Deciding between pursuing a Master’s or a Ph.D. degree depends on several factors, including your career goals, interests and personal circumstances. Here are some considerations to help you decide:


Master’s Degree

  • Duration. Typically takes 1 – 2 years to complete.
  • Cost. Generally less expensive and less time-consuming than a PhD.
  • Career goals. Ideal if you are looking to gain specialized knowledge and skills to advance in your career or to switch fields.
  • Research commitment. Involves less research than a PhD, which may be beneficial if you are not interested in a research-heavy career. In fact, many master’s degrees are coursework-only.
  • Job market. Opens up advanced job opportunities and may increase earning and leadership potential, but does not qualify you for academic tenure-track positions.


Ph.D. Degree

  • Duration. Typically takes 4 – 6 years to complete.
  • Cost. Almost all doctoral programs in the U.S. are fully funded, including tuition and a monthly stipend for living expenses. Most funding comes from the university, department, research grants or teaching assistantships.
  • Career goals. The doctorate is required for academic and research-oriented careers.
  • Research commitment. Involves extensive research and the creation of new knowledge, with a significant commitment to a specific area of study.
  • Job market. Qualifies you for higher-level academic, research and industry positions, but the job market for tenure-track academic positions is competitive. Many Ph.D.s will also work in consulting and/or entrepreneurial ventures.


Factors to consider

  • Career aspirations. Do you aspire to work in academia, research or a specific industry? Consider what degree is most commonly required or preferred in your desired field. You should also consider a master’s degree as a stepping stone towards a Ph.D. if you are uncertain about the time commitment for a doctoral degree. Many students complete an MA/MS degree and then continue on – either immediately or after working full-time – to a Ph.D. program, while many do not!
  • Interest in research. Are you passionate about conducting original research and contributing new knowledge to your field?
  • Time and financial commitment. Are you prepared for the long-term commitment of a Ph.D. program? While there is typically no financial burden on a doctoral program, spending four to six years (and for many social science or humanities programs, even longer) can be considered an opportunity cost. By contrast, master’s programs are typically many fewer years, but often not funded by the university – and thus can be quite expensive.
  • Opportunities for funding. Explore funding options for both degrees. Ph.D. programs often have full funding opportunities – perhaps for up to five years – compared to master’s programs, but some universities even offer funding for MA/MS students if there is a research or teaching component to completing the degree.


Reflecting on these factors and seeking advice from mentors can help you make an informed decision. Book your introductory call with us today to discuss your options with an expert admissions counselor.

About the author
Cecilia Yan

Cecilia earned a BA from University of Minnesota – Twin Cities and an MS from Boston University, where she focused her studies on public relations and marketing. Cecilia oversees graduate programs: business development, partnerships, marketing and counselors. She also works with China partnerships. Originally from China, Cecilia is a native Mandarin speaker.

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