Can You Get a PhD without a Masters?
Yes, it’s possible to get a PhD without first having a Masters degree.
The conventional route for someone who earns a PhD is to pursue a Bachelor’s degree, followed by a Masters degree and then a PhD. However, several students opt to bypass a Master’s degree by enrolling onto a doctoral programme as soon as they complete their undergraduate degree.
Before we discuss how this can be done, it is worth mentioning the advantages and disadvantages of this route.
Advantages of Applying to a PhD without A Masters
The motivations for undertaking a PhD immediately after an undergraduate course are largely in saving money and time. This is because you will essentially eliminate a year of study. Another advantage of immediately enrolling onto a doctorate degree is project availability. If you find a project that you’re really interested in, it’s unlikely that it will still be available in a years’ time. Therefore, bypassing a Masters and enrolling directly into a PhD will increase your chances of securing the research project before it becomes unavailable.
Disadvantages of Applying to a PhD without A Masters
Although a Masters degree will add a year onto your academic journey, it can be incredibility helpful for your development and can help prepare you for a doctoral degree.
Not having a Master’s degree may prove to be a hindrance during your application process. This is because many other students will also apply to the same research projects, and it’s likely that the majority will hold a Masters. This will put you at a disadvantage to them.
Besides this, the dissertation project you’ll be required to undertake on a Master’s programme will provide you with a taste of what it is like to work on a research-based project. In addition to this, it’s likely that you’ll be able to select your own dissertation topic. As such, you can explore a specific field you’re interested in in further detail. This is a great way to confirm that both research-based work and the specific field you’re interested in are right for you before committing the next few years to it via a PhD.
Another advantage to the dissertation project associated with a Masters degree is the opportunity it provides you with to work closely with a project supervisor. This will help you understand the PhD student-supervisor relationship and communication frequency that works best for you. You can then use this knowledge to find supervisors who would compliment you when it comes time to find a PhD project to apply to. For tips on how to find a great PhD supervisor, check out our supervisor guide.
PhD without a Masters – How Does It Work?
To be considered for a PhD without a Master’s, at a minimum you will be expected to have a Bachelors degree. For students looking to enrol onto a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) PhD, a relevant Bachelors in a 3-year undergraduate course is usually expected. However, this is not the case for students looking to apply to non-STEM PhDs. Rather, students looking to apply to doctorates in subjects such as those surrounding Arts and Humanities are usually expected to have a relevant Bachelors from a 4-year course.
In addition to this, you will need to have demonstrated strong academic performance during your undergraduate course. This means that your Bachelors will need to be at least a UK Upper Second-Class Honours (2.1) for nearly all institutions to consider you.
Should you be accepted into a PhD programme without a Masters, the usual process will be to first register you as an MPhil student. You will then have a year to prepare and submit a thesis. Your thesis will need to detail the research you have carried out within that year and outline how you intend to continue it into a full PhD study. There are three outcomes of this MPhil thesis review:
- Failure and you’re not awarded anything.
- You pass, however, the supervisor doesn’t believe you’ve demonstrated strong research skills. You’re awarded an MPhil but they do not upgrade your course to a PhD programme.
- You pass and the supervisor believes you have proven yourself as a capable researcher. Your course is upgraded to a PhD as opposed to you being awarding an MPhil.
For more information on these outcomes, read the outcomes section of our PhD Viva guide.
Some universities offer Integrated PhD degree programmes (also known as an Integrated Masters degree). These are four-year programmes comprising of a one-year Masters degree immediately followed by a three-year PhD degree. These can prove a great option for graduate students who are looking to undertake a PhD without a Masters but are struggling to meet the eligibility requirements. You can read about the many benefits of integrated degrees here.
PhD without a Bachelors – Is It Possible?
Yes, it is possible to get a PhD without a Bachelor’s, however, this is extremely uncommon.
When this occurs, it is almost always reserved for very mature individuals. For example, an individual may not be in active academia but still may have significantly contributed to their field. This contribution could be through the work they have undertaken as part of their career, or as part of a long-term study project, they have undertaken out of self-interest.
In either case, the individual would need to prove that they have extensive experience in their field and have directly contributed to new knowledge within it. The key factor here is that their work has pushed the boundaries of existing knowledge. It is not enough for an individual to be regarded as an expert in their field – they must have contributed something new and meaningful. It’s common for individuals awarded a PhD through this means to have produced several publications within their lifetime. It’s also common for the individual to have gained several professional accreditations within their field before even being considered suitable for a PhD research degree.
Universities Offering PhD without a Masters
Unfortunately, there is not a centralised list of universities which offer PhDs without a Master’s degree. The reason for this is that the edibility requirements differ from PhD to PhD and from department to department.
Therefore, you will need to check the guidelines for each individual university and the requirements for each specific PhD you’re interested in.
Should you find a PhD programme you can apply to with a Bachelors, make every effort to make your application as strong as possible. This is because you will be competing against other candidates, most of who will have a Master’s degree.
Not only can you strengthen your application by having a Bachelors with a First-Class Honours (1st), but you can also do so by showing the traits of a successful researcher. This includes showing a genuine interest in the project, a high work ethic, and exceptional communication skills.
Additionally, a strong letter of recommendation from a respected university lecturer will prove very beneficial. This is especially true if the lecturer supervisors his or her own PhD students. This is because the lecturer will understand the skills required for an adept research student.
For more advice on how to apply to a PhD degree, check out our Application Process Guide.