M.S. Vs. PhD in Chemistry

Mar 22, 2019

Students deciding between studying chemistry at the master's or doctoral level should consider factors like program length, available concentrations and research opportunities. Get more details about each degree program to help make your decision.

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There is no shortage of master's and doctoral degree programs in chemistry that train students in laboratory and research skills for the field. Many programs allow students to specialize in a particular area and usually require a final research project of some sort. Here we discuss some of the subtle differences between the master's and doctoral programs in chemistry.

Details About Graduate Chemistry Degrees

Master of Science in Chemistry

Master of Science (M.S.) in Chemistry programs vary depending on the institution, but are usually around 30 credits in length and may be completed in as little as 1 year. Some of these programs may offer full- and part-time formats and/or allow students to focus their studies through different tracks or concentration areas, such as applied chemistry or clinical biochemistry. All M.S. programs provide students with ample amount of lab and research experience, and some labs may even account for specialized conditions to help students work with polymer chemistry or electrochemistry. Typically, students in M.A. programs are required to complete a thesis or final research project, but some programs may offer a comprehensive exam option in place of a thesis and/or provide students with unique internship opportunities. Coursework for these programs vary based on a student's interests, but generally require upper-level chemistry courses in areas like inorganic, organic and analytical chemistry. Some graduates of M.S. programs in chemistry go on to pursue study at the doctoral level, but others may enter the workforce as researchers and scientists in biodefense, pharmaceuticals, clinical labs and more.

Doctor of Philosophy in Chemistry

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Chemistry programs are also widely available and unique to each institution. These programs may vary from about 64 to 72 credit hours and may take 5 years or more to complete. Students in these programs typically have to complete a dissertation or other independent research, comprehensive exams and/or teaching responsibilities. Some programs offer concentrations in areas such as computational, organic, inorganic, analytical or physical chemistry. Coursework consists of topics in research methods, mathematics, natural science and various areas of chemistry. Graduates of PhD programs are prepared for careers as advanced researchers and/or educators.

Common Entrance Requirements

Admissions requirements for master's and doctoral degree programs in chemistry are fairly similar and require students to hold at least a bachelor's degree, with some programs requiring the degree to be in chemistry or a related field. Some of chemistry graduate programs may require students to meet a minimum GPA requirement of a 2.75 or higher, and most programs require the general GRE. The majority of graduate programs in chemistry require applicants to at least submit their transcripts and letters of recommendation with their application, but some programs may also require a resume and a statement of purpose. It is also fairly common for programs to offer a separate application(s) that allows students to compete for assistantships and other funding opportunities.

Students interested in studying chemistry can earn an M.S. in as little as 1 year or pursue a PhD in the field that generally takes much longer to complete. Master's students typically complete a thesis while doctoral students complete a dissertation, but graduates of both programs are prepared to work in various research-based positions.

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