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Article Sources


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  • Lifetime Earnings Soar with Education, ThoughtCo.,, accessed August 2018
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  • Postsecondary Certifications and Degrees Conferred, National Center for Education Statistics,, accessed August 2018
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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.

  1. Earning a doctorate can qualify individuals for the highest positions in academic and non-academic settings.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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:

First year: Students typically focus on completing coursework related to a preliminary exam, and they may even attempt a preliminary exam. There are usually weekly graduate student and research seminars to attend.

Second year: Students should expect to be complete all of the preliminary exams during this year. This is also the time to select a research adviser. Students continue to attend graduate student and research seminars.

Year three: The primary focus at this time is on research projects and the development of a prospectus for a dissertation. The third year of doctoral degree requirements may also include a comprehensive oral exam.

Fourth year: Students typically spend their time on research and coursework in their area of specialty. Sometimes, a doctoral degree program can take more than four years to complete and involves completing and defending a dissertation. Also known as a thesis, a dissertation is a large research project that offers doctorate students the opportunity to select a question or proposition and present their findings. It is designed to evaluate the student's independent research skills.

Types of Doctoral Degrees

There are several different types of doctoral degrees available. Some of the most common ones include:

  • Doctor of Medicine (M.D.): An M.D. is the most traditional educational path for individuals who would like to become a medical doctor or physician. It is considered one of the highest levels of medical degrees.
  • Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.): The Ph.D. is the most common type of doctorate awarded in the majority of academic fields. These types of doctorates involve academic research that is worthy of being published in peer-reviewed journals. Ph.D. degree programs are usually recommended for individuals who wish to land teaching or research positions.
  • Doctor of Education (Ed.D.): Individuals who have the desire to pursue a leadership role in an education, government, or nonprofit setting may benefit from earning an Ed.D. An Ed.D. may also be useful for individuals in the business industry who focus on improving organizations through education.
  • Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.): Pursuing a Psy.D. may be a wise option for individuals who are interested in the hands-on practice of psychology and do not wish to spend a great deal of time on research. Psy.D. programs focus on clinical practice and prepare students to practice psychology in a variety of clinical environments.
  • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA): A DBA is designed for business professionals who would like to prepare themselves for the highest levels of management and further their careers. Students in DBA programs may learn business skills and techniques that can allow them to succeed in a senior leadership role.
  • Doctor of Public Health (DrPH): A DrPH is intended for individuals who already hold a Master of Public Health or an equivalent degree and hope to pursue a leadership position in public health. DrPH programs focus on the practical application of public health.

Mentoring for Ph.D. Candidates

Mentoring is a crucial part of doctoral study whether the student is pursuing the Ph.D. or another doctoral degree. These relationships are important, as the faculty who first teach and then form the candidate's committee usually also write the letters of recommendation that eventually can help the candidate get a job. In essence, the candidate become associated with the prestige of the scholars who serve on the committee and write on his or her behalf.

Online Doctoral Degrees Available

Doctoral degrees are offered in a wide range of academic disciplines. The following degree types are offered through the schools we feature on WorldWideLearn:

Art & Design
        Hospitality & Culinary
          Law & Criminal Justice
            Liberal Arts & Humanities
                Social Science
                  Technology & IT

                    Financial Aid

                    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.

                    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.

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