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What Is a PhD? Definition, Types of PhDs, and How to Get One

Savanna Bruce - July 07, 2022

What is a PhD and is it really worth my time? This is a common question among professionals across a variety of fields, both within and outside academia, who contemplate grad school at some point in their journey. If you’ve ever wondered what a doctorate is and whether you should pursue one to advance your career and gain access to better job opportunities, read on.

This comprehensive guide will walk you through key definitions, including what a PhD actually is, the common requirements you need to complete a PhD degree, and the best degree programs available for a wide range of industries. It will also discuss the main benefits of becoming a Doctor of Philosophy, as well as the most common ways to fund your studies.

What Is a Doctorate?

A doctorate is a research-based academic degree. It is considered a terminal degree in most disciplines, meaning it represents the highest level of education a student can obtain in their chosen field.

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A doctorate is awarded to students who have undergone a lengthy research process and made a significant contribution to the body of knowledge in their field of study. It takes multiple years to complete, during which students work closely with a supervisor and focus on a specific dissertation topic. Completing a doctorate might also involve teaching and comprehensive examinations.

A doctorate serves as solid proof of a person’s level of knowledge and expertise. It demonstrates that you have mastery over your chosen subject, and helps establish you as an expert. This level of expertise comes with top-tier job opportunities and the potential to earn top salaries in your chosen profession.

Doctorate vs PhD: Key Differences

While many people use the terms doctorate and PhD interchangeably, there are key differences between the two. These differences have to do with the application of these degrees. However, both terms refer to terminal degrees, so they hold the same value.

A Doctor of Philosophy degree, or PhD, is a research-oriented degree that demonstrates a person’s ability to contribute new knowledge to their chosen field. A student who pursues a PhD usually does so to answer a specific question, conduct original research to provide an answer, and use their findings to advance their field.

On the other hand, the term doctorate is broader and typically refers to a professional or clinical degree. This means that a person who obtains it has demonstrated an ability to apply advanced knowledge in a particular field in their professional life. Professional doctorates of this kind are awarded, for instance, to medical doctors or doctors of juridical science.

PhD Requirements: How to Get a PhD

While each PhD degree program will have unique requirements depending on the school and field of study, there are some common requirements you need to complete to get a PhD. Keep reading to find out about the most common requirements to earn your advanced degree.

PhD Statement of Purpose

A PhD statement of purpose is a document that clearly outlines your goals for your PhD, your academic credentials, and the reasons why an academic committee should approve your project. It is typically between 500 to 1,000 words long and gives prospective students an opportunity to explain how their research project will make a relevant contribution to their field.

How Many Credits Is a PhD?

Typically, it takes between 90 and 120 credits to complete your PhD studies. However, this number can be as low as 60, depending on the degree type, area of study, and state, regional, or institutional requirements. Credit hours for graduate students are usually divided between course work, research hours, and dissertation work.

Other Common Requirements for a PhD

  • Coursework. While coursework is not the main focus of a PhD, students will usually have to enroll in a few core courses during their first or second year of grad school. They might also have the opportunity to enroll in elective courses, which offer a chance to learn about other fields of study.
  • Qualifying exams. A common component of many PhD programs is a set of qualifying exams. Students must successfully pass these comprehensive exams toward the end of their degree in order to demonstrate their level of competence in their field. These tend to be oral exams.
  • Teaching. Many PhD programs include a teaching component. Students are required to teach basic courses, typically to fresh undergrad students, which helps them develop teaching skills.
  • Research. Conducting original research on a particular subject is typically the main component of a doctorate program, and takes up the bulk of doctoral candidates’ time.
  • Dissertation. Throughout their program, PhD candidates need to complete a dissertation based on the original research they’ve conducted. Graduate students do this under the guidance of a qualified faculty member.
  • Dissertation defense. Once the dissertation is approved, PhD students need to successfully defend their research in front of a panel of experts in their field before they are awarded their degree. This is the final step in the dissertation process.

How Do PhD Programs Work?

Typically, PhD degree programs work based on a mix of coursework and research conducted over three to four years, although this can last longer depending on the program and the pace at which a student completes their research. Coursework is typically completed towards the beginning of the program, and towards the end, the dissertation or thesis becomes the main focus.

In addition, students must fulfill other program requirements throughout this period. This might include teaching undergraduate students, completing a residency, passing qualifying exams, or attending conferences or colloquia. The final step is usually an oral defense in front of a panel of experts, who are selected to evaluate the quality of the research and the value of the results obtained.

Do You Need a Master’s to Get a PhD?

No, a master’s degree is not always required to pursue PhD studies. Many programs in the US allow students to apply to a PhD program straight after completing their bachelor’s degree. Other programs offer dual degrees, meaning that you will obtain a master’s degree while you work toward your doctorate.

What Comes After a Doctorate Degree?

In many fields, the usual step after a doctorate degree is a postdoc. This is an option for those wishing to pursue a career in academia and continue doing research in their field. However, an academic career is not the only option. Because a doctorate is a terminal degree, graduates can easily move on to professional positions in other types of organizations in their chosen field.

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PhD Dissertation vs Thesis

The main difference between a dissertation and a thesis is the scope of the research being conducted and the type of degree you are awarded after completing it. Often, the terms are used interchangeably, or they can hold different meanings in European countries, which causes some confusion regarding their nature. Keep reading to understand the differences between a PhD dissertation and a thesis in the US.

What Is a PhD Dissertation?

A PhD dissertation is a piece of scholarly work that presents the original research carried out by a doctoral student during the length of their program. It discusses the scope, methodology, results, and conclusions of the research at length. The end goal of a doctoral dissertation is to produce results that help advance human knowledge in a given field.

PhD Dissertation Defense

A PhD dissertation defense is the process in which a PhD candidate defends their research in front of a panel of experts in their field. During the defense, members of the panel ask questions regarding the information presented, providing the candidate an opportunity to back up their work and demonstrate the level of expertise they’ve achieved after years of dedicated work.

What Is a PhD Thesis?

In the US, as opposed to some European countries, the term thesis refers to a shorter academic paper that is usually presented for the completion of a master’s degree. It can also sometimes be a requirement for honors students completing a bachelor’s degree. The information presented in a thesis is usually drawn from existing sources, rather than from original research conducted by the student.

PhD Thesis Defense

A thesis defense is usually not a mandatory requirement for master’s students, although this varies according to your school and department. The thesis is still an in-depth piece of scholarly writing and serves as a testament to a student’s mastery of a given subject, and a defense serves as an opportunity to engage a panel of experts and defend the contents of your paper.

How Long Does It Take to Earn a Doctorate?

Most doctoral programs are designed to be completed in four to six years. However, it can take up to seven and a half years to earn a doctoral degree from the start of graduate school, according to data presented by the National Science Foundation.

A number of factors can affect how long it takes students to earn their PhDs. They include the structure of their chosen program, the type of research being conducted, and the support provided by the institution. On average, students completing doctoral programs in science and engineering fields finish faster than their counterparts in non-science and engineering fields.

How Hard Is It to Get a PhD?

It can be very hard to get a PhD. Working for several years on a particular dissertation topic can be very trying. Aside from the time commitment, the depth of research that is part of the dissertation process can also be challenging. Admissions to a top education institution can be extremely competitive, as usually there are only a handful of positions available for hundreds of applicants.

What Is the Easiest PhD to Get?

PhDs in the humanities, social sciences, and education are typically regarded as the easiest to obtain. However, this truly comes down to how interested you are in your chosen dissertation topic and your level of commitment to making a relevant contribution to human knowledge, both of which can greatly influence your perception of the difficulty of the degree.

How Much Does a PhD Cost?

According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the average yearly cost of graduate programs in the US is $19,792. Data from the QS World University Rankings suggest that the yearly cost of a PhD in the US ranges from $28,000 to $40,000. The total cost of a PhD can greatly vary depending on the university, length of the program, and funding options available for doctoral study.

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Benefits of a Doctoral Degree: Why Do a PhD?

There are many concrete benefits to completing a doctorate, such as career advancement opportunities, expertise in your field, and the chance to earn better salaries. Keep reading to find out about some concrete reasons why you should do a PhD to advance your career.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Holding a doctorate can provide you with great opportunities to advance your career. Many top-tier jobs in various industries require applicants to be experts in their field. For instance, a PhD in Business Administration can make you a strong candidate for senior, managerial, or executive positions in world-class companies in the public or private sector, or help you launch an independent career as a consultant.

Even for jobs where this type of formal training is not required, you may still find yourself in fierce competition with other applicants. A PhD can help you stand out as a candidate, as it demonstrates your ability to conduct research, work independently, and succeed in pursuing your long-term goals.

Increased Earning Potential

One of the top benefits of completing your doctoral degree is the potential for earning better salaries. For example, the average yearly income for a professional with a Master’s Degree in Physics is $99,000, while someone with a PhD in Physics can expect to earn up to $119,000 yearly.

Expertise in Your Field

Earning a doctorate helps solidify your status as an expert in your field. If there is a topic that you are deeply passionate about, your PhD is your chance to fully immerse yourself in it. Through this process, you will be making important contributions and developing groundbreaking practices in your area.

Transferable Skills

Aside from your ability to work independently and conduct research in your area of expertise, you will also develop a variety of transferable skills that will be useful to you no matter what you choose to do after graduation.

Throughout your program, you will be participating in committees, teaching, organizing conferences, publishing your work, and meeting other experts. As a result, you will develop multipurpose skills, including time and project management, communication and interpersonal skills, and leadership skills.


While you pursue your academic degree, you will be participating in academic conferences, workshops, seminars, and colloquia. This, in turn, means you will have ample opportunities to connect with other doctoral students in your field and in other areas of knowledge. The connections you make through your PhD can lead to career opportunities and expand your social circle in new and interesting ways.

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. Keep reading to find out how you can embark on the path toward your PhD.


Step 1: Earn an Undergraduate Degree

The first step to earning your doctorate is to complete a bachelor’s degree at the undergraduate institution of your choice. Depending on your chosen field, you might need to obtain a degree in a specific discipline, which can then pave the way for your graduate studies.

If a bachelor’s degree is not an option right away, you can start by obtaining an associate degree , which can even be done through the best online community colleges . While you obtain your undergraduate degree, make sure to seek out career advice from experts who can help you decide how to best use your time and embark on the right academic path.


Step 2: Earn a Master’s Degree

While earning a master’s degree is not mandatory to apply to a PhD program, doing so can offer you a competitive advantage. It will give you a chance to deepen your knowledge on a particular topic, connect with professors and gather recommendations, and test the waters regarding your chosen field.

In order to successfully apply to a master’s degree program, you will have to provide your GPA, letters of recommendation, and sometimes standardized test scores. For instance, if you’re interested in pursuing a Master’s Degree in Mathematics , you will need to prep for the GMAT and submit your scores. Be sure to check the requirements of your chosen school and department.


Step 3: Choose Your Research Area

Whether you have completed your master’s or are applying straight after your bachelor's, make sure to spend some time choosing your specific research area and the type of PhD you wish to pursue. This is also an excellent time to assess funding opportunities and contact potential supervisors to gauge their interest in and ability to support you during your studies.


Step 4: Apply to Your Doctoral Program

In order to enroll in a doctoral program, 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 strong statement of purpose. Make sure you check the specific requirements of your chosen program, and prepare to be interviewed by faculty members.


Step 5: Complete Your Program Requirements

After being accepted into a doctoral program, you should outline what the next few years will look like. What requirements do you need to complete to earn your PhD? Spend time crafting a realistic timeline that can help you stay on track and complete every step successfully. This includes teaching, participating in conferences, and successfully completing your qualifying exams.


Step 6: Finish and Defend Your Dissertation

The final step to obtaining your PhD is to successfully complete your research and compile your results in your dissertation. Once it is reviewed and approved by your supervisor and readers, you will have to defend it as well. It can be a trying process, but the results will be worth it.

How to Choose a PhD Program

In order to choose a PhD program that is right for you, there are several factors you should consider. A PhD is a strong commitment both in terms of time and money, so the decision shouldn’t be made lightly. Keep reading to find out how to choose a PhD program.

PhD Acceptance Rates

The PhD acceptance rates of a university give you an idea of how likely you are to be admitted to your chosen program. This number is a reflection of how competitive a program is and the funding the department receives. Use this information to orient yourself to the selection process, as applying to a variety of programs with different acceptance rates can increase your chances of being accepted into one of them.

Keep in mind that acceptance rates are usually measured by department, not university. For instance, Columbia University has an acceptance rate of four to six percent for its psychology PhD program , and an acceptance rate of five to seven percent for its history PhD .

PhD Dropout Rates

PhD dropout rates are important to consider, as they give you an idea of how supported students are in a particular program and how likely you are to complete your doctorate. In the US, PhD attrition rates, or dropout rates, can range from 40 to 50 percent , so take your time to find a university and program with a high success rate to ensure you will be able to finish and obtain your degree.

Faculty Members

One of the key relationships you will have during your time as a PhD student will be with your supervisor. You will also be working closely with other members of your department. As such, make sure to research the faculty to ensure that their interests and research projects align with your own. During the research stage, you can even reach out to them to find out about the department, ask about funding opportunities, and receive relevant career advice.

Funding Opportunities

A PhD can be costly, but there are many ways to offset those costs to make it more manageable. Be it scholarships, grants, or work opportunities, make sure to research all funding opportunities available so you can select a program that aligns with your financial situation. Many universities offer fully-funded programs to outstanding students, so do your homework and find a program that doesn’t leave you financially crippled in the long run.


When you commit to a PhD, you are also committing to several years of work. Unless you are planning to complete your program fully online, you should take into account the place where you will be moving to continue your studies.

Do you prefer big cities or small college towns? Which part of the country would you be willing to relocate to? Take some time to reflect on your preferences so you can choose the best location according to your needs and preferences.

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What Can You Get a Doctorate In?

You can get a doctorate in a wide variety of topics. Below is a list of common fields in which you can pursue this type of degree:

  • PhD in Psychology
  • PhD in Education
  • PhD in Nursing
  • PhD in Social Work
  • PhD in Economics
  • PhD in Business
  • PhD in Computer Science
  • PhD in Data Science
  • PhD in Business Administration
  • PhD in Accounting
  • PhD in Mathematics
  • PhD in Statistics
  • PhD in Engineering
  • PhD in Cyber Security
  • PhD in Information Systems

Best PhD Programs and Their Potential Jobs

The best PhD programs offer you the training you need to succeed in your field and access top jobs in your industry. Keep reading to find out about common programs in a variety of fields, both in-person and online, as well as the jobs you’ll have access to once you finish.


PhD in Psychology

Average Salary: $95,000

A PhD in Psychology provides you with the formal training required to conduct scientific research in the field, practice professionally with patients, or both. With a PhD in Psychology, you will be able to advance human knowledge on behavioral disorders, strategies for diagnosis, and treatment plans that are on par with the latest scientific discoveries.

Psychology PhD Programs

  • PhD in Psychology at Stanford University
  • PhD in Psychology at University of California, Berkeley
  • PhD in Experimental Psychopathology & Clinical Science at Harvard University

Online PhDs in Psychology

  • Online PhD in Psychology at Liberty University
  • PhD in Counseling & Psychological Studies at Regent University
  • PhD in Counseling Psychology at Loyola University Chicago

PhD Psychology Jobs

  • Organizational Development Director | Average Salary: $118,140
  • Research Director | Average Salary: $107,634
  • UX Researcher | Average Salary: $88,914

PhD Psychology Salary

According to statistics presented by PayScale, the average base salary of a professional with a PhD in Psychology is $95,000 per year. This can vary depending on your location, company, position, and level of experience.


PhD in Education

Average Salary: $82,000

A PhD in Education prepares students to conduct education research and is typically chosen by those interested in pursuing a career path in academia. Holders of this type of PhD are qualified to work as curriculum specialists, policymakers, teacher educators, instructional leaders, and, of course, education researchers.

Education PhD Programs

  • PhD in Teaching and Learning at New York University, Steinhardt
  • PhD in Education Policy at the University of Pennsylvania
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Education at Harvard University

Online PhDs in Education

  • PhD in Education – Educational Technology and Online Learning at Regent University
  • PhD in Education at Concordia University
  • Doctor of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

PhD Education Jobs

  • Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals | Average Salary: $98,420
  • Postsecondary Education Administrators | Average Salary: $96,910
  • Postsecondary Teachers | Average Salary: $79,640

PhD Education Salary

The average annual salary for a professional with a PhD in Education is $82,000, according to PayScale. Those with jobs as professors in postsecondary or higher education can expect a range between $56,000 and $188,000, while professionals in executive positions can make up to $171,000 per year.


PhD in Nursing

Average Salary: $93,000

A PhD in Nursing is a perfect option for nurses seeking to work in academia or conduct research. It is the highest degree that can be obtained by professionals in this area who have opted to advance their field from the lab instead of doing so in a clinical setting.

Nursing PhD Programs

  • Doctorate of Nursing at Johns Hopkins University
  • PhD in Nursing at the Univerity of Washington
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Online PhDs in Nursing

  • Online PhD in Nursing at the University of Central Florida
  • PhD in Nursing Science at Vanderbilt University
  • PhD in Nursing at Walden University

PhD Nursing Jobs

PhD Nursing Salary

PayScale estimates that the average annual salary for a professional with a PhD in Nursing is $93,000. A nursing instructor can expect an estimated salary ranging from $53,000 to $93,000, while a nursing director can expect a salary ranging from $85,000 to $156,000.


PhD in Social Work

Average Salary: $76,000

Students who pursue a PhD in social work gain the skills and knowledge to act as leaders in social work research and social work education. Graduates from these programs are prepared to become involved in the creation and analysis of social policy, planning, and administration. They can work with governments, nonprofit organizations, or in the private sector.

Social Work PhD Programs

  • Joint PhD Program in Social Work and Social Science at the University of Michigan
  • PhD in Social Work at The University of Chicago
  • PhD Program in Social Welfare at the University of Washington

Online PhDs in Social Work

  • Doctorate of Clinical Social Work at the University of Southern California
  • Doctorate of Social Work at Rutgers University
  • Online Doctor of Behavioral Health – Management at Arizona State University

PhD Social Work Jobs

  • Director of Clinical Services | Average Salary: $90,983
  • Executive Director | Average Salary: $81,329
  • Nonprofit Program Director | Average Salary: $59,621

PhD Social Work Salary

The average annual salary for a professional with a PhD in Social Work is $76,000, according to data presented by PayScale. A program director for a nonprofit organization can make between $49,000 and $84,000.


PhD in Economics

Average Salary: $112,000

The best doctorates in economics prepare graduates to make decisions that increase the profitability of businesses, maximize the use of resources, and inform public policy. Over years of analyzing economic trends, deepening their knowledge of local and global economics, and conducting research, graduates will be ready to work in the public or private sector.

Economics PhD Programs

  • PhD in Economics at Arizona State University
  • PhD in Economics at John Hopkins University
  • PhD in Economics at Syracuse University

Online PhDs in Economics

  • PhD in Public Policy – Economic Policy at Liberty University
  • PhD in Business Administration at the University of Maryland – Global Campus
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Business Administration at Hampton University

PhD Economics Jobs

PhD Economics Salary

According to PayScale, the average annual income for someone with a PhD in Economics is $112,000. Whether you obtain your PhD in person or through an accredited online PhD program , you’ll be able to make an impact and earn well while doing so.


PhD in Business

Average Salary: $150,000

A PhD in Business prepares you to become a successful professional in either the public or private sector. With this type of degree, you can go on to work in corporate finance, international business, or industrial organization. You’ll gain in-depth knowledge about markets, competition, and government regulation.

Business PhD Programs

  • PhD in Business Economics at Harvard University
  • PhD in Business at Stanford Graduate School of Business
  • PhD in Finance at New York University

Online PhDs in Business

  • Doctorate in Business Management at Atlantic International University
  • Executive Doctorate in Business at Drexel University
  • Doctorate of Business Education at Creighton University

PhD Business Jobs

  • Senior Director of Strategy | Average Salary: $156,566
  • Chief Operating Officer (COO) | Average Salary: $144,743
  • Vice President of Operations | Average Salary: $133,086

PhD Business Salary

According to data presented by PayScale, the average annual salary of someone holding a PhD in Business is $150,000. This type of degree opens the door to top positions in various industries, almost all of which come with lucrative salaries.


PhD in Computer Science

Average Salary: $131,000

The best PhDs in Computer Science are flexible degrees that open doors in a variety of fields. Whether you choose to get this degree in person or opt for one of the best online PhDs in computer science , you will gain valuable experience and deepen your knowledge of computational science theory, cyber operations, and information assurance.

Computer Science PhD Programs

  • PhD in Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University
  • PhD in Computer Science at Boston University
  • PhD in Computer Science at Arizona State University

Online PhDs in Computer Science

  • PhD in Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at University of California, Berkeley
  • PhD in Computer Science at Indiana University
  • PhD in Computer Science at Mississippi State University

PhD Computer Science Jobs

  • Chief Data Scientist | Average Salary: $190.365
  • Chief Information Officer | Average Salary: $169,334
  • Senior Computer Scientist | Average Salary: $153,972

PhD Computer Science Salary

According to PayScale, the average salary for a professional holding a computer science PhD is $131,000 per year. As with any other industry, your salary will be determined by your level of experience, your position, and your location.


PhD in Data Science

Average Salary: $131,000

A PhD in Data Science is a research-intensive degree that helps you cultivate skills and knowledge in programming, statistics, data analysis, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. With it, you can launch a successful career

Data Science PhD Programs

  • PhD in Data Science, Analytics, and Engineering at Arizona State University
  • PhD in Computational Sciences and Informatics at George Mason University
  • PhD in Statistics and Data Science at Yale University

Online PhDs in Data Science

  • PhD in Data Science at Northcentral University
  • PhD in Information Science at the University of North Texas
  • Online PhD in Data Science and Technology Management at Northcentral University

PhD Data Science Jobs

  • Computer and Information Research Scientist | Average Salary: $131,490
  • Mathematician or Statistician | Average Salary: $96,280
  • Medical Scientist | Average Salary: $95,310

PhD Data Science Salary

PayScale does not offer salary information specifically about data science PhD holders. However, statistics do exist for computer science PhD holders, which is a close match. They show that the average salary for a professional with a PhD in Computer Science is $131,000.


PhD in Business Administration

Average Salary: $105,000

A PhD in Business Administration prepares students for successful careers leading business ventures across all industries. It is a highly interdisciplinary degree that includes aspects of marketing, economics, information systems, finance, and human resource management. Accredited online PhDs in Business Administration offer busy students the opportunity to complete their degree in a fully remote modality.

Business Administration PhD Programs

  • PhD in Business Administration at Duke University
  • PhD in Business Administration at Harvard University
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Business Administration at George Washington University

Online PhDs in Business Administration

  • Business Administration PhD at Temple University
  • Doctor of Business Administration at Liberty University
  • Doctor of Business Administration at the University of Maryland Global Campus

PhD Business Administration Jobs

  • Information Systems Manager | Average Salary: $159,010
  • Financial Manager | Average Salary: $131,710
  • Human Resources Manager | Average Salary: $126,230

PhD Business Administration Salary

The average salary of a professional with a PhD in Business Administration is $105,000, according to PayScale. Salaries for information systems managers with PhDs in this field can be close to $160,000 per year. On the lower end of the spectrum, university professors in the field can take home around $80,000 per year.


PhD in Accounting

Average Salary: $109,000

A Doctorate in Accounting is typically pursued by students interested in focusing their careers on research rather than the practice of their profession. This can be accomplished both in academic institutions and research organizations. Teaching is another common avenue for those who pursue this type of degree.

Accounting PhD Programs

  • PhD in Accounting at the University of Colorado, Boulder
  • PhD in Accoutning at Stanford University
  • PhD in Accounting at the University of Pennsylvania

Online PhDs in Accounting

  • PhD in Accounting at Capella University
  • DBA in Accounting at Drexel University
  • DBA in Accounting at Liberty University

PhD Accounting Jobs

  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO) | Average Salary: $140,445
  • Corporate Controller | Average Salary: $104,674
  • Financial Controller | Average Salary: $87,309

PhD Accounting Salary

Once you obtain your accounting PhD, you’ll be able to earn a salary of $109,000 per year on average, according to data from PayScale. With jobs on the low end of the spectrum, you might earn $59,000 per year on average, while on the higher end of the spectrum you’ll be looking at an average annual salary of around $230,000.


PhD in Mathematics

Average Salary: $110,000

A PhD in Mathematics can be extremely challenging to obtain, and these programs are usually highly competitive and admit only a handful of applicants each year. With this degree, you’ll be using your analytical and critical thinking skills in fields such as education and academic research, technology development and services, or the pharmaceutical industry.

Mathematics PhD Programs

  • PhD in Mathematics at Columbia University
  • PhD in Mathematics at Harvard University
  • Doctor of Philosophy or Doctor of Science Mathematics Degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Online PhDs in Mathematics

  • Doctorate in Mathematics at Atlantic International University
  • PhD in Mathematics Education at the University of Wyoming
  • PhD in Mathematics at Edith Cowan University

PhD Mathematics Jobs

PhD Mathematics Salary

The average salary for a mathematics PhD holder , according to PayScale, is $110,000. If you opt for a career as a data scientist, you can expect a salary ranging between $75,000 and $141,000. As a mathematician, that range can be between $66,000 and $135,000.


PhD in Statistics

Average Salary: $116,000

A PhD in Statistics is useful in various fields, such as the medical industry, education, and economics. During this program, you will learn how to better understand data, calculate risk, and successfully measure uncertainty, all of which have applications across fields and in both the public and private sectors.

Statistics PhD Programs

  • PhD in Statistics at Boston University
  • PhD in Statistics at Columbia University
  • PhD in Statistics at University of California, Berkeley

PhD Statistics Jobs

PhD Statistics Salary

The average annual salary of a PhD in Statistics graduate is $116,000, according to PayScale. As a statistician, your average salary can range from $71,000 to $133,000, and as a biostatistician, you can earn a salary ranging from $66,000 to $139,000.


PhD in Engineering

Average Salary: $147,000

Depending on the university and program you choose, a Doctorate in Engineering might be a PhD, an EngScD, a Doctor of Science in Engineering, or a DEng, Doctor of Engineering. This type of degree is heavily focused on technical research and can branch out into a variety of fields, such as biomedical, electrical, or mechanical engineering. Whatever the specialization, this doctorate will teach you to understand and solve problems using your technical knowledge.

Engineering PhD Programs

  • PhD in Biomedical, Computer, or Electrical Engineering at Boston University
  • Doctor of Science in Engineering at Columbia University
  • PhD in Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Online PhDs in Engineering

  • PhD in Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics at the University of Alabama
  • PhD in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Maine
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Reliability Engineering at University of Maryland

PhD Engineering Jobs

  • Chief Engineer | Average Salary: $86,920
  • Manufacturing Process Engineer | Average Salary: $77,452
  • Applications Engineer | Average Salary: $74,529

PhD Engineering Salary

With a PhD in engineering, you can earn an average salary of $147,000 , according to PayScale. As an applications engineer, you can earn a salary ranging from $67,000 to $100,000, while as a chief engineer your salary might range from $105,000 to $273,000.


PhD in Cyber Security

Average Salary: $172,000

Cyber security is a growing field, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that there will be a 33 percent growth rate for information security analysts over the next 10 years. A PhD in Cyber Security prepares you for senior-level cyber security jobs across various industries, as well as for research positions.

Cyber Security PhD Programs

  • PhD in Computer Science with a Specialization in Cyber Security at the University of Rhode Island
  • PhD in Security at the University of Colorado
  • PhD in Computer Science (Cybersecurity) at Arizona State University

Online PhDs in Cyber Security

  • PhD in Cybersecurity at Capitol Technology University
  • PhD of Science in Cybersecurity at Marymount University
  • Online PhD in Technology and Innovation Management – Cybersecurity at Northcentral University

PhD Cyber Security Jobs

  • Chief Information Security Officer | Average Salary: $170,271
  • Cyber Security Architect | Average Salary: $129,369
  • Lead Security Engineer | Average Salary: $120,827

PhD Cyber Security Salary

According to data presented by PayScale, you can earn an average annual salary of $172,000 with a PhD in Cyber Security . This type of degree grants you access to senior roles, including director of operations, education program director, chief information security officer, penetration tester, and cyber security architect.


PhD in Information Systems

Average Salary: $141,000

A PhD in Information Systems provides students with the education needed to understand and solve complex information technology problems, as well as conduct relevant research to propose new solutions and innovate in their chosen field.

Information Systems PhD Programs

  • PhD in Business Administration With a Concentration in Computer Information Systems at Arizona State University
  • PhD in Information Systems at Dakota State University
  • PhD in Information Systems and Operations Management at Emory University

Online PhDs in Information Systems

  • PhD in Information Systems at Northcentral University
  • PhD in Information Technology at the University of the Cumberlands
  • PhD in Management With a Specialization in Information Systems Management at Walden University

PhD Information Systems Jobs

  • Computer and Information Systems Manager | Average Salary: $159,010
  • Computer and Information Research Scientist | Average Salary: $131,490
  • Database Administrator or Architect | Average Salary: $98,860

PhD Information Systems Salary

The average salary for a professional with a PhD in Information Systems is $141,000. As with any other industry, this figure varies according to your position, level of experience, location, and the company you work for.

Can You Get a PhD Online?

Yes, you can get a PhD online. Many reputable universities in the country offer accredited online degree programs in a variety of disciplines. This education format is ideal for students who are unable to relocate or who prefer more flexible learning modalities.

Best Online PhD Programs

Program Title School Online Tuition Admission Requirements
Doctor of Science in Computer Science Aspen University $30,500/year Object oriented programming (OOP) skills; master’s degree; GPA of 3.0 or higher; statement of purpose indicating academic, professional, and personal goals
PhD in Computer Science Clarkson University $1,533/credit Statement of purpose, resume, three letters of recommendation, official transcripts, GRE test scores
PhD in Information Systems Dakota State University $464.90/credit Master’s Degree in Information Systems,
minimum GPA of 3.0, statement of purpose
PhD in Education and Educational Leadership Drexel University $140/credit Minimum GPA of 3.25, official transcripts, GRE test scores, three letters of recommendation, writing sample
PhD in Media and Communication Indiana University of Pennsylvania $516/credit (in state); $593/credit (out of state) Official transcripts, statement of purpose, two letters of recommendation, writing sample
DBA in Project Management Liberty University $595/credit Master’s degree with 30 credits of graduate business courses, minimum GPA of 3.0,
official transcripts, online application, application fee
PhD in International Business Southern New Hampshire University $16,000/year Master’s degree in related subject, three letters of recommendation, statement of purpose, official transcripts
Doctor of Philosophy in Computer Science University of California, Berkeley $10,123.75/semester (in state); $17,674.75/semester (out of state) Bachelor’s degree or equivalent, minimum GPA of 3.0, three letters of recommendation, statement of purpose
PhD in Information Technology University of the Cumberlands $500/credit Minimum GPA of 3.0 in a relevant master’s degree, official transcripts, statement of purpose, online application, application fee
PhD in Mathematics Education University of Wyoming $399/credit (in state), $1,018/credit (out of state) Master’s degree with 3.0 GPA, GRE scores, three years of P-12 teaching or other relevant professional experience, statement of purpose, online application

Most Affordable Online PhD Programs

  • PhD ​in ​Education ​and ​Educational ​Leadership at Drexel University. Tuition: $140/credit
  • PhD in Mathematics Education at University of Wyoming. Tuition: $399/credit (in state)
  • PhD in Information Systems at Dakota State University. Tuition: $464.90/credit
  • PhD in Information Technology at University of the Cumberlands. Tuition: $500/credit
  • PhD in Media and Communication at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Tuition: $516/credit (in state)

Free Online PhD Programs

Unfortunately, there are no free online PhD programs. However, a multitude of funding opportunities do exist to help you cover the cost of your program. These include scholarships and grants, loans, and various forms of financial aid. Fully funded PhD programs also exist in a variety of universities and fields to support outstanding students looking to obtain their degrees.

How to Pay for a PhD

PhD programs are usually quite expensive. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways you can finance your studies. Keep reading to find out about the main ways to fund your PhD.

PhD Scholarships and Grants

Scholarships and grants consist of funds provided to students so they can cover the cost of their doctoral degrees. They can either be need-based or be awarded based on character or merit. Recipients of this type of funds usually do not need to pay the money back. They can be awarded by universities or other institutions, such as charities or research foundations.

PhD Financial Aid

Universities typically offer a wide range of financial aid options to prospective and current students to help them cover the cost of their programs. This might include, but is not limited to, tuition grants, stipends, computer or equipment subsidies, and access to funds for research or travel. Make sure to consult with your department to find out what forms of financial aid might be available to you.

Fully Funded PhD Programs

Many PhD programs are fully funded, meaning they waive tuition and associated fees entirely for outstanding students. Sometimes, the full funding can also include book stipends or funds for travel and research. While these tend to be highly competitive programs, they also offer the best option to complete your doctorate while avoiding the financial burden involved.

What Can You Do With a PhD?

With a PhD, you can gain access to senior, executive, or managerial positions in your industry. You can also have a successful career as a researcher in either the public or private sectors as you continue to expand the body of knowledge in your field. You can also choose to stay in academia and work as a college professor.

How Much Do PhD Professors Make?

On average, PhD professors earn an average salary of $143,823 per year, according to data presented by the American Association of University Professors pertaining to the 2021-22 academic year. This number can vary greatly depending on your field and whether you work for a public, private, for-profit, or not-for-profit institution.

What Jobs Can You Get With a Doctorate Degree?

  • Senior Data Scientist | Average Salary: $128,060 . Senior data scientists use data to create strategies and orient the growth of organizations. They also serve as team leaders.
  • Senior Software Engineer | Average Salary: $121,578 . Senior software engineers are experts in their field and are tasked with developing innovative information systems to help organizations reach their goals.
  • Senior Research Scientist | Average Salary: $106,142 . Senior research scientists work in laboratory settings across various industries. They conduct research and experiments, which can have industrial, commercial, or academic purposes.
  • Top Executive | Average Salary: $98,980 . The main task of a top executive, regardless of the industry they work for, is to devise strategies and policies to ensure their organization meets its goals.
  • Postsecondary Teachers | Average Salary: $79,640 . Postsecondary teachers instruct students beyond the high school level. The subjects they teach depend on their academic track and areas of expertise.

Conclusion: Is a Doctoral Degree Worth It?

Yes, a doctoral degree is worth it if you want to position yourself as an expert in your field, gain access to senior, executive, or managerial positions, and enjoy higher salaries. It is also a great option if you wish to contribute new knowledge to your field by conducting groundbreaking research on a particular topic.

Completing a doctoral degree requires endurance, commitment, and an ability to overcome obstacles. It involves a strong time commitment of several years, as well as a considerable financial commitment, but it usually pays off. Whether you plan to work in academia, a private research firm, or any other public or private organization, a PhD will arm you with the skills and knowledge you need to help your career flourish.

About us: Career Karma is a platform designed to help job seekers find, research, and connect with job training programs to advance their careers. Learn about the CK publication.

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Savanna Bruce

About the author: As a writer at Career Karma, Savanna covers a wide array of topics in education, careers, and technology. Before joining the Career Karma team in June 2020, Savanna found success as a freelance writer and bookseller. A native of Omaha, Nebraska, she graduated with a bachelor's of Multidisciplinary Studies from the University of Nebraska Omaha. Savanna is currently pursuing an MFA in creative writing to further enhance her career. Specifically, she aims to use her degree to start nonprofit animal welfare organizations in developing countries.

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