Masters vs PhD – The insider secrets for choosing the best for you

Choosing whether or not to do a Masters or a Doctorate can be a very daunting decision. Whether or not you require a PhD for your job or your desired career path is dependent on your career goals and motivations.

There are many differences between a masters and a PhD including the length of time that it takes to achieve each (with a PhD taking up to 8 years), the main activities involved (coursework versus research) and the amount of stress involved.

A Masters degree is typically more suited to someone who wants to quickly up skill in graduate school and then enter a professional workforce.

A PhD on the other hand involves many years of research and writing a dissertation that will prepare you for a job in academia. A PhD student will work closely with an academic supervisor to create a novel study to add knowledge to a particular academic field.

If you like watching videos, here is my YouTube video where I go through everything you need to know about a Masters vs PhD and how to choose the best for you.

Keep reading to discover more insider secrets!

The difference between masters and PhD

When it comes to deciding between a masters vs PhD degree, there are many factors to consider. Both types of degrees offer advanced study in a chosen field, but there are some key differences between the two.

Length of time to complete

For starters, a masters degree typically takes two years to complete, while a PhD can take up to eight years.

Also, the research performed during a masters degree has a much smaller scope. Meaning that the research can be completed within one or two years.

A PhD research question requires much more research to answer. A PhD can quickly turn into many more years than you expect if your research does not go to plan. However, most people, with the right guidance, are able to complete their PhD between 3 to 5 years.

I was able to complete my PhD in three years.

It required me to focus on making small improvements to my research every single day and working closely with my academic supervisors to ensure that I was on schedule.


A masters degree is also generally more focused on coursework and practical applications, while a PhD is more research-heavy.

For example, my masters degree involved many lectures and exams alongside research whilst my Australian PhD did not involve any coursework at all.

PhD’s undertaken in the United States of America often involve a couple years of coursework before entering the research stage of your PhD. The extra coursework component means that PhD’s in America often take 5+ years to complete.

Thesis vs dissertation

In any graduate program, you will have to communicate the findings of your work. However, a PhD dissertation is much longer than a masters thesis.

During a master’s degree, you will produce a short thesis to communicate your research findings. This is often a short 60-ish page document with your research findings and discussions and conclusions.

A PhD, on the other hand, requires you to produce a much bigger dissertation to communicate your research findings. My thesis was over 250 pages long.

A doctorate degree is awarded after your thesis is peer-reviewed and your committee have determined that you have contributed significantly to your research field.

More information about the differences between the two different types of theses in my YouTube video:

Which degree is right for you?

It really depends on your career goals and what type of program you’re looking for.

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in academia or research, then a PhD may be the better option. But if you’re looking for practical training for a specific career field, then a masters degree could be a better fit.

We’ll help you decide which is best for you in the sections below.

What Is a Masters Degree?

A masters degree is a graduate degree that is higher than a bachelors or other undergraduate degree.

 It is often pursued after completing a four-year undergraduate degree program.

A masters degree can offer coursework in a specific field of study, and it can also lead to admission into a doctorate program.

Benefits of a masters degree

There are several benefits to earning a master’s degree.

First and foremost, you’ll increase your earning potential. With just a bachelor’s degree, you might only be able to land an entry-level job or low-level supervisor position. A master’s degree can provide the opportunity to move into management and upper-level positions in some companies.

In addition, a master’s degree provides in-depth knowledge about your field.

As the workforce evolves, a master’s degree can help you keep up with changes and advance in your career.

Finally, a master’s degree can also prepare you for a new career field. If you’re looking to switch careers, a graduate degree can provide the specialized knowledge you need to be successful in a new field.

Is Masters easier than PhD?

There is no easy answer to the question of whether a master’s degree or PhD is easier. It depends on a variety of factors, including your area of study, the school you attend, and your own personal abilities and work ethic.

However, in general, a PhD program will require more time and effort than a master’s program. A PhD program is typically more research-focused, while a master’s program may emphasize more coursework.

Additionally, a PhD program usually takes longer to complete than a master’s program.

So, while there may not be a definitive answer to the question of which degree is easier, in general, a PhD will be more challenging than a master’s degree.

What Is a PhD (Doctoral) Degree?

A PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy, is the highest academic degree awarded by universities in most countries.

PhDs are awarded for research in a wide range of subjects, and the completion of a PhD typically takes several years. A PhD can take as little as two years.

I knew of someone who spent over 10 years doing their PhD.

A PhD degree is an academic achievement that can open up many doors in academia and beyond.

If you are able to complete your PhD within a reasonable timeframe, approximately 3 to 5 years, you’ll be able to quickly move on to further research in a Post-Doc position or transition to industry. Lingering too long in your PhD will make it much harder to see the true value and benefit of many years of study.

Which Degree Is More Impactful: A Masters vs PhD?

Both degrees offer unique benefits that can help you further your career.

So, which one should you pursue?

Here are some things to consider when making your decision:

  • The level of commitment required – often, a Masters is a better time to benefit ratio as it does not take as much time to complete and can have immediate impact on your career.
  • The time it will take to complete – if you are unable to spend more than two years completing your degree – a masters may be better. You can also complete both on a part-time basis. This, however, significantly increases the amount of time required for completion.
  • The cost of tuition and other associated expenses – masters often have a better return on investment and a PhD can be very expensive without a guaranteed return.
  • The type of career you want to have – if you want a career in academia or in a university you must have a PhD. A masters is well-regarded in many professional environments.

Which one will be most impactful for your circumstances re-depends on knowing what you want to achieve at the end of it.

Many people enter graduate school and education without an understanding of what they really want to achieve.

If you are wanting to further a professional career and increase your earning potential a master’s degree is likely going to be the best option for you.

On the other hand, if you want to find out more about the world, teach at a university, or have a craving or passion for a particular field doing a PhD is likely going to be the only way to satisfy those desires.

Can you get a PhD without a Masters?

In some countries, you cannot get a PhD without a Masters. In order to be eligible for a PhD program, you need to have completed a Master’s degree (or equivalent) first.

Another way to get a PhD without a Master’s degree is through special programs that some universities offer.

These programs are designed for individuals who have significant experience in their field and want to pursue a terminal degree. For example, the Executive Doctorate in Business Administration (EDBA) program at Pepperdine University is designed for business executives who have at least 10 years of experience. The program can be completed in as little as 27 months and does not require a Master’s degree for admission.

Finally, there are some cases where individuals with exceptional talent or ability can be admitted into a PhD program without completing a Master’s degree first. This is usually done on a case-by-case basis and requires approval from the department chair and/or dean of the graduate school.

Also, some universities offer admission to the PhD program without having a masters degree.

Where can you get a PhD without a Master’s?

In Australia, you can enrol in a PhD program without having completed a master’s program.

An Australian undergraduate can involve an honours year. This is the fourth year of their studies and involves a research component alongside a short research project.

The honours year goes for approximately one year and can provide a pathway to a PhD without having to go through a full two-year Masters.

Wrapping up

This article has been through everything you need to know about whether or not you should complete a PhD or Masters to achieve your career goals.

There are many differences between a Masters and PhD including the length of time that it takes to complete as well as the primary activities each of the programs require.

If you want to earn a higher salary it is likely that a masters will be better for you. Masters degrees are usually the best option for people wanting to advance their professional career. You can also look at professional masters programs to build very specific skills for your career.

A PhD takes longer to complete and requires many years of research and writing up a dissertation. However, it can open up more career pathways including working in academia, teaching at university and higher levels of pay in some careers.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.