Do you need a masters degree to be accepted into a PhD program?

Many traditional PhD programs and accredited online PhD programs do not require a masters degree for admission. Rather, in these subjects most students enter PhD studies directly after completing a bachelors degree. However, standards can vary from program to program, so it is important to confirm the requirements at your prospective school or schools as early in your planning process as possible to ensure that you avoid any surprises.

Some schools recommend that students without a strong background in a subject area should complete a masters program before continuing with PhD work. The University of Oregon’s department of economics takes this approach. Other schools do not even offer traditional master degree options. The Stanford University department of economics only accepts PhD students, though these students can choose to settle for a masters degree after completing sufficient coursework.

Take note that the cost of PhD programs at many schools is fully funded by grants, graduate assistantships, fellowships and other funding programs. Masters programs, on the other hand, typically offer little funding, and many students rely on loans to meet the full costs of study.


There is a wide variety of PhD degree programs available to students interested in researching and teaching in health-related topics. Most programs in this area do not commonly require applicants to hold a masters degree.

PhD programs in medical science range from cancer biology to pharmaceutical science to neuroscience to immunology. PhD graduates serve as professors and researchers, working at the cutting edge of knowledge in these fields. Those who want to train as medical doctors and researchers can choose to pursue a dual MD/PhD degree from many exceptional universities across the nation, including Georgetown University and the University of Texas at Austin.

Business and Finance

Popular PhD programs in business subjects include management, finance, marketing and accounting, among others. PhD training in these subjects prepares students to work as professors and researchers in universities and colleges. Some graduates go on to work in private sector jobs.

Most PhD programs in business require only a bachelors degree. However, as in other subjects, some programs look more favorably on applicants with a masters degree. For example, the Arizona State University School of Accountancy prefers PhD applicants that hold an accounting masters degree or an MBA, though this is not an ironclad requirement.

Public Service, Law and Government

If you are interested in public sector issues, government or law, there are a number of PhD programs that may interest you. A PhD in public policy trains students to develop and evaluate public policies as they relate to major public issues. Graduates work in academia, nonprofit organizations, government and the private sector. Many PhD programs, including the program at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, admit students with a bachelors degree.

PhD programs in public health are also popular in this area. Students of public health are trained to become university professors, researchers and policy analysts. They study the behavioral influences on health, illness and disease prevention in populations. Many public health PhD programs, such as those at the University of Connecticut, require that students have completed graduate coursework in public health topics and, preferably, earned a masters degree.

Technology and Computers

If you are interested in computer technology, you might consider one of the many PhD disciplines within the computer science field. Popular PhD subjects include artificial intelligence and robotics in addition to more traditional fields like software engineering and electrical engineering and computer science. Most of these PhD programs do not require applicants to hold a masters degree.


The engineering field offers a diverse set of PhD programs to choose from. PhD students in materials science and engineering are trained to conduct cutting-edge research into the materials of the future. A PhD program in mechanical engineering trains students to research the application of mechanical forces to different materials and systems. Specialties include biomechanics, acoustics and fluid mechanics.

With a PhD in chemical engineering, you will be prepared to do research into the synthesis and processing of chemicals and materials, perhaps leading to the creation of new medicines or cleaner burning energy sources. Most PhD programs in engineering are open to bachelor degree graduates.

Communication and Arts

Today, many of the leading PhD programs in communication integrate the study of media, technology and culture to better analyze today’s society. Other programs focus on mass media and its influence on communication in a culture. While some programs will accept applicants with only a bachelors degree, many prefer or require a masters degree.

Popular PhD programs in the arts include art history, film and visual studies and a variety of topics in music. Many of these programs are open to bachelor degree holders, though space tends to be limited and the competition fierce.