Can I get a Master’s Degree and a PhD at the Same Time?

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As you embark upon your educational journey, you probably have ideas about the type of job you want, the depth of knowledge in which you're interested, and the level of education you're seeking, and may wonder whether you can get a Master's degree and a PhD at the same time. The answer depends on your field, and upon the schools to which you apply. Peterson's outlines the pros and cons of each degree, noting, among many things, that pursuing one program means dealing with only one application process, and that "direct-to-doc" options are good for people who know that they want to research a subject in depth. In an English literature program, for example, many schools offer combined programs for students who wish to begin a thesis project on the Master's level and expand it into a dissertation for the doctorate.


Conventional wisdom holds that the doctorate, as a research degree, is best suited to those who have an intense passion for their subject matter, while the Master's is better for those who seek professional training and expertise. Universities tend to reflect a focus on the former, and PhD students will tend to have more funding opportunities available to them, both from colleges and from professional and academic organizations. That said, the Master's degree is generally completed far more quickly and can be done in addition to a full-time job (as the doctorate typically cannot), meaning that it will cost less. For information on earning a Master's degree in Education Management, check out Top 10 Best Online Master's in Education Management Programs. Some PhD programs will only accept students with Master's degrees in the field, while others design their programs specifically for students to earn a combined Master's/PhD, so an applicant with an existing Master's degree will have to earn a second Master's in that type of program.

En Passant

In some cases, a student can concurrently pursue a Master's and a doctorate by having the Master's degree awarded en passant or "in passing." This is to say that the student is pursuing a doctoral degree (with the financial benefits noted above), with the Master's awarded along the way, without any additional fanfare. A number of schools explicitly discuss the option in their degree plans. For example, a student who is looking to become an educational administrator may enroll in an Ed.D (doctorate of education) program whose end goal is the doctorate, but the student emerges with a Master's degree as well.

Continuing On

Perhaps a more common way for those who wish to obtain a Master's while pursuing a doctorate is to continue on in the department after the Master's is formally awarded with all the usual pomp and fanfare–although students can stop at the Master's without shame (or additional loan debt), having completed a course of study. What happens in such cases is that the student will be admitted to the Master's program in a given department and, early in the second year of study (Master's programs traditionally take two years past the baccalaureate), he/she will apply to PhD programs. Departments take risks by bringing in graduate students, so having applicants already known to be reliable is welcome. Of course, if your plan is to go on for a PhD after your Master's and you'd like to remain in the same school, be sure that your university offers both Master's and doctoral programs in the desired field.

What typically happens in such cases is that the coursework done in pursuit of the Master's is transferred over and counted against the requirements for the doctorate. The transfer process is eased by it being in the same department; courses will always transfer! With the already-accomplished achievements brought over into the new course of study, the student is then able to move more quickly through any remaining requirements for the doctorate and into the dissertation that traditionally marks the end of formal study and the emergence of a new, qualified scholar.

If you want to know whether you can get a Master's degree and a PhD at the same time, you should feel confident in knowing that as long as you begin your course of study with a long-term plan, you certainly can earn the two degrees from the same school, either in succession or "in passing." Earning the two degrees this way can save you time and money, and you will enjoy the benefit of completing your graduate studies all at once.