Masters vs PhD Degree: The Differences Explained

Are you wondering what the difference is between a Master’s and a PhD degree? Here’s everything you need to know about the various degrees.

A master’s degree can increase your earnings by 17%, while a doctorate can boost your salary by 30%. It’s evident that the higher your education, the higher your salary. However, not knowing the difference between a master’s and a PhD degree can lead to the wrong expectations in your career choices.

A PhD often entails research and academic work, whereas a master’s focuses on advanced career skills. If you know the distinction between these degrees, you will know which one is right for you. If not, keep reading to learn more about these different kinds of degrees and what they entail.

What Is a Master’s Degree?

A master’s degree is the next step above a bachelor’s. Master focuses on a core series of lectures and teaching modules. It also contains assignments and tests, followed by the completion of a specific research project.

The research project often takes three to four months to complete. These degrees appeal to new graduates who want to go further into their area of study with more specialized knowledge. They also serve as an essential stepping stone for people in the workforce who wish to further their careers and earn better salaries.

What Is a PhD Degree?

On average, a doctoral degree holder earns around $142,172 per year, which makes sense because of the high student loans. The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is the highest possible academic degree and the third and final cycle of your college career. Earning a doctorate requires creating a dissertation that brings new knowledge to a specific study.

These are research degrees geared toward anybody seeking an academic career, such as becoming a professor. There are exceptions, such as those with a medical background who may achieve an MD (Doctor of Medicine) comparable to a PhD. Doctoral degrees can also influence job growth outside academia, like engineering and finance.

Master’s Versus PhD: What Are the Costs?

The cost for a master’s degree varies from $30,000 to $120,000, and figures for doctoral degrees are similar. When comparing the price of a master’s vs. a doctoral degree, you must consider the following factors:

Public or Private

Whether you attend a public, private, non-profit, or for-profit university will affect how much you pay for tuition. A university’s renown and ranking also influence tuition costs.

Graduation Time

Master’s and doctoral degree costs are influenced by the number of courses taken and the total number of credit hours required. Doctorates depend on the candidate’s dedication to researching and creating a dissertation. On average, a master’s degree should take around 1-3 years, while a doctorate will take 4-7 years.

Credit Transferred

You may be qualified to transfer credits towards your degree if you have completed graduate-level courses. Transfer credit might substantially lower your final cost.

What Are the Outcome of Masters vs Doctorates?

Regarding the results of a master’s or doctoral degree, you should consider three vital factors. These are the skill set, career prospects, and income. Let’s compare and contrast these aspects:

Skill Sets

Master’s degrees emphasize the mastery of industry-specific skills. It also focuses on the development of critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. 

In contrast, Ph.D. degrees emphasize research, analysis, and writing. Their goal is to acquire transferable abilities to solve knowledge gaps in their field.

Career Prospects

Obtaining a master’s or doctoral degree is motivated by a desire for career progression. Master’s degrees are seen as career-focused diplomas that prepare you for a management role. However, doctorate levels are used in academia and research.


Master’s and doctoral degrees raise your wage expectations and lifetime earnings dramatically. But which is more valuable? A master’s degree holder may make more than $2.8 million throughout their lifetime. A doctorate can earn more than $3.5 million.

Which Degree Is More Valuable?

On paper, a doctorate is the highest degree possible; thus, it has more weight than a master’s. The magnitude of the influence depends on the subject matter and the professional route you choose.

For those aspiring to become professors, a PhD will be more valuable than a master’s degree alone. If you are in a field like marketing, which focuses more on experience, then a master’s is sufficient. Some fields will not hire you with a PhD since you will appear overqualified or lack real-world experience.

Do You Need a Master’s Degree to Obtain a PhD?

This depends on the institution, department, and sometimes the project and supervisor. Certain schools may require you to obtain a Master’s degree pertinent to your PhD dissertation topic.

Some programs combine both master’s and doctorate, so you get both. Even though some universities don’t require a master’s, having one might help set you apart from other candidates.

Commitment to Earning a Master vs a Doctorate

Students spend, on average, 8-12 hours a day studying in graduate school. It’s true that both master’s and doctorates are graduate programs that require significant time and commitment. 

However, a PhD is more competitive to gain admission and takes longer to complete than master. Both of these graduate programs focus on specializing in a particular field.

Admission Criteria for Masters vs. Doctorate

Both require a 3.0 GPA or higher, but a doctorate may need something close to a 3.5. GRE is the dreaded graduate exam necessary for both programs, but several master’s degrees don’t require it. You will need a:

  • Resume
  • Personal statements
  • 3-4 letters of recommendations
  • School transcripts
  • A completed application form

Before applying to a grad program, it’s vital to check the school’s accreditation. There are several diploma mills, like Walden, where the degree holds no value in the workforce. 

Which Graduate Degree Should You Choose?

It depends on your career goal. If you don’t want to spend years in school, a master’s would be a solid option. However, if you are passionate about research or being a professor, consider a PhD degree.

Still, confused about what you want to do? You don’t have to decide right away, so why not fantasize? Check out samples of our university diplomas to get a sense of what it feels like to finish graduate school.