If you’re thinking about becoming an expert in your field by getting a PhD, you might already know how long the road ahead of you may be. Many people dream of getting a PhD, but they often get put off by the time commitment and cost involved before they can even get started.
After all, PhDs can take anywhere from 3 to 8 years to finish — and in some cases, even more. Getting a PhD can be quite a difficult endeavor for people who have jobs, families, and other financial responsibilities to balance along the way.
If you want that coveted PhD without compromising your other responsibilities, you might find yourself asking, “do you have to get a master’s before a PhD?”
The short answer is: not necessarily.
Although the traditional route to a PhD often involves getting a master’s degree first, many direct to PhD programs allow academics to skip an MA altogether. Even those with bachelor’s degrees have a decent chance at getting into a PhD program. However, going directly for a doctorate still has its advantages and disadvantages.
How to Get a PhD Without a Master’s Degree
The minimum requirement to be considered for a PhD is a bachelor’s degree, but your chances of getting accepted will depend on how well you tender your application.
Educational institutions won’t freely advertise that they offer doctorates without master’s degrees. It becomes your task to look into the core beliefs of the universities you’re interested in to see whether you have a chance at success.
When putting together your application, you’ll have to check the universities’ requirements to ensure that your previous academic performance qualifies. The better your qualifications and recommendation letters are, the higher your chances of being considered.
Of course, you may be able to eliminate many of your troubles by going the direct to PhD route, which takes you from undergrad straight into a doctorate program.
Advantages of Going Straight to PhD
The biggest advantage of bypassing a master’s degree is easily the amount of time and money you can save in the process.
An MA can take as short as a year or as long as three to obtain. And when doctorates usually take anywhere from 5-7 years, shaving 1-3 years off can make a huge difference — especially for busy people who want to get ahead in their careers quickly.
Of course, you also won’t need to pay thousands of dollars in tuition fees for an MA. These savings alone are usually enough to convince many people to go for a PhD without master’s degrees slowing them down along the way.
Other benefits you may encounter are:
- Grants and Stipends – Another advantage of joining a direct entry doctorate program is the possibility of obtaining outside funding (if you qualify). Many PhD programs offer students financial assistance in the form of partial funding or full tuition waivers. If you can benefit from financial aid, you might be glad to know that some programs also offer stipends on top of the tuition grants.
- Research Projects – As a doctoral candidate, you might want to start or join certain research projects that may be time-sensitive. In cases like these, it’s usually advisable to go directly for PhDs to increase your chances of securing your dream project. If the project you’re looking at is a long-term endeavor, a doctoral program may also be the best route to allow for more in-depth fieldwork and experiments during your studies.
- Less Stress and Hassle – Choosing not to go for a master’s degree might help eliminate stress and hassle, such as school applications and potential relocations. Going direct to PhD means you’ll likely only need to move once (if at all) to your chosen school’s area.
Disadvantages of Skipping a Master’s Degree
Although the answer to the question “can you get a PhD without a master’s?” is a resounding yes, it doesn’t always mean that it’s the right choice for everyone.
Going from undergraduate studies straight into a PhD program can be quite a huge adjustment. The program might suddenly expect you to get familiar with new techniques, work, and professional relationships — and fast!
This adjustment period may put you at a disadvantage compared to other doctorate candidates who have previously completed a master’s degree.
Other hindrances you might encounter are:
- Difficulty During Applications Process – PhD programs are competitive and often only take the best-qualified applicants. If you’re competing with other students who have master’s degrees, it may affect your chances of securing a spot. However, if you go for a direct to PhD program (undergraduate straight into PhD), it may be possible to avoid this problem.
- Less Experience in Research and Dissertation Work – A thesis or dissertation is a major requirement of completing a master’s degree. Skipping an MA means you’re missing out on all of the experience you’d otherwise get in research and fieldwork. You’ll also have less experience actually writing a dissertation.
- Less Time to Confirm Your Interests – Working on your master’s thesis will allow you to select a topic that interests you. You usually spend about a year working on your thesis, during which you can explore the topic further to confirm whether it’s really what you want to go into. By skipping the MA, you’re potentially giving up the chance to verify if the field truly interests you before you fully commit to it for the duration of your PhD. Going straight into a doctoral program may also mean that you miss out on the chance to choose your own topic and create your own research proposal.
- Missing the Opportunity to Work with a Thesis Supervisor – When doing a master’s degree, postgraduate students work with a thesis supervisor who provides guidance and advice for their projects. Going direct to PhD means you miss out on the experience of working with a supervisor and finding the right types of communication, schedules, and professional relationships for your needs. This means you’ll have to figure all of this out during your doctorate program, which can add to your stress.
So Do You Need a Master’s to Get a PhD? Not Always
The “ideal” doctorate program doesn’t come along often. If you find yourself faced with a choice between pursuing a master’s degree or trying to get into your dream doctoral program, you might want to skip the master’s degree altogether.
Although you may miss out on an MA qualification, often, a finished PhD supersedes the need for one anyway.
Getting a PhD without master’s degrees can be difficult, but it’s certainly not impossible!