Doctorate vs. Master’s Degrees: Factors to Consider Part II

In our last post, we discussed the financial and temporal considerations that should be at the forefront of your mind when deciding whether to pursue a Ph.D or a master’s degree.  This week, we will continue this discussion with some more factors you want to consider.

Career Goals

Unlike college, graduate school is not the place to go to figure out what you want to do with your life.  Prospective graduate students should have very clear career goals in mind.  Not only will this help you write a more effective personal statement, this will also help you decide whether a doctorate or master’s degree will be more helpful to you in your field.


If what you want to do only requires a master’s degree, don’t waste your time on a doctorate!! Any current student will tell you that graduate school is far from fun.  You are working constantly and barely making enough money to survive or going deeper into debt.  Don’t spend any more time in graduate school than you absolutely must in order to accomplish your career goals.

So, how do you know if a master’s degree or a doctorate will be more helpful for your career goals?  The best way to find out is to talk to people who have the jobs that you want and ask them what degrees they pursued in order to get there.  Likewise, researching positions similar to the one you want and the qualifications listed can give you an idea of whether a master’s or a doctorate is required.  Master’s degrees tend to be more career-oriented whereas doctorate degrees typically lead you to a life of academic research.  Unless you dream of being a professor and doing research for the rest of your life, you should think long and hard before pursuing a doctorate degree.

Master’s degrees, on the other hand, can be a great way to set yourself apart from the vast majority of job applicants who only have bachelor’s degrees.  Master’s degrees allow you to obtain a specialization in your field that can set you apart from other job applicants in this competitive job market.  Pursuing a master’s degree in a new field is also a great way to change your career by providing you with academic qualifications in a field where you don’t have work experience.


Ph.D programs are typically far more competitive than masters programs.  There are fewer openings–sometimes just one or two each year in a program!–and the criteria for admission are much more stringent.  If you are worried you’re lacking the necessary qualifications to be accepted into a doctoral program, getting a master’s degree first can be a good way to set yourself apart from other Ph.D applicants.  Likewise, if you’re unsure whether you will be admitted to the doctoral program of your choice but think you might be interested in a master’s program at the same school, consider applying for the master’s instead.  Some universities allow rejected doctoral candidates to apply for master’s programs, however, the vast majority do not.

Have you made up your mind? Still trying to decide which degree program is for you? Post any questions or comments below!


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