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.)

Let’s break down the ins and outs of a doctoral degree.

Should You Study for a Doctoral Degree?

Earning a doctoral degree requires a considerable investment of time, energy, and money. For many, it’s well worth the effort since doctoral degrees can lead to significant paychecks. The title recognizes doctors as experts in their field. This can open doors to many higher paying positions and tremendous opportunities for professional advancement.

Before you can apply for your doctoral degree you need to have already completed an undergraduate degree. Most doctoral degree programs also require that you complete a relevant master’s degree to qualify. However there are a few programs that you can enroll into immediately after you’ve earned your bachelor’s. Some programs even require that applicants complete a certain amount of volunteer work to qualify. Check the program prerequisites in advance so you can meet the requirements.

Earning a Doctoral Degree

Once you enroll in your doctorate program you will have to select your core and elective classes. On completing the required courses and prerequisites your program, you have to answer a comprehensive exam. This exam qualifies you for the next stage of your doctoral degree.

At this point, you dive into a world consisting purely of research. You will normally spend some time reviewing current literature in your field. You then pick a topic that interests you and submit a dissertation prospectus, which is essentially a research proposal. Once approved, you conduct your own research relating to the topic, with the support from your academic supervisors. These are usually experts in the field who have similar interests as your chosen topic.

Once you have completed your research, you produce and submit a dissertation that highlights what you’ve discovered. You will explain your research and defend it against questions. You will earn the title of ‘Dr’ only after you’ve completed all the prerequisites and defended your dissertation.

Types of Doctoral Degrees

There are several types of doctoral degrees.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

This degree is an advanced academic qualification awarded across all academic subjects. Schools award it to students for their theoretical knowledge in a specific subject. So someone could earn a PhD in Literature, for example, and be referred to as a Doctor of Literature. 

Professional Doctorates

Another type of doctoral degree is professional doctorates. These are typically awarded to students who have completed advanced practical skills relevant to a specific professional practice.

These are three examples doctoral degrees under the second category:

  • EdD or Doctor of Education is a professional doctorate awarded to experienced teachers and other specialists in education.
  • MD or Doctor of Medicine is a higher education degree relevant to medical doctors.
  • DPH or Doctor of Public Health focuses on creating policy and programs in the public health sector.

Whether or not to pursue a doctorate degree is a huge decision. On one hand, you are setting up your future by learning skills that few people possess. On the other hand, it means investing even more time than you already have into your education. Only you can decide whether it’s worth it or not depending on your professional goals.

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