- What is a PhD? – Introducing the Doctorate
What is a PhD?
Written by Mark Bennett
A PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) is a doctoral research degree and the highest level of academic qualification you can achieve. A PhD degree normally takes between three and four years of full-time work to complete. You'll research and write a thesis offering an original contribution to your subject.
This page explains what a PhD is, what it involves and what you need to know if you’re considering applying for a PhD research project , or enrolling on a doctoral programme .
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The definition of a PhD
The PhD can take on something of a mythic status. Are they only for geniuses? Do you have to discover something incredible? Does the qualification make you an academic? And are higher research degrees just for people who want to be academics?
Even the full title, ‘Doctor of Philosophy’, has a somewhat mysterious ring to it. Do you become a doctor? Yes, but not that kind of doctor. Do you have to study Philosophy? No (not unless you want to ).
So, before going any further, let's explain what the term 'PhD' actually means and what defines a doctorate.
What does PhD stand for?
PhD stands for Doctor of Philosophy. This is one of the highest level academic degrees that can be awarded. PhD is an abbreviation of the Latin term (Ph)ilosophiae (D)octor . Traditionally the term ‘philosophy’ does not refer to the subject but its original Greek meaning which roughly translates to ‘lover of wisdom’.
PhD vs doctorate
A doctorate is any qualification that awards a doctoral degree. In order to qualify for one you need to produce advanced work that makes a significant new contribution to knowledge in your field. Doing so earns you the title 'Doctor' – hence the name.
So, what is the difference between a PhD and a doctorate? A PhD is a type of doctorate .
The PhD is the most common type of doctorate. It is awarded in almost all subjects at universities around the world. Other doctorates tend to be more specialised or for more practical and professional projects.
Essentially, all PhDs are doctorates, but not all doctorates are PhDs.
How long is a PhD?
The typical length of a PhD is three to four years full-time, or five to six years part-time. How long it takes to complete your PhD will depend on the structure of your programme, your funding arrangements and any additional training you're required to complete.
Do you need a Masters to get a PhD?
Not necessarily. It's common for students in Arts and the Humanities to complete an MA (Master of Arts) before starting a PhD in order to acquire research experience and techniques. Students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) don't always need an MSc (Master of Science) to do a PhD as you'll gain training in lab techniques and other skills during your undergraduate degree.
Whether a Masters is a requirement for a PhD degree also varies by country. Australian PhDs may require a Masters as the equivalent of their own 'honours year' (where students work on research). US PhD programmes often include a Masters.
We have a whole guide dedicated to helping you decide whether a PhD without a Masters is the right route for you.
The origin of the PhD
Despite its name, the PhD isn't actually an Ancient Greek degree. Instead it's a much more recent development. The PhD degree as we know it was developed in nineteenth-century Germany, alongside the modern research university.
Higher education had traditionally focussed on mastery of an existing body of scholarship and the highest academic rank available was, appropriately enough, a Masters degree .
The PhD degree was brought in as the focus shifted more onto the production of new knowledge and ideas.
What can you get a PhD in?
Pretty much anything! A PhD is the most common type of doctorate, and it's awarded in almost all subjects. Many other doctorates are specific to particular subject areas. These include professional doctorates such as the Doctor of Engineering (EngD) and the Doctor of Education (EdD).
The PhD process – what does a PhD involve?
So, what's actually required to get a PhD? Unlike most Masters courses (or all undergraduate programmes), a PhD is a pure research degree. But that doesn’t mean you’ll just spend years locked away in a library or laboratory. In fact, the modern PhD is a diverse and varied qualification with many different components.
Whereas the second or third year of a taught degree look quite a lot like the first (with more modules and coursework at a higher level) a PhD moves through a series of stages.
A typical PhD involves:
- Carrying out a literature review (a survey of current scholarship in your field).
- Conducting original research and collecting your results .
- Producing a thesis that presents your conclusions.
- Writing up your thesis and submitting it as a dissertation .
- Defending your thesis in an oral viva voce exam.
If you're thinking of pursuing a PhD, here's a year-by-year snapshot of what you can expect during a typical full-time programme:
The first year of a PhD
The beginning of a PhD is all about finding your feet as a researcher and getting a solid grounding in the current scholarship that relates to your topic.
You’ll have initial meetings with your supervisor and discuss a plan of action based on your research proposal.
The first step in this will almost certainly be carrying out your literature review . With the guidance of your supervisor you’ll begin surveying and evaluating existing scholarship. This will help situate your research and ensure your work is original.
Your literature review will provide a logical jumping off point for the beginning of your own research and the gathering of results. This could involve designing and implementing experiments, or getting stuck into a pile of primary sources.
The year may end with an MPhil upgrade . This occurs when PhD candidates are initially registered for an MPhil degree and then ‘upgraded’ to PhD candidates upon making sufficient progress. You’ll submit material from your literature review, or a draft of your research findings and discuss these with members of your department in an upgrade exam . All being well, you’ll then continue with your research as a PhD student.
PhDs in other countries
The information on the page is based on the UK. Most countries follow a similar format, but there are some differences. In the USA , for example, PhD students complete reading assignments and examinations before beginning their research. You can find out more in our guides to PhD study around the world .
The second year of a PhD
Your second year will probably be when you do most of your core research . The process for this will vary depending on your field, but your main focus will be on gathering results from experiments, archival research, surveys or other means.
As your research develops, so will the thesis (or argument) you base upon it. You may even begin writing up chapters or other pieces that will eventually form part of your dissertation.
You’ll still be having regular meetings with your supervisor. They’ll check your progress, provide feedback on your ideas and probably read any drafts your produce.
The second year is also an important stage for your development as a scholar. You’ll be well versed in current research and have begun to collect some important data or develop insights of your own. But you won’t yet be faced with the demanding and time-intensive task of finalising your dissertation.
So, this part of your PhD is a perfect time to think about presenting your work at academic conferences , gaining teaching experience or perhaps even selecting some material for publication in an academic journal. You can read more about these kinds of activities below .
The third year of a PhD
The third year of a PhD is sometimes referred to as the writing up phase.
Traditionally, this is the final part of your doctorate, during which your main task will be pulling together your results and honing your thesis into a dissertation.
In reality, it’s not always as simple as that.
It’s not uncommon for final year PhD candidates to still be fine-tuning experiments, collecting results or chasing up a few extra sources. This is particularly likely if you spend part of your second year focussing on professional development.
In fact, some students actually take all or part of a fourth year to finalise their dissertation. Whether you are able to do this will depend on the terms of your enrolment – and perhaps your PhD funding .
Eventually though, you are going to be faced with writing up your thesis and submitting your dissertation.
Your supervisor will be very involved in this process. They’ll read through your final draft and let you know when they think your PhD is ready for submission.
All that’s left then is your final viva voce oral exam. This is a formal discussion and defence of your thesis involving at least one internal and external examiner. It’s normally the only assessment procedure for a PhD. Once you’ve passed, you’ve done it!
Looking for more information about the stages of a PhD?
How do you go about completing a literature review? What's it like to do PhD research? And what actually happens at an MPhil upgrade? You can find out more in our detailed guide to the PhD journey .
Doing a PhD – what's it actually like?
You can think of the stages outlined above as the basic roadmap for a PhD, but the actual ‘journey’ you’ll take as a research student involves a lot of other sights, a few optional destinations and at least one very important fellow passenger.
Carrying out research
Unsurprisingly, you’ll spend most of your time as a PhD researcher… researching your PhD. But this can involve a surprisingly wide range of activities.
The classic image of a student working away in the lab, or sitting with a pile of books in the library is true some of the time – particularly when you’re monitoring experiments or conducting your literature review.
Your PhD can take you much further afield though. You may find yourself visiting archives or facilities to examine their data or look at rare source materials. You could even have the opportunity to spend an extended period ‘in residence’ at a research centre or other institution beyond your university.
Research is also far from being a solitary activity. You’ll have regular discussions with your supervisor (see below) but you may also work with other students from time to time.
This is particularly likely if you’re part of a larger laboratory or workshop group studying the same broad area. But it’s also common to collaborate with students whose projects are more individual. You might work on shorter projects of joint interest, or be part of teams organising events and presentations.
Many universities also run regular internal presentation and discussion groups – a perfect way to get to know other PhD students in your department and offer feedback on each other’s work in progress.
Working with your supervisor
All PhD projects are completed with the guidance of at least one academic supervisor . They will be your main point of contact and support throughout the PhD.
Your supervisor will be an expert in your general area of research, but they won’t have researched on your exact topic before (if they had, your project wouldn’t be original enough for a PhD).
As such, it’s better to think of your supervisor as a mentor, rather than a teacher.
As a PhD student you’re now an independent and original scholar, pushing the boundaries of your field beyond what is currently known (and taught) about it. You’re doing all of this for the first time, of course. But your supervisor isn’t.
They’ll know what’s involved in managing an advanced research project over three years (or more). They’ll know how best to succeed, but they’ll also know what can go wrong and how to spot the warning signs before it does.
Perhaps most importantly, they’ll be someone with the time and expertise to listen to your ideas and help provide feedback and encouragement as you develop your thesis.
Exact supervision arrangements vary between universities and between projects:
- In Science and Technology projects it’s common for a supervisor to be the lead investigator on a wider research project, with responsibility for a laboratory or workshop that includes several PhD students and other researchers.
- In Arts and Humanities subjects, a supervisor’s research is more separate from their students’. They may supervise more than one PhD at a time, but each project is essentially separate.
It’s also becoming increasingly common for PhD students to have two (or more) supervisors. The first is usually responsible for guiding your academic research whilst the second is more concerned with the administration of your PhD – ensuring you complete any necessary training and stay on track with your project’s timetable.
However you’re supervised, you’ll have regular meetings to discuss work and check your progress. Your supervisor will also provide feedback on work during your PhD and will play an important role as you near completion: reading your final dissertation draft, helping you select an external examiner and (hopefully) taking you out for a celebratory drink afterwards!
Professional development, networking and communication
Traditionally, the PhD has been viewed as a training process, preparing students for an academic career.
As such, it often includes opportunities to pick up additional skills and experiences that are an important part of a scholarly CV. Academics don’t just do research after all. They also teach students, administrate departments – and supervise PhDs.
The modern PhD is also viewed as a more flexible qualification. Not all doctoral graduates end up working in higher education. Many follow alternative careers that are either related to their subject of specialism or draw upon the advanced research skills their PhD has developed.
PhD programmes have begun to reflect this. Many now emphasise transferrable skills or include specific training units designed to help students communicate and apply their research beyond the university.
What all of this means is that very few PhD experiences are just about researching and writing up a thesis.
The likelihood is that you’ll also do some (or all) of the following during your PhD:
PhD researchers are often given the opportunity to teach undergraduates at their university. This generally involves leading small group teaching exercises, demonstrating methods and experiments and providing mentoring.
The work is usually paid and is increasingly accompanied by formal training and evaluation.
As a PhD student you’ll be at the cutting edge of your field, doing original research and producing new results. This means that your work will be interest to other scholars and that your results could be worth presenting at academic conferences .
Doing this is very worthwhile, whatever your career plans. You’ll develop transferrable skills in public speaking and presenting, gain feedback on your results and begin to be recognised as an expert in your area. Conferences are also great places to network with other students and academics.
As well as presenting your research, you may also have the opportunity to publish work in academic journals, books, or other media.
This can be a challenging process. Your work will be judged according to the same high standards as any other scholar’s and will normally go through extensive peer review processes.
But it’s also highly rewarding. Seeing your work ‘in print’ is an incredible validation of your PhD research and a definite boost to your academic CV.
Public engagement and communication
Academic work may be associated with the myth of the ‘ivory tower’ – an insular community of experts focussing on obscure topics of little interest outside the university. But this is far from the case.
More and more emphasis is being placed on the ‘impact’ of research and its wider benefits to the public – with funding decisions being made accordingly.
Thankfully, there are plenty of opportunities to try your hand at public engagement as a PhD student. Universities are often involved in local events and initiatives to communicate the benefits of their research, ranging from workshops in local schools to public lectures and presentations.
Some PhD programmes include structured training in order to help students with activities such as the above.
Your supervisor may also be able to help by identifying suitable conferences and public engagement opportunities, or by involving you in appropriate university events and public engagement initiatives.
These experiences will be an important part of your development as a researchers - and will enhance the value of your PhD regardless of your career plans.
What is the difference between a Masters and a PhD?
Many students wonder what to expect in the transition from Masters to PhD study. Our guide covers the most important differences between the two, including applications, course structure and assessment.
What is a PhD for – and who should study one?
So, you know what a PhD actually is, what’s involved in completing one and what you might get up to whilst you do. That just leaves one final question: should you do a PhD?
Unfortunately, it’s not a question we can answer for you.
A PhD is difficult and uniquely challenging. It requires at least three years of hard work and dedication after you’ve already completed an undergraduate degree (and probably a Masters degree too).
You’ll need to support yourself during those years and, whilst you will be building up an impressive set of skills, you won’t be directly progressing in a career.
But a PhD is also immensely rewarding. It’s your chance to make a genuine contribution to the sum of human knowledge and produce work that other researchers can (and will) build on in future. However obscure your topic feels, there’s really no such thing as a useless PhD.
A PhD is also something to be incredibly proud of. A proportionately tiny number of people go on to higher education at this level. Whatever you end up doing after your doctorate you’ll have an impressive qualification – and a title to match. What’s more, non-academic careers and professions are increasingly recognising the unique skills and experience a PhD brings.
Other PhDs - do degree titles matter?
The PhD is the oldest and most common form of higher research degree, but a few alternatives are available. Some, such as the DPhil (which also stands of Doctor of Philosophy) are essentially identical to a PhD. Others, such as the Professional Doctorate or DBA are slightly different. You can find out more in our guide to types of PhD .
Is a PhD for me?
There’s more advice on the value of a PhD – and good reasons for studying one – elsewhere in this section. But the following are some quick tips if you’re just beginning to consider a PhD.
Speak to your lecturers / tutors
The best people to ask about PhD study are people who’ve earned one. Ask staff at your current or previous university about their experience of doctoral research – what they enjoyed, what they didn’t and what their tips might be.
If you’re considering a PhD for an academic career, ask about that too. Are job prospects good in your field? And what’s it really like to work at a university?
Speak to current PhD students
Want to know what it’s like studying a PhD right now? Or what it’s like doing research at a particular university? Ask someone who knows.
Current PhD students were just like you a year or two ago and most will be happy to answer questions.
If you can’t get in touch with any students ‘face to face’, pop over to the Postgraduate Forum – you’ll find plenty of students there who are happy to chat about postgraduate research.
Take a look at advertised projects and programmes
This may seem like a strange suggestion. After all, you’re only going to study one PhD, so what’s the point of reading about lots of others?
Well, looking at the details of different PhD projects is a great way to get a general sense of what PhD research is like. You’ll see what different PhDs tend to have in common and what kinds of unique opportunity might be available to you.
And, with thousands of PhDs in our database , you’re already in a great place to start.
Make sure you've considered all your options
As we've explained, a PhD is the most common type of doctorate, but it's not the only type. Could another degree, such as a professional doctorate, better serve your aims? Read through our advice on other types of doctorate to find out more about what's available.
Read our other advice articles
Finally, you can also check out some of the other advice on the FindAPhD website. We’ve looked at some good (and bad) reasons for studying a PhD as well as the value of a doctorate to different career paths.
More generally, you can read our in-depth look at a typical PhD journey , or find out more about specific aspects of doctoral study such as working with a supervisor or writing your dissertation .
We add new articles all the time – the best way to stay up to date is by signing up for our free PhD newsletter .
The DBA and the PhD are both doctoral degrees that are equal in academic status – so how do you choose between the two? Our guide explains the differences.
Our guide covers everything you'll need to know to study in Canada this year, including fees, funding, visas and more.
Understand what a successful PhD research proposal needs to include and how to go about writing one for your project application.
Don't rush into PhD study. Read our step-by-step guide to comparing different projects and finding the right research opportunity for you.
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Types of Doctorates
Learn about the different types of Doctorates available to you, including their eligibility, durations, fees and benefits. Find out which one would be most beneficial to you.
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Professional doctorates are advanced postgraduate degrees that combine taught components with independent research in a student’s area of expertise. Find out what they involve.
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‘MPhil’ stands for ‘Master of Philosophy’ and is an advance postgraduate degree. Learn about what’s involved, how much it costs and what you can do afterwards.
Part Time PhDs – Everything You Need To Know
Whilst the core activities of a part time PhD are identical of that to a full time PhD, its organisation is different. Learn more here.
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Gain valuable insight from our collection of exclusive interviews with both current and past PhD students. Learn from their best advice, personal challenges and career path after completing their doctorate.
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Different types of PhD
Students often have many questions about PhD’s. Is a doctoral degree a PhD? What’s the difference? The pinnacle of education is that of a PhD, doctorate qualification. But did you know that there are different types of PhDs, and how do you choose the right one for you and how can you get PhD help ?
‘PhD’ or Doctor of Philosophy is the most widely known higher qualification. However, there are other types of PhD degrees that specialise in particular subjects or are professional degrees completed in a different format.
Here’s what you need to know about all the higher education degrees available.
PhD/DPhil (Doctor of philosophy)
Many think that DPhil and PhD are different degrees but they are only different names for the same thing. DPhil, an abbreviation for Doctor of Philosophy, is a British term but is hardly used by many universities any more. An academic PhD can be studied in all subjects and are not restricted to certain fields.
A PhD typically involves independent and original research in a particular field or subject. Some PhD degree courses include taught parts, however, the main focus of the course is the completion of a publishable thesis as a result of the independent research.
PhD’s can range from three to four years long for full time students and as long as seven years for part time PhD students. The majority of PhD courses require a Masters degree qualification to apply, however, applications with significant professional experience may be accepted with lower qualifications.
This degree is also an academic type PhD. Aiming to advance theoretical understanding of a subject and often, helping students to advance in their careers rather than focusing on professional development. As a result, PhDs are typically awarded in traditional academic subjects.
Th.D (Doctor of theology)
A Th.D is a PhD equivalent degree, however, it can only be undertaken in Christian theology. As a result, this degree is only offered by universities with religious connections. Whereas, a PhD allows students to study any religion and are usually available at most universities. As this is an academic type degree, students will undertake this qualification for careers in academia, leadership, or ministry.
Professional type Doctorates
Another type of higher education is professional type PhD’s. These are higher degrees awarded as part of professional registration such as in fields like Medicine. Or studied as a professional development qualification for career advancing reasons. Often, these degrees are supported by employers as they explore more vocational subjects and aim for a career outside of academia.
In addition, these degrees are taught differently to traditional PhDs including more practical work rather than just theoretical independent study or thesis writing . These degrees reply on smaller research projects, shorter theses, and taught practical work. As a result of this approach, applicants will often need professional experience in the field or subject of study.
DBA (Doctorate in business administration)
A DBA is a PhD equivalent qualification in business administration and management. As a professional type degree, there are key differences between a DBA and a standard PhD. Most notably, a DBA combines management theory with training in the methodologies and techniques necessary to carry out the research.
These degrees are now offered worldwide and take around 4-6 years to complete. A DBA is designed for experienced professional applicants such as those in senior positions, those with an MBA or equivalent looking for a higher qualification, and those looking to refine skills for business development. Therefore, this degree is not suitable for a student straight from a masters degree.
DProf (Doctorate of professional studies)
A doctorate of professional studies can be undertaken in any subject like a PhD. However, it focuses on professional development within your chosen work context. Often, the study can be inspired by the students own experience within the field and so the degree can be untaken within a profession or can be more individual.
Each course will vary between subjects and institutions which can mean the subject area you are interested in may only be available at certain universities. Again, this course predominantly includes a large taught part and then self-study presented as a thesis.
EdD/ D.Ed (Doctorate of education)
An EdD is a professional type equivalent PhD qualification in Education. This program is designed for experienced teachers or people in other education roles. Who may be looking to move into more senior roles, work into a totally different role in education, or is interested in contributing to research in the sector.
EdD courses are usually taught in two distinct parts. The first part will focus more on taught modules or trainings in various theories relevant to education and practices essential for the research part of the course. This section is what makes this course more differentiated to a traditional PhD. The second phase of the degree focuses on independent research for a thesis.
Please note, this degree is not a teaching qualification and you should consider a PGCE or other postgraduate teaching qualification.
Other professional type PhD equivalent degrees include:
Dsoc/sci (doctorate of social science).
This type of PhD can cover a variety of topics including management science, psychology, or political science.
EngD (Doctorate of engineering)
An EngD is a PhD equivalent qualification in engineering and applied sciences and includes working closely with a company throughout the degree. This program is suitable for engineering professionals, those looking for higher employment options, or those wanting to contribute to theory and research in their field.
DArch (Doctorate of Architecture)
Less commonly heard of than others, a DArch is a PhD equivalent in Architecture. This qualification helps to prepare students for a career in architecture. Often covering topics like architectural theory, architectural communication, technology, and management.
MD (Doctor of medicine)
A doctorate level degree in medicine and health studies and typically requires students to have years’ worth of postgraduate experience. As a professional type higher degree, this course will combine research and clinical practice.
Are there other types of higher degrees similar to a PhD?
The simple answer is, yes. There are other qualification types that can be deemed similar to a PhD, however, they are not studied in the same way and typically awarded after years of study and professional development. Therefore, they aren’t likely to apply to you but we have included them for your information.
These include Higher Doctorates like, (Doctor of):
- Civil Law (DCL)
- Divinity (DD)
- Literature/Letters (DLit/DLitt/LitD/LittD)
- Music (DMus/MusD)
- Science (DS/SD/DSc/ScD)
Higher Doctorates are awarded after the review of a portfolio of published and peer-review research that has been completed over a number of years. This type of degree is awarded as a way to recognise and acknowledge esteemed researchers later in their career.
Another type of higher degree is that of an Honorary Degree. This qualification is awarded to celebrate an individual’s achievements within their field. Usually, it is granted by a university and doesn’t require a record of their academic or professional work like a higher doctorate does.
How do you choose the right PhD Level course for you?
As we have outlined, there are many different types of PhD. Choosing the right PhD course for you is extremely important. Not only are they expensive but they require a huge time and energy investment in studying and conducting research. So how do you decide which course to undertake?
Start by evaluating your goals
What is your goal as a result of this qualification? If you are looking for further career advancement and have been practicing in your field already for a few years, then a professional type doctorate is your best choice. However, if you are looking to contribute to your field of study with original and independent research or are pursuing a career in academia, then a standard PhD degree is for you. Perhaps you would prefer more taught sections of a degree to help develop your research skills and develop as an expert, then a professional type degree would be better.
Look at the subject area you are interested in
Is there a specific professional type degree in your field? If so, and your goal is professional development, then a professional type degree is your best choice. This degree not only allows you to conduct research and be taught skills, they often work with companies or in practical settings.
However, if there is no subject specific degree for your field, then a traditional PhD is best for you. This qualification gives you much more freedom of choice of what and where you study. PhD Centre have many PhD services to help you from the application and proposal to the full PhD thesis writing .
When do you want to study a PhD degree?
Are you wanting to study a PhD straight after a Masters degree? Often, a PhD might develop on from your Masters degree research. Therefore, a traditional PhD can be the best option if you are looking to pursue higher level study within a short time span from graduating at masters level. On the other hand, if you are already well established in your career, a professional type degree can help build on your experience and expertise and may not be suitable straight out of postgraduate study.
Final thoughts on the types of PhDs
We are sure there are more PhD degrees out there than you might have first thought. The variety and different types of PhD available provide you with many options and methods of gaining a doctorate in your chosen field. What degree is your best choice?
Doctorate in Psychology (Ph.D. and Psy.D.)
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Updated November 17, 2022
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The American Psychological Association (APA) recognizes three distinct categories of doctoral programs : clinical, counseling, and school psychology.
Clinical psychology emphasizes compiling and analyzing research data about people, while counseling psychology students focus more on treating mental and emotional health issues.
School psychology programs explore issues surrounding child and adolescent mental development.
Students interested in teaching or research roles can earn a Ph.D. in psychology, while candidates planning to go into private practice or work with patients may pursue a Psy.D.
This page covers everything you need to know about pursuing a Ph.D. in psychology. Learn how to choose the right school and degree program.
Pros and Cons of Earning a Doctorate in Psychology
Earning a Psy.D. or a Ph.D. in psychology is a significant investment of time and money, and while psychologists earn above-average salaries, other fields such as medicine, law, finance, and engineering often pay more for the same level of education.
However, psychology often offers more work-life balance than these fields, and many psychologists find it a uniquely fulfilling career.
It Takes Longer to Earn a Doctorate Degree in Psychology
Most doctoral degree in psychology programs can be completed in four to seven years. This, of course, is the longest possible amount of time a psychology professional can expect to spend on their schooling.
The time commitment requires a student's full attention, which makes some students move straight from their bachelor's in psychology to their Ph.D. in psychology.
Earning a doctorate in psychology and qualifying for a state license is the only way to become a licensed psychologist. The demand for psychologists is high in most parts of the country, and once you are licensed, you can practice independently. However, if you enjoy collaborating with other professionals, you can work in a hospital, as part of a joint practice, or in other group settings.
At times, it can be very hard for Ph.D. in psychology students to juggle work, internships, clinical training and psychology studies. What's more, almost all Ph.D. in psychology candidates go on to continue their research and training for one to two years after graduation; these externships and practical experiences must be present in order to qualify most Ph.D.s for work.
Once Graduated with a Ph.D. in Psychology, You Enter the Workforce as an Authority in the Field
Part of enrolling and earning a doctoral degree in psychology is making the time and the connections that will allow students to gain intensive practical experience after graduation.
Employers often prefer Ph.D. in psychology candidates with some experience to master's degree in psychology candidates who may have more hands-on skills.
Some evidence suggests that Ph.D. in psychology candidates can oversaturate a market. In these cases, employers may be inclined to hire a candidate with more life experience (such as a master's degree) and lesser academic credentials.
The Doctorate Degree in Psychology is Versatile
Because a Ph.D. in psychology is a terminal credential for the majority of occupational psychologists, earning a doctoral degree in psychology in this broad field can offer candidates a certain amount of flexibility when searching for a career.
For example, while there may not be many opportunities in a graduate's chosen field right away, a doctoral in psychology is an excellent credential for those who may be interested in teaching at the college or university level.
Only graduates with a Psy.D. or a Ph.D. in psychology can become licensed psychologists (except for school psychologists ). Similarly, if you want to become a professor of psychology in most colleges or universities, you will need to graduate from an accredited doctorate in psychology program. The APA does not accredit online programs.
Because a psychology Ph.D. or Psy.D. is the terminal degree in psychology, those with a doctorate in psychology are considered more authoritative in jobs such as consulting, government or nonprofit work, or publishing.
Psychology Ph.D. programs are long and hard work, and even when you graduate you must work under the supervision of a licensed psychologist before you can work independently.
While many students work while earning their Psy.D. or Ph.D. in psychology, they are often not yet earning at their full potential and graduate with student loans .
One of the core parts of any doctorate in psychology is conducting original research, which requires years of focus on a single project. Students in psychology Ph.D. programs who do not enjoy the research process may find this very draining.
A Doctoral Degree Offers a High Return on Investment
Because of the high demand for the position and the time and cost psychology Psy.D. or Ph.D. programs involve, psychologist salaries are well above the national average.
Psychologists often earn a median salary over $80,000 annually, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The median BLS salary for psychologists include both graduate and undergraduate level occupations. According to Payscale , of the 31 people reporting in October 2022, the average salary for graduates with a Ph.D. in psychology is $92,000.
October Payscale data for 2022 reports the average salary for graduates with a Psy.D. as $87,000. Industrial-organizational psychologists or human resource managers often earn more than $100,000.
This is considerably higher than the 2021 national median salary of $45,760, and for many psychologists, the financial and emotional rewards justify the cost and time spent in a doctorate of psychology program.
While only those with a Psy.D. or Ph.D. in psychology can become licensed psychologists, other careers, such as law, medicine, engineering, or finance often offer much higher salaries for programs that take as much time or less than a psychology Ph.D. program.
Some high-paying psychology careers, such as industrial-organizational psychologists, may require just a master's degree.
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What Are The Admission Requirements for Psychology Ph.D. and Psy.D Programs?
Psychology Ph.D. programs require a master's in psychology from an accredited program or an equivalent mix of education and experience. Many will accept students with a master's in a related field or a bachelor's degree with work experience.
Students seeking a Ph.D. in psychology often need to demonstrate knowledge of psychology research, while students applying for a Psy.D. program need to show even more extensive research skills or aptitude.
- Minimum Education Level : Master's degree, although a bachelor's with work experience is often also acceptable
- Writing Sample : Transcripts from all undergraduate and graduate institutions attended, usually with a minimum 3.0 GPA
- Transcripts : 3-5 letters
- Standardized Tests : Personal statement of intent; previous academic research papers
- Recommendations : GRE
- Additional Required Materials : Immunization records; interviews; comprehensive qualifying exam; health insurance
Frequently Asked Questions About Doctoral Programs in Psychology
Can you prescribe medicine with a ph.d. in psychology.
While some states allow licensed psychologists to prescribe certain medications, psychologists do not have the same prescribing authority that doctors, psychiatrists, or advanced practice nurses have.
Can you get a Ph.D. in psychology without a master's?
In many cases, you do not need to hold a master's for admission to a Ph.D. program in psychology. Many programs accept candidates who hold a bachelor's in the field. Some may require work or internship experience in addition to a bachelor's degree, but this varies from program to program.
Can you get a Ph.D. in psychology online?
Yes! A variety of fully online psychology Ph.D. programs allow students to earn their degree anywhere, at any time. While these programs occasionally take longer to complete than the standard four-year timeline for full-time, full-residency programs, actual program lengths vary. Note that the APA does not accredit online-only programs.
Why get a doctorate in psychology?
Professionals in all states must hold either a Ph.D. or Psy.D. to obtain licensure and practice as a psychologist. A doctorate in psychology prepares candidates for clinical practice, and for more advanced roles in the field. Those with a Ph.D. also tend to earn more than those with a master's degree.
How competitive are Ph.D. and Psy.D. programs?
Doctoral programs in psychology tend to hold high admissions standards, making them very competitive. On-campus programs may be even harder to get into, as they sometimes offer competitive funding and assistantship positions. Applicants should demonstrate a strong academic record with a high GPA.
What's the difference between a Ph.D. in psychology vs. a Ph.D. in clinical psychology?
Ph.D. programs in psychology tend to place a stronger emphasis on research, and often include more courses in research methods and statistics. Psy.D. programs emphasize clinical practice, and are best suited for individuals seeking more clinical experience.
How Can I Guarantee My Acceptance Into a Doctorate Degree in Psychology Program?
While there is no way to guarantee acceptance into a psychology Ph.D. or Psy.D. program, you can improve your chances through your classes, work, community engagement, professional development, and networking. The more you can show that you have strong professional ethics and are likely to succeed in research and as a professional psychologist, the better.
- The most important thing an applicant can do to increase their chances of being accepted into a doctorate degree in psychology program is participate in research. Clinical trials and data analysis are some of the most vital components of a psychology career. Psychologists focus as much on mental and behavioral health as they do studying and understanding human behavior.
- Completing relevant internships and practicums demonstrates a commitment to independent research and looks great on a doctoral degree in psychology application.
- Prospective Ph.D. in psychology candidates can increase their chance of acceptance by cultivating professional relationships with a community of peers. Many do so by joining alumni associations, reaching out to colleagues on LinkedIn, and participating in professional organizations.
- Subscribing to pertinent magazines, forums and workshops that are popular among others in the field. The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) is a good source for information on this topic.
Should I Get a Ph.D. or a Psy.D.?
The Ph.D. and Psy.D. degrees differ in a variety of ways . Students should consider each option carefully before choosing a program.
Ph.D. in psychology programs take between five to seven years to complete, and often include one year-long internship. These programs sometimes admit fewer students, as they tend to offer more funding opportunities.
Ph.D. programs place a stronger emphasis on research, including more coursework in research methods and statistics, and more research-based opportunities during the program. Graduates may pursue careers in research or academia.
The Psy.D. is a doctor of psychology degree instead of a doctor of philosophy degree. Psy.D. programs take between four and five years to complete, including an internship year. These programs are tailored more towards clinical practice, placing less of an emphasis on research. This track may particularly benefit students who wish to work directly with clients in clinical settings.
Both degrees prepare candidates to seek licensure as clinical psychologists. However, Ph.D. programs may best suit individuals who wish to conduct research or teach in colleges and universities after graduating.
What Should I Expect From a Doctorate Degree in Psychology Program?
Degree completion specifics.
- Number of Required Credits: 60-125
- Typical Length of Program: 5-7 years
- Culminating Experience Project/Paper/Exam: Yes
- Practicums/Internships: Yes
While you will expand your skills in each of these areas while earning your psychology Ph.D., programs expect you to have a solid understanding of these areas from your previous education and work or fieldwork experience.
This topic explores the biological, intellectual, and cognitive foundations of behavior.
Assessment, Statistics and Research Techniques
Research is a major component of psychology. Students pursuing a Ph.D. in psychology should know how to effectively and efficiently gather pertinent information.
These studies explore some commonly addressed issues for people of all ages, ethnicities, and socioeconomic circumstances.
Almost every Ph.D. and Psy.D. in psychology program requires candidates to create and present a dissertation. Many courses prepare students to create, catalog, and share this vital work.
Ethics and Legal Issues in Psychology
More detailed than bachelor's or master's coursework in the same vein, Ph.D. in psychology students explore the important legal responsibilities and concerns commonly associated with their particular field of study.
Doctorate psychology students often concentrate their studies in a particular clinical or academic discipline. Immersion in these topics solidifies existing knowledge and offers the chance to work side-by-side with other psychology professionals in the candidate's area of interest. Some popular concentrations include:
This subfield explores how human brain systems engage in perception, human error, decision-making, movement, and cognition.
Students gather the data necessary to understand emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and interpersonal functions in adults and children.
Abnormal Psychological Disorders
In this subfield, students learn to evaluate, manage, and offer empathetic care to people living with ongoing psychological disorders and trauma.
Human Growth and Development
This research track investigates how the human mind evolves and devolves across the lifespan, paying special attention to behaviors, aptitudes, and at-risk behaviors.
This focus area is ideal for those who wish to learn skills of value in careers such as teaching, intervention, and research. A developmental psychology specialty explores cognitive/socio-emotional development and developmental psychopathology.
What Kinds of Psychology Careers Can I Pursue With a Doctorate Degree in Psychology?
Most graduates from psychology Psy.D. or Ph.D. programs work as licensed psychologists or in academic settings as researchers and professors. However, there are other careers available in government or corporate roles, or as a consultant.
Psy.D and Ph.D. Career Options
Clinical psychologists diagnose patients and prescribe treatment for psychological disorders. They often specialize in a particular approach such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or behavioral therapy, or in a particular type of patient or condition, such as adolescents or eating disorders.
They differ from counseling psychologists, who emphasize helping patients with specific issues rather than a disorder. The average annual salary, according to the BLS , is $99,640.
Industrial-organizational psychologists or human resource managers apply psychology to improve organizational performance in corporations. They provide guidance on organizational culture, leadership development, motivation, and other issues related to productivity. This is one of the higher-paid specialties, according to the BLS , with an average annual salary of $113,320.
Postsecondary Clinical Psychology Educator
Postsecondary clinical psychology educators include college and university professors and other faculty and staff. While the BLS-reported annual salary of $88,390 is lower than other specialties, many professors are eligible for tenure. Administrations expect educators to both teach and publish; the balance will vary by school and position.
Forensic psychologists work in the legal or justice system in a number of roles. They may work as part of criminal investigative teams, as consultants for criminal law firms, or as part of the correctional system. While many are licensed psychologists, some have a master's rather than a psychology doctorate. The annual salary, according to October 2022 Payscale data , is $72,830.
Educational psychologists apply psychology to improve school and educational performance. School psychologists primarily work with students and families, while educational psychologists focus more on improving the schools' and teachers' overall teaching capacity. According to the BLS , the average annual salary is $82,770.
Research psychologists conduct psychological research in corporate, nonprofit, or government research settings. Their work may include user experience design, nonprofit or government program monitoring and evaluation, or research on ways to improve military performance and morale. According to Salary.com , the average annual salary is $77,270.
Page last reviewed November 7,2022. This page's information — not including school descriptions — was reviewed by an independent third party compensated for their time by Psychology.org.
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What Types of Doctorates Are Available?
The pinnacle achievement in education, doctoral degrees may also open the doors to exclusive jobs and maximize salaries . For example, business Ph.D. holders earn 9 percent more over their lifetimes than those with only master’s degrees. In education, that number rises to 24 percent.
The reason is simple. The doctorate identifies that a student has mastered either the knowledge of a subject or the applied theory of one. Achieving the degree firmly establishes one as an authority in her field or discipline. Those are qualities that employers are looking for when filling leadership or top positions within their company.
And these types of degrees are growing in both popularity and scope.
Earning a doctorate is challenging and rewarding, but do you know what to really expect? Download this free guide for tips and insights to help you prepare for success.
The growing state of the (doctorate) union.
As emerging jobs have taken over the market, the rise in available doctoral degrees has followed.
Currently, there are a total of 88 different doctoral degrees available in the United States. And people are taking advantage of the opportunity
American universities awarded 52,760 doctorates in 2013, up 3.5 percent from nearly 50,977 in 2012 and nearly 8 percent from 48,903 in 2011.
In 2014, American universities awarded 54,070 research doctorates, the highest total in the 58 years that the National Science Foundation has sponsored the Survey of Earned Doctorates.
These numbers indicate that the bar is raising (and quickly) for many high-demand jobs. A master’s is no longer an automatic differentiator for competitive jobs.
Six Popular Doctorates for 2018
In many fast-growing and emerging fields, professionals are seeking to differentiate themselves by earning specialized doctoral degrees. Below is a list outlining seven of the most popular doctorates in 2017 and beyond.
Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)
If you want to lead a business—via the C-suite or the consultant role—this degree is for you.
The DBA is well poised to lead innovation, evolution and adaptation efforts to help the business meet the ever-changing demands of the economy. Programs teach students how to effectively lead and influence organizations—by teaching what makes businesses tick, improve, succeed and fail.
What you’ll learn:
All programs are different, based on the institution and your emphasis, but the core coursework might include subjects like:
- Leadership constructs and methodologies
- Organizational strategy and performance
- Organizational culture and behavior
- Modern management theory and advanced leadership principles
- Effective decision-making
- Performance analysis
- Application of ethical constructs
- Change management techniques
There are a variety of specialties you can get your DBA in, including: International Business Leadership, Human Resource Management, Project Management, Finance, Strategy and Vision, Marketing, and Strategic Management.
Doctor of Public Health (DPH)
If you want to lead programs that affect global or population health, this degree is for you.
The DPH is tailored to individuals leading policy and programs in the public health sector. Programs help students develop critical skills to identify, validate and improve population-based public health strategies, influence public health interventions and strategies, develop public health policy and programs, and establish economic models to drive meaningful change.
- Health informatics and analytics
- Public health leadership and systems thinking
- Economics of public health
- Community health assessment
- Global health and issues in disease prevention
- Public relations and communication for public health leaders
Common concentrations in Doctor of Public Health programs include: Environmental Health, Health Equity and Social Justice, Health Policy and Management.
Doctor of Healthcare Administration (DHA)
If you want to maintain a healthcare focus, this degree is for you.
The DHA is tailored to individuals leading businesses within the healthcare industry. Programs typically focus on the practical applications of public health theory, evaluation and improvement across the business of healthcare—including administration, policy, regulation, marketing, communication and program management.
- Organizational strategies to improve community and global health
- State, federal and private policy making
- Quality improvement methodologies
- Healthcare economics and financial reform
- Health data management
- Program evaluation models
- Improving health information governance
Common concentrations include: Healthcare Quality and Analytics, Healthcare Management, Clinical and Program Management, General Healthcare Leadership or Health Care Policy.
Doctor of Professional Studies – Instructional Leadership Design (DPS, ISL)
If you want to influence organizations through curriculum development, the Doctor of Professional Studies is for you.
DPS-IDLs develop cross-organization and multi-tiered learning strategies to help organizations improve and retain talent. Professionals in this area work to develop senior leadership competencies, technical proficiencies, knowledge-transfer systems and other important things.
- Emerging trends and technologies for instructional design
- Advanced organizational learning theories
- Innovative learning environment design
- Strategic assessment and decision-making
- Knowledge management
- Communication theory and strategies
This field is an emerging field—growing in popularity as a higher volume of legacy and tenured leaders are leaving organizations.
Doctor of Information Technology (DIT)
If you’re driven to help businesses succeed through the effective deployment and management of technology, this doctorate is for you.
DITs are more than technology specialists—they are embedded leaders who can drive organizations through critical IT-related challenges. Their work enables the success and growth of business plans and goals. From technology assessment to technology vision, these leaders influence the business’ ability to perform its mission.
- IT leadership principles
- Enterprise database design
- Enterprise systems architecture
- Emerging technologies (cloud, grid computing, etc.)
- Information assurance
- Information and network security
- Change and risk management
As organizations continue to rely heavily on existing and emerging technologies, DITs are positioned to have meaningful influence inside of organizations.
Doctor of Social Work (DSW)
If you’re driven by concepts of social justice and reform, or the proper execution of social work, this doctorate is for you.
DSWs are positioned to expand their independent practice or work into new populations or areas, or achieve leadership roles in social work agencies and organizations. These leaders drive social change and interventions that improve the human experience for disenfranchised or marginalized populations.
- Contemporary issues and social change
- Advanced social work theory
- Policy creation
- Human services administration
- Program and practice evaluation
- Public leadership
A Doctor of Social Work may concentrate their research in the following fields: Addiction and Social Work, Disaster and Intervention, Social Work Administration, Criminal Justice, Family Studies and Intervention, Clinical Expertise or Policy Practice.
Choosing Your Doctorate “Flavor”
As we’ve mentioned before, there are two types of doctorate degrees : the academic degree (PhD) and the applied degree ( Doctorate ).
A general rule of thumb is this:
Go for your Ph.D. if you want to pursue a tenured teaching career at a research institution (think professor at Harvard) or if a job implicitly requires it (think: principle scientist or university chancellor).
If not, opt for the applied.
The applied degree is typically recommended if you want to teach at a teaching institution (think small liberal arts university, Christian higher education, private charter schools), if you want to establish your professional credibility as a practitioner (think CEO, financial advisor, public health leader), or if you want to spend the prime of your career in consulting work (think contract researcher or circuit speaker).
Not sure which one is right for you? Go applied. It’s the most flexible program, giving you the best chance of learning things that you can apply in the boardroom or office the next day.
The Doctorate Gut Check
The highest possible achievement in education, the doctorate, firmly establishes you as an authority in your field or discipline. The degree may also offer competitive advantages, open the door to exciting career opportunities, and deliver substantial salary increases.
For these reasons, doctorate programs are growing in both popularity and scope—a reality that gives today’s professionals unique opportunities to leverage education to further their careers.
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What's the difference between a phd and a professional doctoral degree.
If you’re thinking about pursuing a doctoral degree, including an online doctoral degree , you might be considering a PhD vs. doctorate. Perhaps you’re wondering, “What is a PhD, exactly?” or “Is a doctorate a PhD?” You’re not alone in asking these questions. In many fields of study, you can choose between a PhD degree and a professional doctorate. For instance, you could earn a Doctor of Education (EdD) or a PhD in Education.
What does PhD stand for? A PhD is a Doctor of Philosophy. In answer to the question, “Is a PhD a doctor,” the answer is yes. Both a PhD and a professional doctorate like an EdD earn you the title of “doctor.” But there are differences between the types of doctoral degrees. Learn more about a PhD vs. a professional doctorate below.
Is a Professional Doctorate the Same as a PhD?
Professional doctorate and PhD degrees are considered terminal degrees, meaning when you earn either degree, you will have achieved the highest formal degree in the field. As such, they can significantly enhance your résumé and your career. For example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, doctoral degree holders earn about 20% more on average per week than those who have a master’s degree. 1
When choosing a doctorate vs. PhD, consider the focus of the degree. A PhD is an academic degree focused on original research, data analysis, and the evaluation of theory. A professional doctorate focuses on applying research to practical problems, formulating solutions to complex issues, and designing effective professional practices within your field.
Is a PhD Higher Than a Professional Doctorate?
No, a PhD is not a higher degree than a professional doctorate. If you’re wondering what’s better than a PhD, both PhDs and professional doctorates are the highest level of college education that can be earned. Both degrees are doctoral degrees.
Professional doctoral degree examples include the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) , Doctor of Education (EdD) , Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) , and Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) . Or you could earn a PhD in Management , PhD in Education , PhD in Nursing , or PhD in Public Health . All of these degrees are doctoral degrees, even though some are professional doctorates and some are PhDs.
Differences Between a Professional Doctorate and a PhD
When deciding between a PhD vs. a doctorate, it’s important to understand that while both are doctoral degrees, the educational goals and typical career paths for each type of degree differ.
When it comes time to choose, it’s good to know that both PhD degrees and professional doctorates have their strengths. Your decision should be based on what you want to study and how you want to use your degree. Explore the key differences between a professional doctorate and a PhD in the chart below.
Dissertation and Doctoral Study Requirements
While all colleges and universities establish their own policies on how you earn a degree, the methods by which you earn a PhD or a professional doctorate almost always differ. Though it can vary by degree program and university, PhD candidates usually complete a dissertation while many doctoral candidates complete a doctoral study.
A doctoral study requires you to identify a real-world problem within your field and research it thoroughly with the intent of uncovering new understandings that can eventually lead to new solutions. Completing the study takes multiple steps, which may include:
- Creating a proposal that describes the problem you want to solve, the design of your study, and the methodology you’ll use.
- Orally defending your proposal to the committee.
- Collecting data and writing findings.
- Orally defending your findings to the committee.
A PhD dissertation requires you to conduct research into an approved area of study within your discipline. While this can be in an area that has not yet been explored, it often complements existing knowledge by adding new or missing research. Completing the dissertation takes multiple steps, including:
- Drafting a dissertation prospectus and orally defending your proposal to a committee.
- Completing the research.
- Writing the research dissertation, which includes your methods, findings, literature review, and conclusions.
- Orally defending your completed dissertation to a committee.
What Do You Learn When Studying for a PhD vs. Doctorate?
A PhD is designed for college graduates who are interested in doing original and applied research that tests theory and adds to the existing knowledge in their particular field or discipline. A PhD program can help you learn how to:
- Analyze theories and concepts within your field.
- Evaluate the relevance of seminal, current, and emerging theories within your field.
- Assess identified gaps in the current research literature.
- Advance the body of knowledge in your field through original research.
- Communicate effectively to an academic audience and general stakeholders.
A professional doctorate is designed for working professionals who have practical experience in their field and want to increase their knowledge, advance their careers, and translate their work experience into a higher position of credibility, leadership, and influence. A professional doctorate program can help you learn how to:
- Evaluate the relevance of current and emerging theories and practices within your field.
- Formulate effective solutions to complex, real-world problems common to your field.
- Apply current research to practical problems in your field.
- Design rigorous research that expands the professional body of knowledge in your field.
Not all universities offer fellowship programs; however, many do. And while fellowships are often offered to PhD students conducting research, there are also programs designed for professional doctoral degree candidates.
How You Can Earn Your PhD or Professional Doctoral Degree
PhD degrees and professional doctorates have this in common: You can earn either through an online university. Why should you add online options to your list of universities to consider? Because online education provides a number of benefits you won’t enjoy at even an exceptional campus-based university.
Walden University is an accredited online university offering professional doctorates and PhD degree programs online . When you choose Walden, you won’t have to worry about moving to be close to campus. You won’t even have to drive to a campus. Instead, when you earn a degree online, you can complete the majority of your coursework from home. Plus, both online PhD programs and online professional doctorate programs often offer a flexible format that doesn’t require you to attend class at a specific time of day. With Walden’s online degree programs, you can arrange your learning schedule so that it works with your full-time job and family responsibilities.
Visit Walden’s online doctoral degree page to see the wide range of professional doctorate and PhD programs offered. Find out how Walden’s numerous support opportunities, from doctoral peer mentors to knowledgeable financial advisors, can help make your doctoral degree experience a success. For more details, explore Walden’s doctoral journey page . There, you’ll learn more about what your educational path could look like, what it takes to earn a doctorate, and how to fund your degree.
Still have questions? Simply complete a quick form online to request information . Whether you have questions about degree programs, admissions, financial aid, or any other details, a Walden Enrollment Specialist will respond with all of the information you need.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering a range of PhD and professional doctoral programs online . Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.
1 Source: www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2021/data-on-display/education-pays.htm
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A Comprehensive List Of Doctorate Degrees Just For You
Are you looking to earn your doctorate degree, but aren’t sure where to begin? Or maybe you’re just curious about the kinds of degrees that are available to you. In this article, we’ll go over the different types of degrees, the difference between research degrees and professional degrees, and finally, give you a full comprehensive list of doctorate degrees available in the U.S.
We hope you discover some new fields that pique your interest, and maybe even get you started on your path to earning a degree.
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What is a doctorate degree.
There are four major types of degrees that you can earn in university. In order, they are: associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and doctorate degree.
A doctorate degree is the highest level of education in most fields. For fields of research or teaching it is usually a PhD, while other applied doctorates will include degrees such as Doctor of Medicine (MD), or Doctor of Education (EdD).
In order to earn a doctorate degree, you will first need to earn your bachelor’s degree. Most people choose to earn their master’s degree before entering a doctorate program, but it is possible to go straight to a doctoral degree in some cases.
Doctorate degrees can be divided into two major categories: research degrees and professional degrees.
What is a research degree.
A research degree focuses on exploring a topic in depth. A research degree gives students the opportunity to conduct their own unique research on a topic of their choice in order to produce their own research papers and innovative studies of knowledge.
A research degree prepares students with the skills and experience necessary for working and conducting research in academic, governmental, and business fields.
Below is a comprehensive list of all the research degrees available in the US.
List Of Research Degrees:
- Doctor of Arts (DA)
- Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)
- Doctor of Canon Law (JCD)
- Doctor of Design (DDes)
- Doctor of Engineering or Engineering Science (DEng, DESc, DES)
- Doctor of Education (EdD)
- Doctor of Fine Arts (DFA.)
- Doctor of Hebrew Letters (DHL)
- Doctor of Juridical Science (JSD, SJD)
- Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)
- Doctor of Music Education (DME)
- Doctor of Modern Languages (DML)
- Doctor of Nursing Science (DNSc)
- Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
- Doctor of Public Health (DPH)
- Doctor of Sacred Theology (STD)
- Doctor of Science (DSc, ScD)
- Doctor of Theology (ThD)
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Professional degrees, what is a professional degree.
A professional degree prepares students for a specific profession. Through earning a professional degree, students study the necessary information for their field, meet specific academic and licensure requirements for their desired profession, and prepare for state exams.
Below is a comprehensive list of all the professional degrees that can be earned in the US.
List Of Professional Degrees
- Doctor of Acupuncture (D.Ac., D.Acu.)
- Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (D.A.O.M.)
- Doctor of Anesthesia Practice (Dr.AP)
- Doctor of Applied Science (D.A.S.)
- Doctor of Architecture (D.Arch.)
- Doctor of Athletic Training (D.A.T.)
- Doctor of Audiology (Au.D)
- Doctor of Behavioral Health (D.B.H.)
- Doctor of Chemistry (D.Chem.)
- Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.)
- Doctor of Church Music (D.C.M.)
- Doctor of Clinical Nutrition (D.C.N.)
- Doctor of Clinical Science in Speech-Language Pathology (CScD)
- Doctor of Comparative Law (D.C.L.)
- Doctor of Civil Law (D.C.L.)
- Doctor of Computer Science (D.C.S.)
- Doctor of Criminal Justice (D.C.J.)
- Doctor of Criminology (D.Crim.)
- Doctor of Divinity (Divinitatis Doctor) (D.D.)
- Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.M.D.)
- Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.)
- Doctor of Environmental Science and Engineering (D.Env.)
- Doctor of Forestry (D.F.)
- Doctor of Geological Science (D.G.S.)
- Doctor of Health Administration (D.H.A.)
- Doctor of Health and Safety (D.H.S.)
- Doctor of Health Education (D.H.Ed)
- Doctor of Hebrew Literature/Letters (D.H.L.)
- Doctor of Health Science (D.H.Sc., D.H.S.)
- Doctor of Hebrew Studies (D.H.S.)
- Doctor of Humane Letters (D.Hum.Litt.)
- Doctor of Industrial Technology (D.I.T.)
- Doctor of Information Technology (D.I.T.)
- Juris Doctor (J.D.)
- Doctor of Law and Policy (L.P.D., D.L.P.)
- Doctor of Liberal Studies (D.L.S.)
- Doctor of Library Science (D.L.S.)
- Doctor of Management (D.M.)
- Doctor of Medical Humanities (D.M.H.)
- Doctor of Medical Physics (D.M.P)
- Doctor of Medical Science (D.M.Sc.)
- Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)
- Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.)
- Doctor of Missiology (D.Miss)
- Doctor of Music (D.M., D.Mus.)
- Doctor of Music Therapy (D.M.T.)
- Doctor of Naprapathic Medicine (D.N.)
- Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine (N.D., N.M.D.)
- Doctor of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.)
- Doctor of Occupational Therapy (O.T.D., D.O.T.)
- Doctor of Optometry (O.D.)
- Doctor of Organizational Leadership
- Doctor of Oriental Medicine (D.O.M., O.M.D.)
- Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.)
- Doctor of Pastoral Counseling (D.PC)
- Doctor of Pastoral Music (D.P.M.)
- Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.)
- Doctor of Physical Education (D.P.E.)
- Doctor of Physical Therapy (D.P.T.)
- Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (D.P.M.)
- Doctor of Practical Theology (D.P.T., D.Th.P.)
- Doctor of Professional Studies (D.P.S.)
- Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D)
- Doctor of Public Administration (D.P.A.)
- Doctor of Recreation (D.Rec., D.R.)
- Doctor of Rehabilitation (Rh.D.)
- Doctor of Sacred Music (D.S.M.)
- Doctor of Science in Dentistry (D.Sc.D.)
- Doctor of Science and Hygiene (D.Sc.H.)
- Doctor of Science in Veterinary Medicine (D.Sc.V.M.)
- Doctor of the Science of Law (J.S.D.)
- Doctor of Social Science (D.S.Sc.)
- Doctor of Social Work (D.S.W.)
- Doctor of Transformational Leadership (D.T.L.)
- Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.)
Earn A Degree Online
If you are interested in earning your doctorate degree in any desired subject, consider earning your bachelor’s or master’s degree online, so that you are one step closer to your goals.
Earning a degree online is a great way to study while working, raising a family, or just going at your own pace.
University of the People is a tuition-free university that allows students to earn their degree 100% online. We pride ourselves on offering affordable degree programs to our students, so that everyone has equal access to quality education.
We offer degrees in business administration , health science , computer science , and education , so if you’re looking to earn a doctorate degree, University of the People is the best place to start.
There are many fascinating and practical doctorate degrees to choose from. Whether you’re interested in research in education and language, or becoming a nurse or veterinarian, there is a degree for every field and interest.
For those who are determined to earn a doctorate degree, a great way to start is to earn your bachelor’s or master’s degree online, so you can be one step closer to your goals. We hope you find something to pique your interest in this comprehensive list of doctorate degrees.
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What is a PhD?
By Hasna Haidar
Do you have a love of wisdom and a clear field of academic interest? If so, a PhD might be the right choice for you. But what is a PhD, and how can you get one?
PhD is short for Doctor of Philosophy. This is an academic or professional degree that, in most countries, qualifies the degree holder to teach their chosen subject at university level or to work in a specialized position in their chosen field.
The word ‘philosophy’ comes from the Ancient Greek philosophia , literally translated as ‘love of wisdom’. It originally signified an individual who had achieved a comprehensive general education in the fundamental issues of the present world. Today, the Doctor of Philosophy still requires a love of wisdom but applies to individuals who have pursued knowledge in a much more specialized field.
A PhD is a globally recognized postgraduate academic degree awarded by universities and higher education institutions to a candidate who has submitted a thesis or dissertation, based on extensive and original research in their chosen field. The specificities of PhD degrees vary depending on where you are and what subject you’re studying.
In general, however, the PhD is the highest level of degree a student can achieve (with some exceptions). It usually follows a master’s degree, although some institutions also allow students to progress straight to a PhD from their bachelor’s degree. Some institutions also offer the opportunity to ‘upgrade’ or ‘fast-track’ your master’s degree to a PhD, provided you are deemed to possess the necessary grades, knowledge, skills and research abilities.
Traditionally, a PhD involves three to four years of full-time study in which the student completes a substantial piece of original research presented as a thesis or dissertation. Some PhD programs accept a portfolio of published papers, while some countries require coursework to be submitted as well.
Students must also complete a ‘viva voce’ or oral defense of their PhD. This can be with just a small number of examiners, or in front of a large examination panel (both usually last between one to three hours). While PhD students are traditionally expected to study on campus under close supervision, distance education and e-learning schemes have meant a growing number of universities are now accepting part-time and distance-learning PhD students.
PhD admission requirements
Generally speaking, PhD admission requirements relate to the candidate’s grades (usually at both bachelor’s level and master’s level) and their potential research capabilities. Most institutions require that candidates hold an honors degree or a master’s degree with high academic standing, along with a bachelor’s degree with at least upper second-class honors. In some cases, you can also apply for a PhD simply on the basis of your master’s degree grades. Grades-based PhD admission requirements may also be based on the type of funding you will be using – you may be able apply with lower grades if you self-fund your PhD (read more on PhD funding here ).
Some institutions and subjects (such as psychology and some humanities and science subjects) stipulate that you must find a tenured professor in your chosen institution to serve as your formal advisor and supervisor throughout your PhD program before you can be formally accepted into the program. In other cases, you will be assigned a supervisor based on your research subject and methodology once you have been accepted into the PhD program.
Either way, it is a good idea to approach a faculty member in your chosen institution before applying for a PhD, in order for them to determine whether your research interests align well with the department, and perhaps even help you to brainstorm PhD research options.
Some PhD applications require proof of proficiency in the language in which you intend to study. You can either provide the results of an approved standardized language exam or show evidence of having completed undergraduate or postgraduate study in the relevant language.
Some institutions may also ask for a record of your employment such as a résumé, and/or all your academic transcripts, including details of course modules and module content as part of your PhD application. Details of other research projects you have completed and any publications you have been featured in can also help your application.
Many PhD applicants are also asked to provide references from two or three people who know them well in an academic setting, such as their undergraduate or postgraduate tutors or professors. These references must have a particular focus on your academic performance, coursework and research abilities, your research potential and your interest in your chosen field of study.
Many institutions ask for a personal statement - a short essay which you can use to demonstrate your passion for your chosen subject. You can outline your reasons for wanting to study a PhD, personal motivations for doing so, any extracurricular activities that are particularly relevant or should be highlighted, and any flexibility in your chosen area(s) of research. If you need help, many institutions have a guide to personal statements on their website, which can also help you tailor your personal statement to each institution.
PhD research proposals
Finally, in order to be considered for a place on a PhD program, applicants are expected to submit a PhD research proposal. A research proposal:
- Outlines your proposed research topics in the context of previous work,
- Highlights your awareness of current debates within the field,
- Demonstrates a suitable level of analysis,
- Identifies relevant gaps in current knowledge,
- Suggests a relevant research hypothesis to fill some of these gaps,
- Explains your intended research methodology in sufficient detail,
- Discusses the implications to real-world policy that your PhD proposal may invite.
This will help admissions tutors to assess your aptitude for PhD research, and also to determine whether your research interests align with their own research priorities and available facilities. They will also consider whether they have the relevant staff to provide you sufficient supervisory expertise.
For this reason in particular, it is important to research institutions thoroughly before applying for a PhD. Not only will you be happier if your research interests fit in with those of your chosen institution, but institutions may be forced to reject your application simply on the basis of discrepancies between their research interests and yours. Note that this initial research proposal is not necessarily binding – it is usually a starting point from which to further develop your research idea.
Some subject areas (such as science and engineering) do not ask for original research proposals. Instead, the institution presents a selection of PhD research projects which are formulated by the supervisor(s) concerned and peer reviewed. This may be done at a certain time of year or year-round, depending on the institution. Students can then submit a statement demonstrating a clear understanding of the research to be undertaken and their suitability to undertake it.
These PhD research projects may also have been formulated in consultation with another organization that may provide funding/scholarships for the successful candidate. These pre-defined PhD projects are less common in arts, humanities and social sciences subjects, where it’s more common for students to submit their own proposals.
Can I apply for a PhD without relevant qualifications?
If you wish to do a PhD but do not have the relevant qualifications or their equivalent, you may still be able to apply for a PhD program by fulfilling additional requirements as stipulated by your institution of choice. Some possible requirements could be to undertake specified extra study or passing a qualifying examination.
You may also be able to make a special case to your chosen institution, either on the basis of a non-degree professional qualification and considerable practical experience, or on the basis of foreign qualifications. Special case PhD applications will require the strong backing of your potential supervisor, so you will need to seek his/her advice and support before applying in this manner.
PhDs through MPhil
Another option available for potential PhD candidates is to apply as a general research student or for an MPhil degree . This is a common path taken by PhD candidates. The MPhil is an advanced master’s degree awarded for research and can be suitable for students who do not have a strong research background. You will be required to take some taught courses to get you up to speed with things like research methods.
The successful completion of a one-year taught program may lead to the award of the MRes degree, which includes more taught components than the MPhil and can be awarded in lieu of a PhD for students who have not completed the required period of study for a PhD. Alternatively, the successful completion of original research may lead to the award of the MPhil degree, which can be awarded without the candidate having to present a defense of their dissertation (a requirement to achieve a PhD).
If, after the first or second year of your research (i.e. during your MPhil), the institution is satisfied with the progress of your work, you may then be able to apply for full PhD registration. Usually, your supervisor or tutor will be in charge of determining whether you are ready to progress to a PhD. If you’re deemed to be ready, you will then need to develop a title for your thesis and choose your PhD program.
Starting a PhD
When registration has been completed you should be officially informed of: your supervisor(s) and their area(s) of expertise; the topic or field of PhD research for which you have been accepted; the minimum length of time required before submission of your thesis; the formal assessment methods preferred by the institution.
Most institutions will also provide you with a comprehensive list of provisions and available facilities for PhD and research students at the university. They will also include a detailed outline of the milestones you must reach on your journey to achieve a PhD. Your supervisor will be in charge of going through these milestones with you, making reports on your progress, and advising you on your next steps. You will need to make adequate progress each year in order to continue your PhD studies.
Alternatives to a PhD
When looking for PhD programs, keep in mind that there are several types of degrees which have the term “doctor” in their title, such as the Juris Doctor (common in the US, Canada, Australia, Mexico and parts of Asia), the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) or the Doctor of Pharmacy (DPharm) and the US and Canada version of the Doctor of Medicine (MD).
These degrees are generally not classified as PhDs as they lack that vital component that really defines the PhD: academic research. These other types of doctorate degrees are instead referred to as entry-level doctorate degrees. Candidates who wish to pursue a PhD may do so afterwards, and this may be known as a ‘post-professional doctorate’.
Neither the JD nor the US/Canada MD programs universally require students to complete a specified academic research component in order to be awarded the degree title. However, there are also many research degrees, such as the MD, which conduct scholarly research (medical in the case of the MD) which is published in peer-reviewed journals. This makes them very similar to PhDs, and some countries consider them equivalent. Some institutions therefore offer combined professional and research training degrees, such as the MD-PhD dual program, which is useful for medical professionals looking to pursue a research career.
Degrees higher than a PhD
In addition to various degrees which may be considered equivalent to a PhD, there are also some ‘higher doctorate’ courses considered to be a step above the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). These are most common in UK universities and in some European countries, although they are increasingly awarded as honorary degrees. The US does not have a system of higher doctorates and offer the titles solely as honorary degrees. Honorary degrees are sometimes signified by adding ‘hc’ (for honoris causa ) to the end of the degree title.
Some higher doctorate degrees include:
- Doctor of Science (DS/SD): Awarded in recognition of a substantial and sustained contribution to scientific knowledge beyond that required for a PhD.
- Doctor of Literature/Letters (DLit/DLitt/LitD): Awarded in recognition of achievement in the humanities or for original contribution to the creative arts.
- Doctor of Divinity (DD): Awarded above the Doctor of Theology (DTh), usually to recognize the recipient’s ministry-oriented accomplishments.
- Doctor of Music (DMus): Awarded in the UK, Ireland and some Commonwealth countries on the basis of a substantial portfolio of compositions and/or scholarly publications on music.
- Doctor of Civil Law (DCL): Highest doctorate excepting the DD, offered on the basis of exceptionally insightful and distinctive publications that contain significant and original contributions to the study of law or politics in general.
This article was first published in February 2014 and most recently updated in January 2020.
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This article was originally published in February 2014 . It was last updated in February 2023
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- Master’s vs PhD | A Complete Guide to the Differences
Master's vs PhD | A Complete Guide to the Differences
Published on November 27, 2020 by Lauren Thomas . Revised on September 14, 2022.
The two most common types of graduate degrees are master’s and doctoral degrees:
- A master’s is a 1–2 year degree that can prepare you for a multitude of careers.
- A PhD, or doctoral degree, takes 3–7 years to complete (depending on the country) and prepares you for a career in academic research.
A master’s is also the necessary first step to a PhD. In the US, the master’s is built into PhD programs, while in most other countries, a separate master’s degree is required before applying for PhDs.
Master’s are far more common than PhDs. In the US, 24 million people have master’s or professional degrees, whereas only 4.5 million have doctorates.
Table of contents
Master’s vs phd at a glance, which is right for you, length of time required, career prospects, costs and salaries, application process, frequently asked questions about master's and phd degrees.
The table below shows the key differences between the two.
A PhD is right for you if:
- Your goal is to become a professor at a university or some other type of professional researcher.
- You love research and are passionate about discovering the answer to a particular question.
- You are willing to spend years pursuing your research even if you have to put up with a lot of dead ends and roadblocks.
A master’s degree is the better choice if any of the following apply:
- You want to continue studies in your field, but you’re not committed to a career as a professional researcher.
- You want to develop professional skills for a specific career.
- You are willing to pay a higher upfront cost if it means finishing with your degree (and thus being able to work) much faster.
- You want the option to study part-time while working.
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The length of time required to complete a PhD or master’s degree varies. Unsurprisingly, PhDs take much longer, usually between 3–7 years. Master’s degrees are usually only 1–2 years.
Length of a master’s
Master’s degrees are usually 2 years, although 1-year master’s degrees also exist, mainly in the UK.
Most of the degree consists of classes and coursework, although many master’s programs include an intensive, semester-long master’s thesis or capstone project in which students bring together all they’ve learned to produce an original piece of work.
Length of a PhD
In the US, a PhD usually takes between 5 and 7 years to complete. The first 2 years are spent on coursework. Students, even those who choose to leave without finishing the program, usually receive a master’s degree at this point.
The next 3–5 years are spent preparing a dissertation —a lengthy piece of writing based on independent research, which aims to make a significant original contribution to one’s field.
Master’s degrees tend to prepare you for a career outside of academia, while PhDs are designed to lead to a career in research.
Careers for master’s graduates
There are two types of master’s degrees: terminal and research-intensive. The career prospects are different for each.
Terminal master’s degrees are intended to prepare students for careers outside of academia. Some degrees, known as professional degrees, specifically prepare students for particular professions; these include the Master of Public Policy (MPP), Master of Business Administration (MBA), Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), Master of Fine Arts (MFA), and Master of Public Health (MPH) degrees.
Other master’s degrees, usually Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Sciences (MS or MSc) degrees, do not necessarily lead to a specific career, but are intended to be a final degree. Examples include an MS in Communications or MS in Data Analytics.
In research-intensive master’s programs, students take coursework intended to prepare them for writing an original piece of research known as the master’s thesis . Such programs are usually intended to prepare for further study in a doctoral program.
Careers for PhD graduates
As research degrees, PhDs are usually intended to lead to an academic career. A PhD can be thought of like an apprenticeship, where students learn from professional researchers (academics) how to produce their own research.
Most students aspire to become a university professor upon the completion of their degree. However, careers in academia are highly competitive, and the skills learned in a doctoral program often lend themselves well to other types of careers.
Some graduates who find they prefer teaching to producing research go on to be teachers at liberal arts colleges or even secondary schools. Others work in research-intensive careers in the government, private sector, or at think tanks.
Below are a few examples of specific fields and non-academic careers that are common destinations of graduates of those fields.
- Computer Science
- Lab Sciences
Many government jobs, including economists at a country’s central bank, are research-intensive and require a PhD. Think tanks also hire economists to carry out independent research.
In the private sector, economic consulting and technology firms frequently hire PhDs to solve real-world problems that require complex mathematical modeling.
Graduate students from the humanities are sometimes hired by museums, who can make use of their research and writing skills to curate exhibits and run public outreach.
Humanities PhDs are often well-suited to research and grant-writing roles at nonprofits. Since so much of research is funded by grants, PhD students often gain a lot of experience applying for them, which is a useful skill in the nonprofit sector.
There are a wide range of non-academic research jobs for lab scientists with doctorates in subjects like chemistry, biology, ecology and physics.
Many PhD graduates are hired by pharmaceutical companies that need to perform research to create and test their products. Government agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), also hire lab scientists to work on research projects.
Job prospects after graduation vary widely based on the field. In fields like management, computer science, statistics, and economics, there’s little underemployment—even graduates from less well-known programs can easily find jobs that pay well and use the skills they’ve gained from the PhD.
However, in other fields, particularly in the humanities, many PhD graduates have difficulty in the job market. Unfortunately, there are far more PhD graduates than assistant professor roles, so many instead take on part-time and low-paid roles as adjunct instructors. Even non-academic careers can sometimes be difficult for PhDs to move into, as they may be seen as “overqualified” or as lacking in relevant professional experience.
Because career options post-PhD vary so much, you should take the time to figure out what the career prospects are in your field. Doctoral programs often have detailed “placement” records online in which they list the career outcomes of their graduates immediately upon leaving the program. If you can’t find these records, contact the program and ask for them—placement information should play an important role in your choice of PhD program.
Although PhDs take far longer to complete, students often receive a living stipend in exchange for being a teaching or research assistant. Master’s degrees are shorter but less likely to be funded.
Both master’s degrees and PhDs lead to increased salaries upon graduation. While PhDs usually earn a bit more than those with a master’s degree, in some fields, the wages are identical, meaning that no financial benefit is gained from going on to a PhD.
Cost of a master’s
The upfront cost of a master’s degree is usually higher than a doctoral degree due to the lower amount of financial aid available. However, increased salaries also arrive faster than with a doctoral degree, because people graduate much earlier from a master’s program.
Some master’s students do receive stipends for their degrees, usually as compensation for being a teaching or research assistant. In addition, many people complete master’s degrees part time while working full-time, which allows them to fund their living costs as well as tuition.
The cost varies significantly by school and program. Public schools are usually cheaper than private ones. Some master’s degrees, such as MBAs, are notoriously expensive, but also result in much higher wages afterwards that make up for the high cost.
The master’s wage premium , or the extra amount that someone with a master’s degree makes than someone with just a high school diploma, is 23% on average. Many universities provide detailed statistics on the career and salary outcomes of their students. If they do not have this online, you should feel free to contact an administrator of the program and ask.
Cost of a PhD
PhDs, particularly outside the humanities, are usually (though not always) funded, meaning that tuition fees are fully waived and students receive a small living stipend. During the last 3–5 years of a PhD, after finishing their coursework (and sometimes before), students are usually expected to work as graduate instructors or research assistants in exchange for the stipend.
Sometimes students can apply for a fellowship (such as the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Program in the United States) that relieves them of any obligations to be a teaching or research assistant. Doctoral programs in the US tend to be better funded than in the rest of the world.
Sometimes, PhD degrees can be completed part-time, but this is rare. Students are usually expected to devote at least 40 hours a week to their research and work as teaching or research assistants.
The main cost of doctoral programs comes in the form of opportunity cost—all the years that students could be working a regular, full-time job, which usually pays much better than a graduate school stipend.
The average wage premium for PhDs is 26%, which is not much higher than the master’s degree premium.
In the US, the application process is similar for master’s and PhD programs. Both will generally ask for:
- At least one application essay, often called a personal statement or statement of purpose .
- Letters of recommendation .
- A resume or CV .
- Writing samples.
Applications for both types of programs also often require a standardized test. PhDs usually require the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), which tries to measure verbal reasoning, quantitative, critical thinking , and analytical writing skills. Many master’s programs require this test as well.
Applying for a master’s
Master’s degrees programs will often ask you to respond to specific essay prompts that may ask you to reflect upon not just your academic background, but also your personal character and future career ambitions.
Northwestern University’s Kellogg Business School requires Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) applicants write two essays, one about a recent time they demonstrated leadership and the second about their personal values.
Who you should ask for your letters of recommendation varies by program. If you are applying to a research-intensive master’s program, then you should choose former professors or research supervisors. For other programs, particularly business school, current work supervisors may be a better choice.
Some professional master’s programs require a specific test. For example, to apply to law school, you must take the Law School Admissions Test, or LSAT. For business school, you must take either the GRE or the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT).
Applying for a PhD
When applying for a PhD, your resume should focus more on your research background—you should especially emphasize any publications you’ve authored or presentations that you’ve given.
Similarly, your statement of purpose should discuss research that you’ve participated in, whether as an assistant or the lead author. You should detail what exactly you did in projects you’ve contributed to, whether that’s conducting a literature review, coding regressions, or writing an entire article.
Your letters of recommendations should be from former professors or supervisors who can speak to your abilities and potential as a researcher. A good rule of thumb is to avoid asking for recommendations from anyone who does not themselves have a PhD.
A master’s is a 1- or 2-year graduate degree that can prepare you for a variety of careers.
All master’s involve graduate-level coursework. Some are research-intensive and intend to prepare students for further study in a PhD; these usually require their students to write a master’s thesis . Others focus on professional training for a specific career.
A PhD, which is short for philosophiae doctor (doctor of philosophy in Latin), is the highest university degree that can be obtained. In a PhD, students spend 3–5 years writing a dissertation , which aims to make a significant, original contribution to current knowledge.
A PhD is intended to prepare students for a career as a researcher, whether that be in academia, the public sector, or the private sector.
This depends on the country. In the United States, you can generally go directly to a PhD with only a bachelor’s degree, as a master’s program is included as part of the doctoral program.
Elsewhere, you generally need to graduate from a research-intensive master’s degree before continuing to the PhD.
This varies by country. In the United States, PhDs usually take between 5–7 years: 2 years of coursework followed by 3–5 years of independent research work to produce a dissertation.
In the rest of the world, students normally have a master’s degree before beginning the PhD, so they proceed directly to the research stage and complete a PhD in 3–5 years.
A master’s degree usually has a higher upfront cost, but it also allows you to start earning a higher salary more quickly. The exact cost depends on the country and the school: private universities usually cost more than public ones, and European degrees usually cost less than North American ones. There are limited possibilities for financial aid.
PhDs often waive tuition fees and offer a living stipend in exchange for a teaching or research assistantship. However, they take many years to complete, during which time you earn very little.
In the US, the graduate school application process is similar whether you’re applying for a master’s or a PhD . Both require letters of recommendation , a statement of purpose or personal statement , a resume or CV , and transcripts. Programs in the US and Canada usually also require a certain type of standardized test—often the GRE.
Outside the US, PhD programs usually also require applicants to write a research proposal , because students are expected to begin dissertation research in the first year of their PhD.
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If you’re nearing the end of college or you’ve completed college, you’ve probably heard the term “graduate school” thrown around by your peers and teachers. In fact, you’ve probably heard all kinds of graduate-school related terms, like “graduate degree,” “Masters,” “PhD,” and more.
But what is a graduate degree? What is a PhD? What is a doctoral degree? What’s a doctorate? We’ll demystify it all here. (Hint: those last three are all the same thing.)
In this article, we’ll discuss what graduate school is, what graduate degrees you can get, and the difference between graduate and professional school. Then we’ll move on to discussing the benefits and drawbacks of graduate school, funding graduate programs, and how to apply to grad school.
What Is Graduate School?
What is grad school? Well, it’s not so much a specific “school” as a catchall term for some types of academic programs. Graduate degree programs offer advanced training (beyond a bachelor’s degree) in a specific academic discipline. They very much focus on advancing your subject-specific academic knowledge as opposed to preparing you for a specific career or job. Graduate degree programs often include opportunities to complete original research in the field.
There are a few different types of graduate degrees. We’ll review them in the next section.
What Is a Graduate Degree? The 3 Main Types
There are, generally speaking, three kinds of graduate degrees offered by graduate schools: the Master of Arts, the Master of Science, and the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). The MA and MS offer additional schooling in a discipline beyond a bachelor’s degree. A PhD is the most advanced degree in a given academic field. (Note that this is not true of professional fields—we will discuss the difference in the next section.)
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Master of Arts (MA)
What is a Master’s Degree? The Master of Arts is the typical Master’s graduate program for humanities and social science disciplines. They can be fairly general—for example, an MA in Communication or Anthropology, or even Humanities. They can also be highly specialized, like an MA in Folklore or an MA in History of the Book (a real degree!).
Some MA degrees lead specifically to a PhD, while others stand on their own. There are graduate programs designed for those with no prior academic exposure to a field, while others provide further training to those who studied the discipline (or a closely related one) as undergraduates. Some offer original research opportunities, while others focus more on instruction.
Depending on the specific discipline and program, an MA degree generally lasts 1-2 years for a full-time student. Select fields or disciplines may offer a 3-year Master of Arts.
Master of Science (MS)
The Master of Science is the typical Master’s graduate program for scientific and quantitative disciplines. Like the MA, the MS can be fairly general in its focus, like an MS in Biology or Computer Science. They can also be incredibly specialized, like an MS in Predictive Analytics or Agricultural Economics.
Also like the MA, some are designed for those with bachelor’s degrees in the discipline. Others are designed for those trying to get exposure to a new field. Some more closely focus on the student completing original research, while others focus more on delivering in-depth instruction.
An MS degree also generally lasts 1-2 years for a full-time student. In some select fields/programs, it may take 3 years.
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
What is a PhD? PhD stands for Doctor of Philosophy. The PhD is the most advanced degree in a given academic discipline. It’s also known as a doctorate or a doctoral degree.
As the most advanced degree in an academic field, it’s considered a terminal degree. The Doctor of Philosophy prepares students to do academic work in their discipline —research and teaching—and for positions at universities and research institutions.
PhD programs generally expect students to have some preexisting academic training in the discipline or a related field, usually from the student’s undergraduate degree. Most PhDs will not expect incoming students to have Master’s degrees, although some might. However, students with an MA or MS in the discipline might be able to complete the PhD more quickly because they may not need to complete as much coursework.
Furthermore, most PhD programs do expect applicants to have some form of previous research experience and preferably some academic publishing credits. They may not require the student to have the experience and publishing credits in the same discipline as the PhD, but almost all PhD programs will expect some amount of previous research and academic publication experience.
The structure of a PhD typically involves some amount of preliminary coursework, followed by a written and oral exam in the discipline. Then students will begin research and work on their PhD dissertation, an original research project. Throughout this time, students generally teach and/or work as research assistants to make money.
How many years is a doctorate degree? A PhD can take anywhere from three years (if you have a master’s degree and write extremely fast!) to eight years (if you have a lot of coursework to complete and a particularly obscure dissertation topic). But the time it usually takes to complete a PhD is in the 4-6 year range.
Graduate vs. Professional School
You may notice a huge number of degrees you could pursue after your undergraduate degree missing from the list of degrees above—like the MD, the MBA, the MPH, the MFA, the JD, the MEd, and many others.
This is because those degrees are professional degrees.
So what’s the difference between a graduate degree and a professional degree? A graduate degree provides advanced training in an academic discipline. A professional degree provides advanced training for a specific profession. For example, a JD trains you to become a lawyer. An MD trains you to become a doctor. So while a graduate degree focuses on an academic discipline or area of inquiry, a professional degree focuses on professional training.
We should be clear that these are not hard-and-fast distinctions. The line between what is a graduate program and what is a professional program is not always crystal-clear. Many institutions will refer to some (or all) of their advanced degrees as graduate degrees, without distinguishing between graduate and professional schools.
Additionally, professional degrees can lead to academia, and graduate degrees can lead to professional careers. For example, an MFA can prepare students both for academic teaching and inquiry and for professional careers as artists. While an MPH trains you to work as a public health professional, many MPHs go on to work for research institutions or receive PhDs and go into academia. Many professional schools offer MS or MA degrees (for example, a business school may offer an MS in Business Informatics). Additionally, some graduate schools offer MA or MS degrees that primarily focus on building professional skills and contacts.
Gray areas aside, the general distinction is that professional degrees focus on building career and professional skills, while graduate degrees focus on building your knowledge in a particular discipline and your skill in academic inquiry.
5 Top Benefits of Graduate School
Now that we’ve answered the question, “what is graduate school,” you may find yourself wondering: Is grad school worth it? Should I go to graduate school?
Here are five potential benefits to graduate school:
Preparation to Work in Academia
A major reason to go to graduate school—particularly to earn a PhD—is to position yourself to work in academia. If you want to be a professor at a university, you will need a PhD. For lecturer or researcher positions at small or community colleges, an MA or MS may be sufficient.
But in general, if you want to teach at a college level and work on research in a given discipline, a graduate degree of some kind is pretty much necessary.
Higher Earning Potential and Expanded Job Prospects (Sometimes)
A graduate degree will often increase your earning potential. More relevant training typically means more pay in that field. You’ll also be eligible for more jobs, like more senior research positions.
However, you shouldn’t assume that a graduate degree will always expand your job prospects and increase your pay. An MA in Middle English may not really lead to much of anything except increased debt, simply because there’s just not a high demand for people with MAs in Middle English. So, that training isn’t likely to be considered valuable enough for you to earn more or be a more attractive job applicant.
Be sure to do some research into the discipline you are interested in so that you have a realistic idea of how it will expand your job prospects and pay, if at all.
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Pivoting Your Skills
Say your undergraduate degree was in English Literature, but now you want to be a sociologist. Getting a master’s degree is a great way to get training in a new discipline you haven’t had much exposure to. Armed with your shiny new master’s degree and associated skills, you’ll be able to work in a field that was previously closed to you.
If you need to develop research skills and publish some academic papers, getting an MA or MS can be a good move. This is particularly true if you want to pursue a PhD and need to beef up your research experience and publication credits. Getting a master’s in a discipline related to your prospective PhD can be a huge help here. It will also help you build contacts to serve as recommendations.
Strengthen an Application to Professional School
In a similar vein, you may want to get an MA or MS to strengthen an application to professional school. Any research and publication credits you amass there, as well as a strong GPA or good recommendations, will help you stand out.
For example, maybe your heart is set on being a doctor but your undergraduate grades aren’t quite at the level you’d like, or you simply want to stand out more. Really excelling in an MS program can boost your application.
2 Potential Drawbacks to Graduate School
We’ve listed the benefits—but don’t put in your application yet. There are also some potential drawbacks to graduate school to consider. We’ll list two of the most major drawbacks here.
Graduate degrees are expensive! Tuition and fees can easily run past $20,000 a semester at a private university, not to mention living expenses. You may have to take out pretty massive loans to cover all of this, so it’s important that you carefully consider how graduate school will increase your earning potential or job prospects. In more esoteric fields, the expense may not ever pay off in realized earnings. This shouldn’t necessarily dissuade you from pursuing a graduate degree but it is something to be aware of.
However, some programs will cover all or most of your tuition. You’ll also most likely be able to work part-time while completing graduate work, which will help offset expenses. For most PhD candidates, and some masters students, part-time work as teaching staff or research assistants is built into the program.
If you’re completing a part-time master’s degree, you can also maintain a full-time job while you complete the coursework.
Finally, keep in mind that the expense of tuition isn’t the only cost—while you’re in graduate school, you could be making a full salary employed in the workforce. In some cases, your PhD might lead to a higher salary, but it’ll take multiple years for you to recover the full salaries that you lost out on while you were in school.
Poor Job Prospects
There are some graduate disciplines that simply don’t lead to many job opportunities. For example, there are far more philosophy PhD graduates than tenure-track positions in university philosophy departments. In fact, academia in general is hyper-competitive, so unless you are attending a top program, getting an academic job at the end may be almost ludicrously difficult.
Especially if you are paying for the graduate degree yourself, if there isn’t much in the way of job offers at the end, the degree may be a poor investment. This is something to research before committing to the course.
Funding: How to Pay for Graduate School
Finding graduate school funding can be difficult. There are, in general, a lot more people who want to go to school than there is money available to fund them. Funding in the forms of grants, fellowships, and scholarships for master’s programs in particular tends to be incredibly competitive. There are few fellowships and scholarships available at this level, though there is more funding available for students in high-demand STEM fields like engineering and computer science.
On the flip side, it’s more likely that you’ll receive partial or full funding for PhD work. But PhD programs are far, far more competitive for admission than master’s programs.
Sometimes you can be admitted to a PhD program without any funding. (This is called a self-funded PhD.) This is not likely to pay off in the long run unless you have some fairly sizable independent income or savings, as you will almost certainly rack up debt in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The return-on-investment in this case may not be very high, especially given how competitive it is to get a tenure-track position.
Funding for a given program is likely to be some combination of loans, grants and fellowships, and research or teaching positions. Even if you are a fully funded PhD student, you won’t receive a whole lot of money—generally just enough to cover expenses.
In general, people don’t go to graduate school to make the big bucks, but because they have a very intense passion for the discipline.
Applying to Graduate School: How to Get Into Grad School
If you’ve decided to apply to graduate school, what do you need to be a successful candidate? This will of course vary from program to program, but you’ll need a few general qualifications.
Good GRE Score
You’ll need a GRE score that’s reasonably competitive for the programs you’re interested in. (See more on what’s a good GRE score here ). This will usually involve a high score in the more relevant section of the GRE. So for a math or science graduate degree, you’ll need a high Quant score. For a humanities or social sciences degree, you’ll need a high Verbal score.
Relevant Experience and/or Publication Credits
You’ll need to have the requisite relevant experience for admission. For master’s programs, this can take the shape of some kind of work experience, undergraduate experience, research experience, and/or publication credits. However, for PhD programs, you’ll almost certainly need research experience and academic publication credits to be a competitive applicant. The experience and publications won’t necessarily have to be directly within the discipline you are applying in, but you will need them to show that you have academic chops.
Strong Undergraduate Record
A strong undergraduate record makes for a stronger application. Barring that, solid work or research experience and/or strong grades in another master’s or professional degree can also help you get admitted to the program(s) of your choice.
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Highly positive recommendations, especially from notable people within the field, can provide a real boost to your application. You want recommenders who can speak to your interest in the field as well as your suitability for academic work. If you’re an undergraduate at the time of application, professors you’ve worked with are the best option. If you’re a recent graduate, a combination of professional and academic recommendations will probably best capture your skills. And if you have been out of school for some time, your recommendations may be primarily professional, which is fine.
Clear Articulation of Your Interests and Goals
It’s also important that your application clearly communicates why you’re interested in further training in the discipline and what you plan to do with that training. If you can articulate a real passion for the field and clear goals, and you can connect those things to elements of the specific program you are applying to, your application will be much stronger.
Summary: What Is Graduate School?
“Graduate school” is a catchall term for academic programs that provide training in a specific academic discipline or field beyond the undergraduate level.
There are three primary kinds of graduate degrees:
- Master of arts degrees typically provide further training in the humanities and social sciences.
- Master of science degrees usually provide further training in the sciences and quantitative fields.
- PhDs, or doctorates in philosophy, provide the most advanced training available in a given academic discipline. PhDs prepare you to work in academia.
Graduate school is different from professional school. Professional school describes academic programs beyond an undergraduate degree that train you to work in a specific professional field. For example, lawyers get JDs, and doctors get MDs. There are some gray areas between graduate and professional school, but the general distinction is that graduate school furthers your knowledge of an academic field and professional school trains you for a specific career or class of careers.
Here are some of the main benefits of graduate school:
- Graduate degrees are necessary for work in academia.
- Some fields may give you higher earning potential and expanded job prospects.
- You can gain skills in a new area or discipline than your undergraduate degree.
- Graduate school can help you get research experience and publication credits.
- A graduate degree can help you strengthen your application to professional school.
Here are some of the main drawbacks to graduate school:
- Graduate school is expensive!
- Some graduate degrees won’t give you expanded job prospects or a better salary, making them a poor investment.
It can be difficult to get funding for graduate school. You are more likely to get funding for a PhD than a master’s degree, but PhDs are also more competitive. Overall, most people don’t go to graduate school specifically because they are looking for a very lucrative career.
If you want to go to graduate school, here’s how to make yourself a strong applicant:
- Get a good GRE score
- Have relevant experience and/or publication credits
- Have a strong undergraduate record
- Secure glowing recommendations
- Clearly articulate your interests and goals in the discipline
That’s our overview of graduate school, folks!
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Author: Ellen McCammon
Ellen is a public health graduate student and education expert. She has extensive experience mentoring students of all ages to reach their goals and in-depth knowledge on a variety of health topics. View all posts by Ellen McCammon
What is a Graduate Degree?
For those considering graduate school , it’s important to take the time to understand what an advanced degree program entails. Read on to learn about the different types of graduate programs, the time commitment, cost, and enrollment conditions required, and what students should expect at this level of advanced study.
An undergraduate degree —either a bachelor’s or associate degree—is considered a baseline educational requirement in many professions. As such, the pursuit of this degree has become commonplace among high school graduates. As of 2018, 69 percent of students chose to complete their undergraduate degree immediately after earning their high school diploma.
A graduate degree —including master’s degrees , doctorates , and PhDs —provides an advanced understanding of a specific topic or field, and demonstrates a commitment to lifelong learning that many employers value. Those who choose to enroll in graduate school often do so with a series of focused, career-oriented goals in mind, which sets the stage for a substantially different type of learning environment than one might experience during an undergraduate career.
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Types of Graduate Degrees
Students embarking on graduate school should begin by determining if an academic or professional degree is right for them.
Students who desire a career in a specific field (such as law, pharmaceuticals, medicine, or education) may opt to pursue a professional degree . These programs emphasize hands-on learning and often require students to obtain substantial real-world experience prior to graduation.
Academic (or research) degrees align with a single, specific area of study or field. Students in pursuit of these degrees are required to develop an in-depth understanding of their subject area and complete a thesis or capstone project to demonstrate their knowledge.
Learn More: Professional Degree Vs. Academic Degree: What’s the Difference?
Although master’s degrees may be the most common form of graduate study, there are various professional and academic graduate-level degrees that students should consider. Some of the most common include:
- Master of Arts Degree (MA): An MA is a type of academic master’s degree that correlates most directly with humanities-based subject areas such as communications, teaching, languages, and more. Classes in these programs are primarily discussion-based and might require fieldwork, a thesis, or a capstone project prior to graduation. Some common MA programs include Homeland Security , English , and Elementary Education .
- Master of Science Degree (MS) : An MS is another type of academic master’s degree which typically correlates with advanced study in fields that relate to science and mathematics. Courses in these programs often require extensive lab work or research and culminate with thesis or capstone projects, as well. Some common MS programs include Cybersecurity , Corporate & Organizational Communication , Leadership , and Project Management .
- Master of Fine Arts (MFA): An MFA is a professional degree for artists in fields such as graphic design, music, theater, film, and more. Alongside a practical and abstract exploration of their art, graduates of these programs often receive the credentials necessary to teach at the undergraduate level. Some common MFA programs include Information Design & Visualization , Creative Writing, and Acting.
- Master of Professional Studies (MPS) : An MPS is an interdisciplinary degree focused on a single area of professional study. Unlike MA or MS degrees, these programs are typically more hands-on in nature and require an internship, work-study, or co-op experience prior to graduation. Some common MPS programs include Analytics , Informatics , and Digital Media .
A professional doctorate is focused on the advanced practice of knowledge and skills, making it a degree for those who are more professionally oriented. While these programs also help to develop research skills, the main focus is to apply knowledge to industry to solve new and emerging problems.
- Juris Doctor (JD): This degree provides students with the practical skills and expansive knowledge needed to practice law in America. While JD programs share some commonalities with other graduate-level law degrees, such as a Master of Legal Studies or a Master of Laws , there are key differences between the three.
- Doctor of Education (EdD): This is another professional doctorate degree not to be confused with a PhD in Education . This type of program is for educators and professionals who want to direct and implement change within their organizations. These degrees are designed to prepare students to become leaders in their communities.
- Doctor of Medicine (MD): Students hoping to pursue a career in medicine or surgery pursue this professional doctorate degree.
- Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) : Individuals pursuing a career in the pharmaceutical industry must obtain a PharmD. These programs include components of research, teaching, and clinical practice.
Learn More: Why Earn a Professional Doctoral Degree?
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
A PhD is a postgraduate doctoral degree based on extensive research in a given field. Students can earn a PhD in areas such as technology, humanities, social sciences, and more. Individuals who complete their PhDs often pursue a career in academia, though some may continue on to complete similar research for the remainder of their career. Some common PhD programs include Counseling Psychology , Bioengineering , and Pharmacology . PhDs are not to be confused with professional/clinical doctorates , which are designed to provide students with the practical skills needed to excel in their career.
How Long Does it Take to Earn a Graduate Degree
The timeline for completion of a graduate degree will vary depending on three factors:
- The type of degree you pursue.
- Your desired subject area.
- The specific institution at which you are studying.
On average, however, those enrolled in a master’s program full-time will likely complete their degree within one-and-a-half to three years. Individuals who pursue their master’s degree part-time might take longer than three years to complete it, depending on how many credits they enroll in each semester.
Most PhD and professional doctoral candidates will finish their degrees in five to six years, though the time commitment may vary depending on the subject area. Some more intensive degree programs, like an MD, can take up to eight years to complete.
Learn More: How Long Does It Take to Earn a Master’s Degree?
Graduate Degree Requirements
Requirements for different graduate programs vary greatly depending on the subject, institution, and whether or not it is a culminating degree. The most common requirement, however, is an undergraduate degree, as this acts as a base for advanced learning.
Other application requirements for specific graduate programs might include:
- A statement of purpose
- Your educational transcripts
- A portfolio of your work
- Professional/academic recommendations
- Any additional written assignments
You may also need to take and submit your scores for a subject-specific exam (e.g. LSAT, MCAT, etc.) or for the general Graduate Record Examination (GRE) , which is a requirement for many graduate programs globally.
The Cost of A Graduate Degree
The cost of a graduate degree will also vary greatly depending on what program and what institution you are considering. Yet, many people make incorrect assumptions about the price of graduate school based on their knowledge of undergraduate costs.
“Many of us have in our heads the sticker price of $30,000 to $40,000 per year for undergraduate education,” Sean Gallagher , executive director of the Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy at Northeastern told U.S. News & Report in 2017. “So we say, ‘OK, it’s two years for a graduate degree, so it’s going to cost me $70,000 to $80,000 or more.’ And while there are certainly programs at that price point, there are many programs where you can get the entire graduate degree for between $20,000 and $40,000.”
No matter the program, graduate school will be both an educational and financial investment in your career. As such, institutions like Northeastern have adopted a variety of financial aid options for students to help hedge the cost of graduate studies. Students can utilize scholarships, grants, and even tuition reimbursement programs through their employers to help pay for their advanced education.
Learn More: Paying for Grad School: Where and How to Start
5 Characteristics of a Strong Graduate Program
#1) flexible learning options.
In most universities, graduate programs are designed to accommodate the needs of working professionals and are thus offered in a variety of exceedingly flexible formats.
Firstly, students at the graduate level can choose to enroll in either a part-time or full-time capacity. A part-time graduate program offers working professionals the opportunity to take on only as many classes as they can handle per semester, and work toward finishing their degree at their own speed. Full-time students, on the other hand, must be enrolled in a specific number of credit hours per semester as determined by the university, and will work toward completing their program in a linear manner. At Northeastern, for example, full-time students must be enrolled in nine quarter hours of graduate credits per semester.
Universities like Northeastern also offer a variety of graduate programs in online , on-ground, and hybrid formats to best fit the needs of any given students. Taking online or hybrid courses is an effective way for students who are already working in their field to balance their coursework with their other professional commitments, as well.
For those who aren’t ready to commit to an entire graduate program, some universities also offer graduate certificates in many in-demand areas of study. Certificate programs provide either a condensed understanding of basic advanced principles as they relate to an area of study, or a very niche look at a specific aspect of the subject. Though the amount of knowledge attained in a certificate program is vastly less than that of a full graduate degree, some prefer this condensed format of study for its reduced cost and shorter time commitment.
#2) A Focused Curriculum
By the time a student reaches graduate school, they are likely no longer in the exploring phase of their education. Instead, these students have often experienced life as a working professional, determined which area of study best aligns with their passions, and have made the educated decision to become an expert on that topic through the pursuit of a graduate degree.
For this reason, many graduate programs offer students a far more unified educational experience than at the undergraduate level. Often, this will be reflected in a common curriculum that all students within a single program must follow. While they may still be able to pick the specific topics that most interest them off this predetermined list of classes, each course will relate back to their base area of study. This is done in an effort to give students a much more in-depth exploration of that specific topic rather than a surface-level understanding of many, unrelated ones.
Students in graduate school still have the opportunity to customize their education to best fit their needs, however. In fact, programs like those at Northeastern recognize that one of the most impactful offerings they can give their students is the chance to declare a concentration within their degree and tailor their studies in a way that aligns with their professional aspirations.
#3) Opportunities for Hands-On Learning
Northeastern University is known for its emphasis on experiential learning at all phases of a student’s educational journey, offering opportunities for real-world, hands-on learning through internships, work-study, co-ops, and more. There are also a variety of graduate-specific experiential learning opportunities for students, such as Northeastern’s Experiential Network (XN) initiative.
A Closer Look: Northeastern’s XN initiative offers students the opportunity to participate in six-week-long, virtual projects for active organizations within the university’s expansive network. These projects align with students’ academic work, allowing them to apply what they learn in the classroom to these real-world scenarios. Following the format of gig-economy work experiences, students spend 30-40 hours on each project and, in that time, practice making decisions and completing work that will have a genuine impact on these organizations’ success.
In general, graduate degrees tend to be research- or capstone-oriented in nature, meaning that, depending on a student’s area of study, they will be frequently honing their practical abilities alongside their theoretical skills. Graduate programs emphasize this type of learning in an effort to develop well-rounded professionals in each field. These hands-on learning opportunities also offer students unparalleled exposure to different facets of their industry—as well as different types of workplaces—which can then be used to help them make an educated employment decision after graduation.
#4) An Industry-Aligned Network
Students have a unique advantage when it comes to networking in grad school . Between the opportunities to make connections in the classroom, at university-hosted events, and even in the professional world through hands-on learning experiences, these students are in the ideal setting to build their network.
Connecting with Classmates
Your classmates in grad school will likely be equally as driven and passionate about the exact same area of study as you are. You will also have the opportunity to grow together throughout your time in the program, resulting in a slew of common experiences and relationships that will help to keep you connected with and looking out for one another throughout your career. Although they may start out as your classmates, these individuals have the potential to become powerful players in the professional industry post-graduation, as well.
Connecting with Professors
Smaller class sizes and a more collaborative learning environment allow students to develop more personal connections with their professors during grad school than in their undergraduate studies. These relationships can be some of the most important in regards to your career, as professors at top universities like Northeastern are industry leaders and have connections that can be used to make introductions or open doors to potential employment opportunities after graduation.
Connecting with Industry Professionals
Given the emphasis on hands-on learning in grad school, students have the chance to develop their professional networks in their region and with organizations that they may be able to work with post-graduation. Having these types of industry-aligned connections is vital in today’s competitive job market, especially since a connection that has worked with you first-hand in a professional environment can speak to your qualifications in a far more concrete and impactful way than those who are only able to speak to your abilities abstractly.
Students who take the time to develop their professional network while in graduate school — whether online or on-ground —have the potential to see the positive impact of those connections for the remainder of their professional career.
#5) Substantial Impact on Your Career
Many students pursue graduate degrees to advance their careers. Whether that means getting a promotion, increasing their current salary, or even transitioning fields, these students are looking to make a positive change by showing employers the extent of their knowledge, network, and exposure to experiential learning.
While these goals are often achieved during the pursuit of a graduate degree, students’ careers can be impacted by graduate study in more ways than one. The overall career outlook for graduate degree holders, for instance, is incredibly positive compared to those with only a bachelor’s or associate degree.
For example, the current jobless rate for individuals with a master’s degree or higher is 12.5 percent lower than those who only hold a bachelor’s degree. Similarly, in regard to salary, those with a graduate degree earn 28 percent more than those with just an undergraduate degree on average. These individuals will also make over a million dollars more than those with just a high school diploma in their lifetime.
What’s more, graduates of advanced degree programs are some of the most in-demand within organizations today. When it comes to applying for a new role, 61 percent of employers are finding that the skills required for their open positions have evolved to require a higher education among applicants. By 2022, it is also expected that 18 percent of all jobs will require a graduate degree. Earning an advanced degree will help improve your skills and demonstrate your commitment to career development—two of the best ways to stand out in today’s competitive job market .
Explore Your Options at Northeastern
Ready to take the leap? Consider advancing your career with a graduate degree from Northeastern, a top-40 university . Evaluate the personal and professional benefits of a graduate degree, then explore Northeastern’s 200+ master’s , doctorate , and certificate programs to find the one that best aligns with your career goals.
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Advanced degree holders earn a salary an average 35% higher than bachelor's degree holders. (State Higher Education Executive Officers)
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Doctorate Degrees and PhD Programs
What is a doctorate degree vs a phd degree.
A Doctorate, or Doctoral Degree, is the highest level of academic degree awarded by a university. A doctorate typically signifies that the individual is qualified to teach at the post secondary level or work in a specific field of profession. There are two major types of doctoral degrees; the research oriented degree, and the professional doctorate degree.
Search PhD and Doctorate Programs
Doctorate Degrees are sometimes referred to as terminal degrees which means it is the final degree available in graduate school for students wishing to study in the chosen subject. In most fields, the terminal level degree is the doctor of philosophy, or PhD, but in some fields, it's a professional degree, such as a doctor of medicine or law degree.
We commonly associate a doctorate degree with the field of medicine and the abbreviation ‘M.D’, or medical doctorate, and the Ph.D., or Doctor of Philosophy Degree. In fact, there are different types of doctoral degrees, including the DBA degree, and several reasons why earning one might be just what the doctor ordered.
Is a PhD and a Doctorate the Same?
Doctoral degrees encompass both PhD degrees and other 'Doctor of' degrees. While these may be equivalent academically, there are differences to learn between PhD degrees and other degrees such as the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) or Juris Doctor (JD). Essentially, the differences appear in terms of the type of research and the focus for each degree - whether it is research-focused (PhD) or professional practice focused (e.g. DBA degree, JD degree, PsyD degree).
What Is a PhD?
Doctor of Philosophy, or PhD degrees, are research-based academic degrees which are awarded in many fields. A PhD degree is granted to students who have conducted publishable, original research in a peer-reviewed academic publication. Additionally, to get to that research, doctoral candidates have to complete a substantial amount of coursework beyond the master’s degree level. Many holders of this degree might pursue academic careers as college professors, scholarly writers and researchers. While the most common research degree is the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree, other research doctorates are available.
Some popular PhD Majors include:
- (Ed.D.)Doctor of Education
- (D.A.) Doctor of Arts
- (D.M.A.) Doctor of Musical Arts
- (DProf) Doctor of Professional Studies
- (DSocSci) Doctor of Social Science
- (DMan) Doctor of Management
- (D Eng) Doctor of Engineering
- (ThD) Doctor of Theology
What Is A Professional Doctorate Degree?
A professional doctorate degree is awarded in fields where both research and study are required, but the type of research is ‘applied’. This means it is designed to be used for professional purposes, such as to solve a real-world problem in their domain. These can be seen in psychology, medicine, engineering, education, law and business. Unlike the PhD, some professional doctorates while considered terminal degrees within their specific profession, may serve as a prerequisite or platform to a research degree in that field.
Examples of professional doctorates might include:
- (Pharm.D.)Doctor of Pharmacy
- (M.D.) Doctor of Medicine
- (D.Min.) Doctor of Ministry
- (Psy.D.)Doctor of Psychology
- (D.V.M.) Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
- (D.N.P.) Doctor of Nursing Practice
- (D.M.D.) Doctor of Dental Medicine
- (D.D.S.) Doctor of Dental Surgery
- (O.D.) Doctor of Optometry
- (D.P.T.) Doctor of Physical Therapy
- (D.C.) Doctor of Chiropractic
- (J.D.) Doctor of Jurisprudence
- Doctor of Osteopathic
- (DBA) Doctor of Business Administration
- (DPA) Doctor of Public Administration
- (DSW) Doctor of Social Work
Note that the Ed.D., D.Min., D.B.A. and M.D. are both research and professional doctorate degrees. Original research for a dissertation may have a combination of both theory and practical components. PhD programs are available within various fields of study. In each of these disciplines, there may be doctorate programs in several specialties and concentration areas. This may allow you to tailor your program to your interests and career goals.
Popular PhD and Doctorate Programs
DID YOU KNOW? About 3% of all jobs in the United States were in occupations that typically require a doctoral degree (Ph.D.) or first professional degree, such as in law or medicine. In May 2013, the median annual wage for those jobs was $97,550 according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics.
What is Higher Than a PhD?
A higher level of research doctorates, called Higher Doctorates, are sometimes awarded to those whose research is of a very high standard. These higher doctorates are also bestowed if a university wishes to formally acknowledge an individual for their achievements or contributions in the field. A Higher Doctorate typically signals that you have authoritative standing in your field.
Preparing for a Doctoral Degree in Your Field
Earning a doctoral degree may require a major investment of time and energy, but at the same time, climbing that mountain may give you excellent results and recognition. Just remember to do some homework as early as college. Choosing a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university, taking coursework during the preliminary degree(s), and making sure you are up to the commitment are some of the building blocks to earning your PhD degree or doctorate degree in any field.
How to Earn a Doctorate Degree
While each doctorate degree has its own requirements, doctorate degree curriculum typically involves coursework plus research. In the event you are in a four-year doctoral degree program, you may need to complete the following steps.
- Complete 60 to 120 semester credits (varies between graduate schools)
- Pass final examinations
- Write and defend a research thesis or dissertation
Other doctoral programs may involve a capstone project and supervised placement in your field. Format may vary depending on the type of doctoral degree you are pursuing. However, usually the courses are taken first. Rigorous examinations follow subsequent to test a candidate's knowledge. A dissertation topic is proposed and the latter part of one's doctorate program may be spent in research - collecting, recording, analyzing data, testing a hypothesis or whatever is pertinent to the field of study. Programs may vary, so follow up directly about individual programs to learn more.
DID YOU KNOW? To receive a doctoral degree, students must often complete a dissertation, a lengthy research project that contributes new knowledge to the field. Occupations that require a doctoral degree include animal scientists, computer and information research scientists, and physicists.
How Many Years is a Doctoral Degree?
Typically, a doctorate degree program can take about 4 to 6 years to complete after the bachelor’s degree. If you hold a master’s degree, you may be able to complete your doctorate in about 3 years of full-time study - or you may be able to find a dual masters and phd program . However, this is going to depend on the institution and the type of program. In some universities, it may be possible to find part-time doctoral degree programs, a factor that might extend time to completion.
What Are the Prerequisites for a Doctorate?
Doctoral applicants were previously required to have a master's degree, but many programs accept students immediately following undergraduate studies. Many programs gauge the potential of a student applying to their program and grant a master's degree upon completion of the necessary Ph.D. course work.
Is a Doctorate Degree 'Right' for You?
Doctoral degrees are not required in every field, which doesn't mean you shouldn't go for it. However, if you are thinking ahead to plan your scholastic path, or pave the way to a potential career, it is important to find out whether a doctoral or professional degree is required for professional practice. Is a PhD degree ultimately best for you? According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the answer may be ‘yes’ if any of the below statements are true.
- Your goal is advanced computer and information research.
- You are interested in a medical field (dentist, doctor, chiropractor).
- You want to do independent research in medical science, physics, biochemistry, biophysics.
- You want to work as a librarian in an academic library.
- Your ambition is to work as a licensed clinical psychologist.
Are Online PhD Programs Available?
Yes, some schools do offer online PhD programs. These may allow you to pursue your education without compromising your schedule. Generally, online programs will make course readings, syllabi, assignments and lectures available through an online platform. Online doctoral programs may also use chatrooms, discussion boards and email to encourage communication with professors and classmates. Fully online PhD programs are not always available. However, if this is the case, you might find hybrid doctoral programs which combine web-based courses with intensives on campus. Contact schools to learn more. You can even find online PhD programs that don't require you to take a GRE !
Accreditation and Doctoral Degrees
Accreditation in the United States focuses on institutions and programs. Institutional accreditation takes into account the integrity of the graduate school (faculty, mission, achievement). Specialized program accreditation takes into account courses and educational standards. Accreditation may help you evaluate the quality of a PhD program or school. It may also be an important factor if you are interested in federal aid. An institution can be accredited nationally by the United States Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. These national agencies recognize 6 regional organizations in turn. Standards for PhD program accreditation differ, and you are wise to see what they are in your field. For instance, the American Psychological Association (APA) accredits doctoral programs in psychology (PhD and PsyD), but look to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing for Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs . Visit the US Department of Education or individual accrediting bodies websites to learn more.
Top 1048 Graduate Schools with Doctorate and PhD Programs
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These Are the Different Types of Grad School Programs (and Why They Matter)
After much consideration, you’ve decided to attend graduate school. But your choices don’t stop there. Now you’ll need to choose which graduate schools to apply to, and ultimately which graduate school to attend.
To make an informed decision, it’s important to understand the different types of grad school programs. You want to choose the program that will best prepare you for your future. You also want to select a program that will give you the greatest competitive advantage in your field.
We’re here to clear up the confusion and make your choice an easier one. Let’s look at the different types of graduate schools and degree programs.
Public vs. Private
There are hundreds of graduate schools to choose from, but they all fall into two categories: public and private. Which type of graduate school is best for you?
What’s the Difference?
The first factor to consider is cost . Typically, private schools are more expensive than public schools. They’re funded by tuition and other sources, while public schools receive government funding.
However, there are some inexpensive private schools and some costly public schools. Research tuition at each school on your list before deciding.
Another consideration is size . Private schools are usually smaller than public schools. Advantages of attending a smaller school include more personalized attention, smaller class sizes, and closer relationships with peers and professors.
Often, however, large schools have more facilities and present more opportunities to network. They’re also may offer more organizations, entertainment, dining options, etc.
Finally, you’ll want to look at reputation and academics . Private schools are known for being academically rigorous. They’re often more prestigious than their public counterparts as well. Still, any graduate school will present a challenge academically.
The simple fact that a grad school is “public” or “private” won’t give you enough information to make a decision. You’ll need to look into the specifics of each school to determine which is right for you. And while some students may prefer private, others will find that a public school is a better fit.
Types of Graduate Degree Programs
Another way to categorize graduate programs is by the type of degree you’ll earn. Some professions require a specific degree, so this information is essential.
You can pursue a master’s degree or a doctorate degree. Typically, you can finish a master’s degree in about two years. Completing a doctorate degree requires four years or longer in most cases. Doctorates also come with more challenging requirements, like researching, writing, and presenting a dissertation.
Only about 2% of Americans have a doctorate. However, some careers require a doctorate, such as:
- Research scientist
- University president
- Healthcare administrator
- Psychologist (most types)
Before choosing a grad school program, research which degree is required in your chosen career field. In addition, which degree will give you access to the best opportunities?
You’ll need to earn a master’s degree before advancing to a doctorate. However, you can apply directly to most doctorate programs and earn your master’s along the way.
Types of Master’s Degree Programs
There are several types of master’s degree programs. The most common in the United States are the Master of Arts and Master of Science.
Another popular option is the Master of Business Administration, or MBA.
Master of Arts (MA)
The Master of Arts degree typically falls within the industries of education, communication, social sciences, and music.
Similarly, you can pursue a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in areas like photography, painting, and creative writing.
Master of Science (MS)
Master of Science degrees are generally in science, health, technology, and mathematics. Schools sometimes offer an MS for social science professions. These degree programs emphasize research more heavily than MA programs, which focus more on course content.
Some programs offer both an MS and an MA in a single subject. In this case, the MS tends to have additional academic requirements. It will also require more research than the MA option.
Students with a background in the field are typically required to choose the MS, while students who are new to the field may prefer the MA.
Master of Business Administration (MBA)
The Master of Business Administration is steadily gaining in popularity. MBA students receive broad training in all aspects of business, including operations, management, accounting, marketing, human resources, and more.
Students who already have a specialty in mind may choose a concentration. If concentrations aren’t available, students can typically select electives based on their personal interests and goals.
Types of Doctoral Degree Programs
Doctoral degrees are terminal degrees. This means you’ve achieved the highest degree possible in your field.
The two main types of doctoral degrees are the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and professional doctoral degrees.
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
The Doctor of Philosophy prepares students to do academic work in their discipline, such as research and teaching at the university level. Students build knowledge in a highly specialized area and develop their academic inquiry and research skills.
PhD programs generally begin with core coursework, followed by an exam. Students must pass the exam to continue with the program.
Next, students begin conducting research and ultimately working on their dissertation. Along the way, students may be required to submit papers to academic publications, give oral presentations at conferences, and otherwise prepare to be a leading scholar in their field.
These programs can take anywhere from 3-8 years to complete. On average, you should expect to spend 4-6 years in a PhD program.
Professional Doctoral Degrees
Professional doctoral degrees focus on building career skills. Students learn to apply research to practical problems within their field.
Many professional doctorates are intended for working professionals who want to advance their knowledge and skills. These students plan to advance their careers and pursue more influential positions.
However, most professional doctoral programs require some research as well. Typically, students identify a real-world problem in their field and research potential solutions.
Professional doctoral degrees include:
- Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)
- Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD)
- Doctor of Medicine (MD)
- Doctor of Education (EdD)
- Doctor of Public Health (DPH)
- Juris Doctor (JD)
- Doctor of Healthcare Administration (DHA)
- Doctor of Information Technology (DIT)
- Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)
- Doctor of Social Work (DSW)
These degrees take about the same amount of time to complete as a PhD. The key difference is that they’re designed for students interested in professional rather than academic careers.
Final Thoughts: Different Types of Grad School Programs
As you research grad schools, you’ll need to decide between public or private. You’ll also need to choose which type of degree program will help you meet your career goals.
Options include MA, MS, MBA, PhD, and professional doctoral programs. Doctoral programs take several years to complete and are extremely challenging. Unless your chosen career path requires a doctoral degree, it’s generally wisest to go for your master’s.
Of course, these decisions are yours to make. With this information in mind, you’ll choose the right grad school to successfully launch your future.
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Jason Patel is the founder of Transizion, a college counseling and career services company that provides mentorship and consulting on college applications, college essays, resumes, cover letters, interviews, and finding jobs and internships. Jason’s work has been cited in The Washington Post, BBC, NBC News, Forbes, Fast Company, Bustle, Inc., Fox Business, and other great outlets. Transizion donates a portion of profits to underserved students and veterans in of college prep and career development assistance.
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Types of Graduate Degrees
Whether you want to advance in your career or start on a new career path, advanced education is key. So what are the graduate degrees that could help you reach your goals? It depends on what you hope to achieve.
With programs in arts, business or sciences, there are many different types of graduate degrees that can help you prepare for a variety of careers.
If you’re interested in furthering your education, it’s important to understand the kinds of degrees available and explore which one might be best for you.
What is Considered a Graduate Degree?
A graduate degree is an advanced educational program designed to focus deeply on one subject area or discipline. One of the most common types of graduate degrees is a master's degree. While most master’s degree programs take about two years to complete , some may be completed in as little as a year.
A four-year bachelor’s degree is typically required for admission to a master’s degree program. After earning a master’s degree, some students also pursue another type of graduate degree known as a doctoral degree .
There are many differences between bachelor's and master's degree programs, including different credit requirements and a focus on more specific areas of learning. The specialized skills learned in a graduate degree program can help you land leadership positions in your field and earn more money.
Jobs for graduate degree holders are also on the rise - they are projected to grow 16.4% by 2030. Jobs for bachelor’s degree holders are projected to grow 9.9%, according to BLS data.
If you’re ready to advance your career, it’s time to explore the different types of graduate degrees and discover which one is right for you.
How Many Types of Graduate Degrees Are There?
No matter what career you hope to pursue, there is likely a graduate degree program that can help you reach your goals.
Some of the most common types of graduate degrees include these master's degree programs:
Master of Science (MS)
Master of arts (ma), master of business administration (mba).
- Other specialized master’s degree programs
Deciding which program is right for you comes down to your career goals.
A Master of Science degree typically focuses on scientific or technical expertise. In an MS program, you’ll likely gain key technical skills that you can apply to your field right away.
Some of your MS options include:
- MS in Accounting : Gain key accounting skills and experience in areas like auditing, financial analysis and accounts payable. This degree could help you move into high-level banking, taxation or insurance positions.
- MS in Cyber Security : Learn how to develop effective security controls, understand cyber threats and reduce the negative impact of data breaches.
- MS in Data Analytics : Take a deep dive into understanding data and build in-demand statistical techniques to collect and analyze large data sets.
- MS in Information Technology : Gain advanced IT skills and serve as a bridge between IT departments and organizational management.
Learn more about what an MS degree is .
A Master of Arts degree focuses on humanities and the theoretical understanding of the subject at hand. Learn more about the difference between a MA and MS degree .
Some of your MA degree options include:
- MA in Communication : Gain hands-on experience using current communications practices to address real-world situations, so you can apply your learning to your daily work right away.
- MA in English and Creative Writing : Learn to effectively tell your story and share ideas with the world by studying literature and building creative writing skills.
- MA in History : Dig deep into advanced research, analysis, presentation, writing and critical-thinking techniques – skills you can use for a career in history, education or many other fields.
- MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling : Build the skills you need to become a licensed clinical mental health counselor and learn to effectively work with a broad range of clients.
Learn more about what an MA degree is .
An MBA is one of the most in-demand graduate degree programs out there. MBA programs typically focus on a specific area of concentration and leverage real-world learning. MBA programs also build in-demand soft skills such as leadership, communication and collaboration.
Some of your MBA options include:
- MBA in Business Analytics : Learn to use data to help an organization implement change and achieve business goals.
- MBA in Marketing : Develop a better understanding of consumers and how to market to them, including communication strategies that can help your audience take a specific action.
- MBA in Project Management : Discover the processes that can help you plan and complete a project on time and on budget. You may also complete coursework that can help you prepare to take the Project Management Professional (PMP)® Certification.
- MBA in Finance : Explore topics like short-term financial management, portfolio management and capital budgeting. Prepare for advanced finance roles such as financial analyst, security analyst and investment broker.
Learn more about what an MBA degree is .
Other Specialized Master’s Degrees
Beyond these common types of graduate degrees, there are additional master’s degree programs that may be available depending on the field you’re studying.
Some of these graduate programs include:
- Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) : An MSN degree can help you prepare for advanced nursing careers and focus on a specific area of the medical field. Available concentrations include population health, nursing education, nurse leadership and healthcare quality and safety.
- Master of Public Health (MPH) : With an MPH degree you can learn how to act quickly to help control outbreaks of illness and disease. You may also explore how to develop community wellness programs and champion public policy changes with global implications.
- Master of Education (MEd) : An MEd degree prepares educators to be leaders in their field. You can learn to apply local, state and national standards to classroom education and may design learning experiences for various ages and learning environments.
Choosing Your Graduate Degree
The most important factor to consider when choosing a graduate degree is how the program will prepare you to meet your career goals.
Does the coursework align with the skills you need to land the job you want? Will the program help you prepare for any professional certifications you may need? Will you be prepared to move on to a more advanced graduate degree like a PhD or EdD?
No matter what type of graduate degree program you choose, you’ll be building in-demand skills employers want, so you can advance your career – or start a brand new one.
A degree can change your life. Find the SNHU master's program that can best help you meet your goals.
Danielle Gagnon is a freelance writer focused on higher education. Connect with her on LinkedIn .
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Getting a Ph.D. in Psychology
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.
Emily is a board-certified science editor who has worked with top digital publishing brands like Voices for Biodiversity, Study.com, GoodTherapy, Vox, and Verywell.
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Ph.D. vs. Psy.D.
Job opportunities, earning a degree, specialty areas, alternatives.
Are you interested in earning your doctorate in psychology? Getting a Ph.D. in psychology can open up a whole new world of career opportunities. For many careers paths in psychology, a doctoral degree is necessary to work in that field. A Ph.D. is one option, but it is not necessarily the only educational path that's available.
A Ph.D., or doctor of philosophy, is one of the highest level degrees you can earn in the field of psychology . If you're considering pursuing a graduate degree, you might be wondering how long it takes to earn a Ph.D. in psychology . Generally, a bachelor's degree takes four years of study. While a master's degree requires an additional two to three years of study beyond the bachelor's, a doctoral degree can take between four to six years of additional graduate study after earning your bachelor's degree.
Recently, a relatively new degree option known as the Psy.D. , or doctor of psychology, has started to grow in popularity as an alternative to the Ph.D. The type of degree you decide to pursue depends on a variety of factors including your own interests and your career aspirations.
Before you decide which option is right for you, research your options and decide if a graduate school in psychology is the best choice for you. Depending on your career goals, you might need to earn a master's or doctoral degree in psychology in order to practice in your chosen field. In other instances, a degree in a similar subject such as counseling or social work may be more appropriate.
A doctorate in psychology is required if you want to open your own private practice.
If you want to become a licensed psychologist, then you must earn either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. in clinical or counseling psychology.
In most cases, you will need this level of degree if you want to teach and conduct research at the college or university level. While there are some opportunities available for people with a master's degree in various specialty fields, such as industrial-organizational and health psychology , those with a doctorate will generally find higher pay, greater job demand, and more opportunity for growth.
In order to earn a Ph.D. in psychology, you need to first begin by earning your bachelor's degree. While earning your undergraduate degree in psychology can be helpful, students with bachelor's degrees in other subjects can also apply their knowledge to psychology Ph.D. programs . Some students may also earn a master's degree in psychology , but many doctorate programs do not require it.
After you’ve been admitted to a graduate program, it generally takes at least four years to earn a Ph.D. and another year to complete an internship. Once these requirements have been fulfilled, you can take state and national exams to become licensed to practice psychology in the state where you wish to work.
Once you enter the graduate level of psychology, you will need to choose an area of specialization, such as clinical psychology , counseling psychology, health psychology, or cognitive psychology . The American Psychological Association (APA) accredits graduate programs in three areas: clinical, counseling, and school psychology. If you are interested in going into one of these specialty areas, it's important to choose a school that has received accreditation through the APA.
For many students, the choice may come down to a clinical psychology program versus a counseling psychology program. There are many similarities between these two Ph.D. options, but there are important distinctions that students should consider. Clinical programs may have more of a research focus while counseling programs tend to focus more on professional practice. The path you choose will depend largely on what you plan to do after you complete your degree.
Of course, the Ph.D. in psychology is not the only graduate degree option. The Psy.D. is a doctorate degree option that you might also want to consider. While there are many similarities between these two degrees, traditional Ph.D. programs tend to be more research-oriented while Psy.D. programs are often more practice-oriented.
The Ph.D. option might be your top choice if you want to mix professional practice with teaching and research, while the Psy.D. option might be your preferred choice if you want to open your own private psychology practice.
In their book "An Insider's Guide to Graduate Programs in Clinical and Counseling Psychology," authors John C. Norcross and Michael A. Sayette suggest that one of the key differences between the two-degree options is that the Ph.D. programs train producers of research while Psy.D. programs train consumers of research. In either case, however, professional opportunities for practice are very similar with both degree types.
Research suggests that there are few discernible differences in terms of professional recognition, employment opportunities, or clinical skills between students trained in the Ph.D. or Psy.D. models. One of the few differences is that those with a Ph.D. degree are far more likely to be employed in academic settings and medical schools.
Social work, counseling, education, and the health sciences are other graduate options that you may want to consider if you decide that a doctorate degree is not the best fit for your interests and career goals.
A Word From Verywell
If you are considering a Ph.D. in psychology, spend some time carefully researching your options and thinking about your future goals. A doctoral degree is a major commitment of time, resources, and effort, so it pays to consider which option is right for your goals. The Ph.D. in psychology can be a great choice if you are interested in being a scientist-practitioner in the field and want to combine doing research with professional practice. It's also great training if you're interested in working at a university where you would teach classes and conduct research on psychological topics.
Earning a Ph.D. in psychology places you in a fairly elite group. According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, only around 4% of the 151,105 psychology degrees awarded between 2016 and 2017 were doctorates.
University of Pennsylvania; School of Arts and Sciences. Information for applicants .
American Psychological Association. Doctoral degrees in psychology: How are they different, or not so different?
U.S. Department of Labor. Psychologists . Occupational Outlook Handbook .
Norcross JC, Sayette MA. An Insider's Guide to Graduate Programs in Clinical and Counseling Psychology (2020/2021 ed.) . New York, NY: The Guilford Press; 2020.
Davis SF, Giordano PJ, Licht CA. Your Career in Psychology: Putting Your Graduate Degree to Work . John Wiley & Sons; 2012. doi:10.1002/9781444315929
US Department of Education. Bachelor's, master's, and doctor's degrees conferred by postsecondary institutions, by sex of student and discipline division: 2016-17 .
By Kendra Cherry Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.
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Online Graduate Programs / Blog
What Are the Different Types of Psychology Degrees?
May 10, 2021
Interested in a career that focuses on how the mind, brain and behavior work together? Earning a psychology degree may place you on the path to pursuing a variety of roles in the field. Professionals in this area observe, interpret and record individuals’ cognitive, emotional and social skills. They focus their work on how humans interact with one another and their environments. And in turn, they provide their clients with the resources to cope more effectively with challenging life issues.
Different psychology degrees can be earned at every level of higher education. An associate degree may fulfill requirements for jobs as a medical assistant or preschool teacher, while a bachelor’s degree in psychology can lead to potential opportunities to be a training specialist or market research analyst. A master’s degree may satisfy requirements for psychologist positions in settings including industrial organizations. A master’s can also prepare individuals for jobs as marriage and family therapists or applied behavior analysts, or it can be a step toward a doctoral degree, which some states require to become a licensed therapist.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the two most common doctoral degrees are the Doctor of Philosophy, or PhD, and the Doctor of Psychology, or PsyD . The former is designed for students looking to engage in research and produce new knowledge and the latter focuses on the application of psychological science to provide a service to individuals or groups.
Types of Psychology Graduate Programs
The APA explains that professionals may pursue master’s degrees in psychology to receive more training and credentials to qualify for a doctoral program or to gain skills and knowledge for advancement in a specific career or organization—from marriage and family therapy to applied behavior analysis. Graduates with master’s degrees may find employment in a variety of sectors, including private business, government, education and healthcare. They may pursue doctoral programs for greater depth of knowledge and to make new discoveries through scientific research.
Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology (GSEP) offers master’s degree programs that provide skills for graduates to be able to become licensed and work as marriage and family therapists, clinical psychologists or applied behavior analysts. With a mission to prepare people to inspire change and enrich lives in their organizations and communities, Pepperdine’s online psychology graduate programs are available to students all over the world.
Learn about different psychology degrees to determine which type matches your professional goals.
Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology (LPC or LMFT)
Clinical psychology programs may lead to a career as a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) or licensed professional counselor (LPC).
MA in clinical psychology programs usually require a bachelor’s degree. In addition, transcripts, a minimum undergraduate GPA, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, personal statements, a resume and application fee may be required.
Curriculum for an MA in clinical psychology may cover a variety of topics including diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders, multicultural counseling, theory of counseling and psychotherapy, trauma in diverse populations, research methodology, psychological assessment and intervention science. Students can expect to complete a practicum where a practicing clinical psychologist supervises their work in a clinical setting.
Graduates of clinical psychology MA programs may pursue a doctoral degree in clinical psychology. They can also become research coordinators or research assistants, building their credentials to enter a doctoral program. Those interested in employment options can use their knowledge of research methods, analysis and intervention techniques in workplace settings that involve counseling, behavioral research or treatment development plans. In some states, MA clinical psychology graduates may apply for MFT licensure. Contact your state’s licensing board for more specifics.
As mentioned, Pepperdine offers online psychology graduate programs, including an MA in clinical psychology that offers paths to licensure for LPC or LMFT careers. The licensure paths available to students outside of California depend specifically on the program’s ability to operate within certain states.
Master of Arts in Psychology (MAP)
Master of Arts in Psychology programs may lead to doctoral study in psychology, a career in the field of human services or professional advancement in a related field.
MAP programs typically require a bachelor’s degree. Other requirements may include transcripts, a minimum undergraduate GPA, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, personal statements, a resume and application fee.
Curriculum for MA in psychology programs may encompass topic areas such as research methods, data collection and analysis, core psychological concepts, mental and emotional disorders, professional ethics and scientific writing in psychology. Students may learn how psychological principles can be used to evaluate behavior, personality and intelligence. Multiple electives may be offered, allowing a customized graduate program experience.
Professionals who have a MAP degree may use the breadth of knowledge that they acquired in graduate school in various settings. Their skills may be applied to high-level research, which can lead to doctoral degrees. Graduates who want to enter the workforce may find employment in areas such as behavioral counseling, human resources, advertising and market research.
Pepperdine offers online psychology graduate programs, including an MA in psychology. You are not required to provide GRE scores to apply to an online psychology program from Pepperdine’s GSEP.
Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
Applied behavior analysis master’s programs may lead to careers involving the application of behavioral psychology. Students acquire skills to work with individuals diagnosed with impairments such as autism, developmental disabilities or traumatic brain injury.
MS in ABA programs usually require a bachelor’s degree. In addition, transcripts, a minimum undergraduate GPA, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, personal statements, a resume and application fee may be required.
Students in MS in applied behavior analysis programs typically take courses in areas such as concepts and principles of applied behavior analysis, autism spectrum disorders, assessment procedures, interventions, ethical and professional conduct, research methods and child psychopathology. Students usually are required to complete clinical training that helps them learn to observe and assess behavior patterns, identify target behaviors, consider evidence-based treatments and determine strategies to promote positive changes.
Some MS in ABA programs help prepare graduates to sit for the Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) exam. Graduates who become certified behavior analysts may seek employment in a sector of their choice—government, private industry, schools and colleges, hospitals and mental health clinics. They also may be qualified for a variety of roles, including behavior analyst, clinical director, educational consultant, instructional designer and organizational consultant. Applied behavior analysts often provide assessment and intervention services to people with autism spectrum disorders.
Pepperdine offers online psychology graduate programs, including an MS in ABA designed for students who want to learn more about human behavior to help those in need.
Master of Science in Forensic Psychology
Master of Science in forensic psychology programs may open doors to careers that merge mental health and criminal justice.
MS programs in forensic psychology usually require a bachelor’s degree. In addition, transcripts, a minimum undergraduate GPA, letters of recommendation, personal statements, a resume and application fee may be required.
Master’s in forensic psychology programs typically will include coursework in criminal law, psychopathology, criminal behavior, behavioral interventions, research methods and witness testimony. Graduates are generally expected to complete supervised field work that provides them with hands-on training in a forensic setting where they may perform administrative tasks and make clinical observations.
An MS in forensic psychology may open the door to opportunities for people looking to begin a career or advance in the realms of law enforcement, corrections, mental health advocacy and administration, criminal analysis, victim advocacy and policy analysis.
PhD in Psychology
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in psychology programs may prepare graduates to pursue careers in academia, where the emphasis is on engaging in research and producing new knowledge.
PhD in psychology programs, which often have areas of specialization, typically require a bachelor’s degree, and applicants may have a master’s degree. Professionals seeking PhDs in psychology usually have completed coursework in psychology and statistics and are able to show competence as researchers. In addition, transcripts, a statement of purpose, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, a resume, writing samples and an application fee may be required.
Professionals who earn a PhD in psychology may have a specialty area of graduate study. Specialities include clinical psychology, developmental psychology and quantitative psychology. They may be required to have teaching experience and will complete coursework on experimental procedures. A dissertation, internship experience, comprehensive written exam or oral examination may be required before graduation.
While licensing laws vary by state, most clinical and counseling psychologists need a doctoral degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Doctor of Psychology PsyD
Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) programs may lead to careers that are focused more on administering psychological services rather than engaging in research.
Applicants to PsyD programs typically have a bachelor’s degree in psychology or another subject, with additional classes such as general psychology, psychopathology, statistics, research methods and learning theory. In addition, transcripts, a statement of purpose, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, a resume, writing samples and an application fee may be required.
PsyD programs typically offer a curriculum that covers advanced psychotherapy and research methods, case studies and clinical training with supervision. Students are generally expected to complete a dissertation with guidance from faculty.
Professionals with PsyD degrees may pursue state licensure to work as practicing psychologists, according to an APA article.
Different Types of Psychology Fields
Psychology is an area of science that encompasses several specialties. While more ubiquitous areas include clinical psychology, applied behavioral analysis and counseling, other types of psychology and their concentrations include:
Cognitive: Processes of thinking, remembering and learning.
Climate and environmental: Interaction of people with their environment.
Counseling: People’s development so they can be independent and thrive at all stages of life.
Developmental: Improving the lives of people with developmental challenges.
Experimental: Behavior of humans and animals.
Health: Improving people’s health and wellness using psychology.
Industrial and organizational: Behavior of people in organizations and at work.
Sports and performance: Improving psychological obstacles impeding athletic performance.
For professionals interested in pursuing a master’s degree in psychology, Pepperdine GSEP offers the following online graduate degree programs: MA in clinical psychology, MA in psychology and MS in applied behavior analysis.
The same master’s degree programs are available to those interested in earning a degree in person. Professionals who wish to further their education can consider Pepperdine GSEP’s Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) in Clinical Psychology program.
When it's a DPhil, DBA, EdD or other type of doctorate degree. The traditional PhD (or 'Doctor of Philosophy') is the best-known advanced research qualification, but several other varieties of doctoral degree exist. Some of these are academic qualifications in specific subject areas.
The Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics divides U.S. doctorates into three categories for the purposes of its Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS): Doctor's degree-research/scholarship, Doctor's degree-professional practice and Doctor's degree-other.
A PhD is a type of doctorate. The PhD is the most common type of doctorate. It is awarded in almost all subjects at universities around the world. Other doctorates tend to be more specialised or for more practical and professional projects. Essentially, all PhDs are doctorates, but not all doctorates are PhDs. How long is a PhD?
Professional doctorates are advanced postgraduate degrees that combine taught components with independent research in a student's area of expertise. Find out what they involve. Integrated Masters with PhD - Explained An Integrated Masters with a PhD is a relatively new form of Postgraduate study, but what exactly are they and who are they for?
Types of PhD. When people talk about types of PhD, they often refer to the types of doctoral/doctorate degrees. PhDs are the most common type of doctorates, which is why many people tend to interchange the two terms. PhDs are awarded in most academic fields, making them an academic doctoral degree. Other doctorates, which are called different ...
What are the Common Types of PhD Degrees? Doctor of Education in Organizational Change and Leadership Doctor of Social Work Ed.D in Teaching and Learning with an Emphasis in Adult Learning - Qualitative Research Ed.D in Teaching and Learning with an Emphasis in Adult Learning - Quantitative Research
This type of PhD can cover a variety of topics including management science, psychology, or political science. EngD (Doctorate of engineering) An EngD is a PhD equivalent qualification in engineering and applied sciences and includes working closely with a company throughout the degree.
Professionals in all states must hold either a Ph.D. or Psy.D. to obtain licensure and practice as a psychologist. A doctorate in psychology prepares candidates for clinical practice, and for more advanced roles in the field. Those with a Ph.D. also tend to earn more than those with a master's degree. How competitive are Ph.D. and Psy.D. programs?
As we've mentioned before, there are two types of doctorate degrees: the academic degree (PhD) and the applied degree ( Doctorate ). A general rule of thumb is this:
Types of PhD There are different categories of PhD degrees. However, students only choose between professional and academic. Higher and honorary PhDs are awarded later in one's career. These include: Academic Granted in traditional subjects by performing academic research (PhD/Doctor of Philosophy/Th.D - Doctor of Theology) Professional
Professional doctoral degree examples include the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), Doctor of Education (EdD), Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), and Doctor of Public Health (DrPH). Or you could earn a PhD in Management, PhD in Education, PhD in Nursing, or PhD in Public Health.
Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) Doctor of Music Education (DME) Doctor of Modern Languages (DML) Doctor of Nursing Science (DNSc) Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Doctor of Public Health (DPH) Doctor of Sacred Theology (STD) Doctor of Science (DSc, ScD) Doctor of Theology (ThD) Photo by ICSA from Pexels Professional Degrees What Is A Professional Degree?
A PhD is a globally recognized postgraduate academic degree awarded by universities and higher education institutions to a candidate who has submitted a thesis or dissertation, based on extensive and original research in their chosen field. The specificities of PhD degrees vary depending on where you are and what subject you're studying.
The two most common types of graduate degrees are master's and doctoral degrees: A master's is a 1-2 year degree that can prepare you for a multitude of careers. A PhD, or doctoral degree, takes 3-7 years to complete (depending on the country) and prepares you for a career in academic research.
What Is a Graduate Degree? The 3 Main Types. There are, generally speaking, three kinds of graduate degrees offered by graduate schools: the Master of Arts, the Master of Science, and the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). The MA and MS offer additional schooling in a discipline beyond a bachelor's degree. A PhD is the most advanced degree in a ...
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) A PhD is a postgraduate doctoral degree based on extensive research in a given field. Students can earn a PhD in areas such as technology, humanities, social sciences, and more.
There are two major types of doctoral degrees; the research oriented degree, and the professional doctorate degree. Search PhD and Doctorate Programs Doctorate Degrees are sometimes referred to as terminal degrees which means it is the final degree available in graduate school for students wishing to study in the chosen subject.
Types of Graduate Degree Programs. Another way to categorize graduate programs is by the type of degree you'll earn. Some professions require a specific degree, so this information is essential. You can pursue a master's degree or a doctorate degree. Typically, you can finish a master's degree in about two years.
What is Considered a Graduate Degree? A graduate degree is an advanced educational program designed to focus deeply on one subject area or discipline. One of the most common types of graduate degrees is a master's degree. While most master's degree programs take about two years to complete, some may be completed in as little as a year.
The five main types of degrees are an associate degree, a bachelor's degree, a master's degree, a PhD, and a PsyD. A psychology degree can help prepare students for careers in various fields, including mental health, education, counseling, research, and applied fields. For students thinking about earning a psychology degree, it's important to ...
The type of degree you decide to pursue depends on a variety of factors including your own interests and your career aspirations. Before you decide which option is right for you, research your options and decide if a graduate school in psychology is the best choice for you.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the two most common doctoral degrees are the Doctor of Philosophy, or PhD, and the Doctor of Psychology, or PsyD open_in_new. The former is designed for students looking to engage in research and produce new knowledge and the latter focuses on the application of psychological science to ...