A doctorate is generally the most advanced degree available in any given field, and it may be necessary for those wishing to rise to the top of their profession in teaching, research or clinical practice. The intense nature of these programs, along with the required dissertation paper, means a doctorate can be much more time consuming than other degree levels. Unlike more structured associate, bachelor's and master's programs, the time it takes to earn a doctoral degree depends more on the student's research goals than a set schedule of coursework. Most doctoral programs include two to three years of coursework followed by a thesis proposal, research, and defense that can take years to complete.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 164,000 doctoral degrees were awarded nationwide in 2010-2011, with almost two thirds going to graduates of health-related programs (60,153) and legal studies programs (44,877).
While there are many different doctoral degrees, they generally fall into two broad categories: research and professional. Several prevalent types of doctorates include:
- Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) - This degree is conferred upon students who complete a research-based course load, along with a dissertation. Individuals who want to work as faculty in postsecondary institutions, or as researchers, may decide to pursue this degree.
- Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) - People looking to strengthen and increase their business acumen and skills usually pursue this degree.
- Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) - Those interested in educational research, or joining the administration of a college, university, or K-12 school district, might choose this degree path.
Online doctoral degrees can offer more flexible learning options through self-paced classes and the ability to access coursework away from campus. For doctoral students trying to balance family or work responsibilities with their studies, this can be especially beneficial. In addition, students may no longer have to relocate if a program isn't available at a nearby college - something that can be a significant advantage in the highly specialized world of doctoral programs.
Not all doctoral degree programs are available fully online. Some schools require students to take coursework or conduct research on-campus, only allowing them to work online as they prepare their dissertation. Students interested in a particular school or program should contact individual doctoral departments for more information.
The intensive research required in many doctoral degree programs can help prepare students for careers in academia, conducting research or teaching at the university level while continuing to publish work. Professional-oriented doctoral programs may help students further develop career skills and knowledge needed to advance in their field.
While wages vary based on career, experience and location, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that individuals in the U.S. with a doctoral degree earned median weekly wages of $1,624 in 2012, compared to $1,300 for master's degree holders and $1,066 for those with a bachelor's. Additionally, doctoral graduates experienced an unemployment rate of only 2.5 percent in 2012, according to bls.gov.
Note: Bls.gov data is for individuals age 25 and older. Estimated earnings are for full-time workers.
To learn more about available doctorate programs, request information from one of the schools below.
"Employment Projections: Education Pays," Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 28, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm
"Doctor's degrees conferred by degree-granting institutions, by race/ethnicity and field of study: 2009-10 and 2010-11," Digest of Education Statistics, National Center for Education Statistics, June 2012, http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d12/tables/dt12_307.asp