What is a Doctoral Degree?

What is a Doctoral Degree?

Recognized globally as the ultimate academic achievement, a doctoral degree is the highest degree that you can earn in many fields and the degree indicates that you have attained the highest level of academic success in your field.  A doctorate represents a commitment to your professional growth and personal achievement; demonstrating your qualifications and positioning you to better advocate for professional and career growth. 

Research Doctorate vs. Applied Doctorate

Doctoral degrees can be earned in most academic subjects, and people with doctoral degrees can be found working in many industries, including academia, health care, business, education, and law. Doctoral degrees typically fall into two categories: research and applied — the latter also are known as a professional doctorate. 

Here’s what you need to know about the types of doctoral degrees, what’s required to earn them, and why they can make a difference in your professional accomplishments.
 

What is a Research Doctorate Degree?

The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) defines a research doctorate as “a PhD or other doctor’s degree that requires advanced work beyond the master’s level, including the preparation and defense of a dissertation based on original research, or the planning and execution of an original project demonstrating substantial artistic or scholarly achievement.” 

The keyword here is research. As someone with a desire for accumulating knowledge and questioning the status quo, you will spend much of your program gathering and analyzing various sets of data, testing theories, and applying your findings toward solutions that will impact the future of your field. Your dissertation, based on original research, will represent a unique contribution to the academic literature. 

What is a Doctor of Philosophy?

The Doctor of Philosophy, or PhD, is the most common research doctorate. Contrary to what the title implies, it does not make you a philosopher in the traditional sense. Rather, it speaks to the research-focused nature of the program. For example, doctoral students pursuing a PhD in Organizational Development and Leadership at Ashford University are immersed in concepts that include research design and the creation of evidence-based systems and strategies associated with organizational performance, structure, development, human performance, behavior, learning, growth, and innovation. Students in Ashford’s PhD in Human Services program explore the history, systems, theories, strategies, and policies of the human services field.  And, students earning a PhD in Education pursue an in-depth understanding of theories, models and strategies associated with educational policy and practice.

What is a Doctor of Psychology?

The Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) is among the most recognized applied doctoral programs. Ashford University’s Doctor of Psychology program, for example, is designed for students who want to apply their credentials in fields that include criminal justice, mediation and conflict resolution, sport and performance psychology, and health and wellness, among others. 

Although earning a doctoral degree is no easy feat, it’s something anyone can strive to achieve.

“It is a big commitment, so choose a program carefully to ensure that you will have the support you need to be successful,” explains Dr. Peggy Sundstrom, the program chair of Ashford University’s PhD program in Organizational Development and Leadership. “With tenacity and grit, you can earn your doctoral degree, but you must be both committed and determined to put in the time and energy necessary. And, our great faculty can help!” 

How Many People Hold Doctoral Degrees?

If you complete a doctoral program, you will be joining a class of high achievers that has grown significantly in recent years, with the U.S. Census Bureau estimating that as many as 4.5 million people now hold doctoral credentials, more than double the number reported in 2000. However, this still represents less than 4% of all people in the U. S., so while the total number of people with a doctorate is growing, those with a doctoral degree still represent only a very small proportion of people in the U. S., making them distinctive among other professionals.

Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the median weekly earnings for doctoral graduates is about 34% more than for graduates with a bachelor’s degree, Dr. Sundstrom says the majority of doctoral students seek these degrees not just for expanding their career advantages, but also for purposes of personal growth and intellectual curiosity. 

 “We love students who are self-motivated by opportunities for personal growth and achievement, and who are willing and able to persevere through the required work to earn their doctoral degree.  These are the people we look forward to calling our colleagues,” she said.

If those words define you, and you’re ready to make the commitment, you can explore Ashford University’s degree programs or contact an Ashford University advisor today. 

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Written by Ashford University Staff

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