The pool of applicants for a PhD program consists of people applying straight after undergrad, and also people who have done masters programs. Do students with masters degrees have an edge over undergrads in the process? Do admissions officers judge undergrads and masters students differently? If undergraduate students have taken graduate-level courses (but perhaps not as many as a masters student has), where does that put them in comparison?

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    Personally, I prefer someone with a strong undergraduate (UG) record. If two students have a comparable UG record, then a Master will make a difference. The Master degree has to be a research master as opposed to a coursework master. Otherwise, I view the Master by Coursework as no different to an UG degree. Nov 11, 2019 at 5:44
  • Duplicate? academia.stackexchange.com/questions/115007/…
    – Allure
    Nov 11, 2019 at 6:23
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    It depends on the country. Totally different answers. Nov 11, 2019 at 6:25
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    In Europe, you need a masters to apply for a Ph.D.
    – user116079
    Nov 11, 2019 at 8:38
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    I think the OP is asking about the US, where the question has some relevance. Confirm?
    – Buffy
    Nov 11, 2019 at 14:08

3 Answers 3


It very much depends on the Country, the Field, and the Master's.

I'm assuming, since you are asking that you are interested in Country where a Master's degree isn't an absolute requirement for a PhD in your field of interest. My field (Life-Sciences) in my country (UK) is like this.

I would say that it very much depends on the Master's degree. As far as I can see there are three types of Master's degrees in UK Life-Sciences

  • Those for people who want to learn something different to what they learnt at undergraduate. So for example, my research is in Bioinformatics, and this is not normally covered in UK undergraduate degrees. This could be an advantage if you wanted a PhD in that area.
  • Master's degrees that are integrated as the 4th year of an undergraduate degree, and are generally almost entirely research based. I have found the students with these often have an advantage over others as they have experience of doing real research in a real research lab. This is important because UK PhDs are generally 3 years (4 at a maximum) and you need to hit the ground running.
  • General topic master's degrees for people who didn't get a good enough grade to go straight to a PhD. These might help you make the grade (i.e. if your undergrad grades were too poor there is 0 chance of a PhD, and a none zero chance after the master's), but if you have the grades to be accepted, this master's is useless to you. Worst, it might you look worse.

So in conclusion, it very much depends on the master's and why you took it.


It depends on the structure of the PhD in question. Ask the university.

Basically, there are generally two different types of PhD courses: ones that include a coursework component, and those that don’t. Typically, these will be offered by universities in the USA and in Europe, respectively, though as always it’s possible that any given university might be an exception.

For the degrees that include a coursework component, they will typically take 5-6 years to complete with two of those years being coursework, and having a Master’s Degree would not be required.

For the degrees that don’t include coursework, they will typically require 3-4 years to complete, and require the completion of a Master’s Degree (which would, in turn, typically require 2 years of coursework) before you can apply.

As you can see, both methods are roughly equivalent in terms of requirements; the latter simply splits them up between the Master’s Degree and the PhD.

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    There is also a dependence on field.
    – Buffy
    Nov 11, 2019 at 21:22

You need to have a masters degree to even be able to apply for a PHD. It's a basic legal requirement. In most countries (In Europe and America. USA being different clearly than the rest of the continent while most latin countries have extremely similar systems between them and regarding Europe given the inspiration came from there) you need to have graduated from university to make a masters degree and then graduate with a masters to apply for a PHD.

Graduation does not mean to just finish school by acquiring the necessary credits or passing/approving the classes. That is the first step, after which there are some graduating/titulation requirements like making a thesis, publishing articles, passing a seminar, etc (plus doing X hrs of social service, presenting extra documentation, etc). And then of course are bureaucratic tramits to certificate it all and be government approved as a graduate of the scholar level. Only after you get that can you pass to the next level.

Check if such is the case for the specific PHD you are considering.

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    An MBA? As in a Master's of Business Administration? In what country is an MBA (a business qualification) a prerequisite for a PhD (a research qualification)? Nov 11, 2019 at 18:08
  • @Ian Sudbery I wrote the rought equivant of grades to english. An MBA is a master/maestría . Let me add that in the answer. And it's a requirement in Europe and most American countries (USA is an exception apparently)
    – deags
    Nov 11, 2019 at 19:52
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    The UK is also an exception. (I think Australia and Canada also). I guess the equivalent in English speaking countries would be MA. Nov 11, 2019 at 22:10

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