Academic Timeline for Ph.D./Masters Programs
What is a Ph.D. ?
A Doctorate in Philosophy (Ph.D.) is an intense, post-undergraduate academic experience where students specialize in a niche area of research, building upon the cumulative knowledge they’ve acquired through their undergraduate (and sometimes Masters) education. Length, requirements, and topics vary by university, and even within the university by department. However, Ph.D. programs are generally five to six years (three years of education and two to three years of thesis research.) Students work closely with faculty in their field of interest, specifically on their thesis proposal stated in their application. Ph.D. programs in the United States are usually fully-funded, provide health insurance and living stipends, and research grants for Ph.D. candidates to pursue outside research during their time at the university. Most deadlines for Ph.D. applications expire between late November and mid-January with a few exceptions.
Once a student is accepted into a Ph.D. program, they will take graduate courses for the first three years and, depending on the program, may be granted a Masters by fulfilling requirements within their Ph.D. discipline. Once a student fulfills the basic educational requirements, they progress toward their research project during the fourth, fifth, and sometimes sixth year. During this period they will be required to take several tests, present and defend their Ph.D. thesis research and paper, and attain the Ph.D. certification.
Though it is a lengthy process, most Ph.D. candidates find their work and studies fulfilling at the university, especially if they plan to teach in academia. Though the majority of Ph.D.recipients teach at the undergraduate level after their education, many find other career paths that engage with their training including working with think-tanks, government research facilities, and even public policy. A Ph.D. should not be understood as a golden ticket to a high paying job, but the academic prestige of the school and degree, and the skills and knowledge learned during the experience make Ph.D. holders highly coveted.
If you’d like to learn more about Ph.D.s, check out this guide from FindAPhD.com.
What is a Masters?
A Masters program is usually a condensed, one to two year stay at a university where students engage critically within a specific, academic discipline. The classes are undergraduate or graduate level and serve to train the student in a new field of interest or deepen understanding in the field of their B.A. Many students see a Masters as an opportunity to explore new academic interests not previously engaged with during their undergraduate as a step toward attaining a Ph.D. or deepening their understanding of their field of study during their undergraduate for a specific Ph.D. program. Rarely is a Masters degree the last requirement for a position in academia, however it can be a stand-out characteristic for other career paths such as finance, business, and general research/policy.
Usually there is a large research component to the Masters program which culminates in a serious research paper at the end of study. Because a Masters is only one to two years, students are expected to have a high level of competency in the academic field and, most importantly, in their research field.
Masters programs are rarely funded by university grants and scholarships and can be quite expensive in the US. Many universities have work-study positions and external and departmental funding attained through competitive application, but students are expected to pay out of pocket for the degree. The European system usually offers a more financially friendly alternative, where Masters programs are supported by government grants and scholarship.
If you’d like to learn more about Masters programs, check out this guide from FindAMasters.com.
The Application Process
Ph.D. - Most Ph.D. programs begin accepting applications in August and stop receiving applications between early December and mid January. Colleges recommend taking the GRE and English-language tests (TOEFL or IELTS) during the summer or early fall, knowing that the last testing opportunity that will send testing results in time for applications occurs in November. The December testing dates are not recommended.
Masters - Applications for Masters programs vary significantly, but in the United States, applications usually close at the end of the Spring semester (April/May). Testing should be completed before the start of April to ensure scores are received by the college.
General Application Requirements:
The following are general application requirements, as each university and department have specific requirements to meet.
Completed online application
3 Letters of Recommendation
English-language Test Scores (TOEFL: iBT, cBT, pBT or IELTS)
Academic Transcript (usually unofficial until accepted into the program)
1-3 Writing Samples
Statement of Purpose
Language Proficiencies (depends on program)
Statement of Diversity (depends on program)
The Becket Program assists in all aspects of a successful Ph.D. and Masters application and aims to give clear, relevant, and pertinent advice to improve the Becket Fellow’s application stylistically, logistically, and in conjunction with the “fit” aspect of specific Ph.D. and Masters programs.