Nowadays, virtually every blog will tell you that it is possible to get a PhD without a Master’s degree. And they are entirely correct.
Many universities worldwide have decided to modify the traditional academic admission route and fast-track students’ progress up the educational ladder.
And that’s fine. For the most part, bypassing the Master’s programme will save you time and money. The trouble is, of course, there are caveats you should be aware of, but which are usually left unsaid.
Without the intent to push you in any direction, we’ll try to draw a complete map of hurdles that might lurk in shortcuts while you’re heading for the PhD degree.
Hopefully, that’ll disperse all your doubts.
So, Do You Need a Master’s to Get a PhD?
The short answer is no – you often don’t need to attend a Master’s programme to enroll in doctoral studies. However, depending on the region you chose and the particular area of study you’re interested in, the situation can vary.
Unfortunately, the centralized list of universities that don’t require a Master’s degree for the PhD enrolment doesn’t exist (wouldn’t that be a great idea). Until such a database is hopefully created, you’ll have to do your own research.
Be sure to make it a thorough one, though, because there’s a world of possibilities out there. But, hey, if you opt for the highest degree, you should be prepared for some scrutiny in the first place.
Here’s a starting point that can give you valuable clues.
Admission Requirements by Regions: Europe vs. USA
Although each university is an academic institution for itself, there are two general models of PhD programmes and the related admission requirements – the US and European ones.
Generally speaking, the European institutions of higher education will require a potential candidate to hold a Master’s degree. The US universities, by contrast, don’t outline this precondition as an obituary and will often allow Bachelors to apply for a PhD programme.
The same goes for countries and regions that apply these two models. Though it’s tough to put all of the PhD studies worldwide in neatly packed boxes, it’s true to say that most countries employ the European PhD model. Australian, African, and Chinese universities all have a similar admittance system compared to the one practiced, for instance, in the UK.
The US model (allowing students to skip the Master’s) is mainly practiced, obviously, on the American continent.
Some individual European and Asian universities also employ it, but they are more of an exception from the general PhD admissions rules in their regions (Singapore and Serbia, for example, permit their Bachelors to proceed straight to doctoral programmes).
But, of course, there’s a catch.
The thing is – universities that allow Bachelors to go straight to PhD usually already have the Master’s programme integrated into their doctoral studies. It means that they require doctoral students to go through extensive coursework and take comprehensive exams before even choosing the subject of their thesis. That’s why the average duration of the American postdoctoral programmes is six to eight years. In many cases, if a student drops out of the US PhD studies, he/she can still be eligible for obtaining a Master’s degree.
By contrast, the average duration of the European doctoral studies is three years, and they include little to no coursework. The candidate is also not expected to pass comprehensive entry exams nor prove his/her expertise in the research field. PhD students in Europe usually start their thesis research immediately after admission, that is – when a supervisor approves the particular dissertation subject they’ve chosen.
In a word, there’s no way of passing around the lot of hard work each PhD has to do.
Admission Requirements by The Fields of Study
In most research fields, a doctorate dissertation is the farthest you can go, meaning you’ve obtained a terminal degree (signifying the highest contribution to human knowledge in the area of study). From this perspective, going through a Master’s programme is equivalent to setting a stage for what comes next.
But that’s not always the case.
Some disciplines consider a doctorate to be a mere prerequisite for terminal research degrees as are, for example, “Doctor” of Medicine (MD) or Jurisprudence (JD or Juris Doctor). On the other hand, professional practice fields often have terminal master-level degrees. For example, in fine arts, an MFA (the Master of Fine Arts) has reached the highest level of expertise.
However, the perception of various degrees can be transformed over time by market fluctuations. In business and administration, for example, an MBA (Master of Business and Administration) has long been seen as a terminal degree. But, recently, because many MBA graduates were invading the market, DBA (The Doctor of Business Administration) became the highest professional expertise level one can hope to achieve.
Then, you simply can’t research certain human knowledge areas with proper scrutiny without previous foreknowledge. It can be hard to contribute to the advancement of chemistry knowledge, for instance, without any prior lab experience – usually gained through a Master’s programme (the same goes for other natural sciences, such as biology or physics).
On the other hand, there are PhD studies designed to take you through the entire discipline, starting from ground zero. The doctoral programme in psychology – to illustrate our point – offers this kind of possibility, but, as you guessed, the programme’s duration is approximately five years.
Again, shortcuts are not always the shortest way to get to a PhD degree.
How Does it Work: Bachelor’s Application for a PhD
If you’re still wondering how to skip masters and go straight to PhD, you probably recognized yourself as the right person for jumping straight into the deep waters of doctoral studies.
Good for you.
Just remember that the admission board will probably expect you to prove your excellence and determination on paper.
It means that you will have to submit:
- demonstrated undergraduate performance (at least Upper Second-Class Honours according to the British classification, equivalent to the 3.33–3.67 GPA in the US)
- strong recommendation letters from the supervisors who have their own PhD students
- Strong personal statement and cover letter that will prove your exceptional communication skills, high work ethics, and authentic interest in the research area
- Outstanding results from the entry exam, should you be obliged to take one
The admission requirements might vary depending on the institution you’re aiming to enroll. Still, it’s a good idea to prepare yourself for entering a highly competitive area, where it’s advisable to bring in your A-game.
Don’t forget that you are in the ring with many candidates who already own a Master’s degree and, therefore, have a head start.
Should You Skip Masters?
Having all said in mind, the honest answer to this question is – maybe, it depends on your specific academic profile and goals. In other words, the question is not can you skip Master’s, but should you do it?
Here’s an extended version of the pros and cons to help you align your academic goals with reality.
Advantages of Heading Straight to PhD
You could say that the advantages of skipping Master’s are somewhat practical:
- Efficient time management
If you genuinely possess all the qualities outlined in your PhD application, the chances are that you’ll spend less time circling the research subject you are interested in.
- More funding options
Not only does the equation less time means less money seems appropriate here, but there are more funding options available for doctorate students than there are for those who attend a Master’s programme.
- Project development
It’s not just that you will you spend less time exploring the things you don’t perceive as relevant to your thesis, but you’ll probably spend more time working on what you genuinely love.
- A “drop out” Master’s
Many PhD studies that have a Master’s programme integrated will allow you to obtain an MA degree, even if you’ve chosen to withdraw from this educational path.
- Less moving
If accredited online PhD programs are not what you’re looking for, do know that a world of opportunities worldwide will tempt you to move – in case of bypassing a Master’s – only once.
The Flip Side: Benefits of a Master’s Programme
However, the advantages of attending a Master’s do sound convincing from another point of view. You could have:
- Greater chances of admission
As noted before, the admission boards usually regard this “transitional” degree as proof that you’ve conquered the basics you’ll need for further studies.
- Improved performance scores
A lot of times, Master’s can be your chance of achieving results that will make you into a more prospective PhD candidate.
- Developed relationship with your supervisor
As a supervisor will become the single most important person in your life (yes, not just in your studies), it’s much better when you already have a mutual understanding and trust. He/she will not only give you the best recommendation there is, but you wouldn’t have to start building this relationship from ground zero.
- Clearly defined research agenda
Often, the Master’s thesis can be just a probing research jest for the PhD dissertation. Usually, that is the most easier path to take, as you work your way to the doctorate gradually, without overwhelming yourself.
- Will always have your Master’s in case you quit.
Should You Head Straight to a Doctoral Programme? Take a Test
Never mind how much info there’s online; when deciding what academic path you will take, things tend to become perplexed.
That’s why we devised a test to help you orient yourself in the right direction. Try answering the following questions with a simple “yes” or “no”.
- Do you have an outstanding undergraduate performance (at least Upper Second-Class Honours according to the British classification, equivalent to the 3.33–3.67 GPA in the US)?
- Can you precisely define your research interests and identify the blind spot which needs academic scrutiny?
- Be honest to yourself – do you have strong research skills?
- Have you ever participated in a research project or conducted one yourself?
- Did you establish a meaningful relationship with several professors who would be glad to write you a letter of recommendation?
- Have you identified your potential supervisor?
- Does he/she know you?
- Are you interested in pursuing an academic career or becoming an independent researcher?
- Are you prepared to spend the next six to eight years on your doctoral programme of choice?
- Do you have a funding plan?
If you answered “yes” to more than 8 of these questions, you probably have the acumen, skills, and prerequisites to jump straight into a PhD research without attending a Master’s programme first.
Otherwise, think again. Consider all of the numbers in the equation. PhD studies should be hard because they are, among other things, a rigorous selection process. Only those determined to succeed will stand a chance.
UNZA Wishes You Good Luck Whatever You Decide
Here at the University of Zambia, we take great pride in offering a system that reduces PhD students’ chances of failure.
Knowing that 1 in 5 PhD students might drop out, we don’t encourage anyone to apply if they’re not confident they can finish the studies successfully. Our firm belief is that nobody can benefit from wasting their time and money.
That’s why our online PhD studies in Business and Administration require applicants to have a Master’s degree. It’s our way of nurturing a high-caliber academic environment where talents can thrive.
Whatever journey you chose to take, we wish you all the luck!
Learn more about the program by downloading our prospectus.
Don’t hesitate to contact us for any additional questions as we’ll be more than happy to help you.