In the world of academia, most subject areas have different degree levels starting with the associate's degree, followed by the bachelor's degree, followed by the master's degree, and then the final degree, or terminal degree, which is typically the PhD. Depending on your career or personal goals, you may need to complete a PhD. To do so, earning a master's degree may or may not be optional.
Is the Master's Degree Required?
In the United States, most subject areas require a master's degree before attempting a PhD. However, there are a few universities that make the master's degree optional for certain subject areas. According to Binghamton University, State University of New York, whether or not you should get a master's degree before pursuing the PhD in one of these fields is largely dependent on your undergraduate experience. Because the PhD is such an in-depth and advanced level of study, you need a very strong background in the subject field before attempting it. In most cases, this means getting a master's degree first.
The bachelor's degree simply does not give most people enough of a preparation for the PhD level. However, according to Binghamton, if you have a very strong undergraduate academic record that includes extensive subject specific research and are not changing disciplines, skipping the master's degree may be a possibility.
Some PhD programs actually include the master's degree as part of their program. They may or may not actually award you the degree, but you are required to take the master's courses in order to complete the PhD. For example, the University of Pittsburgh offers a joint Master of Social Work / Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Social Work and also a joint Master of Public Health / Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Social Work. In the latter program, 12 credits count toward both degrees, which helps reduce the time it takes to complete the joint program.
Brandeis University also offers a joint Master of Arts Degree in Women's and Gender Studies with a PhD in one of eight different fields, including anthropology, English, history, music, Near Eastern and Judaic studies, psychology, social policy and sociology. Many other universities offer similar joint degree programs. A benefit of doing a joint program is that you can enter the PhD program sooner and qualify for the more abundant PhD stipends and research grants.