Are you considering undertaking study to obtain a doctorate degree? The right doctorate degree could help you secure your dream career or could boost your salary. Someone who has earned a doctorate degree can expect to earn between 9 to 24 percent or more compared to someone with a Master’s degree.
Before embarking on your next intellectual adventure, however, you should first understand the doctorate degree definition, what job opportunities it affords, and what skills students acquire. This way, you’ll be in the best position to determine if a doctorate degree is right for you.
So what is a doctorate degree? A doctoral degree is generally considered the highest degree one can obtain at university. Often, a doctorate is referred to as a “terminal” degree, meaning it’s the highest obtainable degree in a given field.
Why People Are Called Doctors
Once someone earns a doctorate, they also obtain the title “doctor” or “Dr.” If you chose, you can request people refer to you as Doctor and you can use “Dr.” on forms instead of Mr., Mrs., or Ms. This goes to show how much respect a doctorate confers.
Ultimately, a doctorate degree allows someone to obtain a mastery of a subject. Many of the most esteemed professions in society, such as a medical doctor or being a professor, require a doctorate degree.
We’ll cover professions that require a doctorate, but first let’s step back and look at how the university system is structured. This way, you’ll better understand where a doctoral degree fits in the higher education system.
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Undergraduate Studies, Graduate Studies, and Doctoral Degrees
First, universities typically divide students into undergraduate and graduate students. Undergraduate students may complete an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in a certain field of study. Graduate students will typically complete a Master’s degree, a Doctorate Degree, or both.
In the United States, undergraduate students are usually encouraged to study a wide range of topics besides their major. An undergrad might study business as their primary focus, but may also take classes in anthropology, accounting, economics, math, and more.
Generally speaking, graduate studies are more focused.
Graduate Studies are More Focused Than Undergraduate
If you enroll in graduate school, in either a master’s or a doctoral program, your studies are typically much more focused than your undergraduate studies. A Master’s degree typically lasts for 2 years, and most if not all of the coursework will be focused on a particular subject, such as business, accounting, math, education, international relations, or another subject.
Many but not all master’s programs are focused on careers and professional development. A Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) prepares students for work in the business world. Some doctorate degrees focus on applied practice, while other doctoral programs focus on academic research. When selecting a doctoral program, it’s important to decide if you’re more interested in applied practice or academic research.
If you complete a PhD, most if not all your studies will focus on your chosen field. You might study anthropology while pursuing a PhD in Business. However, your anthropology studies will likely relate back to business. For example, you may try to increase your understanding of different cultures so you can better understand how businesses operate in different countries.
Ultimately, both master’s degrees and doctoral degrees typically focus on a single subject. However, there are important differences between these graduate degrees.
Grad School Explained: How Do I Obtain a Doctoral Degree?
Graduate students typically complete a Master’s degree (i.e. MBA), a doctorate, or both. A master’s degree is typically a two-year degree that involves a considerable amount of coursework (in some countries, such as the UK, one-year master degrees are common).
A Doctorate degree typically requires 3-5 years to complete, and often, much of the research and work is self-directed. This means students spend less time in class and more time working on their own, or alongside a small number of professors.
Before completing a PhD, many students first obtain a Master’s degree. However, obtaining a Master’s degree is not always a prerequisite for obtaining a doctoral degree.
Some universities and programs will require students to obtain a Master’s before enrolling in a PhD Program. Some schools require you to complete a Master’s while enrolled in a PhD program. And still other universities will let students work towards and complete a PhD without a Master’s. Most programs do require that students have an undergraduate degree, but some may allow you to enroll without one.
Either way, the doctorate degree is often considered a terminal degree. This means it’s the highest degree you can obtain in most fields. A Master’s degree is typically not considered a terminal degree. While it’s an advanced graduate degree and may prepare you for many professions, you can still increase your expertise by going on to earn a doctorate degree.
Let’s look at some of the many doctorate degrees available. As you’ll see, the doctorate degree definition can include many different degrees.
Types of Doctoral Degrees
There are many different types of doctoral degrees. Perhaps the most well-known degrees are Doctorates of Philosophy (PhD) and Doctor of Medicine (MD) degrees. Most medical doctors in hospitals and clinics have MD degrees. Meanwhile, most professors at universities have PhDs.
While both degrees carry the title “doctor,” the structure of these doctoral programs are actually quite different. Further, there are other types of doctoral degrees.
Let’s take a look at some doctoral degrees common in the United States. Keep in mind, however, that degrees may vary by country.
Professional Medical Doctorate Degrees
First up, let’s look at the different doctoral degrees obtained by medical professionals. Often, these degrees are designed for people who want to practice medicine. However, a medical doctorate degree may also prepare a student for medical research and similar activities.
- Doctor of Medicine (MD): Many doctors at hospitals and in clinics are “medical doctors” and have completed medical school, which involves classroom and on the job study. Some doctors go on to further study specialties, such as surgery.
- Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO): Another medical degree that allows a doctor to practice medicine. Students who study Osteopathic Medicine often take a more “holistic” approach to medicine.
- Doctor of Pharmacy: Allows someone to become a pharmacist and fill prescriptions, engage in advanced research, and carry out other pharmacy-related duties.
- Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD): Allows degree holders to practice as a dentist.
- Doctor of Optometry: Allows one to practice as an optometrist, fitting people for glasses and caring for their vision.
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Doctorate of Philosophy Degrees Explained
Many professors and researchers complete a Doctorate of Philosophy, or PhD. A Doctorate of Philosophy is often considered a “research degree.” This means much of the work you complete while pursuing a PhD, you will conduct a lot of research rather than attend class. PhD holders often work to advance knowledge.
Often, the research is self-directed. Typically, students are expected to develop a “thesis” or “dissertation”. The PhD student will put together a proposal outlining an important area of research. Through research, a student may try to answer an important question, for example, “did the gold standard contribute to the Great Depression?” or “do anti-oxidants lower the risk of cancer?”
Students will have to conduct research to answer their question or support their hypothesis. This may involve in-depth reviews of literature and studies, scientific experiments, collecting data, and other advanced methods of information gathering. The work involved is often quite extensive.
A student may conduct research for three years or more while writing a dissertation paper that summaries their findings and supports their argument. Some PhD students take seven or more years to complete their degree.
Once the dissertation is written, the student must defend it. This means faculty members inside and outside of the program will review the dissertation and then challenge the assertions. The student must then defend the paper. Sound stressful? Completing a PhD typically takes a lot of work.
While PhDs are among the most popular types of doctoral programs, they are not the only doctorate degrees available.
Other Types of Doctoral Degrees
While PhDs and medical doctorates are common, they are far from the only doctoral degrees. Let’s briefly look at some other common doctorate degrees, what they entail, and also what types of careers they may prepare you for.
Doctorate of Business Administration (DBA)
These days, many business leaders are completing Doctor of Business Administration degrees. Like PhDs, a DBA typically focuses on research. Often, your studies involve a lot of self-direction. Usually, a DBA takes 2 or 3 years to complete. Some programs require a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) or a similar Master’s degree before enrolling along with relevant career experience.
A Doctorate in Business Administration may prepare you for work in academia, such as teaching at a business school. Some business schools, however, prefer PhDs. Often, DBAs focus on applied practice rather than theory. Many DBA graduates go on to work in industry, taking up jobs as senior analysts at companies and think tanks, or working in similar roles.
Either way, a DBA prepares you to be an expert in your chosen field.
Doctorate of Engineering Science
A Doctorate of Engineering Science (Eng.Sc.D.) is somewhat similar to a DBA in that your research and coursework typically focuses more on practice rather than theory. Many people who pursue a Eng.Sc.D. are established professionals with a successful career already under their belts. By pursuing a Eng.Sc.D., these experts hope to further their career and to prepare themselves for leadership roles.
Rather than completing a dissertation, some Eng.Sc.D programs instead ask that you build a portfolio of engineering projects. Typically, you can expect to spend three years or more completing your Doctorate of Engineering Science.
Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)
Similar to a DBA and Eng.Sc.D., a Doctor of Education focuses on applied practice rather than theory. Many people who complete Ed. D. degrees are teachers, education administrators, or working in a similar role. Ed. D. holders often have a deep passion for teaching and education and want to apply their skills in administration or the classroom.
Many education doctoral programs require students to first have a master’s in education or a similar degree. Once you’re admitted, you typically take some additional coursework, but much of your studies will focus on research. You may conduct research in curriculum theory, leadership, and other education-related topics.
Doctor of Jurisprudence
Lawyers typically obtain a Doctor of Jurisprudence before practicing a law. This law degree is also often called a Juris Doctor degree. It’s important to note, however, that J.D. holders typically do not use the title “doctor” even though their degree contains doctor in the name.
Regardless, obtaining a J.D. degree requires a lot of study. Students typically spend three years studying law. Much of their education is focused on coursework rather than advanced, self-directed research. That said, you may have to sit difficult exams and can expect to spend a lot of time in the library.
Enrolling in a Doctorate Degree
Interested in obtaining a doctorate degree? Whether you want to become a medical doctor, professor, or hold another position, a doctoral degree can open a lot of doors. However, gaining admission to a doctoral program often requires a lot of effort. Typically, you need:
- An undergraduate degree and a strong academic record (such as a high GPA).
- Letters of recommendation that attest to your professional and intellectual skills.
- For professional doctoral degrees, you may also need a strong resume and leadership track record.
- For academic/research degrees, previous research and/or articles published in academic journals could strengthen your application.
Funding is another serious consideration. Some doctoral programs in the United States, and especially PhD programs, provide free tuition and possibly a living stipend. However, you are typically expected to teach classes, assist professors, assist with university research, or otherwise contribute to the community.
Other doctoral programs require that you either pay for tuition yourself or else secure scholarships. Before enrolling in a doctoral program, consider costs and funding. Keep in mind, however, that while a doctorate may require an investment, it could also boost your career and increase your earnings.
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