Doctoral Degree vs. Master's Degree: Which Is Right for Me?

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The College of Doctoral Studies at Ashford University allows for students to reach the pinnacle of education online. Paired with the University’s array of master’s degree programs, the doctoral degrees offer advanced learners the opportunity to expand their understanding of a particular subject at its highest level and become established experts in their respective fields.      

The addition of the College of Doctoral Studies also ignites the friendly master’s vs. doctorate debate, which has students weighing the potential benefits of both degree programs, while asking themselves which will better position them for the future. Here are five things to know when deciding whether a master’s degree or doctoral education at Ashford University is right for you.

1. Determine your career goals before you decide

It’s not uncommon to change majors in the course of pursuing your bachelor’s degree. For advanced studies such as a master’s degree or doctorate, however, it’s critical that you have determined your career goals before beginning your studies. Both impact your career in the long-term differently. 

“Master’s degree students may experience some transformation in how they think, but a doctoral student even more so,” says Dr. Irene F. Stein, who is program chair of doctoral research for the College of Doctoral Studies at Ashford University. “The doctoral journey is transformational in that the graduate is not the same person as when the journey began.”

If your goal is to become an executive, a master’s degree is a wise pursuit. If you want to pursue a career in academics – as a professor or researcher, for example – you may consider the doctoral route.

2. There are many kinds of master’s and doctoral degrees

There are a number of acronyms and post-nominal letters in the academic world. To help you get a handle on them, here’s a breakdown on the variety of degree designations that appear at the end of one’s name. 

Doctoral Degrees

Some of the more common degree types are:
PhD = Doctor of Philosophy. There are many disciplines within this doctoral designation. Ashford University offers three PhD programs (Education, Human Services, and Organizational Development and Leadership).
PsyD = Doctor of Psychology. This doctorate may have specializations available in order to focus your studies. Ashford University offers six specializations.
JD = Juris Doctor. Specific to law, this designation is one of many graduate-level law degree.
EdD = Doctor of Education. Specific to education focused on administration and practice over philosophy.

Master’s Degrees

Common master’s degree distinctions include:
MA = Master of Arts, MS = Master of Science, MBA = Master of Business Administration, and MPA = Master of Public Administration.

That’s a lot of letters to sort through, but knowing the difference will help the next time someone asks your opinion about a doctoral degree vs. a master’s and will make adding the suffix to your signature all the more sweet.

3. Time commitment varies for both degrees

At Ashford University, students take one course at a time, which allows for flexibility when balancing work, school, and family. 

However, the time it takes to complete your master’s degree vs. PhD, for example, is vastly different. A master’s degree program usually takes about two years, with students completing between 30 and 40 credits. Doctoral degree students must complete up to 62 credits, as well as participate in in-residence workshops and doctoral research that could take several years. 

“A master’s degree is always less credits than a doctoral degree and therefore takes less time,” Dr. Stein explains. “The dissertation, or Applied Doctoral Project, adds even more dedicated time to a doctoral degree.”

A doctoral degree is the most advanced degree that you can earn, so time commitment is needed to ensure you can pursue your path to becoming an expert in your field. 

Before you decide on which degree suits your goals, you’ll want to consider your time management strategy. 

4. Both degrees lead to elite status and earning potential

Just two percent of the workforce holds a doctoral degree and 11 percent hold master’s degrees, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). These percentages mean that your advanced degree, with its emphasis on a particular field of study, should give you skills and know-how to compete for positions at the highest level.

Additionally, the BLS reports that advanced degree holders have a higher earning potential than those with bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees, or high school diplomas. What’s more, an advanced degree elevates you to elite status among your peers.

“Most scholar communities — think academic journals, conferences, etc. — consist of mostly individuals with doctoral degrees, but are usually interested in continuing their education, though those with master’s degrees are also welcome,” says Dr. Stein.

5. Do I need one degree to pursue the other?

It’s a common question: “Do you need a master’s degree to get a doctorate?” At Ashford University, you must successfully complete a master’s degree in order to enroll in the Doctor of Psychology or Doctor of Philosophy programs. Pursuing your master’s degree program will help you determine if you’re ready for the next step. 

Like all academic commitments, earning your master’s degree or doctorate requires a lot of pre-admission work. But your success will transform your perspective for the better and open you up to possibilities that were previously out of reach. 

“Pursuing a doctoral degree will change who you are, how you relate to others, and what roles you can take in the forefront of your field,” Dr. Stein adds. “One ‘does’ a master’s degree, but ‘becomes’ a doctor.” 

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Written by Ashford University staff
 

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