Masters vs Doctorate: Which One Should You Choose in 2024? —

Philippe Barr, PhD
10 min readMay 3, 2024


In an era where the value of higher education is both heralded and scrutinized, the decision between pursuing a masters vs a doctorate degree is more than a mere choice. It’s a strategic step towards defining your professional identity and carving out a niche in the competitive global marketplace.

With the dawn of 2024, this decision encapsulates not just an academic commitment but a pivotal investment in your future. Whether you are a recent graduate, a professional aiming to ascend the career ladder, or a lifelong learner seeking to quench your thirst for knowledge, understanding the nuances between these two paths is essential.

This blog post aims to navigate you through the complex web of considerations, providing insights and perspectives to illuminate your path.The choice between a master’s and a doctorate is not just about selecting a degree-it’s about shaping your destiny.

Navigating the Future: Masters vs Doctorate in the Evolving Job Market

In 2024, the question of choosing between a master’s and a doctorate has become increasingly pressing due to the rapid evolution of job markets and the intensifying demand for specialized expertise.

The technological advancements and the shift towards a knowledge-based economy have led to the creation of new fields and the specialization of existing ones. This shift makes higher education more crucial than ever for those aiming to secure a competitive edge.

Furthermore, as industries like biotechnology, artificial intelligence, and renewable energy continue to value research and development, a doctorate’s appeal grows for those aspiring to be at the forefront of innovation in fields such as gene editing, machine learning algorithms, and solar energy advancements.

Therefore, choosing between a master’s degree and a doctorate goes beyond educational achievement. It involves aligning one’s career with the future needs of the industry and personal ambitions for leadership and innovative contributions.

The evolving landscape demands a comprehensive grasp of how each degree can influence one’s career trajectory and the wider socio-economic environment.

Critical Junctions: When to Consider a Masters vs Doctorate

If you find yoursell at a critical juncture in your academic and professional journey, the choice between pursuing a masters degree vs a doctorate might have become increasingly relevant for you.

You might be a young professional in the fast-evolving cybersecurity sector. You might be wrestling with the need for both advanced technical skills and deep theoretical knowledge to tackle sophisticated cyber threats effectively.

Likewise, you might be an educator aiming to shape curriculum development on a global scale. It may have become vital for you to acquire the necessary credibility and comprehensive understanding to drive change.

Working in public health, you might ponder the level of expertise and research capability needed to contribute to innovative policy.

These scenarios underscore the critical need to align educational choices with personal career goals, prevailing industry trends, and the anticipated influence of each academic endeavor on future opportunities.

Therefore, the decision to pursue a master’s or a doctorate goes beyond simple academic preference.It represents a strategic choice that reflects your ambition, area of interest, and commitment to making a meaningful impact.

A Glimpse into Master’s-Level Education Trends: The Data

According to a recent report on graduate education, business degrees are the top choice in graduate education. They make up 23% of all master’s degrees in 2021. Business Administration is the most popular program, with over 105,796 graduates, followed by Management Science and Accounting. The MBA stands out, significantly more popular than other programs. Fast-growing fields include Management Science, Business Statistics, and Organizational Leadership, indicating a trend towards specialized business knowledge.


In 2021, the education sector experienced a significant resurgence, particularly in master’s-level education. This marked the first time in nearly a decade that graduate numbers increased by 5%. Educational Leadership led with over 20,000 graduates, indicating a strong interest in leadership and foundational education. Online programs, especially in Educational/Instructional Technology with 72% enrollment, showed growing popularity. The sector’s revival suggests evolving priorities and innovative approaches in education. It also highlights fast-growing areas and noting declines in others like General Education and Physical Education.


Health-related master’s degrees are experiencing rapid growth, now accounting for 16% of all master’s degrees, with a more than threefold increase in graduates since the early 2000s. Registered Nursing, Family Practice Nursing, and Health Care Administration lead in graduate numbers. Emerging fields like Medical Informatics and Nursing Education are growing fast, while others, such as Nursing Science and Acupuncture, are in decline. This shift highlights changing educational interests and the healthcare sector’s need for skilled professionals.

Finally, the landscape of master’s degree programs is diversifying beyond traditional fields like health and education, reflecting broader shifts in professional and academic interests. Fields such as Social Work, Computer Science, Public Administration, and more are gaining popularity, indicating a societal move towards technology, governance, and community welfare. This expansion into areas like technology, mental health, and various niches shows a growing valuation of diverse expertise. This trend points to a future workforce ready to address a wide array of global challenges, marking a new era in graduate education.

Exploring Doctoral-Level Educational Trends

In the landscape of doctoral education, 2021 marked a significant year with distinct trends in graduate numbers and program growth. The most substantial doctoral programs by graduate numbers were Law (36,216 graduates), Medicine (20,659), Pharmacy (14,690), Physical Therapy (13,145), and Osteopathy (7,428).

Notably, fields such as Occupational Therapy, Nursing Practice, Family Practice Nursing, Social Work, Divinity/Ministry, Educational Leadership, Higher Education Administration, Theology, Biomedical Sciences, and Nursing Science were identified as the fastest-growing areas.

Meanwhile, programs in History, English Language and Literature, Political Science, Sociology, Clinical Psychology, Psychology, Education (General), Chemistry, Electrical Engineering, and Law were among those declining the fastest.

The data also revealed that Nursing Practice led online doctoral programs with 53% of programs offered online, followed by Divinity/Ministry (36%), Higher Education Administration (33%), Occupational Therapy (33%), and Educational Leadership (31%).

A particularly noteworthy trend was the dominant growth of health-related doctoral programs, which were already on the rise before the pandemic.

The health sector’s response to COVID-19 likely fueled this increase in demand, leading to health programs constituting 44% of the doctoral market and boasting nearly 2.4 times as many graduates as the next-largest vertical. This shift underscores a pivotal movement towards healthcare professions, pinpointing a growing societal need for trained professionals in these critical fields.

Masters vs Doctorate: Prospective Graduate Students’ Guide

Pursuing a Master’s: A Closer Look

Pursuing a Master’s degree can serve as a pivotal bridge to fulfilling higher educational aspirations or act as a crucial catalyst for professional advancements. It offers a perfect blend of flexibility. It allows you to balance your studies with personal commitments. The degree also enables you to delve deeply into your areas of interest.

This combination enhances your academic qualifications and can boost your expertise and skills in a specific field. Hence, making it an invaluable investment for future success.

A master’s degree can be an excellent choice for those seeking to:

  • Advance in their current career: For professionals seeking to climb the corporate ladder or target higher-paying roles, obtaining a master’s degree can offer a significant advantage. This advanced qualification not only enhances your knowledge and skills but also signals to employers your commitment to your career. It positions you more favorably for promotions and opens the door to more specialized and lucrative positions.
  • Change careers: Specialized master’s programs provide an ideal opportunity for individuals looking to pivot to a new field. These programs are designed to build upon your existing knowledge base. They allow you to make a significant career change without the need to start from the very beginning. This can be particularly beneficial for those seeking to transition into a field that requires specific expertise or qualifications.
  • Gain specialized knowledge: Master’s programs offer an unparalleled opportunity for students to immerse themselves in a specific area of interest. By engaging with advanced coursework and research, you can significantly enhance your level of expertise and deepen your understanding of the subject matter. This can help position yourself as a knowledgeable expert in your field.

Doctorate Degree: A Deep Dive

Pursuing a PhD requires a high level of dedication, as it involves extensive study, experimentation, and scholarly writing. It suits individuals who are curious and have the perseverance to overcome challenges. It also suits those with the desire to make original contributions to their chosen field.

A doctoral degree can be an excellent fit if you:

  • Aspire to academia or research: Pursuing a doctorate degree is frequently a necessary step for those looking to establish a career as a university professor or delve into the field of research within both public and private sectors. This advanced level of education not only opens doors to prestigious academic and research positions but also equips individuals with the deep knowledge and specialized skills required to contribute significantly to their chosen fields.
  • Aim to make a significant impact: Engaging in doctorate research presents a unique chance to delve into unexplored territories within your domain. It’s not just about earning a degree; it’s an opportunity to tackle the unanswered questions that linger within your field, contributing valuable insights and findings that could potentially shape future research and understanding. This is your moment to leave a mark on your area of study, providing substantial contributions that will be recognized and utilized by peers and future scholars alike.
  • Wish for top-tier positions: In certain specialized or academic fields, such as research institutions, universities, and some sectors of the private and public sector, holding a doctorate degree is often essential for securing top-level positions. This advanced qualification demonstrates a high level of expertise and commitment to the field, making it a prerequisite for leadership roles and positions of significant responsibility.

Decisive Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing Between a Masters vs Doctorate Degree

  • What are my career goals? If you aspire to become a university professor, pursuing a doctorate degree is likely the best option. On the other hand, if your career goals lean towards working in industry or advancing into management roles within your field, a master’s degree may be sufficient.
  • What are my research interests? If you are passionnate for a topic or field, and wish to contribute to its understanding and development, a doctorate degree is the ideal path. It provides the opportunity to conduct in-depth research and make original contributions to the knowledge base of your chosen area.
  • Do I enjoy academic writing? Doctorate programs often require extensive written work, including dissertations and publications in academic journals. If you enjoy conducting research and writing about it, a doctorate degree may be a good fit for you.
  • How much time am I willing to commit? Doctorate programs can take anywhere from 4–8 years to complete. This is a signifitcant time commitment that requires dedication and hard work. If do not want to devote this amount of time to your studies, a master’s degree may be a better option.
  • What is my financial situation? Doctorate programs can be costly, both in terms of tuition fees and lost income from not working full-time. Before committing to a doctorate program, it is important to consider the financial impact and whether it is a feasible option for you. On the other hand, a master’s degree may be more financially manageable.

Other relevant questions

  • Am I interested in teaching? Many universities require their faculty to have a doctorate degree. If your ultimate goal is to become a university professor, then pursuing a doctorate degree is necessary. It provides valuable experience in teaching and preparing you for an academic career.
  • Do I want to specialize? Doctorate programs allow for a deep dive into a specific subject area, allowing students to gain expertise and become specialists in their field. If you have a strong interest in a particular topic and want to explore it further, then a doctorate degree may be the right choice for you.
  • What are my long-term career goals? It is important to consider your long-term career goals when deciding between a master’s or doctorate degree. If you are looking for a leadership position or want to conduct research at the highest level, then a doctorate degree will provide you with the necessary skills and knowledge.
  • What type of learning environment suits me best? Doctorate programs typically involve more independent research and less structured coursework compared to master’s programs. If you thrive in a self-directed learning environment, then a doctorate program may be a good fit for you.
  • Do I have a strong support system in place? Pursuing a higher degree can be mentally and emotionally challenging. It is important to have a strong support system in place, whether it’s family, friends, or a mentor. This can provide encouragement and motivation during the long and often intense journey of obtaining a doctorate degree.

Making Your Decision

The choice between a masters vs a doctorate is profoundly personal and depends on your career aspirations, academic interests, and life situation. If you’re looking for a faster route to career advancement or a shift in your professional path, a master’s might be your best bet. Conversely, if you’re driven by a passion for research and academia, a doctorate might be the right choice.

If you’re feeling uncertain about which path to choose, or if you’re ready to take the next step in your academic journey but need guidance on the application process, our grad school application services are here to help. We invite you to sign up for a free consultation to discuss your options in detail. The Admit Lab is dedicated to providing personalized advice and support to help you make the best decision for your career and academic goals. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to explore your potential with us!

With a Master’s from McGill University and a Ph.D. from New York University, Dr. Philippe Barr is the founder of The Admit Lab. As a tenure-track professor, Dr. Barr spent a decade teaching and serving on several graduate admission committees at UNC-Chapel Hill before turning to full-time consulting. With more than seven years of experience as a graduate school admissions consultant, Dr. Barr has stewarded the candidate journey across multiple master’s and Ph.D. programs and helped hundreds of students get admitted to top-tier graduate programs all over the world.

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Posted in Master’s, PhD

Originally published at on May 3, 2024.



Philippe Barr, PhD

I am Philippe Barr, founder of The Admit Lab, a graduate school admissions consultancy that helps students get admitted into grad school: