phd and doctoral degree difference

  • October 11, 2023
  • Education Advice

Ph.D. vs. Doctorate: What are the Differences?

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For those who have a deep-seated attitude, pursuing a doctoral degree can be a tough yet beneficial journey. Currently enrolled in a doctorate program means that a person has already scooched over college admissions, went through high stake tests and exams, and finished all those research papers and long hours spent in university libraries hitting the books. While studying for a doctorate entails asserting oneself to an extensive amount of quality time and money , its significance and purpose usually pave the way to a lucrative end.

After having finished the Master’s Degree , students begin to think about their next step in their academic career. Then, paradoxically, while navigating through academia, they find themselves baffled by the immense terms and terminologies used to label specific degrees. Because the terms “Doctorate” and “Ph.D.” are somehow interlocked and overlap, and because “PhD” is sometimes used inconsistently, it can lead to considerable confusion. Ph.D. vs. Doctorate? You might wonder what their difference is, and why they are important. E xplaining what each of these terms stands for, the difference between them, and why they are valuable, can help you steer yourself down the right path from the outset.

Doctorate Degree vs. Ph.D.


At first glance, it is pretty easy to confuse these two terms. But it is important for everyone to be able to make a distinction between the two. In this article, we will discuss the difference between Ph.D. and Doctorate in detail in order to get rid of any confusion you may have. In the academic world, the terms Doctorate and Ph.D. are currently used interchangeably. Both of them are the top cap of the ladder. However, a doctorate is mostly used as an umbrella term covering many fields ranging from professional degrees, humanities, and scientific disciplines.

A Ph.D. or Doctor of Philosophy, on the other hand, is a subcategory of a doctoral degree, it is much more distinct and clear-cut and is usually narrower in nature encompassing only humanities and scientific fields. In plain English, when someone says they are enrolling on a doctoral degree, it means they are doing a Ph.D. in a specific field. So, technically, in common parlance, there is no difference between the two terms.

But at the other end of the spectrum, one should be careful not to confuse a professional doctoral degree with a Ph.D. The former is more practical and is designed to prepare students to apply existing knowledge to find solutions to real-life problems and has a direct application to a particular profession.

A Ph.D. is theoretical by nature and is more academic and research-focused. it is often fixed on disseminating knowledge by conducting authentic research which means reviewing and identifying gaps in current literature and evaluating the relevance of existing and emerging theories within a particular field.

What Is a Ph.D. Degree and Why Should You Go for It?

Students who acquire a Ph.D. are justly proud — they wear it as a badge of identity in the academic elite. Traditionally, a Ph.D. was associated with teaching, which from Latin licentia docendi meant “license to teach”. However, the concept of Ph.D. has been on shifting sands nowadays and has become a more general term that isn’t necessarily confined to teaching only.

The Value of a PhD


Obtaining a Ph.D. helps you capitalize on the emerging academic opportunities making you more easily identifiable to employers or businesses seeking to fill professional, higher-level job positions. Many of these career options, conversely, are not available to those who do not belong to the Ph.D. club. While pursuing a Ph.D. requires devoting a tremendous effort and time and making significant personal sacrifices pushing the boundaries of knowledge, it’s all in service of the area of study you’re most passionate and zealous about. Ultimately, once you’ve attained your Ph.D., you will have achieved the pinnacle of education— something not too many people have or are able to accomplish.


phd and doctoral degree difference

A Guide to Choosing and Applying to Ph.D. Programs

Learn everything you need to know about selecting and applying to Ph.D. programs. Learn tips and tricks for a successful application and find your ideal program today!

What Is a Doctorate Degree?

A doctoral or doctorate degree is usually the most advanced degree one can earn in an academic discipline. Many pursue a doctorate degree to increase their professional credibility, be acknowledged as an expert in a specific field, and improve their resume.

A doctorate degree is a graduate-level credential that is usually earned after multiple years of graduate school. Earning a doctoral degree requires a significant level of research and work. In order to get this degree, one has to research a subject thoroughly, conduct new research and analysis, and provide a solution or interpretation into the field. But what types of doctoral degrees are available?

Types of Doctorate Degrees

There are two categories of doctorate degrees: an academic degree and a professional doctorate degree. An academic degree focuses on research, data analysis, and the evaluation of theory. A professional doctorate degree, on the other hand, is considered a terminal degree, which means that one has achieved the most advanced degree in the field. This degree is specifically designed for working professionals who want to grow in their careers.

Professional Doctorate Degrees

A professional doctorate is designed for working professionals who have experience in the field and want to increase their knowledge, improve their credibility, and advance their careers. This degree focuses on applying research to practical issues, coming up with interpretation and solutions, as well as designing effective professional practices within a particular field.

Professional doctoral degrees include:

Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)

The DBA degree is ideal for students who already have a general business background and are interested in delving deeper into the practical and theoretical aspects that underpin business education. More to the point, in DBA you will develop the ability to solve real-life problems, discover the relevant expertise to innovate and uphold complex business issues and so much more. Upon completion, DBA students will possess enhanced leadership and strategic skills as well as the tools to propel their careers in today’s marketplace. The Business Administration industry is keen on finding such graduates with business skills and this is indicated by the immense job positions currently available.

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)

If you are interested in setting your eyes on creating lifelong learning among your students, making a positive influence in educational culture, contributing to the growing body of research in the education realm , or just enhancing your subject matter expertise, the Doctor of Education program ticks all the boxes. This degree maintains a rigorous approach in academic education that prepares graduates to showcase the skills and expertise to devise solutions in tackling the challenges in contemporary education practice and become transformational leaders in the industry.

Doctor of Computer Science (DCS)

The demand for computer scientists has reached its peak and it is among the most sought-after positions nowadays. With a degree in DCS, you will have the opportunity to design, apply innovative experiments, predict trends and, ultimately, develop a richer understanding and contribute to your area of expertise. After all, who doesn’t want an exciting and financially stable career?

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Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)

The Doctor of Medicine degree is designed to prepare you for various medical challenges in different settings nationally and internationally. This program will further develop your critical thinking and clinical reasoning skills required for safe, high-quality medical practices. It will also improve your leadership, communication, and teamwork skills for collaborative patient care.

Doctor of Optometry (O.D.)

This professional degree typically requires four years of study. It focuses on basic biological sciences such as anatomy and physiology, microbiology, neuroanatomy, and so on. This doctoral degree will prepare, educate, and train professionals to practice at the highest level of proficiency, professionalism, and integrity.

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)

The Doctoral of Psychology degree concentrates on the clinical and applied aspects of psychology. This type of doctorate prepares students for professional practice and clinical placement. This degree will be highly beneficial when working directly with patients who need psychology services. In addition, this degree allows doctors of psychology to confidently function as researchers and clinicians.

How to Choose a Ph.D. Program?

Choosing a Ph.D. program can be pretty challenging; it is a big academic decision and investment that requires commitment and perseverance. But how can you pick the right Ph.D. program for you? Well, there are some tips to help you choose the best fit for your goals and preferences:

  • Think about the reasons why you want a Ph.D., what you expect to gain from it, and whether it is compatible with your professional goals.
  • Consider your research environment.
  • Take your time to research, compare, and consider multiple opportunities carefully.
  • Pick a subject that interests and motivates you but is also practical.
  • Ask your professors and other scholars in the field for advice.

All in all, the terms “Doctorate’’ and “Ph.D.” are in essence the same, which means all Ph.D. students are Doctoral students as well. On the other hand, earning a Ph.D. degree is no joke. If anything, Ph.D. students have the tenacity, patience, persistence, and years of hard work that you can vouch for. Ultimately, deciding what type of doctoral degree you should hop on, depends on your career goals, what you are passionate about and how you are going to achieve it.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a doctorate and a ph.d..

In academic contexts, the terms “Doctorate” and “Ph.D.” are often used interchangeably, but there is a distinction. A Doctorate is an umbrella term covering a wide range of fields, including professional degrees, humanities, and scientific disciplines. A Ph.D., or Doctor of Philosophy, is a specific type of doctoral degree, typically focused on research and academic pursuits in the humanities and scientific fields.

Why should I pursue a Ph.D.?

Pursuing a Ph.D. can be a valuable endeavor, as it opens up academic and research opportunities, enhances your expertise in a specific field, and makes you more attractive to employers seeking candidates for high-level positions. It’s a chance to push the boundaries of knowledge and become an expert in your chosen study area.

What are the benefits of a professional doctorate?

Professional doctorate degrees, such as Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) or Doctor of Education (Ed.D.), are designed for working professionals who want to apply research to practical issues in their field. These degrees can enhance your career prospects, leadership skills, and problem-solving abilities within your profession.

How do I choose the right Ph.D. program?

To choose the right Ph.D. program, consider your career goals, research environment, and personal interests. Take your time to research and compare programs, seek advice from professors and experts in your field, and ensure that the program aligns with your professional aspirations.

What are the main differences between academic and professional doctorate degrees?

Academic doctorate degrees focus on research, theory evaluation, and data analysis, often leading to careers in academia or research. Professional doctorate degrees are more practical, designed for working professionals, and concentrate on applying research to real-world problems within a specific field.

Can I earn a Ph.D. in any field?

Ph.D. programs are available in various fields, including humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, engineering, and more. However, the specific availability of Ph.D. programs may vary by field and university.

Is a Ph.D. a challenging journey?

Yes, pursuing a Ph.D. can be a challenging journey that requires dedication, patience, and years of hard work. It involves conducting original research, writing a dissertation, and often teaching or assisting in courses. It’s a significant commitment, but it can be highly rewarding.

What are the potential career opportunities after earning a Ph.D.?

With a Ph.D., you can pursue careers in academia as a professor or researcher, work in research and development roles in various industries, or take on leadership positions in organizations. The specific career path will depend on your field of study and personal interests.

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Doctorate vs. PhD: Understanding the Key Differences [2024]

If you’re interested in pursuing a doctoral degree, you may wonder about the differences between a doctorate vs. PhD.

Doctorate vs. PhD: Understanding the Key Differences

A doctorate and a PhD are both terminal degrees that allow you to develop specialized knowledge and skills in your chosen field. But these degrees typically have different areas of focus, requirements, and career outcomes.

Editorial Listing ShortCode:

Understanding the difference between PhD and doctorate can help you pick the degree that most aligns with your career aspirations and interests.

What’s the Difference Between Doctorate vs. PhD Degrees?

is a doctorate a PhD

A doctorate and a Ph.D. are the highest college degrees students can earn. Graduates of both types of programs receive the title of “doctor” and may qualify for specialized careers in their fields.

But, while doctorate programs focus on professional competencies and knowledge, PhD programs prioritize academic research.

What Is a Doctorate Degree?

Man pursuing a Doctorate degree

A doctorate degree is a professional degree that enables students to become experts in a specific field or industry. This degree focuses on applying academic research and theories in the workplace to improve performance and solve problems.

Courses vary by field and program but typically emphasize professional skills like collaboration, leadership, and project management. Additionally, many doctorate programs require students to complete a capstone project that addresses real issues affecting their industry.

Graduates often qualify for advanced administrative, leadership, and managerial positions in their fields.

What Is a PhD Degree?

Woman taking PhD degree

A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree is an opportunity to strengthen your academic research skills and generate original knowledge. This degree trains students to become independent scholars who conduct cutting-edge research in their areas of expertise.

PhD curriculums cover advanced concepts and theories in a discipline. They also teach students qualitative and quantitative methodologies to design studies and conduct research. Additionally, most PhD programs require students to produce a dissertation that contributes fresh knowledge to the field.

Current professionals with PhDs often work as academic researchers and professors. They may also secure government and industry jobs.

Key Differences Between a PhD vs. Doctorate Degree

What’s a PhD degree ? What’s a doctorate degree? The main difference between a doctorate and a PhD is their area of focus. A doctorate prioritizes applied knowledge and professional skills, while a PhD emphasizes academic research. Let’s compare some more differences between a professional doctoral degree vs. PhD.

students taking PhD degree doing research works

A doctorate enables students to become expert practitioners in their discipline. Students study existing concepts and theories and learn how to apply these ideas in the workplace.

By contrast, a PhD prepares students to conduct innovative research and educate others.

Goals and Outcomes

Doctorate students working on their research task

Doctorate programs help prepare students for senior administrative and leadership positions in their industries. They also help students enhance their professional competencies and tackle industry-specific challenges.

Students who pursue PhDs aim to advance their disciplines by generating new knowledge. They may also publish peer-reviewed research and teach undergraduate courses.

Student Population

students attending a doctorate program

Doctorate degrees are designed for current or aspiring working professionals who want to become industry leaders. These programs also enable students to increase their knowledge and credibility.

PhD programs attract students who want to expand their knowledge of research methodologies and theories. These learners also frequently pursue academic careers.

Admissions Requirements

Man preparing requirements for PhD degree

Doctorate and PhD programs typically require students to have bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Additionally, prospective doctorate students may be asked to provide evidence of work experience, while PhD students might demonstrate their research abilities with a writing sample.

Program Length

People pursuing PhD degree

Requirements vary by program, but full-time students typically complete a doctorate in 3 to 5 years. Programs that require a capstone project may take longer. For those considering quick degrees, a number of universities now offer accelerated doctoral programs online .

PhD programs often take 4 to 7 years to finish. The speed at which students research and write their dissertations can significantly impact the timeline.

Doctorate student doing online research works

The curriculum for doctorate programs typically centers on practical skills and contemporary issues in the field. Topics may include communication, ethics, and leadership.

PhD programs offer classes on research methods, theories, and disciplinary trends. Students also learn how to write journal articles and present at conferences.

Assessment and Completion Requirements

PhD student working on his dissertation

Doctorate and PhD students both complete 2 or more years of coursework. They also demonstrate their knowledge during comprehensive exams.

Doctorate students may produce a capstone project that applies their knowledge to real problems. By contrast, PhD students write dissertations based on original research.

If You Have a PhD, Are You a Doctor?

are PhD doctors

Is a PhD a doctor ? While graduates who earn a PhD are referred to as doctors, a PhD is different from a Doctor of Medicine (MD).

Doctors with MDs are medical doctors who can legally prescribe medications, perform surgery, and treat patients. They typically apply existing medical knowledge instead of conducting research. Doctors with PhDs don’t have any of these abilities. Instead, they have specialized knowledge and perform academic research in a particular field.

PhD or Doctorate Degree – Which Is Right for You?

students taking doctorate degree

Understanding the difference between a doctorate and a PhD can help you select the right degree for you.

Professional doctorate degrees help students become leading practitioners and problem solvers. By contrast, PhD degrees enable students to hone their research skills and learn advanced concepts. Both degrees allow you to enrich your understanding of your chosen discipline or profession. They also help you boost your credentials and develop new skills.

After you decide between a doctorate degree vs. PhD, you can explore program options from accredited schools to find the best fit.

phd and doctoral degree difference



What’s the Difference Between a Ph.D. and a Doctorate?

  • May 1, 2023

Table of Contents

Research (academic), applied (professional), what is a ph.d., is a ph.d. higher than a professional doctorate, doctoral study vs. dissertation, who is it for, what do you learn in each, can a ph.d. be called a doctor, the bottom line.

The terms Ph.D. and Doctorate are often used interchangeably when considering advanced degrees in academia. Both degrees involve rigorous academic study and research, but their focus, duration, and requirements differ. Hence, these significant differences between the two are worth understanding before deciding which path to pursue.

In this article, we will explore the key differences between doctorate vs. Ph.D., including their definitions, the types of programs they are offered in, and the career opportunities they lead to. By the end, you should have a clear understanding of the differences between these two degrees and which one is right for you.

What Is a Doctorate?

A doctorate degree is the highest level of academic degree that can be awarded by a university. It typically requires a minimum of three to five years of advanced study and research beyond a bachelor’s or master’s degree . Doctoral programs are designed to prepare individuals for advanced careers in academia, research, or other professional fields. There are two main types of doctorates: Research (Academic) and Applied (Professional). Let’s talk about each in more detail.

A research doctorate, also known as an academic doctorate, is a type of doctoral degree focused on original research and advancing knowledge in a specific academic field. These programs require students to take advanced coursework in their field and complete original research contributing to the body of knowledge in their study area. The research component is typically the program’s centerpiece, and students are expected to produce a dissertation or thesis that represents a significant contribution to their field of study.

A research doctorate is highly valued in academia, and graduates often pursue careers as professors, researchers, or scholars in their field. While a significant time commitment and dedication are required, they provide individuals with the skills and knowledge necessary to make contributions to their field and advance their careers in academia. Examples of research doctorates include the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Doctor of Science (D.Sc.), and Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) , among others.

An applied doctorate, or professional doctorate, is a type of doctoral degree that focuses on applying knowledge and skills in a specific profession or industry. These programs emphasize the practical application of research and theories to solve real-world problems in their field.

The curriculum includes coursework designed to enhance students’ professional skills, including leadership, management, or organizational behavior. An applied doctorate program’s capstone project or dissertation addresses a real-world problem or issue within the student’s profession or industry. The research is conducted in collaboration with professionals in the field.

While applied doctorate programs require a significant time commitment and dedication to a specific profession, they provide individuals with the knowledge and skills necessary to become experts in their field and make a great impact. Graduates of such programs are well-prepared to take on leadership roles in their profession. The degree can lead to career advancement and higher salaries.

Examples of applied doctorates include the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.), Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), and Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.), among others.

Students who have completed advanced studies in a particular academic field and contributed original research to that field are awarded a Ph.D., also known as a Doctor of Philosophy. Ph.D. programs are geared toward developing independent scholars who can conduct original research and advance knowledge in their chosen fields.

The coursework of a Ph.D. program involves advanced studies in the student’s area of interest, coupled with a significant research component. Students must produce a dissertation or thesis that adds to the existing body of knowledge in their field of study.

Ph.D. programs generally require multiple years to complete and lead to opportunities for graduates to work as professors, scholars, or researchers within their field of specialization. While Ph.D. degrees are commonly associated with academic careers, they can also offer advantages for graduates seeking positions in government or industry, as they demonstrate expertise in a specific area and an aptitude for original research.

Comparing a Ph.D. to a professional doctorate is difficult, as both degrees have distinct characteristics and are designed for different purposes.

A Ph.D. is primarily a research-focused degree focused on producing independent scholars who can conduct original research and contribute to the advancement of knowledge in a particular field. On the other hand, a professional doctorate focuses on the application of knowledge and skills in a specific profession or industry.

These programs typically emphasize the practical application of research and theories to solve real-world problems in their field. Graduates of professional doctorate programs are well-prepared to take on leadership roles in their profession, and the degree can lead to career advancement and higher salaries.

So, in terms of purpose and focus, Ph.D. and professional doctorate degrees are different. It’s not a matter of one being higher than the other, but rather, it depends on an individual’s career goals and aspirations. Both degrees are considered terminal degrees, meaning they represent the highest level of academic achievement in their respective fields.

Ph.D. vs. Professional Doctorate: Differences

Understanding the differences between a Ph.D. and a professional doctorate can help you make an informed decision about which program is right for you and your career goals. And while both types of degrees require extensive study and research, there are significant differences between the two.

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One of the key differences between a Ph.D. and a professional doctorate is the focus of the doctoral study. Ph.D. programs typically focus on producing independent scholars who can conduct original research and advance knowledge in their chosen field. In contrast, professional doctorate programs emphasize the practical application of research and theories to solve real-world problems in their field.

While both degrees require extensive research, Ph.D. programs often require a significant original contribution to the field in the form of a dissertation, while professional doctorate programs typically require a capstone project or applied research project that demonstrates the student’s ability to apply their knowledge to a real-world problem.

Ph.D. programs are geared toward individuals interested in pursuing an academic career, such as becoming a professor or researcher. These programs prepare students for a life of scholarship and original research.

On the contrary, professional doctorate programs are geared toward professionals already working in a specific profession or industry and wanting to advance their careers through further education. These programs provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to take on leadership roles in their profession or industry.

The content of the curriculum in Ph.D. and professional doctorate programs differs significantly. Ph.D. programs aim to give students extensive knowledge of their field of study and equip them with the skills to conduct original research. On the other hand, professional doctorate programs have a practical focus, with students taking courses that prepare them for leadership positions in their respective professions or industry, including management, ethics, and professional communication.

The title “Doctor” is used to refer to someone who has earned a doctoral degree, whether it is a Ph.D. or a professional doctorate. In academic and professional settings, it is common for individuals with a Ph.D. to be referred to as “Dr.” along with their name, just as someone with a professional doctorate would be.

However, it’s important to note that the title “Doctor” does not necessarily indicate that the person is a medical doctor or a physician. Additionally, it is worth noting that different countries and cultures have different conventions for how the title “Doctor” is used, so it’s always a good idea to check local customs and norms to ensure proper usage.

In conclusion, the decision to pursue a Ph.D. or a professional doctorate ultimately depends on your individual career goals and aspirations. Both degrees are highly respected and can lead to exciting and fulfilling careers.

Remember, the pursuit of advanced education is a challenging but rewarding journey that leads toward new opportunities, personal growth, and the chance to make a positive impact in your field.

Bay Atlantic University

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Doctorate vs PhD: What’s the Difference?

Quick Highlights:

  • Professional doctorates and PhDs differ in focus , duration , and potential career earnings .
  • Both are doctoral degrees, but a PhD is specifically academic and focused on original research.
  • Professional doctorates (like an Ed.D, M.D., DBA) are applied and tailored to specific professions.
  • In most cases, you’ll need to complete a bachelor’s and a master’s degree before pursuing a doctoral degree.

In the academic world, achieving a doctoral degree represents the highest level of study within a field. These degrees grant their recipients not only more knowledge within their particular field, but also more respect and more upward mobility in their careers. 

Is a doctorate a PhD? Often, the terms doctoral degree and doctor of philosophy, or Ph.D., are used interchangeably. This isn’t 100% accurate, though. There are subtle but important differences that set a doctoral degree apart from a Ph.D. degree. These differences are critical to understand before you plan your own path through higher education.  Doctorate vs PhD, what is the difference ?

Related:  How to Prepare for your Graduate School Interview

What Is a Doctoral Degree?

Doctorate vs PhD: Diploma and tassel

A doctoral degree is a general term for a terminal degree that usually is awarded when someone pursues their studies beyond the level of a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. Doctoral degrees can be awarded in any number of fields, from education and English literature to chemistry and calculus.

Doctoral degrees typically come in two forms:

  • a professional (also known as applied doctorate)
  • an academic doctorate

Related: What is a Terminal Degree?

What is an Applied Doctorate Degree?

Professional or applied doctorate degrees qualify someone to work in a specific profession. This includes things like:

Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)

Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)

Degree holders with a professional doctorate degree are qualified to work at the highest level within their field. 

These professional degrees require academic research. It will culminate in a dissertation which must be defended in front of a group. A dissertation, like a thesis, is a lengthy and involved paper that incorporates research and applies a theory to make advances within the field.  

Some of the most common fields for a professional doctoral program are:

  • Physical therapy
  • Osteopathic medicine
  • Occupational therapy
  • Educational leadership
  • Medicine 

We’ll discuss a few of the most common professional doctorate degree programs below.

Related: What Is The Difference Between College and University?

An Ed.D. is a professional doctorate for educators with teaching and administration responsibilities as well as those working in nonprofits and governmental agencies. These programs offer advanced leadership training which can help students advance their career. Students learn effective strategies to solve real-world problems they’ll encounter out in the field.

Ed.D. programs do not follow a standard curriculum. Each program is unique, and many can be tailored to meet the needs of each individual student. Some are offered online while others follow a more traditional format.

Doctor of Business Administration

The DBA is a professional degree for business professionals. These programs build upon the skills taught in an MBA program. Students are often accomplished executives who want to be better, more innovative business leaders.

DBA students conduct practical research that directly applies to the business world. Students will develop new insights and solutions to business challenges.

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)

Psychology is an area where students can choose to complete either a Ph.D. or a PsyD degree. A PsyD degree emphasizes the clinical and applied aspects of psychology. This degree is growing in popularity for several different reasons:

  • Completion time is often less than a traditional PhD
  • Specialization options
  • Opportunity to complete a dual degree (MSW or MPH are popular)

The PsyD focuses on practice over research so students begin working on fieldwork sooner in the program. This hands-on experience is valuable as students begin to build their professional portfolio.

Related: Best Online Doctorates in Psychology

An M.D. is the degree of choice for students planning a career in medicine. These highly competitive and rigorous programs include the classroom and intensive training students need to join the medical field.

M.D. programs usually require students to complete four years of medical school followed by a residency. The residency can take between two and five years depending on the area of medicine.

While an M.D. degree requires a significant commitment of time and money, the investment plays off with a high salary and job security.

Doctor of Optometry (O.D.)

An O.D. an expert in primary eye care. They diagnose and manage diseases and disorders of the eye. An O.D. degree can take between eight and nine years of education beyond high school. Students take classes in areas like:

  • gross anatomy
  • neuroscience
  • biochemistry

An optometrist can determine if an individual needs corrective lenses or contacts to improve their vision. They can check for signs of glaucoma or other degenerative eye conditions. In some states, an optometrist can prescribe certain medications.

Regardless of the individual field that you pursue, you can know that a doctoral degree will make you a highly qualified candidate for upper level positions in your field. 

What Is a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) Degree?

Doctorate vs PhD: Graduates wearing toga

Academic doctorates, on the other hand, are degrees that qualify someone to study, research, or teach at the highest level in his or her field. At some schools, like Franklin University, professional doctorates are referred to as an application oriented-degree while Ph.D.s, or academic doctorates, are referred to as research degrees. 

A Ph.D. is actually a specific type of doctoral degree. This means that rather than being completely separate from one another, Ph.D.s are really just a specific subtype of the umbrella term “doctorate degree.” 

A Ph.D. is an academic degree focused on original research and the application of new ideas to existing knowledge. This research based degree emphases research skills that allow student to contribute to the advancement of their field. Lots of people falsely believe that a Ph.D. is limited to fields in the social sciences. This is likely due to the word “philosophy” in the title. Rather than meaning philosophy in the modern sense, though, the word philosophy in a Ph.D. refers to its Latin origins, meaning “love of wisdom”. 

The reality is that Ph.D.s are research degrees available in many fields. Some of the most common degree fields for a Ph.D. include:

  • Applied mathematics
  • Accounting and finance
  • Biomedical engineering
  • Chemical engineering 
  • Clinical psychology
  • Computer science
  • Counseling psychology
  • Data analysis

No matter what kind of Ph.D. you undertake, you will always graduate from a Ph.D. program with a high level of competence, respect, and mobility within your career field. 

How To Apply for a PhD vs Doctorate Program

Doctorate vs PhD: Application form

Once you’ve made the choice between a professional degree versus doctorate , you’ll need to figure out how to apply to your chosen program. Because Ph.D. programs are simply a specific type of a doctorate program, the application process varies more by school than it does by degree type. 

In general, when you apply to a doctoral program, you’ll need to have already completed a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. In many cases, your bachelor’s degree can be in any field. It does not need to be related to the field you’re pursuing at the professional level. In most cases, your master’s does need to be related in some way. 

If it’s not, there’s a strong likelihood that you’ll need to complete some prerequisite graduate-level classes before you can apply for your doctorate program. You’ll need to check with each program about the prerequisites before you apply. 

Once you’re sure that you meet the prerequisites required of a doctoral student, you’ll also need to get your application materials. Generally this means:

  • transcripts from your undergrad and graduate school coursework
  • letters of recommendation
  • an essay or statement of purpose
  • recent GRE or GMAT scores

Again, application requirements will vary by school so you’ll want to check directly with those you’re applying to. 

PhD vs Doctorate Degree: Which is Longer?

Doctorate vs PhD: Doctorate toga

The amount of time it takes to complete your doctorate vs PhD degree will largely depend on what work you’ve done before it, and whether you’ll be pursuing it part-time or full-time. If you have completed a master’s in the field already, you will need to complete fewer credits to complete the doctoral degree. 

At some schools, there is an option to combine your master’s with your doctorate degree. These accelerated programs usually allow you to take a year of study off your total commitment.

Still, terminal degrees are no small time commitment. Most degrees take anywhere from five to eight years to complete when pursued full-time. In general, Ph.D. programs tend to take slightly longer than professional doctorates. For example, to complete a doctor of education (Ed.D.) degree, doctoral students must complete at least 60 credits. In contrast, Ph.D. students completing a Ph.D. in Education must complete 90 credits. 

Earning Potential of a Professional Doctorate vs PhD

Doctor using microscope

While a professional doctorate and a Ph.D. are seemingly very similar, they do differ in terms of earning potential. 

This is likely because many Ph.D. programs lead to careers in teaching or research. These are two fields that are notoriously low in funding, unless you find one of the relatively less common highly paid positions in these fields. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a postsecondary teacher at colleges or universities is about $80,000. The average salary of postsecondary teachers in the field of scientific development and research is more, at nearly $110,000, and the average salary of a researcher in the field of medical science is nearly $90,000. 

Compare these salaries to those of professional doctorates like a medical doctor or a lawyer. A medical doctor earns an average salary of $208,000 while a lawyer receives an average salary of roughly $123,000. 

Doctoral Degree vs PhD: How Do They Stack Up?

Toga hat, diploma and books

While a Ph.D. is simply a subtype of doctorate, there are some distinct differences that set it apart from professional doctorate degrees. 

While Ph.D.s are typically heavy on research, professional doctorates are heavy on application of knowledge to a specific professional field. The body of knowledge developed in a Ph.D. program may be slightly broader, while the knowledge built in a professional doctorate program is tailored more directly to a specific career. 

Both programs have similar application processes, but the Ph.D. program may take slightly longer to complete on average than the professional doctorate program does. Finally, professional degree PhD program graduates tend to earn slightly more than Ph.D. graduates. 

If you’re interested in pursuing a doctorate degree, you’ll need to consider a professional doctorate degree vs PhD. You’ll want to research your programs before applying. Sites like CollegeRank can help you to narrow your options by providing curated college rankings geared to a number of different factors, from campus size to return on investment, and more. 

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PhD vs. Doctorate: Everything You Need to Know

phd and doctoral degree difference

Karla Ibarra is a content writer at Scholarships 360. She has worked as an English teacher and writing tutor. As a writing tutor, she has experience editing scholarships and college application essays. Karla graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in Communication and a minor in English.

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Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

phd and doctoral degree difference

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

PhD vs. Doctorate: Everything You Need to Know

Deciding whether or not a postgraduate education is something you want to pursue? It might be overwhelming to think about postgraduate education when you aren’t even sure what the difference between a PhD and a doctorate is. Learning about each will help you decide whether  a PhD or doctorate degree is best for you. Let’s get started!

What is a PhD?

“Doctor of Philosophy” is commonly referred to as a “PhD.”  A PhD is a kind of doctoral degree that focuses on theoretical research. “Theoretical” has to do with assumptions  that people have on a topic. The research explores ideas related to a particular subject rather than the practical application to real life. Earning a PhD is a popular option for those that want to pursue teaching at a university level.

What is a doctorate?

Doctoral degrees emphasize research and practical application. Students pursuing doctoral degrees often conduct observation based research in their chosen fields. Earning a doctorate degree often leads to research professional careers. An example of 

Which degree is “higher” academically? 

Both PhDs and doctorates are known as “terminal” degrees, meaning  they are the highest degrees you can earn. A PhD falls into the category of doctorate, so one is not “higher” than the other. 

See also : Everything you need to know about a doctorate degree 

Basic similarities and differences

As a PhD falls into the doctorate category, they share similar attributes. However, they are not completely the same. Here are some basic similarities and differences to help avoid confusing them.


  • The highest level of a graduate degree
  • Requires rigorous research
  • Students gain a deeper understanding of the area of study
  • Able to teach as a professor at a university
  • Must complete dissertations
  • Leads to higher paying jobs


  • Doctorates require a more hands-on approach to coursework
  • PhDs follow a more theoretical approach
  • Doctoral dissertations focus on real-world issues and how to apply them
  • PhD dissertations use data to theorize and form hypotheses

Which one is more expensive: a PhD or a doctorate degree?

The cost of earning either a PhD or doctorate varies depending on many factors, such as institution attended  and years of completion. Nevertheless, the average price for a doctorate degree is about $114,300 . For a PhD, the average cost is about $98,800 total. 

See also: How much does a PhD cost?  

Key Takeaways

  • Both a PhD and doctorate are the highest level graduate degrees one can earn
  • PhDs focus on theoretical research while doctorates put theory into practice
  • On average, PhDs require a more time to complete vs doctorate
  • Salaries for PhD or doctorate degree earners vary depending on the career entered

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Frequently asked questions about a PhD vs. a doctorate degree

Does a phd vs. doctorate take longer to complete, is a phd or doctorate degree easier to apply for, does a phd or a doctorate degree pay more, how can i pay for my phd or doctorate degree, scholarships360 recommended.

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What Is a Doctorate Degree?

A doctorate is usually the most advanced degree someone can get in an academic discipline, higher education experts say.

What Is a Doctorate?

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It's unwise to apply to a doctoral program if you don't have a clear idea of how you might use a doctorate in your career.

In many academic disciplines, the most advanced degree one can earn is a doctorate. Doctorate degree-holders are typically regarded as authorities in their fields, and many note that a major reason for pursuing a doctorate is to increase professional credibility.

"If someone wants to be respected as an expert in their chosen field, and also wants to have a wider array of options in research, writing, publishing, teaching, administration, management, and/or private practice, a doctorate is most definitely worth considering," Don Martin, who has a Ph.D. in higher education administration , wrote in an email.

A doctoral degree is a graduate-level credential typically granted after multiple years of graduate school, with the time-to-degree varying depending on the type of doctoral program, experts say.

Earning a doctorate usually requires at least four years of effort and may entail eight years, depending on the complexity of a program's graduation requirements. It also typically requires a dissertation, a lengthy academic paper based on original research that must be vetted and approved by a panel of professors and later successfully defended before them for the doctorate to be granted.

Some jobs require a doctorate, such as certain college professor positions, says Eric Endlich, founder of Top College Consultants, an admissions consulting firm that helps neurodivergent students navigate undergraduate and graduate school admissions.

Endlich earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree, commonly known as a Ph.D., from Boston University in Massachusetts. He focused on psychology and notes that a doctoral degree is generally required to be a licensed psychologist.

"Since a Ph.D. is a research-focused degree, it can be advantageous to those seeking high-level research positions in scientific fields such as astrophysics or biotechnology," he says.

How Long it Takes to Get a Doctorate Degree

Martin, founder and CEO of Grad School Road Map, an organization that helps grad school applicants navigate the admissions process, says obtaining a doctorate is often a lengthy endeavor.

"Typically it can take between four and six years to complete any doctoral program," he says. "If comprehensive examinations and a dissertation are part of the graduation requirements, it may take a year or two longer. There is no standard amount of time – some students take seven to 10 years to finish."

Endlich says doctoral degree hopefuls should be aware that completing a dissertation may take a long time, especially if unexpected hurdles arise.

"My dissertation, for example, involved recruiting college students to complete questionnaires, and it took much longer than I anticipated to recruit enough subjects for my study," he says.

The standards for a dissertation, which include the proposal and research, are rigorous and usually involve a review and approval by a faculty committee, says Hala Madanat, vice president for research and innovation at San Diego State University in California.

"As part of dissertation requirements, some programs will require publication of the research in high-impact peer-reviewed journals," Madanat wrote in an email.

Types of Doctoral Degree Programs

According to professors and administrators of doctoral programs, there are two types of doctorates.

Doctor of Philosophy

A doctor of philosophy degree is designed to prepare people for research careers at a university or in industry, and teach students how to discover new knowledge within their academic discipline. Ph.D. degrees are offered in a wide range of academic subjects, including highly technical fields like biology , physics, math and engineering; social sciences like sociology and economics; and humanities disciplines like philosophy.

A Ph.D. is the most common degree type among tenure-track college and university faculty, who are typically expected to have a doctorate. But academia is not the only path for someone who pursues a Ph.D. It's common for individuals with biology doctorates to work as researchers in the pharmaceutical industry, and many government expert positions also require a Ph.D.

Professional or clinical doctorates

These are designed to give people the practical skills necessary to be influential leaders within a specific industry or employment setting, such as business, psychology , education or nursing . Examples of professional doctoral degrees include a Doctor of Business Administration degree, typically known as a DBA; a Doctor of Education degree, or Ed.D.; and a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, or DNP.

A law degree, known as a juris doctor or J.D., as well as a Doctor of Medicine degree, or M.D., are also considered professional doctorates.

How to Get a Doctorate

Getting a doctorate is challenging. It ordinarily requires a series of rigorous classes in a field of study and then passage of a qualification exam in order to begin work on a dissertation, which is the final project.

Dissertations are difficult to write, says David Harpool, vice president of graduate and online programs at Newberry College in South Carolina. Some research indicates that only about half of doctoral students go on to finish their degree, and a main reason is that many never finish and successfully defend their dissertation

"Many of them are in programs that permit them to earn a master’s on the way to a doctorate," Harpool, who earned a Ph.D. from Saint Louis University in Missouri and a J.D. from the University of Missouri , wrote in an email. "The transition from mastering a discipline to creating new knowledge (or at least applying new knowledge in a different way), is difficult, even for outstanding students."

Learn about how M.D.-Ph.D. programs

There is a often a "huge shift in culture" at doctoral programs compared to undergraduate or master's level programs, says Angela Warfield, who earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of Iowa.

Doctoral professors and students have more of a collaborative relationship where they function as colleagues, she says. And there's pressure on each student to produce "significant and original research."

Many full-time doctoral students work for the school as researchers or teaching assistants throughout their program, so time management is crucial to avoid burnout. However, the dissertation "is by far the biggest battle," she says. The goal is to avoid an "ABD," she says, meaning "all but dissertation."

"In my writing group, we had two motivational slogans: 'ABD is not a degree,' and 'a good dissertation is a done dissertation,'" Warfield, now the principal consultant and founder of admissions consulting firm Compass Academics, wrote in an email.

How Are Doctorate Admissions Decisions Made?

Admissions standards for doctoral programs vary depending on the type of doctorate, experts say.

The quality of a candidate's research is a distinguishing factor in admissions decisions, Madanat says. Meanwhile, leaders of clinical and professional doctorate programs say that the quality of a prospective student's work experience matters most.

Doctoral programs typically expect students to have a strong undergraduate transcript , excellent letters of recommendation and, in some cases, high scores on the Graduate Record Examination , or GRE, Endlich says.

"The size of the programs may be relatively small, and universities need to be sure that applicants will be able to handle the demands of their programs," he says.

Because professional doctorates often require students to come up with effective solutions to systemic problems, eligibility for these doctorates is often restricted to applicants with extensive first-hand work experience with these problems, according to recipients of professional doctorates.

In contrast, it's common for Ph.D. students to begin their programs immediately after receiving an undergraduate degree. The admissions criteria at Ph.D. programs emphasize undergraduate grades, standardized test scores and research projects , and these programs don't necessarily require work experience.

Admissions decisions may also depend on available funding, says Madanat, who works with doctoral students to provide funding, workshops and faculty support to help their research.

Who Is a Good Fit for a Doctoral Program?

Doctoral degree hopefuls "should be interested in making a deep impact on their field, open-minded, eager to learn, curious, adaptable and self-motivated," Madanat says. "Doctoral programs are best suited for those whose goals are to transform and change the fields they are studying and want to make a difference in the way the world is."

Someone who loves to study a subject in great depth, can work alone or in teams, is highly motivated and wants to develop research skills may be a good candidate for a doctoral program, Endlich says.

Because of the tremendous effort and time investment involved in earning a doctorate, experts say it's foolish to apply to a doctoral program if it's unclear how you might use a doctorate in your career.

"The students are being trained with depth of knowledge in the discipline to prepare them for critical thinking beyond the current state of the field," Madanat says. "Students should consider the reasons that they are pursuing a doctoral degree and whether or not it aligns with their future professional goals, their family circumstances and finances."

Rachel D. Miller, a licensed marriage and family therapist who completed a Ph.D. degree in couples and family therapy at Adler University in Illinois in 2023, says pursuing a doctorate required her to make significant personal sacrifices because she had to take on large student loans and she needed to devote a lot of time and energy to her program. Miller says balancing work, home life and health issues with the demands of a Ph.D. program was difficult.

For some students, the financial component may be hard to overlook, Warfield notes.

"Student debt is no joke, and students pursuing graduate work are likely only compounding undergraduate debt," she says. "They need to really consider the payoff potential of the time and money sacrifice."

To offset costs, some programs are fully funded, waiving tuition and fees and providing an annual stipend. Some offer health insurance and other benefits. Students can also earn money by teaching at the university or through fellowships, but those adding more to their plate should possess strong time management skills, experts say.

"Graduate school, and higher education in general, can be brutal on your physical and mental health," Miller wrote in an email.

But Miller says the time and effort invested in her doctoral program paid off by allowing her to conduct meaningful research into the best way to provide therapy to children affected by high-conflict divorce and domestic violence. She now owns a therapy practice in Chicago.

Miller urges prospective doctoral students to reflect on whether getting a doctorate is necessary for them to achieve their dream job. "Really know yourself. Know your purpose for pursuing it, because that's what's going to help carry you through."

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The difference between a PhD and professional doctorate

March 27, 2018

What’s the difference between a PhD and a professional doctorate?

Some people say that a PhD prepares you to teach, while a professional doctorate is more geared toward a professional career. But the answer to the question is more complex.

Leaders in corporate organizations often benefit greatly from having a PhD, and individuals with a professional doctorate may hold adjunct or even regular faculty posts at universities. Everyone who obtains a doctoral degree from Capella University is a scholar-practitioner—meaning they are equipped with a deep understanding of foundational theory and how it directly applies to the current and future needs of their profession, as well as the skills and knowledge to research, teach, consult, and lead.

Deciding whether to pursue a PhD or professional doctorate can be a complex process. The differences between the two doctoral program types vary in every field—and they are also evolving. In terms of programs at Capella, all doctoral programs require coursework and an independent research project. Some require comprehensive exams, and many include residencies.

The primary difference between PhD and professional doctorate programs is the type of research conducted in the independent research phase.

PhD students are expected to create, expand, and contribute to knowledge, research, and theory in their field of study. This kind of discovery is often called original research.

Professional doctorate students are expected to expand and apply existing knowledge and research to existing problems in their professional field. This is often referred to as applied research.

The following graphic shows the differences between a PhD program and a professional doctorate program:

  • Degree Focus
  • Independent Research Project
  • Career Intention*

Contribute new knowledge aimed at solving real-world problems.

Professional Doctorate

Apply existing knowledge aimed at solving real-world problems.

Five-chapter dissertation.

Five-chapter applied dissertation or paper, product, or portfolio

More interest in consulting and/or conducting research.

More interest in practicing directly in the profession.

*In many instances, both a PhD and professional doctorate prepare students for teaching at the college or university level.

Ultimately, deciding whether to pursue a PhD or professional doctorate in your field of study should start with assessing your career goals  and how you plan to apply your degree, and determining the kind of research that interests you most.

Capella University offers PhD and/or professional doctorate degree programs in business, information technology, education, nursing, health care, psychology, counseling, social work, and public service. Learn more about Capella’s doctoral degree programs.

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Doctorate Degree vs PhD: Which Is Best for You?

If you want more information about a doctorate degree vs PhD, this article is for you. We talk about the difference between a doctorate degree vs PhD, and the different career paths you can choose with a doctorate or PhD. 

Most degrees can be studied on campus, but there are a few online doctorate degrees, or you could choose to study in a hybrid format. Whatever format you choose, make sure you check out the admissions requirements and dissertation requirements before deciding between a doctorate degree or PhD.

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What is a doctorate degree.

It is a terminal degree, meaning it is one of the highest degrees you can earn. You can study for a doctorate degree in a wide variety of subjects such as business administration, education, nursing, or public health. The study area focuses on studying the chosen field and applying that knowledge to the field. A doctoral degree tends to be more professional-oriented and leads to a professional career. 

Types of Doctorate Degrees

  • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
  • Doctor of Education (EdD)

What Is a PhD?

A PhD is a Doctor of Philosophy . You can study many different topics to earn your PhD like, psychology, engineering, physical sciences, health, humanities, and art. Although it is traditionally considered a degree that you can use to teach in your field of study, it can also lead to work in those fields of study. 

Types of PhDs

  • Doctor of Information Technology (PhD)
  • Doctor of Accounting (PhD)
  • Doctor Higher Education (PhD)

Is a Doctorate Degree Faster Than a PhD?

No, it is not. A doctoral program from start to finish, including acquiring a bachelor’s and master’s, can take up to 10 years to complete. PhD programs can take between five and six years to complete. This is dependent on your professional goals and academic qualification. A doctorate caters to professional careers, and a PhD caters to academic careers. 

Is a Doctorate Degree Easier Than a PhD?

A doctorate degree is not easier than a PhD. They’re different and both take hard work. It would be best to research the area of study you are pursuing. A PhD demands years of original research, while a doctorate degree looks at an existing body of knowledge and looks into theories created by this knowledge.

Is a Doctorate Degree Better Than a PhD?

A doctorate degree isn’t better than a PhD, it depends on your outcome. They both lie in the doctorate study category. If you’re into theoretical research, a PhD will suit you. A professional doctorate degree would work for you if you’re interested in solving existing problems in your field of study. 

They also offer different career options. A doctorate degree focuses on hands-on, real-world problems suitable for a professional setting. A PhD focuses on the theoretical aspects of the topic you choose, suited to educational settings in terms of career opportunities. 

5 Key Differences Between a Doctorate Degree and a PhD

1. program focus.

A doctorate study program will educate and train you in hands-on, real-world problems and the application of knowledge within your chosen career. A PhD study program will educate and teach you in the theoretical aspects of your chosen topic and can be more research-intensive.

2. Student Differences

A doctorate study program focuses on practical application in a given field. PhD students typically have already acquired their bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Most PhD program graduates aspire to academic research and prestigious academic careers. While doctoral students are also working professionals who are aspiring leaders seeking professional career advancement. 

3. Dissertations

A doctorate dissertation focuses on identifying real-world issues within a field of study and figuring out the solutions professionals can apply. A PhD dissertation focuses on exploring, developing, and defending theories. A PhD candidate analyzes their data using analytical techniques and develops hypotheses and theories to contribute to their field. 

4. Time to Complete and Average Cost

A doctoral degree can take up to 10 years to complete, including graduating from bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. A PhD can take between five and six years to complete, with PhD learning taking approximately two to three years. Achieving the dissertation requirement can take another two to three years. 

According to the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of a doctorate degree is around $114,300 and the average cost of a PhD is $98,800 . While this is quite expensive, having an advanced degree like a doctorate or PhD leads to higher salaries. According to Statista, those with a professional doctorate degree or PhD earn an average salary of $136,702 per year.

5. Career Options

The career options can overlap in terms of doctorate versus PhD. That said, doctorate students are usually already working in a particular profession and use their degree to achieve their future career goals like leadership roles. PhD students typically pursue an academic career that allows them to apply their academic research skills, including education leadership roles. 

Jobs That Require a Doctorate Degree 

  • Lawyers. Lawyers advise clients on legal matters and require a Juris Doctor Degree to practice law in the US. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states Juris Doctor Degree graduates who become lawyers can earn an average annual salary of $126,930 . 
  • Postsecondary Education Administrator. Education administrators take care of student services, academics, and faculty at their education facility of employment. They require a Doctor of Health Administration (DHA). According to the BLS, their average annual salary is $97,500 .
  • Chief Executive Officer. CEOs make major corporate decisions and manage the overall operations and resources of businesses. They are the link between the board of directors and operations. A Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) is helpful for the role. BLS indicates an average annual salary of $107,670 for chief executive officers. 

Jobs That Require a PhD

  • Dean. Deans are responsible for recruiting and retaining academic administrators, faculty, and staff at colleges or universities. They require education administration doctoral degrees or a PhD. According to BLS, the average annual salary for this role is $97,500 .
  • University Professor. Professors instruct undergraduate students in a wide variety of academic and vocational subjects. They require a PhD in Education or specific to the subject they intend to teach. The BLS reports the average salary for this profession is $80,560 .
  • Research Consultant. Research consultants analyze all kinds of data in various formats and construct plans of action to find and verify data. The BLS states an average salary of $86,200 for this role . A PhD is a research degree, and you would specialize in the area you study. 

Should You Get a Doctorate Degree or a PhD?

Yes, if a postgraduate degree aligns with your career goals you should get a doctorate degree or a PhD. If you’re interested in acquiring a leadership role in your professional field, it would be best to pursue a doctoral degree program and achieve your doctorate degree. If you are interested in a career in an academic field, it would be best to pursue a PhD program and earn your PhD degree.

PhD stands for doctor of philosophy. Philosophy means the study of existence, knowledge, and reality. A PhD will be an excellent choice if you want to study a particular subject deeply and present new findings to the world. A professional doctorate program applies to a specific career, like medical doctors, Juris doctors, and psychologists.

Both degree options offer excellent average salaries and future career goals. Since both are doctoral degrees, these doctoral degree holders can benefit in terms of career goals, advancement, and average salaries. 

Doctorate Degree Vs PhD FAQ

Universities give an honorary degree to people for their generous or altruistic actions that benefit a community, nation, or humanity. Honorary degrees are awarded to recognize a lifetime accomplishment. Those awarded honorary degrees do not attend an academic institution to earn this degree. Universities all have different criteria for these awards.

Yes, you can avoid unemployment with a doctoral degree or PhD. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it pays to be educated. People with a doctoral degree or professional degree have the highest chance of avoiding unemployment and earning higher salaries .

Yes, you can get a job without a doctoral degree or PhD. If you have business knowledge or you’re tech-savvy, you can get a job without a degree . You can also get high-paying jobs with a technical certificate or an undergraduate degree like an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree.

No, bootcamps do not offer doctoral degrees or PhD’s. Bootcamps offer intensive technical training that have the potential to land you the best tech jobs in the shortest amount of time.

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PhD vs. Doctorate Degree: Benefits and Differences


Whether  conducting studies to test the effectiveness of online teaching strategies or translating cutting-edge research into life-saving nursing practices, those with terminal degrees work at the top of their professions. As the pinnacle academic qualification offered within an area of study, terminal degrees prepare individuals to lead in their fields.

Considering whether to pursue a terminal degree, such as a Doctor of Education (EdD), Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)? It’s important to first understand the differences between a PhD and other doctorate degrees and the purpose that each serves.

What Are Doctorate Degrees, and Why Are They Beneficial?

A doctorate is a terminal degree that prepares individuals to take the knowledge they’ve developed in a subject area and apply it professionally. In other words, the degree focuses on helping professionals discover the practical applications of theory and research.

For example, a DNP can train individuals to translate medical research into improved nursing practices, which they then apply as nurse leaders. An EdD can empower people to take educational theories and integrate them into the curricula they develop or the teaching practices they use.

Those interested in pursuing doctorate degrees to level up their professional practice have many options. Today, many universities offer  online doctorate degrees that allow professionals greater access and flexibility to achieve their goals.

For example, nursing professionals can select from various online DNP degrees designed to propel them to the top of their profession. These include programs for psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners , adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioners , pediatric nurse practitioners , and others.

What can you do with an EdD? Educators considering doctorate programs can explore degrees, such as an online EdD in Higher Education Leadership, that prepare graduates to excel as academic deans, education consultants, or university presidents.

Doctorate Degree Benefits

Earning  a doctorate degree offers numerous benefits, starting with improved job security. The labor force participation rate of doctorate recipients was 86.8% in 2021, compared to the national average of about 62%, according to the National Science Foundation.

Doctorate degree holders can also have greater earning potential than their counterparts. BLS data indicates that those with a doctorate degree earned a median annual salary of about $100,000 in 2021.  That’s about 21% more than the earnings of master’s degree holders and around 43% more than the earnings of bachelor’s degree holders.

In addition to enjoying job security and higher salaries, doctorate degree holders have credibility, which can translate into leadership roles and greater authority in their field.

What Is a PhD, and What Are Its Benefits?

A PhD degree is a type of doctorate degree that prepares individuals to conduct high-level research in a specific field. Typically associated with administration and academia, the PhD degree empowers individuals to conduct original research that contributes to the overall body of knowledge in a particular area.

University professors, researchers, and scholarly writers typically hold PhD degrees in fields ranging from the hard sciences to the humanities. In addition to training individuals to conduct original research, a PhD prepares scholars in a discipline to critically evaluate theories, locate gaps in bodies of research, and assess the validity of emerging ideas.

PhD Benefits

Like other doctorate degrees, a PhD offers excellent job security, earning potential, and credibility. Additionally, a PhD can equip individuals to be forward-thinking leaders, performing research that advances their field. It also positions individuals to make a significant impact in a discipline through teaching and mentoring the next generation of experts.

PhD vs. Doctorate Degree: The Differences

While the PhD and other doctorate terminal degrees share similar characteristics, they differ in notable ways.

To begin with, the degrees employ distinct methods of study. PhD programs focus on preparing candidates to conduct original research. Other doctorate programs include research but are much less intensive. Instead, these doctorate programs concentrate on cultivating subject matter expertise for practical application.

For example, PhD students in nursing could conduct research that seeks to answer questions or find solutions to problems in nursing care. This could involve conducting randomized controlled trials to determine the effectiveness of a new method for dressing wounds after cardiac care.

In turn, DNP students could take the evidence from that research to develop a method for implementing the new wound dressing practice in clinical settings. The DNP students could also develop a process for assessing the effectiveness of that implementation.

Individuals who are interested in academics or research and are motivated by the prospect of making discoveries in their field will likely find PhD programs appealing. On the other hand, those inspired by opportunities to advance in their professional fields and put evidence into practice will likely find other doctorate degrees, such as an EdD or a DNP, a better fit.

Strive for the Top of Your Profession Today

Terminal degrees, such as a PhD or doctorate, are respected and prestigious. When planning your education and professional career path, understanding the distinctions between different terminal degrees and how they can each contribute to society’s body of knowledge and help it progress and thrive is important.

To learn more, explore the array of online degree programs at Maryville University , designed to support graduates reaching for the pinnacle of their professions.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Considering and Pursuing a PhD in Communication Sciences and Disorders

Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management, Professional PhD Degrees for Public Service

Indeed, What Is a Doctorate? (And How to Get One in 3 Steps)

National Science Foundation, Survey of Doctorate Recipients, 2021

Nursing in Critical Care, “Randomized Controlled Trials in Critical Care Nursing: Essential to Move Practice Forward”

Seattle Post-Intelligencer, “What Is the Difference Between a PhD & Doctoral Degree?”

Seattle Post-Intelligencer, “What Is the Difference Between a Terminal Degree & a Research Degree?”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Civilian labor force participation rate

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections

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phd and doctoral degree difference

Applied Doctorate vs. Ph.D.: What are the Differences?

Making a choice between two similar but different things can be a challenge.

Oh, sure, some things don’t fall under the “do-or-die” category of decision making. With some things, there simply is no wrong choice.

Take a sports car versus an SUV, for example. Either is a great choice, depending on your budget, your lifestyle and your personal preferences.

What about an angus beef burger versus a textured soy protein patty? When it comes to radically opposing food choices, there’s usually a clear-cut winner.

Yet what about the more important things in life … like your career, your future and your doctoral education?

You already know the drill when it comes to deciding if a Ph.D. or doctorate is right for you:

  • Investigate each type of degree program.
  • Make a list of personal and professional pros and cons for each type of degree.
  • Seek the wise counsel of colleagues, academic advisors and professional mentors.
  • Make a confident decision about which degree is right for.

But first, let’s define the Ph.D. and the professional doctorate and then look at how they’re different from one another.

What is a Ph.D.?

A Ph.D., or Doctor of Philosophy, is a high-level degree earned after a period of three or more years of graduate-level study, culminating in the creation, submission, presentation and defense of a research dissertation.

The Ph.D. can be awarded in a wide variety of fields, including the sciences, engineering and humanities. The term “philosophy,” according to Wikipedia, “does not refer solely to the field or academic disciple of philosophy, but is used in a broader sense in accordance with its original Greek meaning, which is ‘love of wisdom.’”

For some professions, such as university professor or researcher, the Ph.D. is pretty much de rigueur. Most Ph.D.s are earned as a means of contributing original research findings to an academic community, field of study or professional discipline.

Earning a doctorate is challenging and rewarding, but do you know what to really expect? Download this free guide for tips and insights to help you prepare for success.  

What is an applied professional doctorate.

This doctorate is an advanced, high-level degree, too, earned after a period of three or more years of graduate-level study across a wide variety of disciplines. Like the Ph.D. it, too, culminates in the creation, submission, presentation and defense of a research dissertation or similar type of comprehensive final project.

The professional doctorate is also a research-based degree, only it emphasizes looking at existing bodies of knowledge and raising questions for the purposes of solving a problem and applying theories to a real-world setting.

Applied doctorate degrees first became well established in the United Kingdom and Australia and were initially offered in the United States by for-profit colleges and universities. Employer demand for higher skill levels and actionable problem-solving, however, opened up new programs at accredited non-profit institutions.

Different than a theoretical, Ph.D. degree, the professional doctorate is often the best terminal degree for the working professional who’s driven to lead and innovate.

Applied doctoral degree programs offer the opportunity to earn a practical degree that enables both subject mastery and field application.

What is the difference between the Ph.D. and doctorate?

It’s often assumed that a Ph.D. is a teaching-only degree while a professional doctorate is for the corporate player. The truth is, either degree can be valued in an academic or professional setting, depending on the type of institution or organization. Furthermore, either degree could be right for you.

Dr. Christopher Washington, Franklin University’s provost and chief academic officer explains the fundamental difference between the Ph.D. and the applied professional doctorate degree this way:

“With a Ph.D., you generate new theory. With the professional doctorate, you start from a place of practice and what’s going on in the world. You look at existing bodies of knowledge to see what theories have been created. Then you raise questions to determine how to design experiences that test theory to practice. In cultivating these types of practitioner-oriented scholars, there’s potential for a stronger and better relationship between the scholar and the community he or she serves. Such a connection helps us convene people to tackle the hard questions.”

Here we offer a side-by-side comparison of the Ph.D. and the professional doctorate to further demonstrate the differences (and similarities):

As you can see, the differences between the Ph.D. and the applied doctorate are few – and many – most of which are directly related to how earning the degree will impact your career.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself before deciding which degree is right for you :

  • Do you want to conduct research or analyze and apply it?
  • Do you want to work in an academic or professional setting?
  • Do you want to identify problems or lead solutions to them?

Explains Dr. Washington, “If you want to generate new theory and conduct pure science within the pursuit of an academic life, then the Ph.D. is probably more in line with what you’ll need. If, however, you want to advance knowledge within a complex, global practice context while challenging yourself professionally, consider the applied doctorate degree.”

phd and doctoral degree difference

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  • What’s the difference between a PhD and a doctorate?

25 Aug 2022

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In this post, we’ll explore the definitions, differences and similarities of PhDs and doctorates, as well as what a Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) entails.  

After completing a master’s degree and spending time building a career, many professionals consider continuing their education and pursuing a higher level of academic achievement.

Two of the most common options are a PhD or a doctorate, but what is the difference between the two?

Defining a PhD and a doctorate 

A PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy, is a specific type of doctorate degree that focuses on research in a particular field. It is highly theoretical and involves extensive research to generate new knowledge.

On the other hand, a doctorate degree is an umbrella term for any doctoral-level degree. It can be further categorised into two types: academic and professional.

Academic doctorates, such as a PhD, are focused on research, while professional doctorates, like the Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) , focus on practical application in professional settings.  

Want to know more about the benefits of a DBA? Explore our guide:

Show me DBA benefits 

Differences between a PhD and a doctorate 

While both a PhD and a doctorate are doctoral-level degrees, there are some key differences between the two. One of the main differences is that a PhD is typically an academic degree, while a doctorate can be either academic or professional. Additionally, a PhD is highly theoretical and research-focused, while a professional doctorate is practical and geared toward applying research to specific professional settings.  

Similarities between a PhD and a doctorate 

Despite their differences, there are also some similarities between a PhD and a doctorate. Both degrees require significant research, critical thinking, and independent study. They are both highly respected and recognised as top-level degrees in their respective fields, and both confer the title of “Doctor” upon completion.  

Weighing up your options? Read our guide to the benefits and drawbacks:

PhDs and doctorates: Pros and cons 

Examples of professional doctorates 

Examples of professional doctorates include the Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA), Doctorate of Education (EdD), Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP), and Doctorate of Psychology (PsyD), among others. These degrees are typically designed for individuals who want to apply research to specific professional settings.  

What is a Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA)? 

A DBA is a professional doctorate degree that is focused on applying research to real-world business problems. It is typically designed for individuals who are in senior-level or executive positions in private or public sector organisations. A DBA is often seen as a practical alternative to a PhD in business, as it allows professionals to apply research directly to their work .  

Benefits of pursuing a Global DBA 

Portsmouth Online offers a Global DBA that is online and part-time, making it accessible from anywhere in the world. This course  is specifically designed for senior-level professionals who want to become more qualified in the field of business.

The structured modules will help you develop your ability to challenge current thinking and provide authoritative solutions to practical and research problems. Additionally, the applied research in the DBA thesis will allow you to conduct research on a topic that is directly relevant to your organisation.  

Choosing between a PhD and a doctorate 

Choosing between a PhD and a doctorate depends on your goals and aspirations. If you are interested in academic research and generating new knowledge, a PhD may be the right path for you.

However, if you want to apply research to specific professional settings, a professional doctorate like a DBA may be a better fit. Ultimately, it is important to choose the degree that aligns with your career goals and interests.  

Get more guidance on whether a PhD or a doctorate is right for you:

PhD or doctorate: How to choose 

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Comparing the differences between MD vs. PhD vs. professional doctorate

By Michael Feder

Collage image with books, sculptures, xray, and hands

This article has been vetted by University of Phoenix's editorial advisory committee.  Read more about our editorial process.

Reviewed by Marc Booker, PhD, Vice Provost, Strategy

At a glance

  • MD is the abbreviation for Doctor of Medicine and PhD stands for Doctor of Philosophy. These are two types of doctoral degrees in addition to professional doctorates. 
  • An MD is a doctoral degree for medical professionals, while a PhD is an academic degree focused on original research. Somewhat similar to a PhD are professional doctorates, which focus on applying practical research to problems in workplaces or communities.   
  • A professional or practice-based doctorate (EdD, DBA, etc.) can be medical, and others are for scholar-practitioners in disciplines like education, business or psychology.
  • University of Phoenix does not offer MD or PhD programs, but students can earn a doctorate in business, nursing, education or healthcare that allows them to build upon their industry expertise. Learn more about the differences between these degree programs and if one of the  five doctoral programs  at University of Phoenix is right for you !

What is a doctorate? Breaking down the three types

Some people might confuse an  MD (Doctor of Medicine)  with a  PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) , and vice versa. While both an MD and a PhD are prestigious degrees near the top of the  academic ladder , they each have a different meaning and come with very  different requirements .

Different still from both of those degrees are professional doctorates, which allow industry professionals to translate their education and experience into credibility and leadership through research. Professional doctorates have similar requirements to PhDs, such as a dissertation and residency, but focus on the application of research and professional growth over original research.

Upon graduation, those who have earned any of these three degrees can call themselves a “doctor,” but the path to a degree, the purpose behind it and its applications vary based on the choice. MD graduates want to work in medicine and healthcare. PhDs want to bring new knowledge and research to the world. A practice-based doctoral graduate wants to grow in their professional expertise. (If the last one sounds like you, University of Phoenix can help!)

Keep reading to learn more about these doctoral programs and which is right for you.

What does MD stand for?

MD is an abbreviation for Doctor of Medicine and identifies a  medical practitioner  who has completed undergraduate studies and four years of medical school. An MD program teaches medical students about the human body and diseases through a combination of classroom instruction and hands-on clinical labs.

Several  types of physicians  might have this degree, depending on their area of study. For example, medical practitioners with an MD degree might become a medical doctor and potentially specialize in dermatology, cardiovascular disease, family medicine, oncology, pediatrics, neurology or preventive medicine. As you can see, this degree  can lead to a variety of career paths , depending on which specialty interests you and what your medical education is.

Learn more about online doctoral degrees at University of Phoenix. 

How to earn an MD

Becoming a Doctor of Medicine  requires a significant investment of time and money, but the reward can be well worth it. Before medical school, you’ll need to  take the Medical College Admission Test  (MCAT ® ) and earn a passing score. You’ll also need to build a portfolio of coursework and experience to help you gain admittance to medical school.

Medical school typically takes students four years to complete. You’ll learn the latest techniques and approaches for patient assessment, diagnosis and treatment. Medical schools commonly provide a combination of classroom,  research and clinical experience . You’ll work alongside peers and healthcare professionals as you develop skills in general medicine.

You’ll choose a field to specialize in during your final year of medical school. Students have more than 120 options to choose from when specializing, including  primary care,   pediatrics, geriatrics, emergency medicine and family medicine .

After graduating, you’ll complete residency training to further develop skills in your specialty. Residency typically lasts three to seven years, depending on the field you’ve selected. During the residency portion of your education, you’ll treat patients under the supervision of more experienced physicians.

Even after you begin to practice as an MD,  the educational portion of your career never stops . As practices change, patient needs evolve and research continues, MDs benefit from ongoing education to stay current.

What does PhD stand for?

A PhD, or  Doctor of Philosophy , is a doctoral degree that recognizes graduates who have completed a full postsecondary program. Students can earn a PhD in more fields than philosophy. After completing the necessary coursework, original research and hands-on experience, you can earn a PhD in fields like science, the humanities and engineering.

Earning a PhD can help unlock a wide range of potential career opportunities. Computer engineers, research scientists, statisticians, healthcare administrators, professors, chemists and other careers commonly require a PhD degree, in addition to appropriate undergraduate study.

How to earn a PhD

Becoming a PhD is also a  serious commitment  that requires an investment of  time, money and energy .

Here is what’s typically required to become a PhD:

  • Complete a bachelor’s degree in your field
  • Complete a master’s degree in an appropriate field
  • Pass any program entrance exams
  • Fulfill coursework, research and hands-on lab requirements in your program
  • Finalize and defend your dissertation as a  doctoral candidate  (unless your program specifies otherwise)

It’s important to note that many PhD  programs have different requirements , prerequisites and parameters for students. Check with your preferred institution for a more detailed explanation of these requirements.

What is a professional doctorate?

While some professional or practice-based doctorate programs are medical,  others are designed for professionals in other fields . These programs are meant for  scholar-practitioners  in disciplines like education, business or psychology. One of the key differences between this degree and a PhD is the focus on applying research to a professional setting rather than conducting theoretical and research-focused studies. Often, programs are differentiated as academic versus professional.

Examples of doctoral degrees are Doctor of Education, Doctor of Nursing Practice and Doctor of Business Administration. Each of these programs focuses on a specific discipline and applying research in those areas to a professional setting.

How to earn a doctorate

While  practitioner doctoral programs  teach different skills, they all share common requirements. You’ll need to  complete a bachelor’s degree  in your field and sometimes a master’s degree, depending on program requirements.

After completing the necessary coursework and research, students also typically need to finish a supervised thesis and defend their dissertation or capstone project-specific coursework, research and hands-on labs alongside other students in the same field. However, this will depend on the specific program and its requirements.

What does the title “Dr.” really mean?

The term “doctor” or “Dr.” is commonly used today to describe a wide variety of occupations. Students who complete a doctoral degree can earn the title of “Dr.” even though they earned their credentials in a non-medical field like education or business management.

While a variety of professionals can earn a doctorate, the term is often still  reserved for medical practitioners . In conventional use,  doctors typically refer to medical physicians . However, it is appropriate to use “Dr.” if you graduated from any of the three programs discussed above.  

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phd and doctoral degree difference

What is doctoral candidacy?

Practitioner doctoral degree programs at university of phoenix.

While University of Phoenix (UOPX)  does not have  MD or PhD programs, it does offer several professional doctoral degrees that can be earned completely online. Students might choose the UOPX programs because classes are flexible and offered online, and because of the University’s unique “ Scholar-Practitioner-Leader model .”

If you are curious about a doctoral degree, the following programs are available at UOPX:

  • Doctor of Business Administration  — This doctorate can help you gain strategic vision and skills to position yourself as a business leader. It explores how to solve organizational problems, how to design and conduct research studies, how to introduce innovative business ideas to the industry and more.
  • Doctor of Management   — This doctorate equips you with critical thinking skills to find creative solutions to complex problems.
  • Doctor of Education  — This doctoral program prepares you to use analytical, critical and innovative thinking to improve performance and solve complex problems in education.
  • Doctor of Health Administration  — If you’re a health professional who is seeking greater responsibility in shaping the future of the health sector, this doctorate can help you meet the challenges inherent to today’s healthcare landscape, including economic fluctuations, burgeoning patient needs and industry-changing legislation.
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice  — This doctorate is designed for working nurses who require a doctorate for advanced practice or nurses who desire their terminal degree. It does not prepare students for professional certification or state licensure as a nurse or as an advanced practice nurse.

These doctoral studies are only some of the many options for professionals who want to gain the  highest academic credentials  in their fields. Doctoral programs offer significant benefits to program graduates, including  newly developed skills , insight into field trends, hands-on research opportunities and  leadership capabilities .

Completing a doctoral program is also a strong indication to employers that you’re serious about your career and your field. With so many options for advanced study, these programs are available for most major fields. Even if you have already completed a bachelor’s or master’s degree in your discipline, a doctorate lends further credibility to your reputation and  can help prepare you for a leadership position .

Photo of Michael Feder


Michael Feder is a content marketing specialist at University of Phoenix, where he researches and writes on a variety of topics, ranging from healthcare to IT. He is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars program and a New Jersey native!

Photo of blog author Michael Feder smiling.

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phd and doctoral degree difference

  • Masters vs PhD – Differences Explained
  • Types of Doctorates

The decision of whether or not to pursue a Masters or PhD (or both) after you complete your undergraduate studies is not necessarily a straightforward one. Both are postgraduate degrees but are different in terms of the academic experience and the career paths taken afterwards.

In short, a Masters degree involves a year of study, primarily through taught lectures and a final dissertation research project, whilst a PhD (also referred to as a doctorate degree) is a three-year commitment of independent research on a specific subject.

There’s more to it than that, however – read on for more information.

What Is a Masters Degree?

A Masters degree is the next level of education after the completion of an undergraduate degree, commonly known as a Bachelors.

These degree levels are often referred to in terms of cycles so that a Bachelor’s is a first-cycle degree, a Masters is a second-cycle and finally, a PhD is the third-cycle of higher education (and the highest).

Masters degrees demand an intense period of study, usually centred around a core series of lectures and taught modules, coupled with coursework assignments and exams, followed by the completion of a contained research project usually taking students 3-4 months to complete.

These types of degrees are attractive to recent graduates who want to delve deeper into their specific field of study, gaining some research experience and more specialised knowledge beyond what an undergraduate degree can offer.

Equally, some pursue a Masters degree program in a subject that is only tangentially related to their Bachelors degree, helping them gain a broader depth of knowledge.

These degrees also serve as a significant stepping stone for those already in employment who want to progress their current career development and earn a higher salary. They can also be an excellent method for helping in changing careers completely by learning new skills and subject knowledge.

What Is a PhD Degree?

A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is the highest academic degree that can be awarded and is the third and final cycle in the progression of higher education.

A doctoral degree is earned on the basis of producing a significant, independent and novel body of work (a Thesis) that contributes new knowledge to a particular research topic.

These are research degrees that are a significant investment of a candidate’s time, resources and energy and are all but a pre-requisite for anyone considering a career in academia, such as eventually becoming a professor.

There are some exceptions to this, such as those with a medical background who may earn an MD (Doctor of Medicine), which is the equivalent of a PhD.

Doctoral degrees can also have a significant positive impact on career development outside of academia, especially in fields such as engineering, business and finance that have a high demand for highly qualified and capable people.

A graduate student engaged in PhD study is commonly known as a PhD student, PhD candidate or doctoral student.

What are the Benefits of a Masters Degree?

There are several reasons one might consider doing a Masters degree rather than a PhD in their graduate education. These include:

  • It takes approximately a third of the time to do compared to a doctorate degree and costs less too.
  • It’s a good way to differentiate yourself from those that hold only an undergraduate degree without having to commit to a substantial research degree.
  • The end goal is more career-focused as opposed to research-focused. For example, it is practically an ‘easier’ route to changing or progressing your career if that aligns with your professional goals.

What are the Benefits of Doing a PhD?

You may continue on into a doctoral program after a Masters or you may even dive straight in after completing your undergraduate studies. So, what are the advantages of completing this third-cycle?

  • You’ll have developed a wealth of transferable skills at graduate school, such as effective communication of complex concepts, multi-tasking time-management and the ability to adapt to and solve unexpected problems.
  • A doctorate helps to establish you as an expert within your chosen subject area; your work will hopefully have furthered the knowledge in this.
  • It will open up career paths and teaching positions within academia that may otherwise be very difficult to get a hold in (although these career paths will still be very competitive).
  • You can add the title ‘Dr’ in front of your name!

Which Degree Is More Impactful: A Masters or a PhD?

On paper, the answer should be clear: A doctorate degree is the highest degree you can earn, so has more impact than a Masters, which in turn has more impact than a Bachelors.

The reality is that the size of the impact (if any) really depends on the subject area and the career path you choose (if the measure of impact is how it positively improves your career prospects, that is).

For someone with aspirations of becoming a professor, a PhD will be of greater value than a Masters alone.

Equally, it’s also possible that someone with a PhD entering a different field or one that doesn’t require a PhD may find that their degree has no bearing on their career or in some cases may even be seen as a ‘negative’ with a concern of the person being ‘over-qualified’ for a position. There are many scenarios in which professional experience would be more valuable to an employer than a doctorate degree.

Check out the links below to our interviews with Prof. Debby Cotton and Dr Nikolay Nikolov to read their experiences of when a going through a PhD program has had a clear benefit (Prof. Cotton) and when it hasn’t been helpful (Dr Nikolov).

Debby Cotton_Profile

Do You Need to Have a Masters to do a PhD?

This really depends on the university, department and sometimes even the project and supervisor.

From a purely application process perspective, some institutions may formally require you to hold a Masters degree relevant to the subject of the PhD project before you can enter their doctoral program.

In another scenario, most universities are unlikely to accept candidates that were awarded below a 2:1 (in the UK) in their undergraduate degree but may consider someone who has ‘made up’ for this with a high-grade Masters.

Lastly, some universities now offer PhD programmes that incorporate an additional year of study in which you would complete a Masters degree before carrying directly on into a PhD project. As you’d expect, even if a university doesn’t formally require you to hold one, a Masters degree can help separate you from other applicants in being accepted on the project.

Check out our detailed guide to doing a PhD without a Master’s .

Why Do a Masters before Your PhD?

Even if you don’t need to have one, it could still be beneficial to begin your postgraduate study by doing a Masters first before you embark on your doctorate journey.

As mentioned previously it’ll help you stand out from applicants that don’t have one, but beyond that, it’ll give you a taster of what research life could be like, especially if you stay at the same university and department for your PhD.

The one-year commitment (in the UK at least) of carrying out a Masters first, and in particular your research project, will help you better understand if this is truly something you want to commit the next three or more years to.

You’ll learn some of the skills of independent research, from performing detailed literature searches to more complex, analytical writing.

At the end of it, you should be in a stronger position to consider your options and decide about whether to continue into a PhD at graduate school.

Finding a PhD has never been this easy – search for a PhD by keyword, location or academic area of interest.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Masters Degree?

In the UK, a full-time Masters degrees take students one calendar year to complete: The programme of study usually starts in September, the final research project the following April and final project viva around August. Part-time degrees are usually double the time.

How Long Does It Take to Get a PhD?

In the UK, most PhD projects take 3-4 years to complete , as reflected by the majority of funded projects offering stipends to cover living expenses of about 3.5 years.

For many reasons, projects may end up taking longer to complete, however. This might be because of difficulties in collecting enough data, or if the project is being done part-time.

Which One is More Expensive to Do?

As you’d expect, as a PhD takes three times as long to complete as a Masters degree, it will cost you more to do as far as university fees are concerned.

Another thing to consider is that many PhD projects come with some level of funding equivalent to a low salary, which may cover the cost of tuition fees and living expenses, whilst it is usually more difficult to obtain funding for Masters study.

Conversely, a Masters graduate may progress into a higher (versus PhD funding) salary sooner whilst a PhD student will endure three years of a comparatively low income.

A Masters vs a PhD: Conclusion

If you’re considering continue further graduate study after your undergraduate degree, the question of doing a Masters vs a PhD is likely to come up. They are both considered an advanced degree, each with their own advantages.

There are benefits to doing either of these graduate programs or even both of them; your decision here can be easier if you have an idea of the career you want to follow or if you know you have a love for research!

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What Comes After a Master's Degree?

Know Your Graduate School Options Beyond a Master's

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  • Ph.D., Developmental Psychology, Fordham University
  • M.A., Developmental Psychology, Fordham University

After receiving your master's degree, there are still more options to study in graduate school, including an additional master's degree, doctorate programs (Ph.D., Ed.D., and others) and certificate programs to consider. These degree and certificate programs all vary in level, time to complete, and more.

Additional Master's Degrees

If you have already earned a master's degree and wish to continue your studies, you might consider a second master's degree. Since master's degrees tend to be specialized degrees, as you grow within your career you may find that a new specialty is required or that two specialties will make you an even more desirable candidate when job hunting. In education, for example, many teachers earn a Master's of Arts in Teaching degree but may return to the classroom to study for a degree in the field in which they are teaching, such as English or mathematics. They may also wish to pursue a degree in organizational leadership, especially if they are looking to grow into an administrative role in the school.

Master's degrees generally take two, sometimes three, years to complete (after earning a bachelor's degree), but pursuing a second degree in a similar discipline might allow you to carry over some credits and complete the program sooner. There are also some accelerated master's programs that can earn you a degree in less than a year; just be prepared for a lot of hard work. All master's programs entail coursework and exams , and, depending on the field, possibly an internship or other applied experience (for example, in some fields of psychology ). Whether a thesis is required to obtain a master's degree depends on the program. Some programs require a written thesis; others offer an option between a thesis and a comprehensive exam . Some programs provide capstone courses, which are usually semester-long courses that provide a comprehensive overview of everything learned within the program and ask students to complete several small thesis statements to demonstrate mastery.

A meaningful way in which master's programs differ from many, but not all, doctoral programs is in the level of financial aid available to students. Most programs do not offer as much assistance to master's students as they do for doctoral students, and so students often pay most if not all of their tuition. Many top institutions even offer full scholarships for doctoral students, but a doctoral program is usually a much more comprehensive and time-consuming educational program, requiring a full-time commitment, versus the possibility of working your full-time job while going for a master's degree.

The value of the master's degree varies by field. In some areas such as business, a master's is the unstated norm and necessary for advancement. Other fields do not require advanced degrees for career advancement. In some cases, a master's degree may hold advantages over a doctoral degree. For example, a master's degree in social work (MSW) may be more cost-effective than a doctoral degree, given the time and funds required to earn the degree and the pay differential. The admission offices at the schools you're applying to can often help you determine which program is best for you.

Ph.D. and Other Doctoral Degrees

A doctoral degree is a more advanced degree and takes more time (often a great deal more time). Depending on the program, a Ph.D. could take four to eight years to complete. Typically, a Ph.D. in North American programs entails two to three years of coursework and a dissertation — an independent research project designed to uncover new knowledge in your field that must be of publishable quality. A dissertation can take a year or more to complete, with most averaging about 18 months. Some fields, like applied psychology, may also require an internship of one year or more.

Most doctorate programs offer various forms of financial aid , from assistantships to scholarships to loans. The availability and types of support vary by discipline (e.g., those in which faculty conduct research sponsored by large grants are more likely to hire students in exchange for tuition) and by the institution. Students in some doctoral programs also earn master's degrees along the way.

Certificate Programs

Certificates can usually be earned in less than a year and are often significantly less expensive than going after additional degrees. If you're wondering what should come after your master's degree and you're not sure if a doctoral program is right for you, this could be the way to go. Certificates range in scope greatly and can allow you to hyperfocus on the areas in which you wish to excel. Some schools even offer certificate programs that are of a masters degree caliber, so you can walk away better prepared for your career and without breaking the bank. Employers who offer tuition assistance may look favorably on a less expensive certificate program as well.

Which Is the Best?

There is no easy answer. It depends on your interests, field, motivation, and career goals. Read more about your field and consult faculty advisers to learn more about which option best fits your career goals. Some final considerations are as follows:

  • What types of jobs do a master's degree, doctoral degree, and certificate holders have? Do they differ? How?
  • How much will each degree cost? How much will you earn after obtaining each degree? Is the outcome worth the cost? What can you afford?
  • How much time do you have to invest in additional schooling?
  • Are you interested enough to pursue many years of schooling?
  • Will earning a doctoral degree offer a substantial benefit in your employment and advancement opportunities?

Only you know which is the right degree for you. Take your time and ask questions, then carefully weigh what you learn about each, its opportunities, as well as your own needs, interests, and competencies. What comes after a master's degree is up to you.

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RIT graduate pursues Ph.D. across time zones

Nastaran Nagshineh is shown with other faculty in a small room where she defended her thesis.

Nastaran Nagshineh, center, defended her Ph.D. thesis at RIT in April. Faculty from RIT’s Rochester and Dubai campuses served on her thesis committee and include, from left to right, Kathleen Lamkin-Kennard, Steven Weinstein, Nathaniel Barlow, and David Kofke (a professor at the University at Buffalo). Mohamed Samaha participated remotely and appears on the video screen behind the group and alongside Nagshineh’s picture.

Nastaran Nagshineh is one of the first Ph.D. candidates to bridge RIT’s Rochester and Dubai campuses. Her accomplishment creates a path for future students at the university’s international campuses.

Nagshineh completed her Ph.D. in mathematical modeling while working full time as a mathematics lecturer at RIT Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, teaching as many as five classes a semester. She described her Ph.D. journey as “an exercise in perseverance” due to competing demands and long days. Rochester is eight hours behind Dubai, and the time difference meant many late-night classes and meetings.

“I saw this collaboration as an opportunity, rather than as a challenge, because my primary adviser, Dr. Steven Weinstein (RIT professor of chemical engineering), and my co-adviser, Dr. Mohamed Samaha (RIT Dubai associate professor of mechanical engineering), both have the same area of research interest,” she said. “They both worked toward my success.”

Nagshineh is one of 67 RIT Ph.D. students who defended their thesis this academic year and who will earn their doctorate. RIT awarded 63 Ph.D. degrees in 2023.

In 2020-2021, RIT’s Graduate School met and surpassed the university’s goal of conferring 50 Ph.D. degrees during an academic year. That number will continue to grow as students cycle through the seven new Ph.D. programs that RIT has added since 2017, said Diane Slusarski , dean of RIT’s Graduate School.

Meeting these goals puts RIT on a path toward achieving an “R1,” or research-intensive designation, from the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Learning. RIT is currently ranked as an R2 institution . Many factors go into changing a university’s status, including research investment and maintaining a three-year average of 70 Ph.D. degrees awarded per year, according to Slusarski.

“We have met the goals of the strategic plan, and now we look forward to contributing to the research innovation in the future,” Slusarski said. “We want to help the new programs thrive and win national research awards.”

RIT’s emphasis on high-level research is seen in Nagshineh’s Ph.D. work. She applies mathematical modeling to the field of fluid dynamics. Her research has been published in top-tier journals and has gained notice, said Weinstein, her thesis adviser.

Weinstein describes Nagshineh’s accomplishments as “a testament to a fantastic work ethic and commitment” and is inspirational to younger students at Rochester and Dubai.

“The collaboration between RIT Dubai/Rochester has continued,” he said. “Another paper was submitted a few weeks ago with Mohamed Samaha and Nate Barlow (RIT associate professor in the School of Mathematics and Statistics) as co-authors, as well as Cade Reinberger, a younger Ph.D. student in my research group.”

Mathematical modeling is one of RIT’s newer Ph.D. degree programs, and Nagshineh is among its earliest graduates. The program has doubled in size since it began accepting students in 2017, Slusarski said. This past fall, the mathematical modeling program had 35 students, with two graduating this year.

Altogether, RIT has 13 Ph.D. degree programs currently enrolling 438 students, with computing and information sciences accounting for the largest with 117 students. RIT’s other Ph.D. programs include astrophysical sciences and technology , biomedical and chemical engineering , business administration , color science , electrical and computer engineering, imaging science , mechanical and industrial engineering , microsystems engineering , and sustainability .

New programs in cognitive science and physics will launch in the fall.

The growth in RIT graduate education—with more than 3,000 master’s and doctoral students—reflects a demographic change in the student population, Slusarski said. “We have a higher percentage of women in the graduate programs than we have for RIT undergraduate programs.”

RIT’s graduate programs enroll 42 percent women, according to Christie Leone , assistant dean for the Graduate School.

Nagshineh, who also holds an MS in electrical engineering from RIT Dubai, welcomes her role as a mentor to other women students on both campuses.

“As a young woman in an Arabic country, the power of women is often underestimated and undervalued, and I hope to serve as a role model to female students, especially those that question their path,” Nagshineh said.

She plans to continue in her career as a professor and a researcher. “I would like to pursue a research program where I can advise my own students and teach them more deeply.”

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  8. What's the Difference Between a Doctorate and a PhD

    Professional doctorates and PhDs differ in focus, duration, and potential career earnings. Both are doctoral degrees, but a PhD is specifically academic and focused on original research. Professional doctorates (like an Ed.D, M.D., DBA) are applied and tailored to specific professions. In most cases, you'll need to complete a bachelor's and ...

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  17. Master's vs PhD

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  27. RIT graduate pursues Ph.D. across time zones

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