You may be told you should earn a doctorate, but no one ever really explains why. This can leave potential students with more questions than answers. Is a doctorate worth all the work? Will it really benefit your career in the future? How difficult is it?
If pursuing a doctorate has you feeling confused, worried, or frustrated, you are not alone. In this guide, you will learn exactly what a doctoral degree is, how to earn one, and how long the process will take. Then, you can decide if this degree path is right for you.
What Is a Doctorate?
A doctorate is the highest-level degree a student can obtain. It is sometimes referred to as a terminal degree because it represents the finish line of your education. Most often, this is the furthest level of education people pursue, though you can certainly choose to earn multiple doctorates.
There is some version of a doctoral degree available in almost every area of study. Many colleges and universities offer programs that combine a master’s and doctoral degree into one, making the process much smoother.
Other times, students will be expected to earn their master’s degree in a different program or even at a different school before going on to complete their doctorate.
How Long Does it Take to Earn a Doctorate?
If you have been in college long enough to earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree, you are most likely ready to get a job. Spending extra time in higher education pursuing a doctoral degree may seem pointless to some, but the payoff can be fantastic.
To complete a doctoral degree, students typically spend four to six years studying. For the average student, this adds up to a total of eight to 10 years in college from start to finish.
Although this is a long time, many career paths require a doctoral degree. Even if you choose a career that does not require you to obtain a doctorate, having one will make you more employable and more likely to earn a high salary.
Doctorate vs PhD
So, what is the difference between a doctorate and a PhD? They are both doctoral-level degrees, so they take roughly the same amount of time to complete. However, there are a few key differences, primarily regarding how you plan to use your degree in the future.
Earning a doctorate means you have demonstrated your ability to practically apply your knowledge to your chosen field of study. Rather than conducting research and making contributions in the field, receiving your doctorate means you plan to apply your expertise to real-world situations. Doctorates are for people who want to work in a hands-on environment and apply their knowledge in a practical way.
On the other hand, to earn a PhD you would spend time conducting research and contributing to theories in your field. Those who earn PhDs are more likely to explore the unknowns of their profession and make significant discoveries. PhDs are for people who are more interested in researching or teaching at a university than working in a real-world environment.
Benefits of a Doctoral Degree
As is the case with most jobs, the more advanced your degree level is, the more likely you are to be hired. Getting your doctorate means employers will be more likely to choose you over other candidates. Some positions even require a doctoral degree or PhD.
For jobs in which a doctoral degree is not required, you may still find yourself in fierce competition with other applicants. Even the most impressive candidates can be surpassed by another applicant with a doctorate or PhD. The range of jobs available to you will also grow tremendously, allowing you to have more opportunities.
Perhaps the best part of earning a doctoral degree is the salary you will receive, regardless of your field. Companies tend to pay employees more based on their education and experience. Having earned a doctorate proves to employers that not only were you dedicated to reaching the highest possible standard of education, but you also already have years of practical experience.
It is quite common in the United States for PhD and doctorate holders to earn salaries well over $100,000 per year. In fact, many job titles commonly associated with doctorate holders, such as principal scientist or chief executive officer, regularly pay more than $155,000 per year.
Gaining further expertise in your field may not jump to mind as one of the top perks of earning a doctoral degree. But for those who strive for greatness, being able to reaffirm that you are indeed an expert in your field can be very rewarding. You will be able to proclaim yourself an expert and your expertise will be respected. This is a huge asset for anyone who sees academia as a way to demonstrate their success.
No matter what type of degree you study for, you will quickly begin to pick up many useful skills. After being in school for the length of time it takes to earn a doctoral degree, you will have learned information that far exceeds the specific subject you studied. The skills you learned throughout those years can be useful in both your career and personal life.
Some of these multipurpose skills include time management, communication, and the ability to solve complex problems. Other skills include interpersonal skills and leadership skills.
It may seem silly to consider a title as a major bonus to earning a doctoral degree, but many people truly relish the idea of being called “doctor.” Not only does the title signify a true level of expertise and dedication to their field, but it is also a sign of respect.
Having this title clearly shows how much hard work you have put into your studies, and when you are addressed as such, you will feel honored. With the title of “doctor,” you will be constantly reminded of your achievements after earning such a difficult degree.
How to Earn a Doctoral Degree
So, how do you earn a doctoral degree? While there is work to be put in, the process is actually quite straightforward. The process of earning the degree is not something you need to stress about. Following the below steps can make the process even smoother.
Step 1: Earn an Undergraduate Degree
The first step to earning a graduate degree is to first get an undergraduate degree. In most universities, students earn an associate degree, followed by a bachelor’s degree. Associate degrees take an average of two years to earn and bachelor’s degrees adds another two years to that. While studying for these undergraduate degrees, students will also take elective courses that they feel may apply to their future careers.
In some cases, students may choose to attend a community college to complete their general education requirements and then transfer to a university to earn their bachelor’s degree. In this case, community colleges will often issue an associate transfer degree, which signifies that you have completed the requirements to transfer to a four-year university where you can continue to study for a bachelor’s degree. This is a cheaper way for students to earn an associate degree, and then move on to focus solely on their bachelor’s degree studies.
Step 2: Apply for Graduate Schools
After earning an undergraduate degree, you will need to begin applying to graduate schools. Often, graduate schools will require students to submit GRE or GMAT scores with their applications. You can study for these tests throughout your time in college, then take them during your last year of study. Be sure to check the requirements for the graduate schools you intend to apply to, as many do not require either of these tests and taking one unnecessarily would be a waste of time and money.
Keep in mind that which graduate school you attend depends on your area of study. For example, if you are studying to earn a doctoral degree in the medical field, you may want to consider attending John Hopkins University, but if your focus is on engineering, you may find MIT or Stanford more up your alley. Determining what school has the program that is best for you is a huge part of the decision-making process as you apply to graduate schools.
Step 3: Complete a Master’s Degree
Once you have been accepted into a master’s program you will spend an additional two years completing your master’s degree, bringing your total time spent in college to about six years. If you are inclined to spend less time, many fast-track programs will allow you to complete a master’s degree in as little as 12 to 14 months.
While you are enrolled in a master’s program, you must begin planning for your doctoral program. Many schools offer a combined master’s and doctoral course that may appeal to you.
In these combined programs, the two degrees are blended seamlessly into one, taking away the stress of searching for a separate doctoral program that will build on your master’s degree. Many of these options are also available in an online or hybrid format, allowing students more freedom with their schedules. This is especially helpful to students who are torn between their careers and studies.
Step 4: Enroll in a Doctoral Program
In order to enroll in a doctoral program, whether for a doctorate or a PhD, you will need to provide quite a few documents with your application. Every school is different, but the most common requirements are transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a statement of intent. Once you are positive you can meet all of the program requirements, you can begin compiling the essential documents and send out your application.
After being accepted into a doctoral program, you can then begin researching what you need to do to prepare before the first semester begins. If you have been accepted into multiple programs and are trying to choose one, consider how experienced the faculty are and the subjects that their coursework covers. Once you have gathered all of this pertinent information, you can accurately compare the programs and make your decision.
Conclusion: Is a Doctoral Degree Worth It?
In some fields, having a doctorate is a necessity. For example, to become a doctor or even a graduate-level professor, you must obtain a doctoral degree. There are also many professions in which a doctorate is not required, but will boost your overall employability and work options. In these fields, getting your doctoral degree will definitely be worth it.
Considering spending eight to 10 years in school may seem intimidating, but the payoff from earning a doctoral degree is worth it. Whether you plan to work in the medical field, become an engineer or professor, or simply want to excel in your career, having a doctorate under your belt is a great way to go.
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