A question I get a lot is whether or not students should get their Master’s before going for their PhD. Some students might think they need to boost their college GPA by getting a Master’s first, others say they aren’t sure whether they can hack a PhD, so they want to test the waters. Usually these sentiments are accompanied by a little fear, uncertainty, and lots of questions. Trust me, I was there, too.
So, what’s the verdict? Should you get a Master’s first? In my opinion, no. And here’s why.
Getting a master’s degree can be quite expensive, especially if it’s not funded or if you don’t qualify for in-state tuition. In graduate school you are typically taking between 9-12 credits each semester, so for some private schools or out of state students this can wind up costing anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000 or more each year. On top of that, add your living expenses, and there often aren’t that many options for graduate on-campus housing.
It’s not a fallback.
Let’s say you’re in college and it’s the end of your junior year. You’re deciding what on earth you’re going to do after you graduate. You’re considering graduate school, but you’re really not sure, and time is running out, so you’re panicking. Everyone is telling you, don’t quit school now or “you’ll never go back.” So, you start the dreaded application process. Does this describe any of you? Trust me, I was there, it’s not fun. Getting a master’s degree should be a thoughtful, deliberate decision. It’s a huge time commitment and you should know what you’re getting yourself into before you decide to do it.
GPA boosters only go so far.
I KNOW what it feels like to graduate college with a low GPA. It can often feel like after you bombed college courses, that taking more courses, at the graduate level, will be able to show the PhD admissions committee that you’re capable of greatness. But, there are so many other ways to do that!
For some people, getting a master’s is a terminal degree and their dream job only requires a master’s level graduate degree. If this describes you, then you should ABSOLUTELY get a master’s. This will save you lots of time and heartache in the future. This post really pertains to those individuals who are considering a PhD, or know that they ultimately really want a PhD, and are fumbling with the master’s decision.
My biggest recommendation if you are struggling to decide?
Get a job as a research assistant in your given field. This will allow you to test the waters, see if you even like the field you are thinking about going into, and bonus, you get paid along the way and don’t go into debt!