Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Masters before doctorate?

This week a Googler posed the question, "Should I work on a master's if I'm going to get a doctorate degree?" I know that most of my readers are past the point at which the answer might be helpful, but I'll offer my opinion for the benefit of future Googlers.

There are a few disadvantages to getting the master's first--mostly it just takes longer, and master's students do not typically get the same level of support that doctoral students get. Based on conversations with friends who have gotten a master's and remained at the same institution for the doctorate, some feelings of burn-out are likely--it is a long time to be in one place, and you have to jump through the hoops for one degree, just to start over on a new one.

Having said that, I think that in many cases it is a good idea to get the master's degree first. In the final year of my undergraduate program, I started the process of applying into doctoral programs and did not complete my applications. I took the GRE general and subject tests, got recommendations, polished writing samples, etc., but the process of applying made me realize that I was not ready for that step. A doctoral program is a huge, long-term commitment to an institution and to yourself, and I was not prepared to take that step yet. I decided to apply to the master's program at my undergrad university--I knew I could do it in two years and, of course, it did not carry the anxiety of relocating (my personal life was also in upheaval, which contributed to that decision).

After a year of graduate work, I started my doctoral applications again. Better writing sample. Better personal statement. Better test scores. And I actually had an idea about how to choose a school. Because I got my Master's degree first, my doctoral applications were better, my scholarship was more mature, and I was better prepared to commit to a doctoral program for the long haul. I still had a lot of anxiety starting at a new school and I certainly dealt with imposter syndrome (alas, it lingers on), but I benefited tremendously from taking that middle step. And I got a degree out of it.

9 comments:

Dana said...

I agree, Sarah. Although getting the Master's degree first takes longer (but, really, only one year longer), it definitely gives you a better idea of what you're getting into by going to grad school--without the intense commitment of the PhD program. I think it also works as a nice transition (at least in the English dept.) between undergraduate skills and graduate skills--they are not the same!

Anastasia said...

one cannot be admitted to a PhD program in my field without a master's in hand, so it's a moot point for us.

Jennie said...

I absolutely agree with the benefit of a master's degree before a doctorate. Before I started grad school, I applied to two doctoral programs that didn't require a master's because I knew a Ph.D. was my ultimate goal (BTW, I was rejected by both). For some people with extensive experience in a field, this may be the right move. However, for people like me (two years after college graduation), it is probably a waste of time, energy and money. And I now know it would have been a huge mistake if I had been accepted. Most likely, you will learn a great deal about scholarship, your field and research interests, and how to pick the right program for your interests and goals--all things you really want to know before you are committed to a doctoral program and, in my opinion, things even the best undergraduate just cannot really know without more schooling or extensive professional experience. If finishing sooner is a huge priority, you should probably reconsider the whole Ph.D. thing anyway!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this! I found it helpful. I wish more people had weighed in on the issue in the comments section though!

-K.A.

rjd said...

I am one of those people deciding between applying for Master's programs and Ph.D programs. Ultimately, I would like to have a practice, I am more interested in being a practitioner and less interested in research. Would you recommend Psy.D programs? I feel it is less prestigious and is much less versatile than Ph.D programs. Am I wrong? Also, did your Master's credits transfer to your Ph.D program? Any recommendations/advice you can give me is appreciated!

Dana said...

Getting the master's (or in my case two master's) was important because I found my niche. It takes some people right from undergrad to decide they are doctoral ready. I figured this out after two master's degrees. Also, applying to PhD may be overwhelming, but this is not necessary the route for everyone. EdD is also another consideration or Ed Specialist for those who wants a more focused and less theoretical means of a post-graduate degree.

Anonymous said...

thanks for posting ..I was searching for this for a long time.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. I just graduated May 2011 and entered into an MS program, and recently decided to pursue a PhD. I didn't know if I should continue working on my MS or stop and start working towards a PhD. I think that because I am so young, I will continue to get my MS first. It will give me great experience for my PhD.

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for the guidance!