Which degree do you need to achieve your career
goals? Some fields require a Ph.D.; others do not. On the
other hand, in some fields, holding a doctorate may
actually make you look over-qualified for many
positions. Research the qualifications and standards
of the field you want to work in to make sure your
educational goals are appropriate.
Is the master's program you're considering terminal
or non-terminal? Some master's degrees are terminal, meaning
there is no higher degree awarded in that subject.
For example, a master of fine arts (MFA) degree is
terminal. You could go on to pursue a doctorate in
theater or literature, but those degrees draw on a
different body of knowledge and develop a different
set of skills than an MFA program does. Other
master's programs provide a logical stepping stone
to a more advanced degree. If you know you
eventually want to get a Ph.D., or think you might,
choose a master's program that will help you move
toward that goal – or simply apply directly to
appropriate doctoral programs.
How much time are you willing to commit to a
program? Most master's programs can be completed in two years.
Doctoral programs take much longer. According to the
U.S. Department of Education, in most fields, the
average doctoral candidate requires at least seven
years beyond college to complete their Ph.D.
requirements. And that's seven or more years of
full-time study. Many schools discourage doctoral
students from taking outside employment during their
program. Although many schools will provide stipends
or paid graduate or research assistantships to
doctoral students, a Ph.D. program nonetheless means
committing to several years of hard work and limited
Are you ready to pursue an independent research
project? Doctoral programs are less structured than master's
programs are. They also expect students to produce a
significant piece of original research. If you still
want to explore your career options, or are
uncertain as to which field or questions you want to
study, you may be better off entering a non-terminal
master's program that would leave you with the
option of pursuing a more advanced degree later on.