Doctorate Degree: What Is a Doctorate or Doctoral Degree?

Doctor having a conversation about what Is a Doctorate or Doctoral Degree

Maybe you recently completed a master’s degree program and want to take your education — and your earning potential — to a higher level. Maybe you’re a high school senior who’s planning on a future career that requires you to hold a doctorate degree, such as becoming a psychiatrist or surgeon. Or, maybe you’re currently working toward your master’s or bachelor’s degree, and you want to know more about whether continuing your education is worthwhile.

Whichever stage you’ve reached in your academic or professional career, this guide will help answer the crucial question: What is a doctorate or doctoral degree, and is earning one the right choice for you? It covers all of your FAQs about doctorate degree programs, including answers to questions like:

  • Is a doctorate degree the same as a PhD?
  • Are there different kinds of doctorate degrees?
  • What are the stages of earning your doctoral degree?
  • How much does a doctorate degree increase your earning potential?

If you’ve ever wondered about the answers to any of these questions, read on to discover the basics about doctoral degrees and PhD programs.

What is a Doctorate Degree?

A doctorate degree — also called a doctoral degree — is the most rigorous and advanced type of degree that a student can earn in any field of study. Regardless of which academic area is being studied, successful completion of a doctorate program demands years of intensive research — and the ability to contribute meaningful new data, solutions, theories, or analyses to the field. Professionals who obtain doctorate degrees have extensive experience and are regarded as authorities in their specialty areas. They are frequently sought after for consulting, management, or research positions in a variety of industries. By earning a doctorate degree, you can greatly enhance the power of your resume — and with it, your earning potential.

For more details on that subject, skip ahead to the section about average salaries for students who obtain doctorate degrees. Or, continue reading for the answer to one of our most frequently asked questions: is a doctorate degree the same as a PhD?

Doctorate vs. PhD Degrees

What’s the difference between a doctoral degree and a PhD? Put simply, a PhD or Doctor of Philosophy is a doctorate degree — but only one of several varieties. Read on to learn more about the major categories of doctoral degrees and some important ways in which they differ from one another.

Types of Doctoral Degrees

You already know that there are different types of graduate and undergraduate degrees, such as a Bachelor of Arts (BA) versus a Bachelor of Science (BS), or a Master of Business Administration (MBA) versus a Master of Public Administration (MPA). A similar idea applies to doctoral degrees, which are also divided into several categories. Namely, there are two different types of doctorate degrees that students should be aware of:

  1. Professional doctorate degrees
  2. Doctor of Philosophy degrees

The sections below will compare and contrast the important differences between these two-degree types.

Professional Doctorate Degrees

Professional doctoral degrees are also referred to as terminal or applied doctoral degrees. In contrast to PhD degrees, which the following section discusses in further detail, professional degrees place more of an emphasis on real-world problem-solving and the practical application of knowledge, as opposed to exploring new advancements or ideas in research and analysis.

Professional degrees are essential for those who wish to pursue certain career paths. For example, in addition to meeting other academic and professional criteria like passing the bar exam, you will need to obtain a Juris Doctor (JD) degree if your goal is to become an attorney. In addition to the JD for lawyers, here are four additional examples of professional or applied doctorate degrees:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Degrees

This category includes the Doctor of Philosophy or PhD degree, which is applicable to various fields, such as holding a PhD in economics or psychology. However, it also includes various degrees whose titles and abbreviations may sound less familiar. For instance, did you know that a Doctor of Arts is actually a type of PhD, despite being called a DA? Here are four other examples of PhD degrees:

In contrast to a professional degree, such as a JD or DPH degree, a PhD is intensely research-oriented with a strong focus on presenting new knowledge or theories via the student’s dissertation. This is also the reason why PhD programs which have nothing to do with “philosophy” in the conventional sense are described using this term.

woman studying on her computer to  to obtain a doctorate

Steps To Obtain a Doctorate

Depending on factors like the format and pace of the program, it may require anywhere from three to eight years to obtain a doctorate degree, as the section below discusses in further detail. So what will you actually be doing as a student throughout that time?

To make your academic journey manageable and help ensure you remain focused on your goals, it’s important to have a clear road map to success. When comparing programs, it’s helpful to have an understanding of the four basic stages to earning your doctorate degree:

  1. Complete undergraduate and graduate degree programs to gain the prerequisite knowledge, training, skills, and qualifications you will need to enter your chosen doctoral program.
  2. Research and compare different options in detail, then apply to a doctorate program that’s aligned with your professional goals.
  3. Complete all of your coursework requirements.
  4. Complete an original dissertation on your chosen topic of research.

Read on to learn more about these key steps to earning a doctorate degree — and what will be required of you at each checkpoint. Or, if you’re ready to apply now, get in touch with our friendly team of enrollment counselors to learn more about the coursework and criteria for your program.

Step 1: Complete Your Undergraduate and Master’s Degree

Doctorate programs, which are growing more sought-after by students and employers alike, have rigorous and competitive application requirements. In addition to meeting other criteria which vary by institution and major, students will also generally need to possess a graduate or undergraduate degree, such as a bachelor’s degree, from an accredited college or university.

If you’re at the beginning of your academic journey and are applying to undergraduate programs, you should strongly consider selecting a program that is directly relevant to the master’s and/or doctorate program you intend to eventually enroll in — for example, mapping out a career in healthcare that begins with your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and culminates with a doctorate, like your Doctor of Clinical Psychology (PsyD). However, it’s also possible to change careers if you’ve already completed your undergraduate degree.

With online classes and accelerated coursework, plus the option to transfer credits, National University provides the framework for you to launch or advance a rewarding career — no matter which stage of your journey you’ve reached. Explore our accredited master’s degree programs and bachelor’s degree programs for graduate and undergraduate students.

Step 2: Apply to Doctorate Programs

A doctorate program is a major investment in terms of the time, effort, and dedication required to reach your goals. It’s important to select a program that is not only reputable and accredited, but also, one that provides the support and flexibility you need in terms of scholarships and financial aid options; is designed to help you complete your degree at an accelerated pace; features resources for U.S. military service members and veterans, which you can learn more about here; and offers the option to complete portions of your doctorate coursework online.

National University offers three WASC-accredited doctoral programs in the fields of healthcare, psychology, and education, which you can read more about below. For additional information, contact our admissions office online or explore the following program pages.

  • Doctor of Clinical Psychology Program (PsyD) — Students in our PsyD program complete a total of 180 program units covering coursework like Group Dynamics, Informed Treatment Planning, and Psychopharmacology. The PsyD program at National University is comprised of Ethnographic Placement, Beginning Practicum, Advanced Practicum, and Predoctoral Internship components culminating in a dissertation, and is designed to prepare students for roles as consultants, clinicians, evaluators, program administrators, and more.
  • Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice (DNAP) — The Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice, or DNAP degree, is a fast-paced, three-year hybrid program that integrates online coursework with a 15-month didactic residency at NU’s Fresno campus. The DNAP degree program at National University prepares students for challenging roles in anesthesia care delivery via coursework like Anesthesia Pharmacology, Principles of Anesthesia, and Anesthesia Physiology, along with clinical rotations and a capstone project.
  • Ed.D. in Organizational Innovation — Organizational innovation is an exciting academic field that looks at how to design and implement visionary solutions to a variety of challenges facing businesses, government entities, and other organizations. Coursework includes Innovation Theories and Application, Knowledge Management for Innovation, and Emerging Issues and Trends, concluding with a culminating project.

Step 3: Complete Program Coursework

In a doctoral degree program, students will typically complete a blend of core or required courses, seminars, practicums, labs, and electives, ultimately culminating in a dissertation or capstone project. Of course, as with any bachelor’s or master’s degree program, the specific nature and focus of your coursework is dependent on your area of study. For example, students in the Ed.D. program at National University complete mandatory courses in innovation theory and methods of inquiry, whereas students in our PsyD program are required to complete courses in subjects such as psychopathology, clinical theory, and multicultural awareness.

Whether it consists primarily of online or in-person study, you can expect your doctorate coursework to be rigorous. By this stage of your academic career, you’ll have completed your basic education and training and moved onto more challenging and scholarly areas of research, tackling complex real-world problems and presenting innovative, potentially even experimental solutions.

Step 4: Complete Your Dissertation

Most doctorate programs culminate in a major research project known as a dissertation, in which the student contributes to the scholarly body of work in their field by presenting their own original theories, research, or data analysis, or by building meaningfully upon the work of previous scholars and researchers. A dissertation usually takes the form of a written paper ranging anywhere in length from 100 to 300 pages, depending on the volume of data and complexity of the subject matter.

How Long Does it Take to Earn a Doctorate?

The time it takes to finish a doctorate program and earn your degree varies. However, most doctorate programs require anywhere from three to eight years to complete. The exact length of time depends on factors like the structure of your degree program; whether or not you decide to work and/or take time off between any of your courses; whether you attend your program on a full-time or part-time basis; the amount of time it takes you to finish researching, writing, and editing your dissertation; and, of course, which degree you’re pursuing.

At National University, our flexibly scheduled yet aggressively paced programs enable students to complete their education sooner — and advance along their chosen career paths faster. For example, our PsyD program may be completed in five years, while our Ed.D. and DNAP programs may be completed in as little as just three years, including options to complete portions of the program online while also integrating hands-on experience like the residency component of our accredited DNAP degree.

salary expectations with the face of a one hundred dollar bill.

Salary Expectations for a Doctorate Degree

Pursuing a doctorate degree will expose you to new challenges and place you on the cutting edge of exciting new research in your field — and from a financial perspective, your degree will also help you to qualify for higher paid, more specialized positions. A doctorate degree or other advanced degree can also help you stand out favorably from other job applicants. So just how much can you expect to earn with a doctoral degree, depending on your chosen field and career?

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), holding a doctoral degree is correlated with increased earnings, as you can see in the following table. For example, the BLS reports that holders of doctorate degrees earned median weekly pay of approximately $1,900, compared to that of master’s degree holders (about $1,570) or the holders of bachelor’s and associate’s degrees (about $1,330 and $960, respectively). While pursuing a doctorate degree requires an investment in your education, it also offers a worthwhile return in the form of enhanced lifelong earning power — especially if you are able to qualify for scholarships and/or financial aid.

Ready to Take the Next Step in Your Career?

A doctorate degree enhances your marketability when applying for a wide range of jobs, qualifying you for complex managerial and leadership roles in fields ranging from medicine to psychology to engineering to law. Challenge yourself and elevate your career by taking the first steps toward a doctoral degree today. Contact our admissions office to learn more about the doctorate programs we offer and how they are accredited, or apply online today.

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