The two main types of graduate degrees offered are the master's degree and the doctoral degree. In most fields, the doctoral degree is known as a PhD (a.k.a., a Doctor of Philosophy). In some specialized fields, the doctoral degree goes by another name such as a JD or juris doctor degree in the field of law, or names such as Doctor of Physical Therapy or Doctor of Pharmacy.
Graduate degree timeline: Master's or PhD first?
Often, students pursuing doctoral degrees complete their master's degrees first and then move on to their doctoral level work. Did you know that it's possible to go straight for your PhD without getting your master's first? Many students don't, but depending on your field, it could be a viable option that saves you time, money, or both. Things to consider:
- Doctoral candidates often get more funding.
- Pursuing each graduate degree separately can take longer.
- You only have to go through the application process once!
Will the direct-to-doc option work for you? That depends. The best decision, master's or PhD, is the one that aligns with your personal, academic, and career goals. (For more on how to choose the right graduate degree program for your career goals, follow the link.)
Requirements depend on master's or PhD graduate degree program
All graduate degree programs are different. Some schools require all students to begin as master's candidates. Other schools will offer master's status to some entering students, but PhD status to others. When you attend a combined degree program, you complete master's-level work as part of your doctoral requirements.
When to go directly to a doctorate
Going directly for a doctoral graduate degree program is a good choice when:
- You're completely dedicated to your area of study.
- You want to work in a highly competitive field and need top credentials.
- You plan to teach or research at the university level, or study in a research-intensive field. While a PhD is certainly no guarantee, it will get you that much closer to your goal.
When to get a master's degree
Getting a master's first might be better if:
- Your college grades aren't strong enough to get you into a PhD program.
- A master's is the only graduate school degree you need to qualify for the job you want. This is often the case in secondary education, engineering, and nursing.
- You're continuing your education as a means of changing careers.
PhD or Master's: Choice of graduate degrees up to you
Regardless of which path — PhD or master's — you choose, it's essential to research your options carefully. Grad school is an exciting step, but it's a commitment!
If you want to find more information on graduate degrees in general, follow the link.