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

If you’re visiting this site, you’ve probably already decided that some form of graduate school is the best way to further your career goals, but one critical question remains:  Should you apply for a doctorate or master’s degree program? While only you can ultimately answer that question, here are some important factors to consider while making your decision.


Fact: Graduate school is expensive.

Tuition at a public university like the University of Texas – Austin can range from around $5,000 a semester to $17,000 a semester depending on whether you live in state. Tuition at a private universities is even higher.  Harvard, for example, charges over $36,000 a year in tuition alone for graduate studies.  Keep in mind that these figures do not include living expenses, which can increase the cost of attending graduate school anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000 a year, depending on where the school is located.

Nearly all doctoral candidates receive a hefty amount of financial aid to offset these costs.  Most academic departments waive tuition for their doctoral students and also provide them with a living stipend while they study.  Annual stipends for doctoral candidates can range from $12,000 to as high as $30,000, depending on the type of program and its location. As a result, doctoral students typically have little to no debt after graduation.

While some universities will offer funding for their master’s students, obtaining financial aid or funding in the form of teaching assistantships is much more challenging as a master’s student.  As a result, pursuing a master’s degree can be much more expensive, and most master’s students have to go into debt to pay for their degree.  Getting funding as a master’s student is not impossible, though; even if you do not receive funding through the university you can still apply for outside scholarships.


Where do you see yourself in five years?  If you go for a doctoral program, you will probably be locked in the library, writing your dissertation.  If you choose a master’s program, on the other hand, you could be several years into your career at a new company.  Ph.D programs can take between five and seven years to complete while master’s programs typically take between one and three years to complete.  Aside from the considerations about where you see yourself personally and professionally in that period of time, you also want to think about how this investment of time will affect your finances.

Master’s degrees help people to advance their position in their field of business; in other words, master’s degrees are career-track degrees.  Even though master’s students have to pay more for their degree, this degree will typically help its recipients earn significantly more money.  Furthermore, a master’s degree student will be pursuing her degree for a much shorter period of time: typically one to three years.

Doctoral students, on the other hand, typically take between five and seven years to complete their degree.  While they may not be going into as much debt during this time, they certainly are not making enough money to save or plan for their future.  Furthermore, doctoral programs prepare their students for a lifetime of research and teaching and academic careers are far from lucrative. A Ph.D will not necessarily make you more competitive in the workplace; it simply opens the doors to academia and research.

Remember: like it or not, time is money.  Take some time to weigh these factors, and check back next week for more factors you should consider when choosing between a master’s and doctoral program.

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