A Doctorate, or Doctoral Degree, is the highest level of academic degree awarded by a university. A doctorate typically signifies that the individual is qualified to teach at the post secondary level or work in a specific field of profession. There are two major types of doctoral degrees; the research oriented degree, and the professional doctorate degree. Doctorate Degrees are sometimes referred to as terminal degrees which means it is the final degree available in graduate school for students wishing to study in the chosen subject. In most fields, the terminal level degree is the doctor of philosophy, or PhD, but in some fields, it’s a professional degree, such as a doctor of medicine or law degree. We commonly associate a doctorate degree with the field of medicine and the abbreviation ‘M.D’, or medical doctorate, and the Ph.D., or Doctor of Philosophy Degree. In fact, there are different types of doctoral degrees, including the DBA degree, and several reasons why earning one might be just what the doctor ordered.
Is a PhD and a Doctorate the Same?
Doctoral degrees encompass both PhD degrees and other ‘Doctor of’ degrees. While these may be equivalent academically, there are differences to learn between PhD degrees and other degrees such as the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) or Juris Doctor (JD). Essentially, the differences appear in terms of the type of research and the focus for each degree – whether it is research-focused (PhD) or professional practice focused (e.g. DBA degree, JD degree, PsyD degree).
What Is a PhD?
Doctor of Philosophy, or PhD degrees, are research-based academic degrees which are awarded in many fields. A PhD degree is granted to students who have conducted publishable, original research in a peer-reviewed academic publication. Additionally, to get to that research, doctoral candidates have to complete a substantial amount of coursework beyond the master’s degree level. Many holders of this degree might pursue academic careers as college professors, scholarly writers and researchers. While the most common research degree is the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree, other research doctorates are available.
A professional doctorate degree is awarded in fields where both research and study are required, but the type of research is ‘applied’. This means it is designed to be used for professional purposes, such as to solve a real-world problem in their domain. These can be seen in psychology, medicine, engineering, education, law and business. Unlike the PhD, some professional doctorates while considered terminal degrees within their specific profession, may serve as a prerequisite or platform to a research degree in that field.
Examples of professional doctorates might include:
Note that the Ed.D., D.Min., D.B.A. and M.D. are both research and professional doctorate degrees. Original research for a dissertation may have a combination of both theory and practical components. PhD programs are available within various fields of study. In each of these disciplines, there may be doctorate programs in several specialties and concentration areas. This may allow you to tailor your program to your interests and career goals.
DID YOU KNOW? About 3% of all jobs in the United States were in occupations that typically require a doctoral degree (Ph.D.) or first professional degree, such as in law or medicine. In May 2013, the median annual wage for those jobs was $97,550 according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics.
What is Higher Than a PhD?
A higher level of research doctorates, called Higher Doctorates, are sometimes awarded to those whose research is of a very high standard. These higher doctorates are also bestowed if a university wishes to formally acknowledge an individual for their achievements or contributions in the field. A Higher Doctorate typically signals that you have authoritative standing in your field.
Preparing for a Doctoral Degree in Your Field
Earning a doctoral degree may require a major investment of time and energy, but at the same time, climbing that mountain may give you excellent results and recognition. Just remember to do some homework as early as college. Choosing a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university, taking coursework during the preliminary degree(s), and making sure you are up to the commitment are some of the building blocks to earning your PhD degree or doctorate degree in any field.
How to Earn a Doctorate Degree
While each doctorate degree has its own requirements, doctorate degree curriculum typically involves coursework plus research. In the event you are in a four-year doctoral degree program, you may need to complete the following steps.
Complete 60 to 120 semester credits (varies between graduate schools)
Pass final examinations
Write and defend a research thesis or dissertation
Other doctoral programs may involve a capstone project and supervised placement in your field. Format may vary depending on the type of doctoral degree you are pursuing. However, usually the courses are taken first. Rigorous examinations follow subsequent to test a candidate’s knowledge. A dissertation topic is proposed and the latter part of one’s doctorate program may be spent in research – collecting, recording, analyzing data, testing a hypothesis or whatever is pertinent to the field of study. Programs may vary, so follow up directly about individual programs to learn more.
DID YOU KNOW? To receive a doctoral degree, students must often complete a dissertation, a lengthy research project that contributes new knowledge to the field. Occupations that require a doctoral degree include animal scientists, computer and information research scientists, and physicists.
How Many Years is a Doctoral Degree?
Typically, a doctorate degree program can take about 4 to 6 years to complete after the bachelor’s degree. If you hold a master’s degree, you may be able to complete your doctorate in about 3 years of full-time study – or you may be able to find a dual masters and phd program. However, this is going to depend on the institution and the type of program. In some universities, it may be possible to find part-time doctoral degree programs, a factor that might extend time to completion.
What Are the Prerequisites for a Doctorate?
Doctoral applicants were previously required to have a master’s degree, but many programs accept students immediately following undergraduate studies. Many programs gauge the potential of a student applying to their program and grant a master’s degree upon completion of the necessary Ph.D. course work.
Is a Doctorate Degree ‘Right’ for You?
Doctoral degrees are not required in every field, which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for it. However, if you are thinking ahead to plan your scholastic path, or pave the way to a potential career, it is important to find out whether a doctoral or professional degree is required for professional practice. Is a PhD degree ultimately best for you? According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the answer may be ‘yes’ if any of the below statements are true.
Your goal is advanced computer and information research.
You are interested in a medical field (dentist, doctor, chiropractor).
You want to do independent research in medical science, physics, biochemistry, biophysics.
You want to work as a librarian in an academic library.
Your ambition is to work as a licensed clinical psychologist.
Are Online PhD Programs Available?
Yes, some schools do offer online PhD programs. These may allow you to pursue your education without compromising your schedule. Generally, online programs will make course readings, syllabi, assignments and lectures available through an online platform. Online doctoral programs may also use chatrooms, discussion boards and email to encourage communication with professors and classmates. Fully online PhD programs are not always available. However, if this is the case, you might find hybrid doctoral programs which combine web-based courses with intensives on campus. Contact schools to learn more. You can even find online PhD programs that don’t require you to take a GRE!
Accreditation and Doctoral Degrees
Accreditation in the United States focuses on institutions and programs. Institutional accreditation takes into account the integrity of the graduate school (faculty, mission, achievement). Specialized program accreditation takes into account courses and educational standards. Accreditation may help you evaluate the quality of a PhD program or school. It may also be an important factor if you are interested in federal aid. An institution can be accredited nationally by the United States Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. These national agencies recognize 6 regional organizations in turn. Standards for PhD program accreditation differ, and you are wise to see what they are in your field. For instance, the American Psychological Association (APA) accredits doctoral programs in psychology (PhD and PsyD), but look to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing for Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs. Visit the US Department of Education or individual accrediting bodies websites to learn more.
Top 1058 Graduate Schools with Doctorate and PhD Programs