Do you need a master’s to a get a PhD? No! A master’s degree is not a universal requirement for all PhD programs, and there are some types of programs which waive the master’s degree. If you’re interested in how to get a PhD but you want to shorten the time it takes to graduate, you do have options. While they are not numerous, there are excellent, accredited PhD programs in almost every field which do not require a master’s degree. In this blog, learn how you can get a PhD without a master’s, what your program options are and what you need to do to get accepted.

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8 min read

Do You Need a Master’s to Get a PhD? PhD Programs that Don’t Require a Master’s Degree Direct Entry PhD Programs Online PhD Programs Applying to a PhD Without a Master’s Degree: What You Need to Know Conclusion & FAQs

Do You Need a Master’s to Get a PhD?

The short answer: No. It is possible to get a PhD without a master’s degree, as there are programs which accept applicants who have not completed a master’s degree first.

We’ll explore these in more detail below, but first we’ll look at whether a PhD is the right path for you and why you might want to skip the master’s.

If you’re weighing your options for graduate school and deciding between a master’s or PhD, you’re probably wondering which one is the best choice for you and how to complete your studies in the fastest way possible. If your end goal is a PhD, you might be looking at a very long educational commitment. How long does it take to get a PhD? On average, 4-7 years, and this timeline doesn’t include the time it takes to get a master’s degree, another 1 or 2 years.

Chances are, you’ve finished 4 years of an undergraduate degree or you’re still earning your bachelor’s degree and thinking ahead a few years. The idea of 5+ more years of schooling can be a little intimidating, so you may be wondering how to get a PhD without a master’s.

First things first, you should solidify your answer to the question “why do you want to do a PhD?” A PhD may not be the right choice for you, and it’s possible you can achieve your goals with completing a shorter master’s program or you might decide graduate school is not for you.

For those of you who are committed to getting your PhD, you have some options on getting a PhD without a master’s degree depending on a few different factors:

  • Your academic record
  • Your field or area of interest
  • Your career goals
  • The requirements of your desired job
  • Whether or not you are changing careers or advancing your current studies

The reason why these can be deciding factors in whether you are eligible for a PhD program without first completing a master’s is because a PhD is an advanced program of study, and it requires extensive knowledge of your field, experience and a deeper and broader skillset than students typically achieve from a bachelor’s degree alone. Undergraduate studies are broader and more general, an introduction to your field of study. PhD programs require extensive research skills and are meant to not only deepen your understanding of the field but allow you to contribute your own original ideas to the field.

For this reason, it is more common for PhD programs in the sciences, such as engineering, to waive the requirement for a master’s degree. For instance, it’s possible to get a PhD in engineering without first getting a master’s since this is a field which requires more industry-focused and practical skills, not a great deal of research experience and ability. On the other hand, PhD programs in the humanities and social sciences almost always require a master’s degree because these subjects are research-heavy and more academic.

So, while you do not need a master’s to get a PhD, there are some pathways to a PhD that do not have this option. We’ll take you through the type of PhD programs that do not require a master’s degree and who can pursue these options.

PhD Programs that Don’t Require a Master’s Degree

There are few different types of PhD programs that do not require a master’s degree first. Note that all of these programs DO require a complete bachelor’s degree to apply! We’ll explain what your options are for completing a PhD without a master’s below.

1. Direct Entry PhD Programs

Direct Entry PhD programs allow students with a Bachelor’s degree to apply directly for a PhD in their field, without first completing a master’s degree. They are typically 4-5 years long, so they are appealing for students who want to earn a graduate degree and shave a few years off their timeline to graduation. Many of the top colleges in the US and the universities in Canada offer these types of programs. However, these programs are far from the easiest PhD programs to get into! They are quite competitive and require specific admission requirements you’ll need to meet in order to be considered.

2. Online PhD Programs

Online PhD programs are growing in both number and popularity. Online PhD programs offer students greater flexibility while also shortening the time it takes to get a PhD. Most online PhD programs are between 2 and 3 years, although there are 4-year programs and even 1-year online PhD programs out there. Depending on your area of study, an online PhD may not be an option, but there are fully accredited options out there. And, some online PhD programs don’t require a master’s degree.

Direct Entry PhD Programs

Direct entry PhD programs can be a great option for students who want to jump straight from a bachelor’s degree to a PhD. This type of program is available in almost all disciplines, including business, computer science, education and nursing. These are also sometimes called accelerated PhD programs, designed to be 4-5 years and on your way to graduation sooner. As long as you meet all the admission requirements, you can apply to direct entry PhD programs without a master’s degree.

Universities with Direct Entry PhD Programs

Here are a few examples of top universities with direct entry PhD programs. This is not an exhaustive list, as there are many similar programs across the US and Canada!

Pros and Cons of Direct Entry PhD Programs

Admission Requirements for Direct Entry PhD Programs

Along with the usual PhD admission requirements, direct entry PhD programs may only admit students with only a bachelor’s degree if they demonstrate exceptional academic ability and extensive prior research experience. Here are some of the additional requirements you can expect for direct entry PhD programs:

Online PhD Programs

There are dozens of different online PhD programs out there, ranging from 1 to 4 years long. The length of time it takes to complete an online PhD program depends on the discipline. Online PhD programs are more common in fields like nursing, health sciences, business, education, criminology, engineering and computer science, though there are many more.

Many online PhD programs also have a hybrid learning option, where students can learn both online and in-person at the university. This gives you a little more flexibility and allows you to get the best of both worlds from an online PhD and a traditional one.

Online PhDs are also a good option if you want to do a PhD without dissertation or thesis, since a few of them don’t require it.

Universities with Online PhD Programs

Here’s a short list of universities that offer online PhD programs, but keep in mind there are many more out there.

Pros and Cons of Online PhD Programs

Admission Requirements for Online PhD Programs

Online PhD programs, or hybrid programs, will have the same admission requirements as most graduate school programs. On top of these, you will typically need a GPA of 3.0 and above, and you may need to complete specific prerequisite coursework.

The specific admission requirements will vary a little by program, but in general there won’t be anything unexpected.

Applying to a PhD Without a Master’s Degree: What You Need to Know

If you’re thinking of applying to a PhD without a master’s degree, there are pros and cons to this decision. You may be wondering if not having a master’s degree will hurt your chances of getting accepted to a PhD program, or if it affects your chances of finding a job after graduate school.

While you can certainly choose to skip the master’s and still achieve your career goals with a PhD only, you should carefully consider your decision before you start applying to be sure it’s the right path for you.

Before you dive into PhD applications, consider the following things:

1. A PhD might not be necessary

Earning a PhD might not actually be necessary or especially helpful to achieving your career goals. A PhD is a research-focused, academic pursuit, so if your aim is to transition from academia to industry or find an industry job after a PhD, you might benefit more from earning years of work experience rather than years of education. There is always a possibility to pursue a PhD after a few years of working in your field if you change your mind.

In other cases, a master’s degree might give you the better mix of education and skill to achieve your career goals. And, a master’s degree is shorter and less expensive than a PhD, not to mention less competitive to get into.

On the other hand, if you are a true academic and want to find a job in academia, fast-tracking your PhD is a good way to do so!

2. A Master’s degree can give you a competitive edge

Having a master’s degree can actually give you a competitive edge for getting into some PhD programs. For example, even a direct entry PhD program that considers exceptional undergraduate students might give preference to a student with a full master’s degree if there is limited space in a program. Not to mention, not all PhD programs accept you without a master’s degree, and the ones that don’t require one will be more challenging to get into.

Completing your master’s first can also give you better and more funding opportunities for your PhD, if your program is not fully funded, since some scholarships and loans are only open to current graduate students.

3. A PhD is a huge commitment

Getting your PhD is a huge commitment of both your time and money, so you need to be certain it is the right choice for you before you put in the effort of applying and completing a program. Jumping from a bachelor’s right into an advanced graduate program is a big shift in the level of academic rigor and expectations, and not every student will be prepared for it.

Undergraduate students normally will not have the research experience or professional skillset that you would develop throughout the course of a master’s program. So the adjustment to a PhD program may prove to be too big a gap.

A master’s program is a sort of test-drive for graduate school study, introducing you to a higher level of education, research and learning. It’s also shorter and less expensive. So, you may not lose a much from changing your mind and dropping out of a master’s program as you will dropping out of a PhD.

Keep in mind that if you want to pursue advanced study in a new field or change jobs after working as an undergraduate, it will be difficult to find a PhD program that will accept you without a master’s degree.


Do you need a master’s to get a PhD? No, it is not strictly necessary. However, there are some advantages to earning your master’s degree first, and the path from bachelor’s straight to PhD is a little more challenging.

For those who are willing to commit and put in the hard work, the benefits of fast-tracking your PhD are definitely worth it, but you should carefully explore all your options and be sure of what requirements you need to meet first.


1. Do you need a master’s to get a PhD?

No. It is possible to get a PhD without a master’s degree. Some PhD programs accept exceptional students with a bachelor’s degree or allow you to earn a master’s and PhD in a combined, accelerated program.

2. Should I skip master’s and go straight to PhD?

While it is possible to skip your master’s and go straight to a PhD, you should consider what the options are, what the admission requirements are and whether graduate school is the right choice for you. Earning a PhD is a big commitment, so you need to be sure it’s a worthy pursuit!

3. Is it hard to get into direct entry PhD?

Yes, direct entry PhD programs are highly competitive and the admission standards are usually quite high. These types of programs usually accept exceptional students who stand out from the crowd.

4. What is the shortest PhD program?

The shortest PhD programs are 1-year online degrees. While there are not many available, it is possible to earn a PhD in select fields, completely online, in around 12 to 18-months.

5. How long does it take to get a PhD?

Traditional PhDs take between 4-8 years to complete. Direct entry PhD programs are usually 4-5 years, and online or hybrid PhDs can be between 2-3 years. 

6. Can I do a master’s and PhD combined?

Yes, there are dual degree programs that allow you to earn a master’s alongside a PhD, shortening the traditional timeline and saving a bit on tuition costs. 

7. What’s the difference between a master’s degree and a PhD?

A master’s degree is a graduate program that focuses on teaching you practical, career-related skills and knowledge. It’s designed for you to learn more advanced skills in your field so you can potentially increase your earnings in the workforce and pursue higher-level positions. A PhD is a heavily research-focused graduate degree. PhD students contribute new knowledge to their field through critical research and writing. 

8. Should I do a master’s or PhD?

It can be tough to decide whether to stop at a master’s degree or go forward and pursue a PhD. The decision will come down to your personal choice, the requirements for your chosen career or position, your budget, timeline, and whether you feel you can and want to commit to extensive graduate studies.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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