Masters and PhDs after Undergrad

Can you go right into a PhD from undergrad if you do not have a major (I have a minor instead) in your intended area of academic study/is a Masters degree required prior to admission? Do you need a PhD to be a professor and additionally, what other jobs can you do with a PhD? I have just started investigating this option recently and would love any insight, trying to figure out if it is for me/if it is worth it. I have significant interests in English and/or Writing.

The expectation is written on each department’s web site, but usually they expect comparable preparation to an uindergrad degree in the same or a similar field.

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This happens, usually with a similar undergrad major (i.e., not STEM unless you want to study technical writing).

But, I’d encourage you to carefully research and evaluate academic career prospects in the humanities/English/writing. It is a brutal academic job market with few tenure track openings, a massive oversupply of new Ph.D.s, and heavy reliance on adjuncts. It might be intellectually interesting, but to what end?

To my knowledge, there is zero industrial demand for English or writing Ph.D.s, and relevant experience would be much more important than a graduate degree.


Ph.D.’s aren’t really like other advanced degrees where you just apply and see…you really need to kind of figure out where you might fit into one by talking to schools’ coordinators. Admission is different than you’d be used to and that process, requirements, etc. are very different across fields. Same with jobs—some markets for grads are amazing, some tough. Some have lots of research jobs (sciences) vs traditional “professor” job. Some are full of people who might go straight from undergrad (you might pick up a master’s along the way) but others have lots of doctoral students with significant experience. So it really does vary.

There are a lot of underemployed Ph.D.s and a lot of ABDs out there. It’s a big commitment with an unsure outcome.

The key, to me—and this is one dude’s opinion—is to think about “what do I want to spend the rest of my life immersing myself in…learning about, gaining tremendous depth of knowledge, uncovering new truths, teaching/communicating/talking about” and there’s your field. Or change “do” to “might” and you have fields to look into.

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Interestingly enough, this is not the case. While the jobs aren’t thick on the ground, I know of a number of people with PhDs in English/writing who are employed in industry. That being said, an MFA in creative writing will probably give the same job prospects or better.

@bpb222 - I understand from your other thread that your interests are in communications, English, and gender studies. In which of these do you want to do a PhD, and what particular part of it?

Hi, thank you so much for this insight! Can you expand a bit on the MFA when you have a chance? I was investigating that degree as well as I have significant interests in both Nonfiction and Poetry (I know you have to pick one track if pursuing this degree) but from the people I’ve spoken to, it seems like an MFA provides a lot more uncertainty and doesn’t exactly grant a career path. What are benefits of this degree? And for those you know with PhDs in English/writing (this is where my interests lie), what professions did they end up finding? Thank you again!!! Greatly appreciated :slight_smile:

It’s very extremely unlikely to be admitted to a doctorate program out of undergrad with only a minor. You can get into a masters program with that, but, depending on the program, you will likely need to take some leveling courses. After your masters, you’d be in an ideal position to apply for doctorate programs.

Doctorates are great if you plan to work in academics. In the corporate world, they don’t have much use, in fact, they can be a disadvantage. They’ll make you overqualified for entry level jobs, but won’t give you enough practical work experience for mid-level jobs. My advice, unless you plan to work in academia, I would advise against a PhD. Also English and writing outside of law doesn’t have great employment prospects. Make sure you have a marketable backup option.


I think we might be saying different things.

Sure, a small number of English Ph.D.s probably end up as management consultants, PR folks, product managers, real estate agents, or whatever. I believe this is your point.

My point is that individuals are in those roles DESPITE the English Ph.D., not because of it. That’s very different from companies actively hiring Ph.D.s for STEM research and development roles, the Federal Reserve or FTC actively hiring Ph.D. Economists for roles, etc.

I am not aware of any industrial roles where English Ph.D.s are specifically recruited or paid more than a similar candidate with a BA, but I could be wrong.

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In academia, where the coin of the realm is PhD or the terminal degree in your subject. An MFA in creative writing is effectively a terminal degree- but they are expensive and you need to be clear about your goals.

The run up to college graduation can bring a ‘what next’ crisis, but even if you have family that will happily underwrite a Masters degree it is hard to over-emphasize how important it is to have a clear goal before you start any PG degree. You do not sound as if you have one- so you are better advised to go start working in areas that are genuinely interesting to you. You may hit a point at which you realize that to get to the next role you want that you need a PG degree- if so, that is the time to get one.

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I would say that depends. In math, absolutely. If you had a BA in sociology or history and a minor in what a friend calls “Grievance Studies”, a doctorate in Grievance Studies is probably within reach.

In between is, well, in between.

In my view, the best reason to apply to a graduate program is to develop your writing, and enjoy that opportunity (if you can afford it). In terms of career or financial outcome, there is a lot of uncertainty. Academia now employs a lot of adjuncts with low pay and no benefits.

PhD programs that offer a master’s along the way, often have funding. I have no idea what your chances for admission are, given that you minored in English. An MFA might be the best course, and you could research to see if any do have funding.

Check out Goddard’s low residency MFA as one example that might be more affordable since you are in residence for 10 days but can otherwise work and live more cheaply.

You could also just take classes if development is your goal. Not just university classes, but adult education center and writing organizations.

I do not have any degrees in writing but have found that writing has been part of my work in all instances. Generally a workplace will discover you can write or like to write and make use of that. If creative writing is a goal, you could self-publish or try to get work published (there was a recent NY Times article on a woman without credentials who got her novel published.)

Just saying, there are many ways to pursue a goal of developing your writing that do not involve the expense of an unfunded degree. And with some experience/more classes, perhaps in the future you could apply for a PhD.

Just be clear that this may not result in a stable or well-paying job in academia OR improve other job prospects. But you might grow as a writer. If you can afford that commitment, great.