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Do you need a master's degree to pursue a doctoral degree?

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It depends on the school and your field of study. Many doctoral programs accept candidates who have only obtained a bachelor's degree. Most of these programs will automatically award a master's degree to the doctoral student as he or she progresses towards the completion of the Ph.D..
Furthermore, at some schools, entering a Ph.D. program with a master's degree will shorten the course of the program by only one year. There are situations where a student enrolls in a terminal M.A. program but after a year of high achievement asks to be enrolled in a program leading to a Ph.D. While this is possible, sometimes just the opposite is the case. Some prestigious graduate schools do not accept students wishing to pursue a terminal master's degree; they only accept students seeking the Ph.D.. However, if, after completing a considerable portion of the required program, the student is unable to finish the dissertation or meet certain evaluation criteria, the school may award a terminal M.A. or M.Phil. and say goodbye to this student.

For example, the graduate program in history at Columbia University writes this on the admissions page: "Our program is designed for students who seek the Ph.D. Although students entering without a Master's degree earn an M.A. in History in the course of their study here, we do not admit full-time students who wish only to earn a Master's degree." Students entering Columbia's graduate school with a Master's degree are considered to have Advanced Standing, which excuses them from only one year of coursework at Columbia.
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