The Difference Between a Master's and a Doctorate
Master's and doctorates are qualifications pursued after graduating from college or university with a degree. Like degrees, they are available in subjects right across the whole spectrum in all disciplines.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, the doctorate is the very highest academic qualification in American postsecondary education. A Master's degree is also a high level qualification and more common than a doctorate.
A Master's degree is usually required in order to study for a doctorate. Both qualifications will require an in-depth knowledge of your chosen specialized field. While some students choose to take a Master's degree out of pure interest, it may also enhance their career prospects. A doctorate is usually taken by students wishing to pursue an academic career. However, it should never be assumed that any postgraduate qualification will justify the expense and time invested.
What Is A Master's Degree?
A Masters degree generally comprises 1-2 years full-time study; part-time study will of course take longer. Most are taught degrees, although there are also research Master's based on independent study. A 2:1 is usually required for UK students, and in the US a minimum number of credits. A Master's degree will be less specialized than a doctorate.
What Is A Doctorate?
For most academics, a doctorate is the highest qualification they will take. Rarely, students will go on to post-doctoral study. A Doctor of Philosophy, or PhD, is the most common doctoral qualification. A Master's degree is usually required to be accepted onto a doctoral program, though exceptional students may be admitted without a Master's. Research focuses on an extremely narrow field and will be carried out independently. The student will be expected to add a new element to current research in order to be awarded their doctorate.
Anyone seeking an academic post will most likely need a doctorate. Some students will use their doctorate in business, although it is less common outside academia. The minimum time required to complete a thesis in the UK is three years, but many students take longer. In the US, it can take from 4-6 years, although that may include the time spent on a Master's degree.
Are they worthwhile?
A Master's degree may enhance your career prospects, although many employers will consider you overqualified. For certain professions, a Master's degree is a distinct advantage though. Before enrolling in a postgraduate course, students should weigh up the advantages of postgraduate qualifications against the expense and time commitment. It may be preferable for them to enter the workforce earlier. Students should also bear in mind that postgraduate courses mean higher fees and an extended period without earning. There is great competition for the few grants and scholarships available, and not all students are eligible for loans. Public universities in the US are cheaper than private institutions, but a Master's degree is still a considerable expense.
Pursuing a doctoral degree is an even greater commitment, due to the years of study and the rigorous intellectual demands of this level of study. Candidates must consider whether a doctorate is likely to pay off in the form of enhanced career prospects. Few students have the funding or private resources needed to take a doctorate simply for the love of the subject, and students in this category generally have funding from their university. Regrettably, even able candidates may have to decline a place on a postgraduate course if they have been unable to secure funding.