Thoughts on 'Doctorate Straight After Master's Degree?'

Responding to a question from the Student Affairs subreddit

March 12, 2019

A lot of people working in student affairs either already have a Ph.D./Ed.D. or are working toward one. Generally, it seems that most professionals in the field are using a doctorate as a lever for career advancement rather than for scholarly purposes (although some have blended both of course).

The academic credential arms race is in full swing in student affairs and it certainly shows no sign of slowing down. At some point, the student affairs master's degree will be as ubiquitous as a bachelor's and the doctoral credential will be widespread. While I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not, it does make things interesting for the field.

Back in 2006, I remember thinking that I should have applied to a student affairs Ph.D. program right after earning my master's degree. I was walking up the steps at the Memorial Union at Oregon State University in my graduation gown. The past two years of focused graduate work had honed my academic skills. It was like being a runner who had been training for a marathon, had instead completed a half marathon, and was still fit for running a much longer race.

While a doctoral degree is something that I haven't permanently closed the door on, I do know that my academic 'muscles' have definitely atrophied somewhat.

Last month, the question of getting a doctorate (in student affairs/higher education admin/leadership) right after earning a master's degree was posted in the r/studentaffairs subreddit. While the original question was deleted, a cached version is still available on Google:

“I am about halfway through my master's program in student affairs and looking at doctoral programs. I haven't had a full time job in the field yet only part time and I'm concerned that going through and having a Ph.D. or Ed.D. will leave me in a weird position of being both over- and underqualified. My other concern is that I know I definitely want the doctorate but that once I have a full time job I'm not going to want or be able to go back to school. Thoughts?”

The last bit of the question/comment about going back to school after starting a full-time job is definitely something that resonates with a lot of people. Fortunately, most student affairs doctoral programs are structured to support returning learners/full-time professionals.

The issue of being over-/underqualified is almost surreal. In an environment where the credential is the key to upward mobility and learning is at the heart of the endeavor, you would think that this would not be a problem. However, student affairs can be quite politicized, especially when credentials and hierarchy are concerned. Depending on timing, you don't want to be too credentialed at the wrong time.

My view is that the overcredentialed 'police' represent a hypocritical faction of the student affairs profession. If you apply for a job that doesn't ask for or require a doctorate, that's your choice. You shouldn't be penalized for having too much education in a field that is supposedly all about the importance of learning. That's ridiculous.

There are loads of considerations when it comes to pursuing a doctorate in student affairs. Should you begin a Ph.D./Ed.D. program straight after a master's program? I guess the answer is significantly dependent on an individual's unique set of personal/professional circumstances. There isn't really a right or wrong answer. Plus, judging by the responses to the original reddit query, variety really is the spice of life.


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