Written by Hannah Slack
Most students will complete a Masters before going on to study a PhD. But is it possible to study a PhD without a Masters degree? In other words, do you actually need a Masters to apply for a PhD?
It is possible to begin a PhD without a Masters, though this is much more common in STEM subjects than the Arts and Humanities. This page will take you through the details of how to get onto a PhD programme without a Masters, and whether it could be the right option for you.
How to get a PhD without a Masters
There is no one way to get onto a PhD programme without a Masters. Usually, the route you take will depend on your abilities and your subject’s requirements. Though it is technically possible in any department, students from the Sciences are most likely to be able to jump from a Bachelors to a PhD. We’ve summed up the three main pathways for students to gain a PhD without a Masters qualification.
Integrated programmes (also known as a ‘1+3’ PhD) are four years long, with one year covering the content of a Masters before moving onto a three-year PhD. If you secure a position with Research Council funding, then you will be funded throughout the entirety of the programme.
By taking this route you will technically complete a Masters of Research (MRes). You will be required to finish a substantial research project in the first year of study. Working alongside a supervisory team, the project will usually be related to the PhD topic. Integrated programmes are designed to help students develop the vital research skills needed to complete a PhD.
At the end of the first year your research project will be assessed by your institution. Upon successful completion, you will be automatically enrolled onto the PhD programme and will be awarded an MRes degree.
Although you will technically still get a Masters, the 1+3 option limits some of the hassle of doing two separate postgraduate degrees. For example, you won’t have to spend time searching and applying for a PhD during your Masters year.
Integrated programmes are a good option for those struggling with the eligibility requirements to go straight onto a PhD programme. Entry onto these programmes is usually a good undergraduate degree (at least an upper 2.1) in a relevant field.
Looking for an integrated PhD programme?
You can browse four-year integrated PhD programmes here on FindAPhD.
In Science-related topics students usually apply to an advertised project. As applications won’t always require you to make your own research proposal (which Masters study can help with), it’s sometimes possible to get through on academic prowess and a strong CV.
If you’re overachieving throughout your Bachelors degree and know you want to move on to postgraduate study, it’s worthwhile talking to an academic you know or your personal tutor. They will have a better grip on your potential fit to current and future research opportunities. They can also advise you on possible internships or summer projects that could help you be more successful in PhD applications.
Though not impossible, it is more uncommon for Arts and Humanities students to make the jump from Bachelors to PhD. As these subjects require students to propose an original research project, they need to be able to justify their work in the context of a wider field before they begin. A Masters degree is designed to give students the research experience and additional taught content to be able to do this.
If a Humanities student wanted to jump straight to a PhD they would need to demonstrate extensive research experience, an advanced knowledge of an academic field and a viable topic that will generate original research.
The other route that students can take to get on a PhD programme without a Masters is through professional experience.
Subjects that are predominantly vocational, such as Social Work, Psychology and Business sometimes accept students with a strong professional background.
Usually, applicants taking this route will apply to write about a specific subject theme or case study they have professional experience working with. In addition, you will need to demonstrate research skills – after all, to complete a PhD you must be able to contextualise your topic in a larger research field.
Should you apply for a PhD without a Masters
Whether you should or should not apply for a PhD without a Masters will depend on you. To gauge if this could be the route for you make sure to talk to the right people. Talk to an academic who knows you if you’re currently at university. They will be able to advise if they think you’re ready for a PhD, based on their knowledge of your academic ability.
It’s also important to talk to potential supervisors at the institutions you plan to apply for. They will let you know whether they think you would be suitable based on your current academic experience.
Jumping from an undergraduate degree to a PhD will not be easy. During the application process you may be competing against other students with Masters degrees and so it’s possible you could face some rejection.
The first year of a PhD could also prove more difficult for you than others. Without a Masters degree you will have limited (if any) experience of a maintaining a supervisor relationship, conducting original research and writing up your findings – all important parts of doing a PhD.
But it is important to remember that while it might initially feel overwhelming, that’s not to say you won’t catch up. And, as someone without a Masters, you shouldn’t face unrealistic expectations from your peers and supervisors.
In fact, there are many advantages to enrolling on a PhD programme without a Masters. Most importantly you will be saving time and money. And, when you graduate with a PhD it won’t matter whether you have a Masters or not because you will now have a higher qualification.
What is it like to begin a PhD without a Masters?
Read about how Chris jumped from his undergraduate degree in Biochemistry onto a molecular microbiology PhD project.
Last Updated: 25 June 2021