How to Get a DBA or PhD in Business Administration

In an increasingly competitive marketplace, companies require strong leaders throughout their organizations. It’s no longer uncommon to see a manager with a PhD in Business Administration working somewhere other than the CEO suite. Programs offering doctorate degrees in business administration gained popularity in the late 1950s, when the results of government and private studies urged business schools to develop more rigorous training for corporate leaders. The surge of MBAs entering the workforce in the past few decades has led a growing number of corporate recruiters to seek graduates of business PhD programs for critical management positions.

Typical Doctorate Degrees in Business Administration

  • PhD in Business Administration
  • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)

Many graduate business administration programs offer both the PhD and the DBA. The big difference between the two is research. A PhD in Business Administration is an academic degree, focusing on furthering the field of business and developing overall business theory. A DBA, on the other hand, is geared for the professional. These doctorate degrees provide graduates with a superb education that they can apply directly to the business world. Because many DBA programs share the same foundations as MBA programs, the Doctor of Business Administration degree tends to be more popular among professionals with master’s degrees in other fields, such as technology or medicine. In the business world, many companies consider both degrees to be somewhat interchangeable, depending on the skills and background of the graduate, though the DBA is rapidly gaining popularity.

PhD Programs Emphasize Business Quantitative Methods

Contemporary business schools have recognized the importance of solid numbers when making difficult decisions. You can only shoot from the hip so many times before you miss–and in the business world, missing can be extremely costly. Many PhD in Business Administration and DBA degree programs have begun offering an emphasis in business quantitative methods. There are even a few programs dedicated completely to quantitative methods. These graduate degrees walk the line between business administration and statistics. Intuition and interpretation are important, but when it comes down to it, the big decisions should be backed up by the hard, numerical data.

DBA and PhD in Business Administration: Common Career Paths

Though casual observers might assume that most professionals with a PhD in Business Administration head directly for Wall Street, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows a broader range of career options for business administrators. In fact, the adoption of best management practices across most major industries has created strong demand for highly skilled, experienced managers. Recent BLS reports highlight five specific fields where a business administration doctorate can provide a competitive advantage.

  • Administrative Services. In broad business terms, business administration professionals often find themselves working similar jobs that translate from one field to another. Human resource directors, contract administrators, and facility managers count for just a handful of specialties that fall under this broad category.
  • Financial Managers. Wall Street critics blamed the 2008 financial meltdown on some of the profits-above-all training received by MBA candidates in the 1990s. Most schools offering a PhD in Business Administration require students to take a broader view of markets and of business ethics. By focusing on business quantitative methods, these schools prepare students to lead revitalized companies in the banking and insurance sectors. Industry surveys reveal that over a third of graduate business administration program participants enter this line of work.
  • Information Technology. Some of Silicon Valley’s biggest employers recently appealed to Congress for access to additional H1-B visas, so they can hire job seekers with business doctorate degrees from abroad. While nobody can predict long term hiring trends, the IT sector’s strong need for highly trained managers makes a DBA or PhD in Business Administration even more attractive to engineers and other technicians holding master’s degrees.
  • Marketing and Sales Management. The Internet has forced many marketing and advertising agencies to restructure themselves into global risk managers. Marketing managers direct teams of sometimes unpredictable creatives and model the costs and benefits of launching various types of campaigns for clients.
  • Medical and Health Services. The complexity of the healthcare industry has created a whole new market for skilled business administration professionals. Some medical practitioners choose to pursue a DBA to prepare for expansion and to personally manage complex insurance claims and financial affairs in their practices. Most doctors simply seek out highly trained practice managers to handle patient care, marketing, and money matters in their offices. Healthcare systems and insurance companies also seek graduates of business administration doctorate programs.

Beyond those five career paths, a PhD in Business Administration can open doors to even more job opportunities. Most business school admissions counselors agree that doctorate program candidates with strong career goals tend to complete programs faster while achieving greater long term success. If you’re still trying to decide which job ladder to climb, there are a good deal of career assessment tools available online that can help you discover some appealing opportunities and help you choose the doctorate degree that’s right for you.

How to Choose a PhD or DBA Program

Selecting the right school from a growing list of PhD or DBA programs can be challenging, even for experienced business leaders. Doctorate degree programs tend to be more competitive than MBA programs, with even fewer slots available for students focused on business quantitative methods. Following a set of three crucial steps can match your learning interests with the right business schools. The below steps are outlined for a PhD, but are just as applicable to DBA programs.

Step 1: Focus on what works now and what you need for the future.

Assessments and organization projects tend to come easy for business administration professionals. Still, the process of forming a short list of PhD programs requires a strong set of filters based on your current work/life balance and the career goals you have set for yourself. Understanding each prospective graduate business administration programs requires weighing the overall cost of attendance with the convenience and benefits of a particular college or university. By using the first step of the process to add potential schools to your list without digging too deep, you can make it easier to investigate and eliminate programs later on.

Goal: Compile a list of campus-based and online PhD programs that meet your requirements for program cost, convenience, and benefits.

PhD Program Costs

  • Measuring total cost of attendance. Tuition is just one part of the equation to consider when selecting potential PhD programs. Ask about the costs of required textbooks, recommended computing platforms, and required software. Weigh the options of commuting to campus against any technology expenses required to participate in online PhD programs.
  • Employer assistance. Depending on your long-term career intentions, you may be able to partner with your current employer to offset some of your education expenses. For instance, many Fortune 500 companies reimburse key employees for some costs related to earning online PhD degrees at partner institutions. Some employers permit employees to use computers, networks, or office space for student projects that ultimately benefit the company.
  • Scholarships and financial aid. Prospective business schools may entice you to their PhD programs with promises of scholarships, grants, or access to low-cost loans. Weigh the amount of proposed aid against the total cost of attendance when making your first list of schools.

PhD Program Convenience

  • Choosing the right learning style. A PhD program out of sync with your personal learning style may cause you to delay or to abandon your degree. Finding an institution that allows you to learn effectively increases your convenience by reducing the time it take to earn a doctorate.
  • Avoiding scheduling conflicts. Online PhD programs have become popular among busy executives and managers who need to balance school with work and family commitments. Campus-based programs with convenient locations and class times can also find their way onto your list.

PhD Program Benefits

  • Career guidance and placement. Although many MBA students compete for prestigious internships, participants in PhD programs often build on already-established careers and connections. Therefore, the most effective doctorate programs offer access to high-level conferences, networking events, and job placement services that cater to experienced administrators. Include schools with strong presence in your preferred industry.
  • Alumni network. Although the Internet has made it easy to grow contacts with prospective employers, few things open as many doors as shared college connections. As online PhD programs become more popular among busy professionals, colleges and universities have translated traditional alumni gatherings into online bulletin boards and social networks that enhance the graduate school experience. Look for common educational backgrounds among leaders in your chosen field to add more prospective schools to your list.
  • Access to best practices and thought processes. Graduate business administration programs, especially those focused on quantitative methods, emphasize measuring results and sharing success. This practical development method allows future leaders to make faster, more effective decisions based on sound information. Search professional journals and trade magazines for evidence of a prospective school’s contribution to thought leadership in your profession.

Resources. By combining online research with personal conversations, you can build a strong list of prospective business PhD programs:

  • Business Associations. Networking events, conferences, and trade gatherings can offer tremendous insight into the quality of graduate business administration programs. Try to spot connections between prominent professionals in your chosen field.
  • U.S. News & World Report. The newsmagazine’s editors devote an issue each year along with a significant portion of their website to ranking the best PhD programs in the United States.
  • Internet Research. provides a comprehensive guide to PhD programs, with special attention to the growing number of online doctoral degree programs.

Step 2: Shorten your list of prospective PhD programs.

A second look at your short list allows you to dig deeper, learning more about the PhD programs that can advance your career most effectively. At this point in the process you can spend more time investigating the schools that made the first list, eliminating them as you discover limitations or other elements that don’t fit your search.

Goal: Remove PhD programs from your list that don’t match your expectations or your industry’s hiring needs.

Letting Strong PhD Programs Rise to the Top

Many college admissions officers suggest a strategy of eliminating schools from your longer list, rather than rigorously examining every potential candidate. This allows you to focus more of your time reviewing the graduate business administration programs that fit you the best.

  • Study the competitive landscape. If a favorite college or university does not cater to the hiring trends of your chosen industry, eliminate it from your list in favor of PhD programs that can help you build marketable skills.
  • Match prospective schools to your exam results. Students tend to perform better in graduate business administration programs when they exceed the average GMAT or GRE scores of their cohort.
  • Review prerequisites. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Respected online PhD programs offer the same rigorous training as campus-based programs, just in a different learning environment. Avoid programs that make earning a doctorate degree seem too effortless or easy, since those schools often carry little clout with hiring officers.

Resources. Having narrowed your list, you can spend more time investigating each PhD program.

  • Request information online. Using a school matching system like, you can obtain detailed information from accredited PhD programs in business administration.
  • Consult standardized test guides. Testing providers and exam prep companies track the score ranges of schools’ incoming classes. Matching your strengths and weaknesses to those of typical students in a PhD program can help develop informed school profiles.
  • Connect with prospective instructors. Prominent instructors at many graduate business administration programs often invite interaction via e-mail or blogs. In addition, admissions officers can arrange brief interviews with professors who can discuss their teaching styles and philosophies.

Step 3: Apply to PhD programs that offer the total package.

During the previous step, you will have eliminated the schools that lack one or more of the qualities you’re looking for in a doctorate degree program. Now, you can go even deeper, ensuring that you spend application fees only on the schools most likely to accept you and to help you further your career.

Goal: Narrow your list to just a few graduate business administration programs that meet all of the requirements you listed at the beginning of your search.

At this point in the search, many prospective doctorate candidates discover that online business administration programs compete well against traditional, campus-based programs. The strongest schools complement the online learning experience with regional gatherings and virtual networking events. Through real-time interaction and constant online connections, students in online PhD programs find themselves building powerful personal and professional relationships that enhance formal learning.

Resources. Reaching out to current and former students can help you confirm your choice of prospective PhD programs.

  • Alumni publications and student newspapers. Class notes in alumni magazines or on school Web sites chronicle the success stories of recent grads, while highlighting distinguished careers of former doctorate students.
  • Search engines and social networking sites. Business administration professionals often post updates about their work and about their PhD program research.
  • Campus calendars and association Web sites. Check out the events and guest lectures offered by student groups and doctorate programs. Online PhD programs offer their own podcasts, live chats, and teleseminars that leverage their ability to connect students to global speakers.

Using Your Doctorate in Business Administration for Career Advancement

A DBA or PhD in Business Administration not only enhances your standing with hiring officers, it forces you to build a reputation among business leaders and academics. Most graduate business administration programs require participants to publish articles, books, or research findings that involve real world solutions to company problems. Some program participants choose to use their current employers as the setting for advanced research. Others find willing research subjects among small to medium businesses that require strategic assistance.

Many successful alumni report that the connections they made during graduate degree programs helped them find jobs later in their careers. Collaborative projects force students to build relationships with team members of different backgrounds and skill sets. The immediacy and flexibility of online doctorate programs amplifies the business school experience for many participants, especially for students already working in management roles.


  • Beta Gamma Sigma Exchange, Myths and facts about doctoral studies
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, Administrative Services Managers
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, Advertising, Marketing, Promotions, Public Relations, and Sales Managers
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, Computer Scientists and Database Administrators
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, Financial Managers
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical and Health Services Managers
  • BusinessWeek, Business PhD Applications on the Rise, by Alison Damast
  • Inside Higher Ed, GRE vs. GMAT, by Scott Jaschlick
  • The New York Times, Is It Time to Retrain B-Schools?, by Kelley Holland
  • The Wall Street Journal, Weighing Price and Value When Picking a College, by Sue Shellenbarger
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