What Is A Doctoral Degree?

Graduating student with text: what's a doctoral degreeA doctoral degree, also known as a doctorate, is the highest academic degree you can earn in the US. Completing a doctoral degree indicates that you have achieved a specialized level of authority in your field. You will earn the title of ‘Doctor’ on completing this degree. (Therefore, not everyone with the title of Doctor refers to a medical professional.)

Have you completed your bachelor’s and master’s and are now looking to earn a doctoral degree? Or maybe you’re fresh out of high school but your dream job requires you to have a doctorate? Let’s break down the ins and outs of a doctoral degree.

What is a Doctoral Degree? 

Also known as a doctorate, doctoral degrees are usually the most advanced degree you can earn. Individuals who graduate with a doctorate tend to be the leading experts in their specific field, complete research, and/or publish their work. They will also be known as “Dr.” and can have “PhD” or another similar title with their name.

Depending on the field, these degrees can also be known as professional doctorates, applied doctorates, terminal doctorates, clinical doctorates, Ph.D. degrees, and research doctorates.


What Types of Doctoral Degrees Are There?

There are two types of doctoral degrees: professional doctorate degrees and doctor of philosophy degrees. These one you need will depend on your field and career goals.

Professional Doctorate Degrees

Professional doctorate degrees, also known as clinical doctorates and applied doctorates, are for practical skills that will assist within a specific setting within an industry. They can cover everything from business to nursing.

A few examples of professional doctoral degrees and their corresponding titles include

  • Chiropractic (D.C.M. or D.C)
  • Dentistry (D.D.S. or D.M.D.)
  • Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.)
  • Business Administration (D.B.A.)
  • Nursing Practice (D.N.P.)

Doctor of Philosophy Degrees

Doctor of Philosophy Degrees can also be called research doctorates or Ph.D. degrees. They are for students who want to go on to teach other students, complete research in their desired field, and publish their work. Many individuals who earn their Ph.D. will go into work at a university and subjects can include sociology, biology, math, and more.

How Can You Get a Doctorate?

Most doctorates will require a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, but this is not always the case. A law degree, for example, only requires you to have previously earned an undergraduate degree. Others, like a veterinary degree, may ask for you to have taken pre-veterinary classes.

They usually take at least four years to earn but can take up to eight. The length of time it will take a student depends on their concentration, degree type, and availability to attend courses (part time studies will, of course, take longer). And if you already have a master’s, you could actually complete your doctorate a bit faster.

The number of credit hours needed to complete a doctorate can vary quite a bit. Some programs may ask for just 58 hours, but others will request 120. This equals about 20 to 40 classes. The needed amount can also change from school to school and state to state. Accrediting bodies can influence the minimum credit requirement, too.

A Doctor of Chiropractic degree, for example, may take between three to four years to complete and require 90 credits.

Where Can You Get One?

Students can usually earn doctoral degrees, specifically doctor of philosophy degrees, by attending accredited universities that offer a program in their area of study.

However, if you’re going for a professional doctoral degree, you may have to go to a school that specializes in that concentration. For instance, if you want to become a veterinarian, you will have to enter a veterinarian school. Not every university will offer this program.

What Can You Do with a Doctorate?

Your area of study and type of doctorate you earn could greatly impact what you can do with your degree.

In many cases, professional doctoral degrees are required to enter a certain field and don’t necessarily make the individual a leading expert in their area of study. They are instead needed to become lawyers, veterinarians, and chiropractors, among other jobs.

Those with a Ph.D. often work as a professor at a university, complete research at the school, and submit their findings to publications and their peers. Students earning their Ph.D. aren’t limited to this of course, as a doctorate may be required for some advanced careers and government positions, too.

What Will You Learn and Complete in a Doctoral Program?

There are a few different areas of study and projects you will be expected to complete before you can earn your doctorate. As with other requirements, the type of degree you’re pursuing can greatly impact your experience.

Ph.D.’s and Some Professional Degrees

  • Research Core. Students pursuing these doctorates will initially have to take general classes, usually known as a “Research Core.” These classes will cover software and other tools you will need to complete your work, research methods, writing skills, applied statistics, colloquium, and more.
  • Major Courses. Just as with a bachelor’s degree and general education requirements, after you complete your research core courses, you can move onto classes in your major. Your area of study will of course impact the types of classes you take. More advanced courses may be more “hands on,” too.
  • Electives. You are also required to have some electives in order to earn a Ph.D. These classes can be chosen based on your career goals so you can better round out your education.
  • Dissertation. After all of the other classes are complete, students earning their doctorates can then begin work on their dissertation. Also known as a thesis, this is a document that summarizes research. You will often work closely with professors to complete this advanced project.

Ph.D. programs usually require a five-chapter dissertation. Dissertations for applied doctorates can ask for solutions to real life problems.

Other Professional Doctoral Degrees

Not every professional doctoral degree will follow the above formula for education requirements. Some will start you almost immediately in your desired concentration, preparing you for your intended career.

At schools for chiropractic medicine, for example, you will begin learning about patient care, anatomy, laboratory work, and other related areas in your first two years. The third and fourth years will be dedicated to spinal adjustment, clinical experience, and more.

 How Does a Doctorate Differ from an Associate’s, Bachelor’s, or Master’s?

An Associate’s Degree is a two-year degree offered by community colleges. The credits earned in these classes can usually be transferred towards a Bachelor’s degree.

A Bachelor’s Degree refers to a four year undergraduate program offered at colleges, universities, and some community colleges. They require core classes, a major, and electives.

A Master’s Degree is a degree earned after a bachelor’s, offered only by universities, and can take about two years to complete. Master’s are sometimes required for specific careers as they cover more advanced material.

How Much are Professional Doctorate and Doctor of Philosophy Degrees?

The cost of a professional doctorate or Ph.D. can vary wildly between school to school and program to program. A P.h.D. program can cost around $30,000 a year on average. The entirety of a veterinary program can be upwards of $200,000.

In addition to tuition, students should expect to pay for living expenses, books, and supplies.

Benefits: Why Should You Get Your Doctoral Degree?

Increase Your Earning Potential

Higher degrees tend to increase your earning potential in most fields. Since you are an expert in your field, your expected salary is more. Individuals can also have more options when it comes to careers.

Some Fields and Careers REquire it

Some fields and careers will require you to have a doctorate in order to work. A D.V.M. is absolutely required to be a veterinarian. Most universities are looking to hire professors who have earned a Ph.D., too.

You Have More Credibility and Authority

Those who hold Ph.D.’s are regularly writing material and research for publication for their peers. They are often contacted for advanced research, for news pieces who need a leading expert, and other situations where authority is needed.

They Have a Lower Unemployment Rate

Those who have a doctorate degree also tend to experience lower unemployment rates compared to those with associates, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees.

Are you considering going after your doctorate degree after you’ve earned your master’s? It helps to know your options ahead of time! Our College Match tool can help show you the top programs for future Ph.D. and professional doctorate degree holders!