Choosing the type of degree you earn will play a huge role in:
- The careers you can pursue
- The salary you can expect
- The total cost of obtaining the degree
When it comes to this important investment, it’s crucial to do your research, especially if you’re considering the highest degree attainable: the doctorate degree.
You may be wondering:
- What is a doctorate degree?
- What can you get your doctorate degree in?
- What are the levels of doctorate degrees?
- How long does a doctorate degree take?
If you already have a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree and are passionate about furthering your education even more, a doctorate degree may be a next step that is perfect for you.
What Is a Doctorate Degree Program?
When you begin graduate school in any academic discipline, you should expect a different experience from your undergraduate years. Those enrolling in graduate degree programs will do best if they are motivated by professional and academic goals. If you have a few years of work experience under your belt, all the better.
Simply put, a doctorate degree is the highest level of degree you can earn in professional and academic fields.
Those entering doctoral programs have already earned a bachelor’s degree in their chosen field. In many cases, a master’s degree is also required to begin most doctoral programs.
As a Ph.D. or professional doctoral candidate, you will begin by taking courses and exams. After completing these, you will take advanced seminars and design dissertation research or begin a capstone project. Finally, you will complete the requirements by creating and defending your doctoral dissertation or presenting your capstone.
A doctoral dissertation is a thesis that demonstrates the candidate’s ability to research and support a topic. The dissertation is usually the deciding factor in whether or not the candidate earns his or her doctorate degree. Failure to complete the dissertation is a major reason that candidates fail to complete their advanced degree.
Related Resource: What is a Bachelor’s Degree?
Doctorate Degree vs. Ph.D.
A doctoral degree is the very highest degree that you can obtain, and you can earn a doctorate in most academic disciplines. There is a doctor of business administration (DBA) degree, a doctor of education (EDD) degree, a doctor of public health degree, and many others, too. In just about any field, the most advanced degree is at the doctoral level.
There are two types of doctoral degrees: a research degree (Ph.D.) and a professional doctorate degree (applied doctorate).
You might be wondering if a research doctorate and applied doctorate are similar, and the answer is yes. However, the doctorate programs do have some key differences. You may have heard that a research doctorate prepares you to teach, while an applied doctorate is geared toward a professional career in your selected field. The real answer is a bit more complicated than that, though.
A Ph.D., which stands for Doctor of Philosophy, is a specific type of research doctorate degree. A Ph.D. is available in fields of study like psychology, child development, data science, English, and more. A Ph.D. is considered an academic degree of the highest level, signifying a high level of knowledge and research in a particular field.
Professional doctorates, on the other hand, are terminal degrees that are usually more specific to a certain field. Professional doctorates include a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) or doctor of medicine (MD). Making the decision between a Ph.D. and a professional doctorate is not necessarily an either/or choice. It’s more a matter of narrowing your options.
The main difference between Ph.D. programs and applied doctorate programs is the type of academic research the student is required to perform as a culmination of their studies. PhD students are required to create a thesis based on the knowledge gained in their particular field and extend this thesis to solve a real-world problem. They prove their problem-solving abilities by producing and defending a dissertation and often conducting original research to do so.
Professional applied doctoral students, on the other hand, are expected to draw from previous experiences and knowledge and apply the information to a problem or project in the real world. They demonstrate this ability by creating an applied doctoral capstone, which is either a paper, a product, or a portfolio.
To sum it up, a PhD student must create at least a five-chapter dissertation and contribute new solutions to solve real-world problems. PhD students are more interested in pursuing research careers than in practicing in the profession.
Those with a professional doctorate apply existing knowledge to solve real-world problems and generally have more interest in working directly in their business rather than in consultation or research.
See Also: Best PhD Communications Degrees
What is the Path to a Doctorate Degree?
Before you are admitted to graduate school, you may be wondering how doctoral degrees are structured, and this is a great question. Doctoral programs generally consists of four stages:
- Concentration/Focus Area
At the beginning of a doctorate program, you will complete a set of courses divided into core classes, research classes, dissertation courses, and electives. Through this process, you will narrow your focus and choose a specific concentration to explore.
For example, if you are pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in psychology, you may decide to focus on developmental psychology or forensic psychology. Or let’s say you are earning a doctorate in nursing (DNP) and decide to focus on emergency medicine or psychiatric nursing.
After you decide your focus, you will begin working on your dissertation, which allows you to research, write, and present your project to a committee. The dissertation project is the final part of a doctoral program, but it is generally the longest and most difficult. However, successfully defending your dissertation is the last step and most rewarding part of the doctorate degree.
What Kind of Jobs Can You Get With a Doctorate Degree?
In order to decide what type of degree you should pursue in your field of study, be sure to carefully consider your career goals and the type of research you are interested in conducting.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What do you hope to do?
- What type of research would you like to perform?
- Where do you intend to apply your education?
- Which doctorate degree is required or expected in the organization where you would like to advance your career?
Most careers do not require a doctorate degree. Even professional careers that require a higher education will usually accept a master’s degree.
If your job selection requires state licensing (engineering, public school teaching, psychology), you might wish to pursue a doctoral degree to have the opportunity for higher-paying positions and positions in the government.
In addition, some careers absolutely demand a doctorate degree for the highest level of career achievement. This is true if you intend to become a college professor, a medical doctor, a dentist, or a research scientist. Most highly specialized fields require a doctorate degree for the highest level professional and leadership roles.
Whatever your career, you’ll have access to higher paying jobs if you have a doctoral degree in your academic discipline. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers with a doctoral degree earn an average of nearly $1,900 per week, compared to just under $1,500 for a master’s degree, $1,250 for an undergraduate degree, and $746 for a high school diploma. In addition, the degree will open doors to higher career achievement and greater prestige.
What Are the Most Common Types of Doctorate Degrees?
The most common doctoral degree is the Doctor of Philosophy or Ph.D. Those who hold Ph.Ds. often seek careers as academic advisors and researchers, although some will enter other careers.
Some of the most popular doctorate degrees are in the fields of:
- Business administration
- Physical therapy
- Computer Sciences
- Natural Sciences
As the education world shifts, online programs for doctorate degrees are being established to meet increased demand. Universities such as Johns Hopkins are offering online doctorate degrees in fields such as education and nursing. These programs are competitive and offer the same high quality education as in-person courses.
As a high-demand career, it can be easier to obtain an online doctoral program in business administration. Most of the online doctorate degrees require you to satisfy supervision requirements for professional practice through a short residency or campus visits.
How Long Does it Take to Earn a Doctorate Degree?
The answer here is it depends on the program and your level of education.
If you already hold a master’s degree in your field, you might be able to complete a doctorate with three years of additional full-time study.
If you don’t have a master’s degree, you will most likely be required to spend four to eight years studying to obtain your doctoral program.
A four-year doctorate will take about 90 to 120 hours of semester credits to complete. These credits are equal to 30 or 40 college courses. The length of the courses and the number of required credits can vary based on the doctoral program.
Some doctoral programs require the completion of an academic research thesis. Online doctorates may be designed as “practitioner’s degrees” and may not require a research thesis. Instead, you may be required to complete a capstone paper or a supervised placement working in your chosen career area.
In 2019, the National Science Foundation reported research with the average time frame for completing a doctorate of 5.8 years.
To successfully complete a Ph.D. program, you will need to establish a schedule for completing your course requirements. Stick to your deadlines to avoid falling behind. To prepare for your exams, you will need to save your coursework and organize your study materials.
Take time to connect with your committee members either in person, by phone or by Zoom to get to know them and to learn their expectations of you as a student. Work with your committee to determine the best method for approaching your exams. To help improve your oral presentation skills, spend time practicing with a real person.
Preparing your dissertation is intended to be one of the most significant accomplishments in your life. As such, it can be extremely challenging. Proper communication with your committee and advisors is crucial for the successful development and completion of your final project.
Can you Complete a Doctorate Degree Part-Time?
While some doctoral programs require its graduate students to enroll full-time, others allow part-time enrollment. In the past few years, online doctorate programs have become more available, and earning a doctorate degree online (and part time) is more doable than ever.
If you’re interested in earning a doctorate part-time, check with the specific program requirements, as they vary. Do keep in mind that any doctorate degree program will have a maximum number of years to completion, which is 7-10 years.
Perhaps even more common are hybrid formats where graduate students take some of their courses online and meet in person for other courses. Earning a doctorate degree is more flexible now than in the past, so if you’re looking for convenient options, you will find them.
How Much Does a Doctorate Degree Cost?
The cost of a doctorate degree will depend on the university and the program. The good news is that nearly all doctoral students receive financial aid to attend. In some cases, students don’t pay a dime for the entire program if they pursue grants and take paid positions (such as teaching).
The College Board analysis reports the following numbers for the 2020-2021 average price of doctoral degree tuition:
Public four-year universities: $11,440
Private, non-profit universities: $44,910
Is a Doctorate Degree Right for You?
Prospective students should consider the return on investment of any advanced professional degree. A Ph.D. degree or other terminal degree will cost you significantly, both in terms of finances and time.
Doctoral degrees can take up to eight years to attain, but if you’ve already attained a master’s degree, your course of study could be significantly shorter. Whatever the case is, you’ll need to produce either a dissertation or a capstone project in order to earn your doctorate, and both of those projects represent a significant amount of work, sometimes up to several years’ worth.
Still, the payoff for earning a doctorate can be quite large, whether you’re working towards a Ph.D., a doctor of education, or another doctorate degree.
Your earning potential, your prestige in the field, and your career trajectory are all positively impacted by attaining a terminal degree.
Ultimately, you need to decide for yourself how high you aim to take your career, and whether this type of investment makes sense for you.
For more help finding a program that’s a good fit, consider checking out CollegeRank, where our unique ranking formula weighs your overall return on investment.
Here are some rankings to get you started:
- 20 Best Doctorates in Public Health
- 25 Best Online Doctorate in Nurse Practitioner (RN Required)
- 5 Best Online Doctorates in Counseling
- 15 Best Doctorates in Occupational Therapy Online
- 10 Online Doctorates in Behavioral Psychology
- 20 Best Online Doctorates in Psychology
- How Long Does it Take to Get an Associate Degree?