4 Good Reasons to Do a Master's before Your Ph.D.

Some of you will say: But wait! Isn’t a Master’s compulsory if you want to do a PhD? And some of you have probably never even considered a Master’s before a PhD. So… what’s the deal? It all comes down to which country you are studying in.

Ways to skip a Master’s and jump directly to a Ph.D.

In most EU countries, a Master’s degree is a necessary requirement if you want to apply for Ph.D. The only cases when you can be exempt from a Master’s is if your Bachelor’s took four or more years to complete, as it was the case before the Bologna system. 

Now, now, these are the general rule and exception. There are also special cases for certain countries.

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In the UK, you might be able to apply for a Ph.D. if you have a 2:2 aka Honours Bachelor’s of Science.

In Germany, you also have the possibility of a fast-track programme to a Ph.D. This essentially means that you can enrol in a 1-year study programme that prepares you for your doctoral studies, right after your Bachelor’s.

Ok, so we know how things are in Europe, but what about other parts of the world?

Like in Europe, most Ph.D. degrees in Canada require you to have graduated a Master’s. However, similar to Germany, they also have a kind of fast-track option which allows you to transfer to a Ph.D. after just one year of Master provided that it is an M.Sc. type of degree.

Australia is much like the UK. Generally, you need a Master of Research to apply to a doctoral programme. However, if you graduated from your Bachelor’s with an Honours or double degree you might still be considered for a Ph.D.

The big exception is, however, the USA.  It is actually very uncommon for students to do a Master’s before their Ph.D. That is because American universities don’t have this as a strict requirement. At the same time, it is also true that doctoral studies in the USA take anywhere between 6 and 8 years while in the EU are designed to last 3-4 years.

Ok, so know you’re thinking, 'with the exception of EU countries where I can’t do a PhD without a Master’s, is there any reason why I should go for two additional years of Master’s studies?'

Plenty, we say. But here are the 4 key ones to really make you reconsider.

1. A Master’s helps you see if you're ready to commit to a Ph.D.

During an undergraduate degree you will typically study general aspects of your chosen subject and you will specialise only a little bit through your final thesis or graduation project.

Even if you are attracted to a chosen study field or career path, you cannot know if it’s really for you until you immerse more into the subject. Considering that a Ph.D. without a Master’s requires about 6 years of commitment, wouldn’t it be better to be sure?

Because it is specialised and research-oriented a Master’s puts you face to face with what you’re planning to beat your brain with for quite some time.

At the same time, a Master’s will introduce to you the process of graduate study, which is more complex then undergraduate degrees. If you have the right study routine, the right motivation, and even time management skills during your Master’s, they will be the most relevant signs that you are ready for a PhD.

If, on the contrary, you find the Master’s overwhelming and not as interesting and appealing as you thought, then you’ll know that it is perhaps better not to undertake a Ph.D. At least not in that subject area.

If you’re starting to see where we are coming from, here are some universities you can consider for a Master’s before a Ph.D., universities that Studyportals will help you apply to:

master before PhD

2. You’ll get better positions as a Ph.D.

If you have a Master’s degree, you are just one or two years older than a B.A. holder but you’ll have much more experience that you can use in your doctoral project. And universities are not immune to that. It is a well-known fact that graduate schools tend to favour candidates with a Master’s, even in situations where a Master’s is not an absolute requirement.

Another way a Master works in your favour is if you don’t have an above average academic track record. If you have lower grades in your Bachelor’s studies, graduating magna cum laude (or close) from a Master’s will certainly turn the tide in your favour.

And finally, doing a Master’s at the same university where you want to pursue your PhD is one of the smartest moves you can make. It shows loyalty to the university, it gets you the right contacts among teachers. It’s almost a sure pass to a doctoral programme.

3.  A Master’s is the only way to a Ph.D. in a new field

It does not matter where you want to pursue a Ph.D., if you don’t have the right academic background in a connected subject area, chances of being accepted to a Ph.D. are little to zero. So, if you want to change careers and pursue a subject at a doctoral level you will need a Master’s to prepare you for it.  A Master’s degree does not only introduce to your new study field, but it does so in a more specialised way.

4. A Master’s can help you finish doctoral studies faster

In some departments, graduate schools and faculties, a Master’s does not only mean investing two extra years in your education. Quite the contrary, it might buy you time. Especially in the USA and Canada, but not only, you might be able to transfer some of the credits you earned during your Master’s towards a PhD. This can result in considerably reducing the time you spend getting your PhD.

Even if credits transfer is not possible, a Master’s still reduces the time you spend on a Ph.D. During your Master’s you win two years in which you can decide on a definitive research topic and you will inevitably gather a lot of info about it. When you start your Ph.D. you will be anywhere from one to two years ahead with your research, compared to fellow doctoral students who jumped from Bachelor’s to Ph.D.

If you are still unsure, the best advice we can give you is to ask for advice. Ask your professors, ask Master's and doctoral students, ask anyone that knows academia but knows you as well, to get personalized advice that can help YOU. Finally, choose with care, but don’t feel overwhelmed by it and remember that there is nothing wrong with changing your mind!

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Ready to apply to your Master’s?

You can now apply with Studyportals to one of our partner universities abroad. You can apply whenever you want, and it won't cost you anything.

Check the available Masters and see which of the degrees match your background and interests. Start the application process by filling in your student profile. You will soon get contacted by one of our application counsellors who will assist you further. We’ll then apply on your behalf. Find out more about applying to a Master's degree with Studyportals

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