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DrPH or PhD with Master's Not Required?


VulpesZerda

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Hi! I am interested in Columbia's sociomedical sciences PhD program, which (sometimes) accepts students who don't hold master's degrees. I was able to obtain a fee waiver from SOPHAS in order to apply to this program, and it turns out that the fee waiver is actually enough to cover two programs (woo!)

 

However... I don't have a master's degree and can't find another doctoral program that I'm eligible for. I have been looking for a while so I figured maybe I missed something and I could reach out and ask. Does anyone have a recommendation?

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I would highly recommend you reconsider applying to a doctoral program sans masters. I entered my current PhD program with an MPH; however one of my cohort-mates did the direct entry with only a bachelors. She has been behind in coursework, knowledge and experience. There have been a number of issues that have come up that I think you may want to consider.

 

1) Her fellowship (like most fellowships) only covered 2 years, which meant that she used her two years of paid tuition taking the masters courses she needed as prerequisites. So she had an additional 2 years of unfunded work, plus dissertation.

2) She lacked the necessary background knowledge (aka coursework and research readings) necessary to excel in PhD coursework and even discussions.

3) She was held to the same standards as others with masters degrees, which is mostly a disservice to her. Even if you are an above average writer and thinker, it doesn't make up for those two years of experience.

4) The faculty implicitly respect her less.

5) You are significantly less competitive when applying, because you haven't shown yourself to be successful in grad school as those with a masters have.

 

I am relatively sure that this is not situation specific. The chair has said plainly they will never admit another student sans masters because it is a huge burden and disservice to the student. I am not saying it cannot be done, but skipping the masters for the sake saving time is really not a good idea. That is perhaps the reason you see almost no programs.  I wish you luck in your application!

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I would highly recommend you reconsider applying to a doctoral program sans masters. I entered my current PhD program with an MPH; however one of my cohort-mates did the direct entry with only a bachelors. She has been behind in coursework, knowledge and experience. There have been a number of issues that have come up that I think you may want to consider.

1) Her fellowship (like most fellowships) only covered 2 years, which meant that she used her two years of paid tuition taking the masters courses she needed as prerequisites. So she had an additional 2 years of unfunded work, plus dissertation.

2) She lacked the necessary background knowledge (aka coursework and research readings) necessary to excel in PhD coursework and even discussions.

3) She was held to the same standards as others with masters degrees, which is mostly a disservice to her. Even if you are an above average writer and thinker, it doesn't make up for those two years of experience.

4) The faculty implicitly respect her less.

5) You are significantly less competitive when applying, because you haven't shown yourself to be successful in grad school as those with a masters have.

I am relatively sure that this is not situation specific. The chair has said plainly they will never admit another student sans masters because it is a huge burden and disservice to the student. I am not saying it cannot be done, but skipping the masters for the sake saving time is really not a good idea. That is perhaps the reason you see almost no programs. I wish you luck in your application!

Thanks very much for the response! I suppose I didn't realize this stuff so that's all very good to know. The majority of my applications are going to psychology PhD programs, which do not expect or prefer a master's. Since my research aligns so much with public health, I figured I could apply to some of those PhDs as well. I honestly cannot afford a master's degree so it has been classified as a secondary route that I would take only if I didn't get into a doctoral program this year. Thanks again!

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I would highly recommend you reconsider applying to a doctoral program sans masters. I entered my current PhD program with an MPH; however one of my cohort-mates did the direct entry with only a bachelors. She has been behind in coursework, knowledge and experience. There have been a number of issues that have come up that I think you may want to consider.

 

1) Her fellowship (like most fellowships) only covered 2 years, which meant that she used her two years of paid tuition taking the masters courses she needed as prerequisites. So she had an additional 2 years of unfunded work, plus dissertation.

2) She lacked the necessary background knowledge (aka coursework and research readings) necessary to excel in PhD coursework and even discussions.

3) She was held to the same standards as others with masters degrees, which is mostly a disservice to her. Even if you are an above average writer and thinker, it doesn't make up for those two years of experience.

4) The faculty implicitly respect her less.

5) You are significantly less competitive when applying, because you haven't shown yourself to be successful in grad school as those with a masters have.

 

I am relatively sure that this is not situation specific. The chair has said plainly they will never admit another student sans masters because it is a huge burden and disservice to the student. I am not saying it cannot be done, but skipping the masters for the sake saving time is really not a good idea. That is perhaps the reason you see almost no programs.  I wish you luck in your application!

 

 

 

This is completely situation specific.  I went straight into a PhD (actually the Columbia one VulpesZerda mentioned) program without a master's - straight from undergrad; I graduated in May 2008 and started in September 2008.  I was the only one in my cohort who came straight from undergrad, and I think I was one of two who did not have a prior master's (but the other woman who did not had a couple of years of work experience in the field).  I just finished the program this August.  I finished in 6 years; I finished at the same time or ahead of several of my cohort mates with master's degrees.  I also finished at the same time as my cohort mates in my secondary department, even though I literally took twice the coursework and twice the exams they did.  I don't think that not having a master's put me at a disadvantage.

 

1) In my program students without a master's degree got an additional year of fellowship support, so I had 3 years of fellowship, not 2.  This was enough for me to finish my coursework and also win another external fellowship, which I used to finish my PhD.  This will vary significantly by program, so it's worth asking rather than counting yourself out.  I did have to take more coursework than the master's recipients, but I made up for the time in other ways.

 

2) I did not lack the necessary background knowledge to excel in class discussions and my coursework.  I had no difficulties with my coursework whatsoever (what was difficult was the volume of work, not the content) and I actually had a more advanced statistical and methodological background than most of my peers.

 

3) Yes, you are held to the same standards as those with a master's, but it doesn't always have to be a bad thing.  Again, I didn't feel like I was at a disadvantage compared to my peers.  I had read a lot of the same theorists they read in grad school - but I read them in undergrad.  I had all of the necessary prerequisite knowledge to graduate work in my own field.  The only thing I wish I had had was two additional years of work experience that would've helped me shape my research interests a bit earlier; MA holders do benefit from a more in-depth investigation of their research area, which means that they might be able to hit the ground running a bit more in the beginning of their PhD.  My classmates already had well-defined areas and vague dissertation ideas.  However, I quickly made up for the lost time and - like I said - I finished before some of them anyway.  My grades, fellowships, and publication record supports that I wasn't at a terrible disadvantage.

 

4) My faculty definitely did not respect me less.  I was nominated for honors for both my dissertation proposal and my dissertation, and was asked to work on several projects by faculty who'd observed my work in class.  And honestly, by the time I had finished my coursework it ceased to matter that I didn't have a prior master's, because now I was caught up theoretically with my classmates anyway.

 

5) This is true - having a master's does make you more competitive for admission, but I don't think that's a reason not to apply.

 

Ultimately, this is going to be largely based upon your own undergraduate preparation for the degree as well as your personal qualities and the program you apply to.  I think that deciding never to admit another BA-prepared student because of one bad experience with a BA-prepared student goes against the very tenets of social science, but programs do have to act in their best interests.  My undergraduate preparation was quite good - I read some of the theorists we examined in graduate school in my freshman year of college; my college was very writing-intensive, so I had already written several 20-page seminar papers before I started grad school; I studied abroad, which included a very in-depth class on theory in this particular area (we read Althusser, Lacan, Butler, Derrida, et al. and I thought I would die, lol), and did an independent research project in my specific area of interest; I wrote a senior honors thesis; I had a lot of advanced statistical training through advanced classes and special programs, relative even to many other master's students; and my college was one of the few in that had a public health minor (more are getting one).  In my case I feel like I was very well-prepared to begin a PhD program straight out of the gate.

 

Since me there have been a few other people who also begun without master's degrees and as far as I know the program hasn't noticed a significant difference between those who have them and those who do not.  There's another person in my same concentration who also came straight out of undergrad (we are the only two people who did that - even most of the people without MAs had some work experience) and she, too, is on track to graduate in 5.5-6 years with praise from faculty.

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This is completely situation specific.  I went straight into a PhD (actually the Columbia one VulpesZerda mentioned) program without a master's - straight from undergrad; I graduated in May 2008 and started in September 2008.  I was the only one in my cohort who came straight from undergrad, and I think I was one of two who did not have a prior master's (but the other woman who did not had a couple of years of work experience in the field).  I just finished the program this August.  I finished in 6 years; I finished at the same time or ahead of several of my cohort mates with master's degrees.  I also finished at the same time as my cohort mates in my secondary department, even though I literally took twice the coursework and twice the exams they did.  I don't think that not having a master's put me at a disadvantage.

 

1) In my program students without a master's degree got an additional year of fellowship support, so I had 3 years of fellowship, not 2.  This was enough for me to finish my coursework and also win another external fellowship, which I used to finish my PhD.  This will vary significantly by program, so it's worth asking rather than counting yourself out.  I did have to take more coursework than the master's recipients, but I made up for the time in other ways.

 

2) I did not lack the necessary background knowledge to excel in class discussions and my coursework.  I had no difficulties with my coursework whatsoever (what was difficult was the volume of work, not the content) and I actually had a more advanced statistical and methodological background than most of my peers.

 

3) Yes, you are held to the same standards as those with a master's, but it doesn't always have to be a bad thing.  Again, I didn't feel like I was at a disadvantage compared to my peers.  I had read a lot of the same theorists they read in grad school - but I read them in undergrad.  I had all of the necessary prerequisite knowledge to graduate work in my own field.  The only thing I wish I had had was two additional years of work experience that would've helped me shape my research interests a bit earlier; MA holders do benefit from a more in-depth investigation of their research area, which means that they might be able to hit the ground running a bit more in the beginning of their PhD.  My classmates already had well-defined areas and vague dissertation ideas.  However, I quickly made up for the lost time and - like I said - I finished before some of them anyway.  My grades, fellowships, and publication record supports that I wasn't at a terrible disadvantage.

 

4) My faculty definitely did not respect me less.  I was nominated for honors for both my dissertation proposal and my dissertation, and was asked to work on several projects by faculty who'd observed my work in class.  And honestly, by the time I had finished my coursework it ceased to matter that I didn't have a prior master's, because now I was caught up theoretically with my classmates anyway.

 

5) This is true - having a master's does make you more competitive for admission, but I don't think that's a reason not to apply.

 

Ultimately, this is going to be largely based upon your own undergraduate preparation for the degree as well as your personal qualities and the program you apply to.  I think that deciding never to admit another BA-prepared student because of one bad experience with a BA-prepared student goes against the very tenets of social science, but programs do have to act in their best interests.  My undergraduate preparation was quite good - I read some of the theorists we examined in graduate school in my freshman year of college; my college was very writing-intensive, so I had already written several 20-page seminar papers before I started grad school; I studied abroad, which included a very in-depth class on theory in this particular area (we read Althusser, Lacan, Butler, Derrida, et al. and I thought I would die, lol), and did an independent research project in my specific area of interest; I wrote a senior honors thesis; I had a lot of advanced statistical training through advanced classes and special programs, relative even to many other master's students; and my college was one of the few in that had a public health minor (more are getting one).  In my case I feel like I was very well-prepared to begin a PhD program straight out of the gate.

 

Since me there have been a few other people who also begun without master's degrees and as far as I know the program hasn't noticed a significant difference between those who have them and those who do not.  There's another person in my same concentration who also came straight out of undergrad (we are the only two people who did that - even most of the people without MAs had some work experience) and she, too, is on track to graduate in 5.5-6 years with praise from faculty.

 

 

This post is ridiculously self aggrandizing. Wow. You're great, we get it. I'm going to go ahead and say your situation isn't the norm. I understand you're trying to refute some of the points JoeShmo is making, but come on... 

 

Vulpes, I think you should reach out to the program(s). Try to speak with someone on the phone to see if you can get a sense for everything. 

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I can see this topic getting a bit nasty when it probably doesn't need to be. There probably isn't a "norm" when it comes to entering a PhD program without a masters. Some people who enter without a masters will surely find themselves in over their head and do poorly in the program, but so will some students who enter with a masters. Having a masters degree will definitely make you more competitive when you apply for PhD programs in my opinion, but how you fare in the program once you arrive depends on too many factors to make generalizations.  I also think you can prepare for a PhD programs in other ways than getting a masters. For example, many people work for several years and get comparable experience to those in a masters program, which helps them to narrow their research interests. Other people are research assistants throughout undergrad and make the most of each summer conducting research. Other people are maybe just super smart/awesome/lucky and figure it out despite the odds. And, other people still find that they were not ready for a PhD program once entering.

 

In addition to these personal factors, your specific program and advisor have a tremendous impact on your success. No matter how great of a student you are (equipped with a masters or not) it's pretty hard to overcome a poor program and/or mentorship.

 

Overall, I know people who have done well without a masters and those who have not (same case as for people I know who entered with a masters). As others have mentioned, the best thing to do is just to talk to people from the schools you are interested in about your specific situation and make sure you pick a program that is the best match for you.

 

Sorry for perhaps beating a dead horse with this thread, but I don't want future readers to necessarily be discouraged from applying without a masters if they have the experience/commitment/grades/total package needed to do PhD work. I do think it is important for people to understand the pros and cons of doing so though, and I think others in the forum have definitely shed some light there as well.

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Sorry for perhaps beating a dead horse with this thread, but I don't want future readers to necessarily be discouraged from applying without a masters if they have the experience/commitment/grades/total package needed to do PhD work. I do think it is important for people to understand the pros and cons of doing so though, and I think others in the forum have definitely shed some light there as well.

Yeah, I mean I truly appreciate all the insight I can get about this, but at the same time, I wasn't asking whether or not I should apply without a master's, because doing so is a decision I've already made. Most of my applications are going to psych programs and I realize I have a better chance with those. My question was moreso about which doctoral programs in public health (in addition to Columbia and Brown) are open to students without a master's, if any. I loved the UNC suggestion! I mean, my SOPHAS fee waiver is there, if I end up not using it, so be it. I wanted to give this a shot, because I have a lot of relevant research and community education experience.

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This post is ridiculously self aggrandizing. Wow. You're great, we get it. I'm going to go ahead and say your situation isn't the norm. I understand you're trying to refute some of the points JoeShmo is making, but come on... 

 
I wasn't being "ridiculously self-aggrandizing." Honestly I'm baffled that anyone got that impression.  Self-aggrandizement implies exaggeration for personal gain, and what purpose would I ever have to do that here?  I used my positive experiences as an example to specifically refute the points that were made in JoeShmo's post, and the only reason I even stated the positive things that I've done in my doctoral program were as proof of my statements.  For example, I could've just said that I went to my program and graduated, but the argument could've been that the faculty secretly thought I was less prepared and just never shared that with me, so I brought up the dissertation nomination as evidence against that.  It was simply as a counterpoint to the - what I believe are inaccurate - points that JoeShmo tried to make. 
 
Anyway, my point was exactly the same as Hopeful HPM'er, which was so that VulpesZerda and any future students who came to read this thread was not to be discouraged about applying to doctoral programs without a master's because it is possible to do well in a program without one.  I shared my personal experiences to support that argument (N of 1 notwithstanding). I'm kind of surprised (and frankly, irritated) that simply stating the facts about my accomplishments in my graduate program is seen as "self-aggrandizing," but whatever.
 
I also pointed out that there was another student who was in my department who had similar experiences, so while my situation perhaps was not the "norm," I don't think it's completely outside of the realm of possibility either.  I'd also like to point out that in my secondary field - psychology - it's quite common to go into a doctoral program without a master's degree.
 
Anyway Vulpes, I can also recommend Yale's PhD program in chronic disease epidemiology.  Their social & behavioral sciences in public health program is in the chronic disease epidemiology program, for some reason, but they explicitly state that a master's is not required for their program.  Tulane's program in Community Health Sciences formally requires a master's, but they say they will waive that requirement for "exceptional students who have a baccalaureate degree."  UAB has a coordinated MPH/PhD in psychology which may interest you, too.  Harvard's epidemiology department definitely takes students with only a bachelor's, and they have a strong historical focus in social epidemiology there, which I think is relevant to your interests.  SBS says they will consider students with a bachelor's.  The University of Minnesota doesn't require a master's for its programs in health services research, policy, and administration.  George Washington University's PhD in epidemiology doesn't require a master's, although they say most admitted applicants have one.
 
Good luck!
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Anyway Vulpes, I can also recommend Yale's PhD program in chronic disease epidemiology. Their social & behavioral sciences in public health program is in the chronic disease epidemiology program, for some reason, but they explicitly state that a master's is not required for their program. Tulane's program in Community Health Sciences formally requires a master's, but they say they will waive that requirement for "exceptional students who have a baccalaureate degree." UAB has a coordinated MPH/PhD in psychology which may interest you, too. Harvard's epidemiology department definitely takes students with only a bachelor's, and they have a strong historical focus in social epidemiology there, which I think is relevant to your interests. SBS says they will consider students with a bachelor's. The University of Minnesota doesn't require a master's for its programs in health services research, policy, and administration. George Washington University's PhD in epidemiology doesn't require a master's, although they say most admitted applicants have one.

Good luck!

Thanks so much, all of that is so helpful. I spoke to someone from Yale's School of Public Health over the summer at a grad school fair and she told me it would be a waste of my money to apply without a master's. But I will gladly look at their website again. I'm not sure about Harvard because last time I looked at the website I saw conflicting info about prior degrees and work experience but I'll check that too, and maybe email someone.

I know an excellent application would be necessary for admission without the master's, but I'm not even sure where I stand. Hopefully I have some chance! Thanks again.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Who did you speak to at the grad school fair?  Usually, grad fairs send representatives from the admissions office; the admissions office usually deals with the admission of the master's students.  Generally, the professors in the department handle the admission of the doctoral students.  I'm not saying that the person at the fair didn't know what they were talking about - perhaps they really do.  But I've heard the admissions folks at my own alma mater speak before and (although their tremendously helpful/amazing!) much of the advice they give does not apply to applying to the PhD programs at our school; it was mainly tailored towards MPH applicants.

 

But sometimes professors DO go to grad fairs.  In my former department, the info sessions at APHA are usually staffed by professors and current grad students.

 

Maybe e-mail a potential PI at Yale?

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