certificate programs, industry experience, and self-study and MOOCs can all provide additional knowledge and skills.

Do I need to have a STEM background to pursue a PhD?

No, PhD programs are available in many different fields and do not necessarily require a STEM background.

How long does it take to get a PhD?

The average time it takes to complete a PhD varies by field but can range from 5-7 years, or longer in certain cases.

Can I work while pursuing a PhD?

Many students work part-time or as research or teaching assistants while pursuing a PhD, though schedules can be demanding.

What are the career opportunities for those with a PhD?

PhD holders have access to a wide range of careers in academia, industry, and government, including research and development, consulting, and teaching.

Real experience

Maria was a bright student who had big dreams of pursuing a PhD in her field of study. She had always been a star performer in her academic endeavors, and a PhD seemed to be the icing on the cake. However, she was not sure whether she should pursue a master’s degree before applying to a PhD program.

Maria started researching online, going through numerous blogs and articles on the topic. She even reached out to some of her professors for guidance. Everyone seemed to have a different opinion, and that only made her more confused.

Finally, Maria decided to speak with a study adviser at her university. The adviser listened attentively to Maria’s concerns and answered all her queries. The adviser even provided Maria with valuable insights into the pros and cons of pursuing a master’s degree before a PhD.

Thanks to the adviser’s assistance, Maria was able to make an informed decision, and she realized that a master’s degree would be a beneficial investment for her educational and professional goals. Her decision paid off in the end, as she was able to secure admission to a prestigious PhD program in her field.

Maria was happy that she had consulted with a study adviser, who had helped her navigate the path to her dreams.


Deciding whether to pursue a master’s degree before a PhD or to skip straight to a PhD program is a complex decision that requires careful consideration of various factors. There are advantages and disadvantages to each route, and the best decision will depend on your individual goals, experience, and resources.

Remember to do your own research and speak with academic advisors and current PhD students in your field to gather more information and perspectives. Additionally, resources like How to Find the Right PhD Program for You can provide helpful guidance throughout the decision-making process.

No matter which path you choose, obtaining a PhD degree can open up many doors for personal and professional growth, and can help you achieve your ultimate career aspirations.

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