Also known as a terminal degree, a doctoral degree is a graduate-level degree that is considered the highest one an individual can earn in any given field of study. Typical careers that require a doctorate include research positions as well as those where state licensing is a requirement.
Individuals may choose to earn a professional doctorate, which demonstrates mastery in the skills required for a certain career, or an academic doctorate, which concentrates on academics and original research. Programs may be available through traditional campus-based schools, online, or in a hybrid format.
Recent years have seen significant increases in the number of doctorates granted between the 2000-01 and 2015-16 academic years — 49 percent. Most degrees awarded at this level were in the health or legal fields, followed by doctorates in education, engineering, and biological and biomedical sciences.
4 Benefits of a Doctoral Degree
Those who choose to enter a doctoral degree program may motivated by a variety of personal and professional factors. Here are four compelling reasons to embark on the ultimate educational journey.
- Earning a doctorate can qualify individuals for the highest positions in academic and non-academic settings.
- Doctoral degrees can offer flexible career paths. For example, a doctoral degree holder who hopes to work in an academic setting may become a professor, department head, or researcher.
- Increased earning potential. The U.S. Census Bureau has found that doctoral degree holders earn $3.4 million during their working life, while individuals with a master's degree earn $2.5 million and those with a bachelor's degree earn $2.1 million.
- The opportunity to gain an unparalleled level of understanding in a specific field and to use that knowledge to make a positive difference in society.
Timeline of a Doctoral Degree Program
So how long does it take to earn a doctorate? Doctoral degree programs usually take four years to complete, after an individual has earned a bachelor's degree. Although requirements for online doctoral degrees vary from program to program, here's a typical timeline:
Types of Doctorates
There are several different types of doctoral degrees available. Some of the most common ones include:
Top Doctoral Programs
Selecting a doctoral degree program is an important decision. Therefore, prospective doctoral students should take the time to understand the rankings that take into account factors and specific data points that can help to determine the best doctorates. Rankings typically take into consideration tuition and fees, acceptance rates, and other factors of each school's programs.
To be included in these rankings, all schools must meet the following initial criteria for the specific degree being ranked.
1. Offer a doctoral degree program, either on campus, online, or via hybrid format
2. Have awarded at least one doctoral degree in 2015-16
3. Have reported data for all 12 ranking variables listed below
Based on those criteria, we ranked 655 colleges and universities in the United States on 12 criteria, using 2016-17 data from the National Center for Education Statistics:
- Program prominence, based on how many doctoral degrees were awarded in 2016-17
- Ratio of graduate students participating fully or partially in distance education to total enrollment
- Average in-state tuition for graduates
- Number of programs that are offered at the doctoral degree level on campus
- Number of programs that are offered at the doctoral degree level via distance education
- Credit offerings
- Placement for Completers
|Ranking||School Name||Average Graduate Tuition||Career Counseling||Payment Plan||Placement Services|
|1||Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus||$21,540||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|4||Texas Tech University||$5,832||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|5||Texas Woman's University||$4,852||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|6||University of Florida||$10,770||Yes||No||Yes|
|7||Arizona State University-Tempe||$11,406||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|8||The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio||$2,995||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|9||Texas A & M University-College Station||$6,552||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|10||University of Iowa||$9,785||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Pursuing a doctoral degree online is a large investment, but based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau's reports, it can be a wise one. Fortunately, there are various financial resources that may be available to help eligible students fund their doctorates. A few examples of these resources include scholarships, grants, and educational loans.
Why Accreditation Matters
Accredited online doctoral degree programs meet the strictest educational standards. By pursuing an accredited doctorate, students can trust the quality of the education they receive. In addition, they may be eligible for educational grants and loans and appear more attractive in the eyes of potential employers.
Fastest-Growing Occupations with Doctoral Degrees
Highest-Paying Occupations with Doctoral Degrees
What Comes After a Doctorate
After earning a doctoral degree, some individuals choose to become postdocs. A postdoc pursues additional research, training, or teaching in order to improve their skills and eventually begin a career in research or academia. They may be funded by a university or self-funded through grants.
Many doctoral degree holders receive a license in their state. A license formally recognizes that they have passed all the qualifications to practice their profession. Psychologists, optometrists, and physical therapists are examples of doctorate-level professionals that must hold a license.
Additionally, some individuals with doctoral degrees decide to immediately transition into their industry, join a start-up venture, or work in an administrative position at an educational institution or government agency.
Browse Doctorate Programs by Subject
WorldWideLearn.com features colleges and universities that offer online doctorate degree programs in the following disciplines:
|Art & Design||Technology|
|Education||Hospitality and Culinary Arts|
|Law and Criminal Justice||Liberal Arts and Humanities|
|Science and Math||Social Science|
- 2017 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov
- Graduate Degree Fields, The Condition of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cta.asp, accessed October 2018
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Lifetime Earnings Soar with Education, ThoughtCo., https://www.thoughtco.com/lifetime-earnings-soar-with-education-3321730, accessed August 2018
- Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/, accessed August 2018
- O*NET OnLine, https://www.onetonline.org/, accessed August 2018
- Postsecondary Certifications and Degrees Conferred, National Center for Education Statistics, https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cts.asp, accessed August 2018
- Structure of Postdoctoral Study, Cornell University, https://postdocs.cornell.edu/structure-postdoctoral-study, accessed August 2018