Can You Get a PhD without a Master’s? Yes, but Here’s Why You Shouldn’t

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.

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

In most European countries, a Master’s degree is a necessary requirement if you want to apply for PhD. 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 was the case before the Bologna system. 

Let's look at some of the top study destinations around the world and see how or if you can study for a PhD degree without graduating with a Master's.

Do I need a Master’s to get a PhD in the UK?

In the UK, you might be able to apply for a PhD programme if you have a 2:2 aka Honours Bachelor’s of Science. Some higher education institutions, like the University of Liverpool, for example, even allow you to enrol in a PhD course without requiring a Master's degree. 

Do I need a Master’s to get a PhD in Germany?

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

Do I need a Master’s to get a PhD in Canada?

Like in Europe, most PhD 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 PhD after just one year of Master's provided that it is an MSc type of degree.

Do I need a Master’s to get a PhD in Australia?

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

Do I need a Master’s to get a PhD in the USA?

The big exception is, however, the USA.  It is actually very uncommon for students to do a Master’s before their PhD 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.

>> Check out these universities we recommend if you've already decided to study a Master's programme:

So, can you get a PhD without a Master’s? Yes. But there are plenty of reasons to do a Master’s before applying for a doctorate. Here are the four key reasons to really make you reconsider. 

1. A Master’s helps you see if you're ready for a PhD

Think of a Master’s vs PhD as a test drive vs. directly buying the car. During an undergraduate degree, you will typically study general aspects of your chosen subject and you will specialize 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 PhD without a Master’s requires about 6 years of commitment, wouldn’t it be better to be sure?

Because it is specialized 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 than 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 PhD. At least not in that subject area.

master before PhD

2. You’ll have better chances of being admitted for a PhD

Do I need a Master’s to get a PhD? Perhaps not, but does it make it easier to be admitted on a doctorate program if you do hold that Master’s degree? Absolutely.  

If you have a Master’s degree, you are just one or two years older than a BA 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's 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 and 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 PhD in a new field

It does not matter where you want to pursue a PhD, if you don’t have the right academic background in a connected subject area, your chances of being accepted to a PhD are little to zero.

So, if you want to change careers and pursue a subject at a doctoral level you will need a graduate programme to prepare you for it.  A Master’s degree does not only introduce you to your new study field, but it does so in a more specialized way.

4. A Master’s can help you finish doctorate programmes 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, starting with a Master’s vs PhD means you’ll reduce the time you spend earning that doctorate degree. 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 PhD, you will be anywhere from one to two years ahead with your research, compared to fellow doctoral students who jumped from Bachelor’s to PhD.

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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