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Should you pursue Graduate School? Comparing a Master’s Degree vs. a PHD

A checklist comparing levels of education, like high school, college degree, master’s degree and doctoral (PhD) degree.

Ayla Rath | March 11, 2023 | 5 min read

Throughout many students’ academic journey, many might consider going to graduate school to get a master’s or a PhD to improve their skills and help them in their career. This article will break down the difference between a master’s degree and PhD and explore if you should consider going to grad school.

Table of Contents:

1 – What is Graduate School?

2 – Master’s vs. PhD

3 – Should you pursue grad school?

4 – Do your research and seek mentors

What is Graduate School?

Graduate school is broadly defined as education completed after a bachelor’s degree. This includes master’s and doctoral (PhD) degrees in various topics like biology, education and public health. Typically, these degrees are intensive and competitive to get into depending on the program subject and the requirements. You can be judged on a mix of grades, experience and volunteer work. For example, the University of Toronto considers students who have achieved at least a 3.3 / 4.00 (generally a B+) GPA in the final two years of undergraduate study. US-based schools like the University of Southern California require a graduate record examination for admission requirements.  
Within graduate school, you have a wide variety of subjects you can study, and many students pursue degrees in the same subject area as their undergrad. Some students opt to study a completely different topic than their undergraduate degree to change career paths and specialize in a new topic. If you are interested in knowing more about how you should choose a grad program, you can read this article by Harvard Extension School.

Master’s vs. PhD

While master’s and PhD programs are both considered graduate school education, there are major differences between these two types of degrees. Firstly, master’s degrees are usually pursued after undergraduate education and are typically between 1-2 years long for full-time students. However, some students can even pursue a degree after law school or medical school to add to their credentials. Master’s programs can be either thesis-based or course-based depending on the program. Course-based programs are similar to undergraduate programs where students take classes and complete coursework they are graded on. Whereas, thesis-based programs require writing and researching a topic under a faculty member to gain a strong understanding on a specific subject area. Many thesis-based programs are a mix of coursework and research work, with a specialized view on the subject area.

On the flip side, a PhD requires a much larger time commitment as they range from 5-7 years in length. A PhD requires a student to complete an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree for admission, making it a much longer educational path. The majority of PhD programs require students to take courses, exams and complete a dissertation that is the length of a book in a specialized subject area. Typically, a PhD is less popular than a master’s because of the length of the program and because many jobs do not require this level of education. Many PhD students pursue a career in academia and teaching, but there are also a percentage that work in the private sphere. The popularity of the program depends on the subject area and the type of job you want to pursue.

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Should you go to Graduate School?

There is no easy answer to this question – the answer ultimately depends on your career goals. In many cases, students may need a grad school education to get a job in their field of choice. For example, a master’s degree is required for people wanting to pursue a career as a speech pathologist or occupational therapist. These positions are not usually filled by people with a bachelor’s – making grad school a must if you want to pursue one of these careers. 

Many people are interested in completing a master’s and PhD to pursue a career as a professor at a university or college. However, achieving a career in academia is usually very time-consuming and competitive as more people are getting a graduate school education making it challenging to achieve a career in this field. 

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Do your research and seek mentors

The best way to know if grad school is the right decision for you is to do research. It is best to do as much research as you can, to make an educated decision, rather than going for another degree because you are unsure about what your next steps are. You have to evaluate why you are considering grad school and how it could benefit your career and life goals. 


This means reading about programs and speaking with alumni who have completed the program you are interested in. Seeking mentorship is a great option to understand what benefits the program would provide for you. A great way to do this is to email the head of programs and contact professionals/alumni on Linkedin to speak with them about their experience to better understand what type of career you could gain after completing the program. 


Overall, going to grad school is a big decision that needs lots of consideration. I wish you the best in your educational journey!

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