Should I Pursue A Master’s or A Ph.D.?

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The first step in deciding on the right graduate program for you is to figure out which degree will best serve you—a master’s or a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.). Here are a few factors to consider.

What are your career goals?

  • Professional master’s: A good choice if you want to develop a particular skill set in order to practice a particular profession. This type of degree provides coursework focused on learning and practicing skills.
  • Research master’s: A good fit if you want to gain expertise in a discipline and know how to teach it. A research master’s typically includes a research project or thesis and comprehensive exams in addition to coursework and provides experience in research and scholarship.
  • Ph.D. (doctor of philosophy): Consider this option if your goal is to ground yourself in a body of research and develop the ability to add to that body of knowledge. Ph.D. study includes a major research project in addition to coursework, and a Ph.D. is the highest scholastic degree awarded by American universities. Contrary to common perception, career paths for Ph.D. graduates are quite varied, not just limited to academia. Ph.D. training helps you hones skills such as writing, research, teaching, data analysis, communicating complex topics—all of which can translate into many sectors, including industry, government, nonprofit, and entrepreneurship.

See career data for Duke graduate programs' alumni

How much time do you have to pursue a graduate degree?

Master’s degrees typically take two years to complete, while Ph.D. programs generally take five to seven years ( see Duke programs' time-to-degree ). That is a significant difference in commitment and opportunity costs. It might also play a key role in deciding which factors take higher priority as you evaluate a program. How does the length of the program fit with your career and family plans? How important is the surrounding community if you are going to be there for seven years instead of two? How long are you able or willing to go on a limited income while in graduate school?

How much can you afford to pay for a graduate degree?

Consider your personal financial situation (e.g., how much savings and student loans do you have), as well as how much financial aid you can get. Master’s and Ph.D. programs differ greatly in the amount of financial aid available. Ph.D. programs tend to offer significantly more financial support than master’s programs (but often will have research or teaching requirements). 

A typical Ph.D. financial aid package usually includes coverage of tuition and fees, a living stipend, and some level of support for health insurance for a set number of years. For instance, Duke’s standard Ph.D. package covers tuition, mandatory fees, and a stipend for five years, as well as health insurance premiums for six years. 

Within an institution, the level of financial support often differs across programs, so be sure to ask your specific program about the financial aid it offers. There are also many national organizations that provide competitive fellowships and scholarships for graduate students.

Know which degree you want to pursue? Here are some key things to look for in a program .

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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 June 1, 2023.

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, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about master's and phd degrees.

The table below shows the key differences between the two.

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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.

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 .
  • Transcripts.
  • 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.

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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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Master’s vs. Ph.D.: What’s the Difference and Which One to Choose?

If graduate school is on your radar, one of the first things to consider is what type of degree you should pursue . While a bachelor’s degree is required for any postgraduate study, many people think you need a master’s to pursue a Ph.D., but that isn’t always the case. While there are benefits to receiving your master’s degree before your Ph.D., it’s not always necessary or required. However, there are important differences to note when deciding which type of program to apply to.

Master’s degree

A master’s degree usually takes about two years to complete full time. There are programs that allow a student to attend on a part-time basis, but that of course extends the completion time. Many master’s programs require a thesis to be completed, but not all. A thesis is a research project that is completed during the final year of a master’s program under the guidance of your program chair or advisor.

Under the master’s umbrella, there are quite a few specific degrees you can obtain. Your professional path will determine which of these you pursue.

  • Master of Arts (MA) is given for disciplines in the arts and social sciences.
  • Master of Science (MS) is given for sciences, health, engineering and statistics.
  • Master of Research (MRes) is focused on training students to become researchers. This is advantageous to a student if they’re pursuing a research-based career or planning to apply for a Ph.D. program.
  • Master by Research (MPhil) is similar to a MRes but is more advanced and focuses on research topics to be explored in depth. It’s often considered a precursor to a Ph.D. program.

Specialized master’s degrees

There are numerous specialized master’s degrees that are categorized by profession. These are often (not always) preceded by some professional experience prior to undertaking these types of advanced degrees.

  • Master of Business Administration (MBA)
  • Master of Library Science (MLS, MLIS, MSLS)
  • Master of Public Administration (MPA)
  • Master of Public Health (MPH)
  • Master of Social Work (MSW)
  • Master of Laws (LLM)
  • Master of Education (MEd, MSEd, MIT, MAEd, MAT)
  • Master of Engineering (MEng)
  • Master of Architecture (MArch)
  • Master of Fine Arts (MFA)
  • Master of Divinity (MDiv)

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

There are many Ph.D. programs and, in general, it’s considered the most advanced type of research degree you can obtain. Ph.D. candidates are required to complete a dissertation to obtain their degree. Unlike a thesis, a dissertation is longer and consists of original research conducted throughout the entire doctoral study. In some cases, students may be awarded a stipend, or pay, to complete the doctoral program and dissertation.

Ph.D.’s take a considerably longer time to complete than a master’s, five to eight years on average, and they carry a rather high rate of noncompletion due to time and financial commitments. Many Ph.D. programs have stipends available, so it’s important to inquire about that when researching a particular program.

Specialized doctorate programs

As with master’s degrees, there are several specialized doctorate programs specific to different disciplines and areas of study:

  • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)
  • Doctor of Engineering (EngD/PhD)
  • Doctor of Education (EdD/D.Ed)
  • Doctor of Social Science (DsocSci)
  • Doctor of Professional Studies (DProf)
  • Doctor of Architecture (DArch)
  • Doctor of Theology (Th.D)
  • Doctor of Divinity (DD/DDiv)
  • Doctor of Science STEM (Dsc/ScD)
  • Doctor of Science Arts & Humanities (DLitt/LitD)

When deciding which one to get, consider your immediate or long-term career goals — which degree would serve you best? In some cases, you can obtain a Ph.D. with just a bachelor’s degree, but often it’s recommended you get a master’s first for the research experience that will be required for a Ph.D.

As with anything, there are exceptions. Students in law school obtain a J.D. (Juris Doctor) but can then further obtain a master’s in a sub-specialty like tax or immigration law. The health care occupations of physical therapist and pharmacist are also doctorate programs obtained post undergrad.

Making your choice

As with any decision, weigh your options, list pros and cons, and go from there. Once you’ve narrowed your options , you’ll have a precise list of programs and institutions generated for your specific goals.

What Is a Doctorate Degree?

A doctorate is usually the most advanced degree someone can get in an academic discipline, higher education experts say.

What Is a Doctorate?

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It's unwise to apply to a doctoral program if you don't have a clear idea of how you might use a doctorate in your career.

In many academic disciplines, the most advanced degree one can earn is a doctorate. Doctorate degree-holders are typically regarded as authorities in their fields, and many note that a major reason for pursuing a doctorate is to increase professional credibility.

"If someone wants to be respected as an expert in their chosen field, and also wants to have a wider array of options in research, writing, publishing, teaching, administration, management, and/or private practice, a doctorate is most definitely worth considering," Don Martin, who has a Ph.D. in higher education administration , wrote in an email.

A doctoral degree is a graduate-level credential typically granted after multiple years of graduate school, with the time-to-degree varying depending on the type of doctoral program, experts say.

Earning a doctorate usually requires at least four years of effort and may entail eight years, depending on the complexity of a program's graduation requirements. It also typically requires a dissertation, a lengthy academic paper based on original research that must be vetted and approved by a panel of professors and later successfully defended before them for the doctorate to be granted.

Some jobs require a doctorate, such as certain college professor positions, says Eric Endlich, founder of Top College Consultants, an admissions consulting firm that helps neurodivergent students navigate undergraduate and graduate school admissions.

Endlich earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree, commonly known as a Ph.D., from Boston University in Massachusetts. He focused on psychology and notes that a doctoral degree is generally required to be a licensed psychologist.

"Since a Ph.D. is a research-focused degree, it can be advantageous to those seeking high-level research positions in scientific fields such as astrophysics or biotechnology," he says.

How Long it Takes to Get a Doctorate Degree

Martin, founder and CEO of Grad School Road Map, an organization that helps grad school applicants navigate the admissions process, says obtaining a doctorate is often a lengthy endeavor.

"Typically it can take between four and six years to complete any doctoral program," he says. "If comprehensive examinations and a dissertation are part of the graduation requirements, it may take a year or two longer. There is no standard amount of time – some students take seven to 10 years to finish."

Endlich says doctoral degree hopefuls should be aware that completing a dissertation may take a long time, especially if unexpected hurdles arise.

"My dissertation, for example, involved recruiting college students to complete questionnaires, and it took much longer than I anticipated to recruit enough subjects for my study," he says.

The standards for a dissertation, which include the proposal and research, are rigorous and usually involve a review and approval by a faculty committee, says Hala Madanat, vice president for research and innovation at San Diego State University in California.

"As part of dissertation requirements, some programs will require publication of the research in high-impact peer-reviewed journals," Madanat wrote in an email.

Types of Doctoral Degree Programs

According to professors and administrators of doctoral programs, there are two types of doctorates.

Doctor of Philosophy

A doctor of philosophy degree is designed to prepare people for research careers at a university or in industry, and teach students how to discover new knowledge within their academic discipline. Ph.D. degrees are offered in a wide range of academic subjects, including highly technical fields like biology , physics, math and engineering; social sciences like sociology and economics; and humanities disciplines like philosophy.

A Ph.D. is the most common degree type among tenure-track college and university faculty, who are typically expected to have a doctorate. But academia is not the only path for someone who pursues a Ph.D. It's common for individuals with biology doctorates to work as researchers in the pharmaceutical industry, and many government expert positions also require a Ph.D.

Professional or clinical doctorates

These are designed to give people the practical skills necessary to be influential leaders within a specific industry or employment setting, such as business, psychology , education or nursing . Examples of professional doctoral degrees include a Doctor of Business Administration degree, typically known as a DBA; a Doctor of Education degree, or Ed.D.; and a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, or DNP.

A law degree, known as a juris doctor or J.D., as well as a Doctor of Medicine degree, or M.D., are also considered professional doctorates.

How to Get a Doctorate

Getting a doctorate is challenging. It ordinarily requires a series of rigorous classes in a field of study and then passage of a qualification exam in order to begin work on a dissertation, which is the final project.

Dissertations are difficult to write, says David Harpool, vice president of graduate and online programs at Newberry College in South Carolina. Some research indicates that only about half of doctoral students go on to finish their degree, and a main reason is that many never finish and successfully defend their dissertation

"Many of them are in programs that permit them to earn a master’s on the way to a doctorate," Harpool, who earned a Ph.D. from Saint Louis University in Missouri and a J.D. from the University of Missouri , wrote in an email. "The transition from mastering a discipline to creating new knowledge (or at least applying new knowledge in a different way), is difficult, even for outstanding students."

Learn about how M.D.-Ph.D. programs

There is a often a "huge shift in culture" at doctoral programs compared to undergraduate or master's level programs, says Angela Warfield, who earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of Iowa.

Doctoral professors and students have more of a collaborative relationship where they function as colleagues, she says. And there's pressure on each student to produce "significant and original research."

Many full-time doctoral students work for the school as researchers or teaching assistants throughout their program, so time management is crucial to avoid burnout. However, the dissertation "is by far the biggest battle," she says. The goal is to avoid an "ABD," she says, meaning "all but dissertation."

"In my writing group, we had two motivational slogans: 'ABD is not a degree,' and 'a good dissertation is a done dissertation,'" Warfield, now the principal consultant and founder of admissions consulting firm Compass Academics, wrote in an email.

How Are Doctorate Admissions Decisions Made?

Admissions standards for doctoral programs vary depending on the type of doctorate, experts say.

The quality of a candidate's research is a distinguishing factor in admissions decisions, Madanat says. Meanwhile, leaders of clinical and professional doctorate programs say that the quality of a prospective student's work experience matters most.

Doctoral programs typically expect students to have a strong undergraduate transcript , excellent letters of recommendation and, in some cases, high scores on the Graduate Record Examination , or GRE, Endlich says.

"The size of the programs may be relatively small, and universities need to be sure that applicants will be able to handle the demands of their programs," he says.

Because professional doctorates often require students to come up with effective solutions to systemic problems, eligibility for these doctorates is often restricted to applicants with extensive first-hand work experience with these problems, according to recipients of professional doctorates.

In contrast, it's common for Ph.D. students to begin their programs immediately after receiving an undergraduate degree. The admissions criteria at Ph.D. programs emphasize undergraduate grades, standardized test scores and research projects , and these programs don't necessarily require work experience.

Admissions decisions may also depend on available funding, says Madanat, who works with doctoral students to provide funding, workshops and faculty support to help their research.

Who Is a Good Fit for a Doctoral Program?

Doctoral degree hopefuls "should be interested in making a deep impact on their field, open-minded, eager to learn, curious, adaptable and self-motivated," Madanat says. "Doctoral programs are best suited for those whose goals are to transform and change the fields they are studying and want to make a difference in the way the world is."

Someone who loves to study a subject in great depth, can work alone or in teams, is highly motivated and wants to develop research skills may be a good candidate for a doctoral program, Endlich says.

Because of the tremendous effort and time investment involved in earning a doctorate, experts say it's foolish to apply to a doctoral program if it's unclear how you might use a doctorate in your career.

"The students are being trained with depth of knowledge in the discipline to prepare them for critical thinking beyond the current state of the field," Madanat says. "Students should consider the reasons that they are pursuing a doctoral degree and whether or not it aligns with their future professional goals, their family circumstances and finances."

Rachel D. Miller, a licensed marriage and family therapist who completed a Ph.D. degree in couples and family therapy at Adler University in Illinois in 2023, says pursuing a doctorate required her to make significant personal sacrifices because she had to take on large student loans and she needed to devote a lot of time and energy to her program. Miller says balancing work, home life and health issues with the demands of a Ph.D. program was difficult.

For some students, the financial component may be hard to overlook, Warfield notes.

"Student debt is no joke, and students pursuing graduate work are likely only compounding undergraduate debt," she says. "They need to really consider the payoff potential of the time and money sacrifice."

To offset costs, some programs are fully funded, waiving tuition and fees and providing an annual stipend. Some offer health insurance and other benefits. Students can also earn money by teaching at the university or through fellowships, but those adding more to their plate should possess strong time management skills, experts say.

"Graduate school, and higher education in general, can be brutal on your physical and mental health," Miller wrote in an email.

But Miller says the time and effort invested in her doctoral program paid off by allowing her to conduct meaningful research into the best way to provide therapy to children affected by high-conflict divorce and domestic violence. She now owns a therapy practice in Chicago.

Miller urges prospective doctoral students to reflect on whether getting a doctorate is necessary for them to achieve their dream job. "Really know yourself. Know your purpose for pursuing it, because that's what's going to help carry you through."

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Bachelors vs Masters vs PhD – Explained in Pictures

Ever wondered what is the difference between Bachelors vs Masters vs PhD?

This the the Best damn good explanation of What is PhD and while explaining that, you will know the difference in Bachelors vs Masters vs PhD. I have I have come across.

Bachelors vs Masters vs PhD

What is PhD

With a bachelor’s degree, you gain a specialty:


A master’s degree deepens that specialty:

Bachelors vs Masters vs PhD

Reading research papers takes you to the edge of human knowledge:

Bachelors vs Masters vs PhD

Once you’re at the boundary, you focus:


You push at the boundary for a few years:


Until one day, the boundary gives way:


Of course, the world looks different to you now:


So, don’t forget the bigger picture:


Now you know “ What is PhD ” and understood the major difference between Bachelors vs Masters vs PhD.

Are you ready to push the boundaries of human knowledge?

You might be undecided about studying PhD. Maybe this article inspired you to push the knowledge boundary.

If not read the following 2 articles.

  • 5 Years, 20 Countries and 25 Universities to get into PhD
  • Internship at Large Hadron Collider, PhD and Researcher in US Army

Next, you have to understand timeline and steps to get a PhD degree .

Remember – You need passion and time commitment to do PhD. Don’t apply for PhD because you can earn more money.

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Following article  about PhD in Life Science was submitted by Moen Sen, PhD Candidate from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. The demand for Biology is at an all-time high in India. But, the immense hard work required and the long, erratic hours make almost all students bid adieu to it after their under-graduation. And then there are…

Email Template for Contacting Graduate School Professors for MS and PhD

Are you planning to contact professors when applying for graduate school admission (M.S. and PhD)? Use this email template as a starting point and just improvise. Here’s one email template that you can use to contact professors to express your interest in his or her research and hopefully that will lead to graduate school admission…

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Looking Beyond Conventional PhD Programs in Universities

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Approximately two years ago, I pulled out a list of potential Universities for my PhD from a well known website. The list was 100 Universities long. And I had no way of knowing why and how they were ranked like they were. 6 Golden Rules for PhD University Selection Sure, the website said it laid…

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Well put and easy to understand and above all challenging.

The teaching of linear thinking as we have seen for centuries focusing in on one item of interest while many topics of research are related. In order for a person to find solutions to problems understanding matrices of related subjects leads to many doors of possibilities to finding solutions instead of satisfying a theory. Great diagram. While you see a circle, we should be visualising a globe. Life is not flat! Thinking should not be shallow nor linear.

When one takes a phd one wants to laser focus that research topic.

I’m just a 12 year old ensuring my future by knowing all of these stuff before I need to know it

I m pursuing 2 yr MBBS and i want to know whether to focus on csir ugc net for doing PhD or ms or MD which one has a good payscale

hiii every one i completed my btech in 2011 with 59.09% for these completing i spend 6 years 5months to complete it … … After that i started Mtech with in 2 years i have completed and i have a 3. 4 years of experience as a developer ….. now i want to do job in USA what was salary i can get for this profile …….. OR i need to study MS

Do you have the talent with the Node.js and the Mongo DB? Is you have proven track record of doing needful? Do you have doctorate?

Very good example, made me think better of where I need to be.

This is brilliant! To its creators and the admins of this website…thank you! 🙂

remember, even PhD, its look like an acne from a knowledge face

Sorry. I would have to disagree. I only have my masters. But I have encountered so many doctorate individuals who know far less than me. Sorry to disappoint you and contradict your article.

I think the big differnce, is that with masters you’ll only know more and more about more topics but not further than the human knowledge at the time. A PHD will mark you as someone that introduced something new to human knowledge that didn’t exist before, and that doesn’t imply the person knowing more or less, but that they pushed those boundaries.

does buisness schools accept GRE scores?what if i give GRE and then apply in the universities?any possibility?

Yes! Business schools do accept GRE scores. Here is the current list of business schools accepting official GRE scores for MBA admissions. Have a look.

I always thought it was “BS” for “Bull Shit”, “MS” for “More Shit” and “PhD” for “Piled Higher and Deeper”. Ah well…learn something new every day….

hi…. i am presently doing in gitam university. up to first year i am taking gre on october… i dont have publications is there any chance to get the phd admission or can i apply for ms program only… help me

im get ready to do for phd in abroad. so what is essential factors my btech 58% and mtech 72%

Accurate admission requirements are to be found on university websites, not on public forums such as these. If you can’t find it, contact the admissions department of the university you want to apply to. Masters degrees are not always a requirement for PhD programmes, but sometimes they are.

Essential factors for PhD admissions: Again, check the websites. Research skills, vision and motivation are really important. You’ll need a research proposal.

Hi Krishna!

It’s good to hear that you are interested to pursue Ph.D program. In vast majority of cases, prior academic publications are not required for Ph.D admissions in case if you are applying for Ph.D programs after completing of masters or bachelors degree program. Although after joining in Ph.D program, a student produces ‘n’ number of academic publications. So producing a publication prior to Ph.D admission is not so mandatory.

I am working as asst professor in engineering college of india.

hello, I am working as asst. professor chemical engineering, want to do PhD in chemical engineering field , how would i get admission in UK/USA universities and what is the chances to get admission there and how much investment I need ? Please give full information regarding it.

Full information is generally available on the websites of the specific universities. Admissions requirements, application processes and programme cost (I assume this is what you mean by “investment”) are all found on the websites of the respective universities. Chances of admission vary from university to university and not all universities put those statistics on their website, but if you put in some effort to go looking for it yourself, I think you should be able to find it.

I have 16+ Years and completed my DECE in 97, Btech (CMJU) in 2012 and Masters (Middlesex,UK) in 2013. I am looking for Phd opportunities in US for telecom field.

Can you provide me some details of the good consultants in India who is good in helping such cases. Also what are all the other preparation I should take care.

Hello,is medical degree a bsc or masters?thanks

Neither. BSc is bachelor of science. Medical degrees are bachelor of medicine and surgery (MBBS, MBChB, BMBS, MBBCh etc depending on how you abbreviate Medicinae Baccalaureus, Baccalaureus Chirurgiae). You generally carry the title of “doctor” afterwards, though, even without a PhD.

this one some what explainable…but good.

Thank you.. Raghu ram. This info has helped me allot to know about ph.d in Abroad..

I like to read more about it.

This is a most innovative way to describe “what is PhD ?” and I am indeed lucky to be associated with Dr. Matt Might.

I am working as Asst Prof. In India with Highest qualification of Masters in Engineering. Masters in engineering is the course which does not belive only on semester patern but gives lot of exposour to research work. Now I am very interested doing research in the domain of Image Processing . What are the different job aportunities ( Excluding Education Industries) after PhD form USA in Computer Engineering ( specifically in Image Processing Domain) u can suggest???

You will find most of the opportunities in research laboratories. After completing a doctoral program, it is very obvious that you would be involved in full time research. In fact many students go ahead for a post doctoral program as well and take up teaching jobs at the respective Universities.

I am working as Asst Prof. In India with Highest qualification of Masters in Engineering. Masters in engineering is the course which does not belive only on semester patern but gives lot of exposour to research work. Now I am very interested doing research in the domain of Image Processing . What are the different job aportunities ( Excluding Education Industries) after PhD in Computer Engineering ( specifically in Image Processing Domain) u can suggest???

very interesting and so true! !!

A nice explanation… Cleared all doubts…

This is one of the best way to visually understand the difference between BS, MS and PhD.

well, tat was Awesome !!

Amazing post! I don’t know like such a supportive and motivational article in my life.

Amazing post! Even though I don’t think I will pursue a Ph.D. , I really want to come close to making that dent in my life.

WOW, this is an amazing and innovative way HSB. The post deserves more comments and appreciation. Keep it up 🙂

Very nice I hope to read more like this.

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Articles & Advice > Graduate School > Articles

Indian woman in denim shirt sitting in grass with notebook and pink pen to head

Master's or PhD: Which One Should You Choose?

You know you want an advanced degree, but just how advanced? Keep reading to discover the key differences between master's and doctoral degrees.

by Graduate School Directory

Last Updated: Dec 18, 2023

Originally Posted: Jun 20, 2011

Just as there are many reasons people choose to go to graduate school, there are many options from which they may choose. Do you want to attend full-time? Maybe you want to go part-time and work. Or perhaps an online program option will work best for you. But before you can decide on the format type of your program, you need to decide on your program. If you’ve selected a field of study, you may be wondering whether you should get a master's degree or a doctoral degree. Here are some things to consider to help you choose which one is best for you.

3 key differences between programs

Before you can properly weigh the pros and cons of a master’s degree vs. a doctoral program, you must understand the major differences between the two programs. And although that may sound like pros and cons in itself, a pros and cons list is based mainly on your personal preference. So before figuring out preference, you must consider the facts, and these are it.

A graduate degree requires a significant investment of time. Master's degrees require less time than doctoral degrees. Typically a full-time student can acquire a master's degree in about two years. A PhD usually requires at least five to six years and many people take seven to nine years.

The adage "time = money" was never so true as with graduate school. Since a PhD takes longer to complete, it also requires more money. (Not that a master's degree is cheap either!) The flip side to this is that a PhD may yield a higher salary upon completion and is therefore worth the increased cost long term. With both degrees, school costs money (tuition, fees, books, etc.). In addition, however, there is also a significant loss of money if the student is not working or is earning low wages through assistantships or part-time employment. Many people find they must either live a Spartan lifestyle for many years or find themselves strapped with huge loans when they graduate .

Graduate school takes work. Most people are not going to argue with this. However, many students who drifted through college are surprised to find that graduate school requires a much larger commitment in terms of work and intellectual energy. Graduate schools are frequently very competitive. Students who are taking a full course load as well as teaching often find themselves overwhelmed. And of course, the many years of school required for a PhD require perseverance on a scale above and beyond what undergraduates must contemplate. The difference between college and graduate school lies in the ability of the student to focus on their field and the subjects and areas that most interest them. While graduate school requires more work, most students find the work enjoyable since it involves an area in which they are very interested.

Related: Great Expectations: How Grad School Differs From Undergrad

The what ifs of choosing a master's or PhD

So we know that graduate school requires time, money, and commitment for both a master's and a PhD. So which should you choose?

  • If all you want is a raise, a PhD is probably not the road to choose. A master’s degree will boost your career possibilities enough for the kind of raise you want.
  • If you love learning in and of itself , then the work required for a PhD may be worthwhile. Master's degrees tend to be more career oriented while PhD's tend to be more research oriented since they’re preparing people for highly academic, research-based careers.
  • If you want to save time and progress your career, a master's degree has benefits in that it requires less time and money than a doctoral degree but will still set you apart from those who only have a bachelor's. A master's can allow specialization within a field. The degree works well for those who’ve been working in a career for some time and hope to advance within their field.
  • If you’re looking for a new path in life, a master's degree can also be an excellent method of changing careers. For those who’ve found their career or undergraduate education aren’t leading them in the direction they would like to go, a master's degree can allow them to start fresh by gaining new knowledge and skills.
  • If you want to become a professor, a PhD is practically mandatory. Even for those few who can find teaching positions with only a master's, most schools want to see progress toward a PhD.
  • If you really want to impress, a PhD can also be helpful outside the world of academia in today's increasingly competitive job market. Businesses are searching for extremely qualified people who have demonstrated intelligence, perseverance, and the ability to learn. A PhD can open doors.
  • If you want to impact the world with original work, PhD work requires original research that contributes new information to your chosen field of study. People interested in pursuing a PhD should love their studies and be excited by the prospect of meaningful contribution.

Related:  Choosing the Right Graduate Degree for Your Goals

Making your decision

To summarize, a PhD may be worth it if you truly love your field, enjoy your studies, and want the benefits and prestige associated with the doctoral degree. If you are simply looking to change fields or gain a promotion or do not think you could maintain interest through at least five to six years of school, then a master's is probably a better choice. However, it is worth noting that you may be able to get more financial aid for a PhD Since it takes longer, schools recognize that those trying to acquire their PhD's need more assistance than those who only want a master's degree. This adds an interesting dimension to the application process for two reasons.

First, if you think you may want a PhD but still are not sure, it is probably better to apply to the doctoral program. There is no penalty for changing your mind later and deciding to leave with a master's degree, and it increases your chances of getting financial aid. The second consideration is that the PhD program can be more competitive, and applying to it rather than the master's degree program might decrease your chances of admission. If you are denied entrance to the PhD program, you could ask them to then consider you for the master's degree program, but that may not be allowed.

Related:  7 Important Things to Do Before Applying to Graduate School

We’re glad you came seeking advice on which advanced degree program is right for you. It’s a big decision to make that you shouldn’t take lightly, and seeking the right knowledge to make an informed decision is only going to benefit you. Use this advice, take some time to think it over, and go forward knowing you’re making the best decision for your future goals and career.

Once you’ve made your decision on applying to a master’s or PhD program, start searching for just the right one with our Graduate School Search tool .   

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major vs phd

Doctorate vs. PhD: Understanding the Key Differences [2024]

If you’re interested in pursuing a doctoral degree, you may wonder about the differences between a doctorate vs. PhD.

Doctorate vs. PhD: Understanding the Key Differences

A doctorate and a PhD are both terminal degrees that allow you to develop specialized knowledge and skills in your chosen field. But these degrees typically have different areas of focus, requirements, and career outcomes.

Editorial Listing ShortCode:

Understanding the difference between PhD and doctorate can help you pick the degree that most aligns with your career aspirations and interests.

What’s the Difference Between Doctorate vs. PhD Degrees?

is a doctorate a PhD

A doctorate and a Ph.D. are the highest college degrees students can earn. Graduates of both types of programs receive the title of “doctor” and may qualify for specialized careers in their fields.

But, while doctorate programs focus on professional competencies and knowledge, PhD programs prioritize academic research.

What Is a Doctorate Degree?

Man pursuing a Doctorate degree

A doctorate degree is a professional degree that enables students to become experts in a specific field or industry. This degree focuses on applying academic research and theories in the workplace to improve performance and solve problems.

Courses vary by field and program but typically emphasize professional skills like collaboration, leadership, and project management. Additionally, many doctorate programs require students to complete a capstone project that addresses real issues affecting their industry.

Graduates often qualify for advanced administrative, leadership, and managerial positions in their fields.

What Is a PhD Degree?

Woman taking PhD degree

A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree is an opportunity to strengthen your academic research skills and generate original knowledge. This degree trains students to become independent scholars who conduct cutting-edge research in their areas of expertise.

PhD curriculums cover advanced concepts and theories in a discipline. They also teach students qualitative and quantitative methodologies to design studies and conduct research. Additionally, most PhD programs require students to produce a dissertation that contributes fresh knowledge to the field.

Current professionals with PhDs often work as academic researchers and professors. They may also secure government and industry jobs.

Key Differences Between a PhD vs. Doctorate Degree

What’s a PhD degree ? What’s a doctorate degree? The main difference between a doctorate and a PhD is their area of focus. A doctorate prioritizes applied knowledge and professional skills, while a PhD emphasizes academic research. Let’s compare some more differences between a professional doctoral degree vs. PhD.

students taking PhD degree doing research works

A doctorate enables students to become expert practitioners in their discipline. Students study existing concepts and theories and learn how to apply these ideas in the workplace.

By contrast, a PhD prepares students to conduct innovative research and educate others.

Goals and Outcomes

Doctorate students working on their research task

Doctorate programs help prepare students for senior administrative and leadership positions in their industries. They also help students enhance their professional competencies and tackle industry-specific challenges.

Students who pursue PhDs aim to advance their disciplines by generating new knowledge. They may also publish peer-reviewed research and teach undergraduate courses.

Student Population

students attending a doctorate program

Doctorate degrees are designed for current or aspiring working professionals who want to become industry leaders. These programs also enable students to increase their knowledge and credibility.

PhD programs attract students who want to expand their knowledge of research methodologies and theories. These learners also frequently pursue academic careers.

Admissions Requirements

Man preparing requirements for PhD degree

Doctorate and PhD programs typically require students to have bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Additionally, prospective doctorate students may be asked to provide evidence of work experience, while PhD students might demonstrate their research abilities with a writing sample.

Program Length

People pursuing PhD degree

Requirements vary by program, but full-time students typically complete a doctorate in 3 to 5 years. Programs that require a capstone project may take longer. For those considering quick degrees, a number of universities now offer accelerated doctoral programs online .

PhD programs often take 4 to 7 years to finish. The speed at which students research and write their dissertations can significantly impact the timeline.

Doctorate student doing online research works

The curriculum for doctorate programs typically centers on practical skills and contemporary issues in the field. Topics may include communication, ethics, and leadership.

PhD programs offer classes on research methods, theories, and disciplinary trends. Students also learn how to write journal articles and present at conferences.

Assessment and Completion Requirements

PhD student working on his dissertation

Doctorate and PhD students both complete 2 or more years of coursework. They also demonstrate their knowledge during comprehensive exams.

Doctorate students may produce a capstone project that applies their knowledge to real problems. By contrast, PhD students write dissertations based on original research.

If You Have a PhD, Are You a Doctor?

are PhD doctors

Is a PhD a doctor ? While graduates who earn a PhD are referred to as doctors, a PhD is different from a Doctor of Medicine (MD).

Doctors with MDs are medical doctors who can legally prescribe medications, perform surgery, and treat patients. They typically apply existing medical knowledge instead of conducting research. Doctors with PhDs don’t have any of these abilities. Instead, they have specialized knowledge and perform academic research in a particular field.

PhD or Doctorate Degree – Which Is Right for You?

students taking doctorate degree

Understanding the difference between a doctorate and a PhD can help you select the right degree for you.

Professional doctorate degrees help students become leading practitioners and problem solvers. By contrast, PhD degrees enable students to hone their research skills and learn advanced concepts. Both degrees allow you to enrich your understanding of your chosen discipline or profession. They also help you boost your credentials and develop new skills.

After you decide between a doctorate degree vs. PhD, you can explore program options from accredited schools to find the best fit.

major vs phd

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Master’s Vs. Ph.D.: What’s The Difference?

  • Undergraduate vs. Graduate
  • Weighted vs. Unweighted GPA
  • APR vs. APY
  • Dual Degree vs. Double Major
  • Master's vs. Phd
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Find a Job You Really Want In

Most people have a pretty solid understanding of what a bachelor’s degree is, but master’s degrees and Ph.D.s can often be fuzzier for many.

In this article, we’ll go over each of these degrees and what each one entails.

Key Takeaways:

What Is a Master’s Degree?

A master’s degree – also called a graduate degree – is an advanced degree that people with an undergraduate degree can go on to obtain.

A master’s degree takes about one to three years to obtain. This can change based on the program you pursue and how many classes you take per semester, but the typical master’s degree program lasts about two years.

Again, the actual amount of time a master’s degree requires depends on the program you’re in, how much time you have to dedicate to your classes and research, and how smoothly your research goes, but most master’s degree programs are designed to take two years to complete.

A master’s degree requires a bachelor’s degree. This is the main prerequisite for starting a master’s degree. While some master’s programs require students to have bachelor’s degrees related to the graduate program, others don’t, allowing anyone with any area of expertise to enter as long as they meet the other qualifications .

One of these qualifications is often a passing score on a standardized graduate school entrance exam such as the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, or TOEFL.

A master’s degree mostly involves coursework with one to two semesters dedicated to research for a thesis and/or capstone project. This thesis or project (or combination of both) is a requirement for graduation and must be approved by and presented to the program faculty (called a defense).

While the student is working on this research, they’re usually taking classes as well.

A master’s degree can prepare you for almost any career. You can find people with master’s degrees in virtually any industry, and you can find a master’s degree program for a wide variety of interests.

Some people choose to pursue their master’s in order to build a more advanced and/or specialized knowledge base in their field or to open up opportunities in an entirely different field than they’d originally been working in.

What Is a Ph.D.?

A Ph.D. is a doctoral degree that many people pursue when they want to work in research or academia. It’s the highest degree someone can obtain.

A Ph.D. takes three to seven years to obtain. Usually, though, it takes closer to five to seven years to obtain a Ph.D. The length of time it takes you to finish a doctorate program will depend on the particular program, how much time you have to spend on classes and research, and how long your dissertation takes to research and complete.

A Ph.D. usually requires a master’s degree. Usually, your master’s degree has to be at least somewhat related to the Ph.D. program you’re trying to enter so that you have a solid knowledge base going into your research.

However, many programs combine their master’s degree and Ph.D. programs so you can start right out of undergrad and get it all done in one place. Sometimes these programs even take less time since they often require less research than two separate programs would.

A Ph.D. involves some coursework but mostly focuses on research for a dissertation. Generally, Ph.D. students spend just a few years on coursework and focus the majority of their time conducting research and writing their dissertations.

This is because their research generally has to be more original than many graduate program projects are and often requires them to obtain their own funding, which can take time.

In addition to a dissertation, Ph.D. students also may have to pass a comprehensive exam before they can graduate.

A Ph.D. can prepare you for a career in research and/or academia. If you want to continue conducting research in your field for a company or a university, or if you want to become a university professor , you’ll need a Ph.D.

As a result, many people obtain their Ph.D.s if they are interested in either of those options, even if they end up working in a regular job as part of their career as well.

Master’s Vs. Ph.D. FAQ

Can you get a Ph.D. without a master’s?

Yes, you can get a Ph.D. without a master’s. Many Ph.D. programs in the U.S. will accept students who have only earned their bachelor’s degrees. However, usually, this means that the Ph.D. program is a little longer than it would be otherwise, as it also includes the master’s degree requirements.

Many students still prefer this route if they know they want to get a Ph.D., as it often still ends up being shorter than it would be to obtain their master’s degree and then a separate Ph.D. You should only take this route if you’re very sure that you want to get your Ph.D., though, as it requires a significant amount of time and money.

Is a Ph.D. above a master’s?

Yes, a Ph.D. is above a master’s. A Ph.D. is the highest level of academic study, and a master’s degree is the second highest. Both are higher than a bachelor’s degree.

There are some master’s degrees, however, that are terminal degrees, which means there isn’t a higher degree than a master’s degree in that area of study. One example of this is a Master of Fine Arts (MFA). Because it’s a terminal degree, it’s considered similar to a Ph.D. in that field.

This is because a Ph.D. is a terminal degree in other fields of study and designates someone who has obtained the highest level of education possible in that field.

What are the four types of degrees?

The four types of degrees are associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral. An associate ’s degree typically takes about two years to earn and focuses on general education with a few specialized classes. These degrees are designed to prepare graduates to enter the workforce.

A bachelor’s degree usually takes about four years to complete and includes both general education and about two years of classes in the student’s chosen field. Typically, bachelor’s degree holders are eligible for careers in virtually any area, as well as many managerial and mid-level positions.

A master’s degree typically takes about two years to complete and includes both classwork and research in the student’s chosen field of study. Many students earn their master’s degrees because they want to take on an administrative or managerial role in the future.

A doctoral degree (which includes Ph.D.s) is a terminal degree for most fields, which means it’s the highest degree someone can obtain in that area. These degrees take between three and seven years to earn, and they focus mainly on research, although they have some classwork as well.

People who want to conduct research or work in academia often earn their doctoral degrees.

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Abby is a writer who is passionate about the power of story. Whether it’s communicating complicated topics in a clear way or helping readers connect with another person or place from the comfort of their couch. Abby attended Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she earned a degree in writing with concentrations in journalism and business.

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Masters vs PhD – What’s the best degree for me?

In the US, a Master’s degree is not required for a PhD – unlike most European countries, where it is a prerequisite. Thus, in the US, deciding between a Master’s degree and a PhD can be a challenging question. By understanding the distinction, you can determine which program aligns best with your aspirations and goals. This article will provide insights into the structure, requirements, and outcomes of both degrees, helping you make an informed decision.


students reflecting on Master's vs PhD degree – which is better for my career

If you’re a recent graduate student looking to further your academic career, a Master’s degree might be the first step. But for those aiming for a career as university professors or to lead their own research group, pursuing a doctoral program to get a higher degree could be the better option.

Choosing the right degree program requires understanding the main difference of Master’s vs PhD.


The most important difference between Masters and phd programs is the focus and the duration.

A Master’s degree is designed as an advanced study in a specific field following a bachelor’s degree. It typically involves structured coursework, sometimes combined with research, resulting in a thesis or project.

A PhD, commonly known as a doctorate, is a research-focused degree regarded as the highest academic degree in higher education. This doctorate degree usually requires a dissertation based on original research.

This table that summarizes the key differences when considering Master’s vs PhD degrees:


A Master’s program typically takes one to three years to complete, depending on the type of degree and the field of study. On the other hand,  a PhD program can take anywhere from four to eight years , with the exact duration varying based on goals of the PhD candidates, the subject, the doctoral program’s requirements, and the time taken to complete the PhD dissertation.


Master Students preparing a doctoral degree

In the United States, a Master’s degree is *not* required for a PhD. In contrast, in most European countries, a Master’s degree is a requirement for a PhD.

In the US , many PhD programs accept applicants with only a Bachelor’s degree. This is because PhD programs in the US typically include a Master’s component in the first few years. Students take coursework, complete research rotations, and pass qualifying exams before advancing to the dissertation phase.

In Europe , PhD programs are typically shorter, lasting 3-4 years. As a result, students are expected to have a stronger foundation in research before starting their doctoral studies. A Master’s degree allows students to develop their research skills, learn about their field of interest, and explore different research topics.

Here is a table that summarizes the key differences between PhD requirements in the US and Europe:

However, there are some exceptions to the general rule that a Master’s degree is required for a PhD in Europe. For example, in some countries, students with a four-year Bachelor’s degree may be able to apply directly to a PhD program. Additionally, some European universities offer joint Master’s-PhD programs that allow students to earn both degrees in a shorter period. However, these are structured to streamline the educational process and are often very competitive.


In the US, a Master’s is not a prerequisite for a PhD because PhD programs typically include a Master’s component in the first few years.  Thus, a  separate  Master’s degree is probably not necessary in the US.  Most common Master’s degrees cater to professional fields, and a typical Master’s degree program is often designed to be a terminal degree.

In contrast, in most European countries, the discussion about a  separate  Master’s degree does not make sense because a Master’s program is required to reach the qualification for the PhD level.


PhD Students working on a research project

A Master’s degree involves structured coursework which allows students to deepen their understanding of a particular subject . Some Master’s programs may also have a research component leading to a thesis.

In contrast, a PhD is primarily research-focused . While there might be some coursework in the initial years of study, the main focus is on independent research, leading to the creation of new knowledge.

Graduate programs in related fields like social work or clinical psychology may offer  specialized Master’s degrees , such as the Master of Social Work (MSW) or Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology, designed to build academic and professional skills.

If you’re wondering whether to take the next step towards a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or a Juris Doctor (JD), which are considered  professional degrees rather than research degrees , assess the degree level that aligns with your professional goals.

For graduate students who have set their sights on becoming doctoral students, PhD programs offer a deep dive into postgraduate study. However, degree requirements for graduate school can be pretty rigorous, especially for a specialized Ph.D. program.

The life of a PhD student is marked by hard work and a deep commitment to contributing original knowledge to their field. Typically, Ph.D. candidates spend their academic year fully immersed in research projects, including anything from scientific research in clinical psychology to molecular biology.


Opting for a research Master’s degree, such as a Master of Science, allows for a combination of coursework and a research project, often culminating in a thesis.

This path can provide rigorous training programs in research methodology and data analysis, valuable for those considering eventual doctoral degree pursuits.

Additionally, for those questioning if a doctoral degree is a good investment of time and resources, a Master’s program may be a sensible interim step to gain further work experience and professional development.


Students celebrating PhD degree

Yes, a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) is often regarded as the highest academic degree in many fields.

However, it is helpful to note that  a PhD is not universally the highest degree in all fields . For example, in professional fields like law and medicine, the  Juris Doctor (JD)  and the  Doctor of Medicine (MD)  are terminal degrees for professional practice but differ from a PhD.

Additionally, other degrees represent the highest level of professional achievement in their respective fields, such as the  Doctor of Education (EdD), Doctor of Business Administration (DBA),  or  Doctor of Engineering (EngD) .

In some cases, there are also specialized degrees that go beyond the PhD in certain fields. For example, the  Doctor of Science (ScD)  or  Doctor of Letters (DLitt)  may be considered higher or at least on par with the PhD, depending on the institution and country. These are often awarded for a substantial body of academic research and publication.


It is important to consider how each degree can also shape your career in science. A Master’s degree can open up opportunities for higher salaries and specialized job roles that might require a deep understanding of a particular area. You also start earning earlier compared to a PhD candidate. For example, with a Master of Public Health, you might immediately enter the workforce in your specific domain.

A PhD prepares individuals better for a research career in academia or industry. However, many PhD graduates also pursue roles in consultancy or policy-making. Someone with a PhD entering a different field may find that their degree gives them an edge in research and analytical skills.

It is crucial to assess the career and salary outcomes of the respective degrees to determine which is the most suitable for you.


PhD graduation hat representing higher salary with a PhD degree

Generally, individuals with a PhD tend to earn higher salaries than those with just a Master’s degree. The advanced knowledge, specialized skills, and research experience gained during a PhD program make individuals more valuable in the job market, leading to better job prospects and higher earning potential.


The cost of pursuing either a doctorate or a Masters degree is a significant factor. While a Master’s degree can also be costly, PhD programs often come with more opportunities for financial aid such as fellowships or teaching assistantships, which can significantly reduce your total cost.

Prospective students must research and compare the salary outcomes and potential debt of Master’s and doctorate degrees.

When considering graduate programs, financial aid is a significant factor. While the costs of a Master’s program can vary, many students take out student loans.

The cost of a Master’s degree can be offset by working as a research assistant, which helps financially and enhances practical skills and subject knowledge essential for a successful professional career in science. Similarly, doctoral programs often offer substantial financial support, such as stipends.

The availability and extent of financial support can greatly vary depending on the field of study, institution, and country. Not all doctoral programs offer substantial financial support, and some students may still need to rely on loans or personal funding. However, there are many  free or fully funded PhD programs .

The cost of tuition varies widely between institutions and countries. The duration of the programs can also affect the overall cost. Typically, a Master’s program is shorter in duration than a PhD, which might imply that even if the annual costs are higher for a Master’s, the total cost could be less due to the shorter time frame.

Finally, you must consider the indirect costs of graduate education, such as living expenses, which can vary widely and impact the  overall costs and duration of pursuing a graduate degree.


While both a thesis (usually associated with a Masters degree) and a dissertation (associated with a PhD) involve research, the depth and scope differ. A Master’s thesis focuses on a particular topic, offering a new perspective or a deeper understanding. In contrast, a PhD dissertation involves extensive research to create new knowledge or theory in the chosen field.


No. While many with a PhD degree pursue roles in academia, others venture into the corporate world, non-profit sectors, and governmental roles. Industries that require specialized knowledge or research skills often value PhD graduates.

It’s worth noting that some sectors that do not require a PhD may find the expertise of someone with a doctorate advantageous.


When deciding between a Master’s vs PhD, consider the following:

Your scientific career goals : Do you see yourself in academia or research?

Duration of study : Are you ready to commit several years to a doctorate?

Financial aspects : Can you support the cost of tuition or are there scholarships available?

Passion for research : A PhD will require intense, focused research. 

  • Master’s degrees are typically coursework-focused with some research, while PhDs emphasize extensive research.
  • PhDs generally take longer to complete than Master’s degrees.
  • Career opportunities vary, with PhDs preparing individuals mainly for roles in academia and research, though other industries also value doctorate holders.
  • Financial considerations are vital, with PhD programs often providing more financial support than Master’s programs.
  • A passion for research and commitment to the subject are crucial for those considering a PhD.

Deciding whether to complete a PhD or Master’s degree varies greatly depending on personal career goals and academic interests. For a lot of people, graduate studies at the Master’s level provide sufficient qualifications for their intended career paths. However, if you aim to immerse yourself in academia or high-level research, a PhD is likely the better choice.


Which degree is right for me, a master’s or a phd.

Choosing between a Master’s degree and a PhD depends on your scientific career goals and personal aspirations. When considering an advanced degree, it’s essential to contemplate the significant differences between a Master’s degree and a PhD.

A Master’s program typically offers a structured path, often leading to a thesis-driven Master’s degree, which may be the best fit for students seeking to enhance their skills in a specialized area without the commitment to the long haul of a PhD study.

A PhD may be a better fit if you are interested in pursuing a research-oriented career or becoming a subject matter expert in a specific field. However, if you want to gain specialized knowledge and skills in a particular profession or industry, a Master’s degree could be the best choice.


Earning a PhD offers several advantages. It allows you to  become an expert in a particular area of study  and opens up opportunities for advanced research and teaching positions. A PhD also enhances your critical thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills. Additionally, individuals with a PhD generally earn higher salaries than those with a Master’s degree.


The duration of a Master’s or PhD program varies depending on the field of study, research topic, and individual circumstances. On average, it takes around 1-3 years to complete a Master’s, while it takes around 4-7 years to complete a PhD, including the time spent on coursework, research, and dissertation writing. Several key factors  influence the duration of a doctorate .


Typically, most European PhD programs require applicants to have a Master’s degree or its equivalent, while US universities accept candidates with only a bachelor’s degree because their PhD programs contain a Master’s component.


Yes, it is possible to transition from a Master’s program to a PhD program. Many universities offer an option to apply for a PhD program after completing a Master’s degree. However, admission is competitive, and you will need to meet the additional requirements set by the PhD program, such as research experience and a strong academic record.


Yes, pursuing a PhD in a different field is possible than your Master’s degree. However, switching fields may require additional coursework and research experience to bridge the knowledge gap. It’s essential to consider the specific requirements and expectations of the PhD program you are interested in.


In a Master’s program, the final project usually focuses on applying the knowledge gained during the program and demonstrating Mastery of the subject. In a PhD program, the emphasis is on conducting original research that contributes to the existing body of knowledge in the field. A PhD project typically involves a more comprehensive and in-depth study.


Completing a PhD opens up a wide range of scientific career opportunities. Graduates with a PhD often pursue careers in academia as professors or researchers. The path to become a professor is long, thus, reflect carefully whether it is worth it to become a professor.

PhD graduates can also work in research and development roles in industries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and consulting firms. Additionally, a PhD can lead to leadership positions in various sectors and provide opportunities for entrepreneurship.


I have used AI systems, including Grammarly, Google Bard, and ChatGPT, to enhance the English and comprehensiveness of this article. This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a small commission if you decide to purchase through my link. Thus, you support smartsciencecareer at no cost to you!


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Sven Hendrix is a Professor of Neuroanatomy at Medical School Hamburg (MSH) in Germany. He leads a research group dedicated to the neuroimmunology of brain repair and the development of xenofree organoid models as alternatives to animal experiments. Additionally, he serves as the speaker for CENE, a center focused on academic career development across MSH, Medical School Berlin (MSB), and the Health and Medical University (HMU) in Potsdam and Erfurt, Germany.

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PhD vs. Doctorate: Everything You Need to Know

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PhD vs. Doctorate: Everything You Need to Know

Deciding whether or not a postgraduate education is something you want to pursue? It might be overwhelming to think about postgraduate education when you aren’t even sure what the difference between a PhD and a doctorate is. Learning about each will help you decide whether  a PhD or doctorate degree is best for you. Let’s get started!

What is a PhD?

“Doctor of Philosophy” is commonly referred to as a “PhD.”  A PhD is a kind of doctoral degree that focuses on theoretical research. “Theoretical” has to do with assumptions  that people have on a topic. The research explores ideas related to a particular subject rather than the practical application to real life. Earning a PhD is a popular option for those that want to pursue teaching at a university level.

What is a doctorate?

Doctoral degrees emphasize research and practical application. Students pursuing doctoral degrees often conduct observation based research in their chosen fields. Earning a doctorate degree often leads to research professional careers. An example of 

Which degree is “higher” academically? 

Both PhDs and doctorates are known as “terminal” degrees, meaning  they are the highest degrees you can earn. A PhD falls into the category of doctorate, so one is not “higher” than the other. 

See also : Everything you need to know about a doctorate degree 

Basic similarities and differences

As a PhD falls into the doctorate category, they share similar attributes. However, they are not completely the same. Here are some basic similarities and differences to help avoid confusing them.


  • The highest level of a graduate degree
  • Requires rigorous research
  • Students gain a deeper understanding of the area of study
  • Able to teach as a professor at a university
  • Must complete dissertations
  • Leads to higher paying jobs


  • Doctorates require a more hands-on approach to coursework
  • PhDs follow a more theoretical approach
  • Doctoral dissertations focus on real-world issues and how to apply them
  • PhD dissertations use data to theorize and form hypotheses

Which one is more expensive: a PhD or a doctorate degree?

The cost of earning either a PhD or doctorate varies depending on many factors, such as institution attended  and years of completion. Nevertheless, the average price for a doctorate degree is about $114,300 . For a PhD, the average cost is about $98,800 total. 

See also: How much does a PhD cost?  

Key Takeaways

  • Both a PhD and doctorate are the highest level graduate degrees one can earn
  • PhDs focus on theoretical research while doctorates put theory into practice
  • On average, PhDs require a more time to complete vs doctorate
  • Salaries for PhD or doctorate degree earners vary depending on the career entered

Frequently asked questions

Does a phd vs. doctorate take longer to complete, is a phd or doctorate degree easier to apply for, does a phd or a doctorate degree pay more, how can i pay for my phd or doctorate degree, scholarships360 recommended.

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Ph.D. vs. Doctorate: What are the Differences?

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For those who have a deep-seated attitude, pursuing a doctoral degree can be a tough yet beneficial journey. Currently enrolled in a doctorate program means that a person has already scooched over college admissions, went through high stake tests and exams, and finished all those research papers and long hours spent in university libraries hitting the books. While studying for a doctorate entails asserting oneself to an extensive amount of quality time and money , its significance and purpose usually pave the way to a lucrative end.

After having finished the Master’s Degree , students begin to think about their next step in their academic career. Then, paradoxically, while navigating through academia, they find themselves baffled by the immense terms and terminologies used to label specific degrees. Because the terms “Doctorate” and “Ph.D.” are somehow interlocked and overlap, and because “PhD” is sometimes used inconsistently, it can lead to considerable confusion. Ph.D. vs. Doctorate? You might wonder what their difference is, and why they are important. E xplaining what each of these terms stands for, the difference between them, and why they are valuable, can help you steer yourself down the right path from the outset.

Doctorate Degree vs. Ph.D.


At first glance, it is pretty easy to confuse these two terms. But it is important for everyone to be able to make a distinction between the two. In this article, we will discuss the difference between Ph.D. and Doctorate in detail in order to get rid of any confusion you may have. In the academic world, the terms Doctorate and Ph.D. are currently used interchangeably. Both of them are the top cap of the ladder. However, a doctorate is mostly used as an umbrella term covering many fields ranging from professional degrees, humanities, and scientific disciplines.

A Ph.D. or Doctor of Philosophy, on the other hand, is a subcategory of a doctoral degree, it is much more distinct and clear-cut and is usually narrower in nature encompassing only humanities and scientific fields. In plain English, when someone says they are enrolling on a doctoral degree, it means they are doing a Ph.D. in a specific field. So, technically, in common parlance, there is no difference between the two terms.

But at the other end of the spectrum, one should be careful not to confuse a professional doctoral degree with a Ph.D. The former is more practical and is designed to prepare students to apply existing knowledge to find solutions to real-life problems and has a direct application to a particular profession.

A Ph.D. is theoretical by nature and is more academic and research-focused. it is often fixed on disseminating knowledge by conducting authentic research which means reviewing and identifying gaps in current literature and evaluating the relevance of existing and emerging theories within a particular field.

What Is a Ph.D. Degree and Why Should You Go for It?

Students who acquire a Ph.D. are justly proud — they wear it as a badge of identity in the academic elite. Traditionally, a Ph.D. was associated with teaching, which from Latin licentia docendi meant “license to teach”. However, the concept of Ph.D. has been on shifting sands nowadays and has become a more general term that isn’t necessarily confined to teaching only.

The Value of a PhD


Obtaining a Ph.D. helps you capitalize on the emerging academic opportunities making you more easily identifiable to employers or businesses seeking to fill professional, higher-level job positions. Many of these career options, conversely, are not available to those who do not belong to the Ph.D. club. While pursuing a Ph.D. requires devoting a tremendous effort and time and making significant personal sacrifices pushing the boundaries of knowledge, it’s all in service of the area of study you’re most passionate and zealous about. Ultimately, once you’ve attained your Ph.D., you will have achieved the pinnacle of education— something not too many people have or are able to accomplish.


major vs phd

A Guide to Choosing and Applying to Ph.D. Programs

Learn everything you need to know about selecting and applying to Ph.D. programs. Learn tips and tricks for a successful application and find your ideal program today!

What Is a Doctorate Degree?

A doctoral or doctorate degree is usually the most advanced degree one can earn in an academic discipline. Many pursue a doctorate degree to increase their professional credibility, be acknowledged as an expert in a specific field, and improve their resume.

A doctorate degree is a graduate-level credential that is usually earned after multiple years of graduate school. Earning a doctoral degree requires a significant level of research and work. In order to get this degree, one has to research a subject thoroughly, conduct new research and analysis, and provide a solution or interpretation into the field. But what types of doctoral degrees are available?

Types of Doctorate Degrees

There are two categories of doctorate degrees: an academic degree and a professional doctorate degree. An academic degree focuses on research, data analysis, and the evaluation of theory. A professional doctorate degree, on the other hand, is considered a terminal degree, which means that one has achieved the most advanced degree in the field. This degree is specifically designed for working professionals who want to grow in their careers.

Professional Doctorate Degrees

A professional doctorate is designed for working professionals who have experience in the field and want to increase their knowledge, improve their credibility, and advance their careers. This degree focuses on applying research to practical issues, coming up with interpretation and solutions, as well as designing effective professional practices within a particular field.

Professional doctoral degrees include:

Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)

The DBA degree is ideal for students who already have a general business background and are interested in delving deeper into the practical and theoretical aspects that underpin business education. More to the point, in DBA you will develop the ability to solve real-life problems, discover the relevant expertise to innovate and uphold complex business issues and so much more. Upon completion, DBA students will possess enhanced leadership and strategic skills as well as the tools to propel their careers in today’s marketplace. The Business Administration industry is keen on finding such graduates with business skills and this is indicated by the immense job positions currently available.

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)

If you are interested in setting your eyes on creating lifelong learning among your students, making a positive influence in educational culture, contributing to the growing body of research in the education realm , or just enhancing your subject matter expertise, the Doctor of Education program ticks all the boxes. This degree maintains a rigorous approach in academic education that prepares graduates to showcase the skills and expertise to devise solutions in tackling the challenges in contemporary education practice and become transformational leaders in the industry.

Doctor of Computer Science (DCS)

The demand for computer scientists has reached its peak and it is among the most sought-after positions nowadays. With a degree in DCS, you will have the opportunity to design, apply innovative experiments, predict trends and, ultimately, develop a richer understanding and contribute to your area of expertise. After all, who doesn’t want an exciting and financially stable career?

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Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)

The Doctor of Medicine degree is designed to prepare you for various medical challenges in different settings nationally and internationally. This program will further develop your critical thinking and clinical reasoning skills required for safe, high-quality medical practices. It will also improve your leadership, communication, and teamwork skills for collaborative patient care.

Doctor of Optometry (O.D.)

This professional degree typically requires four years of study. It focuses on basic biological sciences such as anatomy and physiology, microbiology, neuroanatomy, and so on. This doctoral degree will prepare, educate, and train professionals to practice at the highest level of proficiency, professionalism, and integrity.

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)

The Doctoral of Psychology degree concentrates on the clinical and applied aspects of psychology. This type of doctorate prepares students for professional practice and clinical placement. This degree will be highly beneficial when working directly with patients who need psychology services. In addition, this degree allows doctors of psychology to confidently function as researchers and clinicians.

How to Choose a Ph.D. Program?

Choosing a Ph.D. program can be pretty challenging; it is a big academic decision and investment that requires commitment and perseverance. But how can you pick the right Ph.D. program for you? Well, there are some tips to help you choose the best fit for your goals and preferences:

  • Think about the reasons why you want a Ph.D., what you expect to gain from it, and whether it is compatible with your professional goals.
  • Consider your research environment.
  • Take your time to research, compare, and consider multiple opportunities carefully.
  • Pick a subject that interests and motivates you but is also practical.
  • Ask your professors and other scholars in the field for advice.

All in all, the terms “Doctorate’’ and “Ph.D.” are in essence the same, which means all Ph.D. students are Doctoral students as well. On the other hand, earning a Ph.D. degree is no joke. If anything, Ph.D. students have the tenacity, patience, persistence, and years of hard work that you can vouch for. Ultimately, deciding what type of doctoral degree you should hop on, depends on your career goals, what you are passionate about and how you are going to achieve it.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a doctorate and a ph.d..

In academic contexts, the terms “Doctorate” and “Ph.D.” are often used interchangeably, but there is a distinction. A Doctorate is an umbrella term covering a wide range of fields, including professional degrees, humanities, and scientific disciplines. A Ph.D., or Doctor of Philosophy, is a specific type of doctoral degree, typically focused on research and academic pursuits in the humanities and scientific fields.

Why should I pursue a Ph.D.?

Pursuing a Ph.D. can be a valuable endeavor, as it opens up academic and research opportunities, enhances your expertise in a specific field, and makes you more attractive to employers seeking candidates for high-level positions. It’s a chance to push the boundaries of knowledge and become an expert in your chosen study area.

What are the benefits of a professional doctorate?

Professional doctorate degrees, such as Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) or Doctor of Education (Ed.D.), are designed for working professionals who want to apply research to practical issues in their field. These degrees can enhance your career prospects, leadership skills, and problem-solving abilities within your profession.

How do I choose the right Ph.D. program?

To choose the right Ph.D. program, consider your career goals, research environment, and personal interests. Take your time to research and compare programs, seek advice from professors and experts in your field, and ensure that the program aligns with your professional aspirations.

What are the main differences between academic and professional doctorate degrees?

Academic doctorate degrees focus on research, theory evaluation, and data analysis, often leading to careers in academia or research. Professional doctorate degrees are more practical, designed for working professionals, and concentrate on applying research to real-world problems within a specific field.

Can I earn a Ph.D. in any field?

Ph.D. programs are available in various fields, including humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, engineering, and more. However, the specific availability of Ph.D. programs may vary by field and university.

Is a Ph.D. a challenging journey?

Yes, pursuing a Ph.D. can be a challenging journey that requires dedication, patience, and years of hard work. It involves conducting original research, writing a dissertation, and often teaching or assisting in courses. It’s a significant commitment, but it can be highly rewarding.

What are the potential career opportunities after earning a Ph.D.?

With a Ph.D., you can pursue careers in academia as a professor or researcher, work in research and development roles in various industries, or take on leadership positions in organizations. The specific career path will depend on your field of study and personal interests.

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Degree Vs. Major: What’s the Difference?

Degree Vs. Major What's The Difference-

When you start thinking about attending university, words like “degree” and “major” are very common to hear, and may also often be used interchangeably. But there’s a bit of a difference between these words, and as a college student, it’s good to know these differences so that you can understand them correctly and use them appropriately. So, what is the actual difference between a degree vs. major? Let’s find out!

What is a Major in College?

A “major” in college is the specific area of study you’re focusing on while you’re on your path to earn your degree. This speciality is ideally in line with the career you’ll want to go into after graduating, so some students may like to choose a very specific major while others may prefer something more broad.

Once you declare your major — which should ideally happen when you start school or by the end of sophomore year — your coursework (outside of your general education courses) will focus on relevant topics.

Examples of College Majors

  • Anthropology
  • Business Administration
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Communications
  • Computer Science
  • English Language and Literature
  • Government/Political Science

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What is a “Degree” in College?

Oftentimes, you’ll hear people say, “I’m getting a degree in _____.” Then, you’ll hear them fill the end of the sentence with the name of their major. This can be confusing. Which one is the degree and which one is a major?

Well, now that you know what a major is, a degree is what you earn at the end of completing your major and other college coursework requirements. You can earn your degree in whatever major you choose as long as you complete the course work. There are several kinds of academic degrees you can pursue. Not all degrees have majors; that typically refers to a bachelor’s degree.

Types of Degrees

There are four types of academic degrees, and each one has a different length of study, different course/major options, and level.

Associate Degree

A two-year degree which is a good introduction to college and a specific major. You can choose a major for an associate’s, but it may be a bit broader. An associate’s, therefore, may be a good opportunity to focus on your general education courses.

Bachelor’s Degree

A four-year degree in which you choose a major and graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in that major. The two most common are Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts.

Master’s Degree

This is typically a two-year program in which you can further your education after earning your bachelor’s degree. Most people choose a master’s degree program that’s an extension of their bachelor’s in order to further their expertise, but others may get a master’s in another subject area completely.

Doctoral Degree

This is the highest level of standing a student can pursue. There are different types of doctoral degrees depending on your field, but a common one is Ph.D.

What is a Degree Program?

Your degree program can be thought of as a combination of your major and degree. While there may be cases in which a school does not require their students to declare a specialization (i.e., major, minor, certificate program, etc.), most will by a certain deadline of your academic career.

Once you enter your degree program, you’re required to complete the amount of credits within your program in order to matriculate and earn your degree in your major. In some cases, you may also be required to complete an internship, field work, student teaching, and/or a thesis.

Choosing a Degree Level

Perhaps you know what major you want to declare or what you’re interested in studying while in school. But, maybe you’re not too sure about the particular degree level. A lot of this depends on how much education you’ve already had, what your goals are, your budget, and your current schedule.

However, the good news is no matter what type of degree you pick, there’s usually some flexibility in terms of when you can take your classes, for instance, if you work or raise a family full-time.

A bachelor’s degree is a good place to start if you’re looking to specialize by choosing a major to study, and then if you want to further your education thereafter, you can. While an associate’s is also a good starting point, it may be worth it for you to get the bachelor’s, as you’ll have more job opportunities for just two more years of school.

Popular Undergraduate Degrees

  • Bachelor’s in Biology
  • Bachelor’s in Business
  • Bachelor’s in Communication
  • Bachelor’s in Computer Science
  • Bachelor’s in Education
  • Bachelor’s in Engineering
  • Bachelor’s in Nursing

Degree Specializations

A degree specialization is an opportunity to take your major to the next level by taking on what’s known as a minor or a concentration. This can be a great way to supplement your major with a more specific course of study that will either make you more specialized in your field (for instance, a major in education with a minor in a foreign language so that you can work in ESL communities), or to broaden your candidacy in general, (for example, majoring in engineering but minoring in English literature).

major vs phd

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Major vs. Degree: What’s the Difference Between a Major and Degree?

Though you now understand the main differences between a degree and a major and also how the two overlap, there are a few more factors that set the two apart. By being able to make these distinctions, you can be sure that you fully understand how a major and degree are different and how they are similar, and use the proper terminology when referring to either one.

College Credits Required

This is a good first example of how a degree and major overlap. In order to earn your bachelor’s degree, you would need to take 120 credits altogether. In order to earn your bachelor’s degree in a specific major, 36 of those 120 credits need to be in your major.

A Major is Required for a College Degree

If you’re excited about going to college to learn and not necessarily focused on majoring in one particular field, know that in order to graduate with a bachelor’s degree, you’ll really need those 36 credits in your major, along with the remaining credits in electives and general education courses. This makes it very difficult to get a bachelor’s degree without declaring a major. Therefore, if you’re unsure about what you want to major in, consider getting a bachelor’s in liberal arts, or putting off college until you’re more certain.

How Does a Major Play an Important Role in a College Degree?

A major plays an important role in a college degree because it ensures that you are taking the amount of coursework required to earn your bachelor’s in a specialized field of study.

Otherwise, your college degree would just be made up of random classes without focusing in one area. This can make it difficult to enter the job market, as employers want someone who has the knowledge and experience in one specific subject.

College Major vs. Minor Degree: What’s the Difference Between a College Major and a College Minor?

There are many differences between a major and a minor, but the biggest distinction is the amount of credits required. While a major requires 36 credits in your chosen field, a minor typically requires 15 credits.

Double Major vs. Dual Degree

With college tuition being a time and financial commitment, it’s no wonder that some students would want to get the most out of their education as possible. That’s why you might consider doing either a dual degree or double major.

The difference between a dual degree vs double major is:

Double Major

A double major is when you graduate with one degree, but with two specializations. You complete two sets of degree requirements for one degree. For example, this could be a Bachelor of Science in elementary education and special education.

Dual Degree

A dual degree is when you get two degrees at the same time, for instance, a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science. It’s a much faster way of getting two degrees at once, because otherwise, you’d have to go to school consecutively for eight years, whereas doing it this way could get you two degrees in half the time!

The Bottom Line

There are a lot of terms to get familiar with when thinking about attending college, and knowing the difference between a degree and a major is just the start of it. However, if you’re stuck on what degree you should get or what major you should declare, and you want to make a good choice because of the cost of tuition, know there are alternatives.

At University of the People (UoPeople), you can earn your degree with a choice of different majors/degree programs , and your entire program will be tuition-free and online. The university also offers potential undergraduate certificate programs that can give one a start in their chosen field of study. It allows one time to explore the field before enrolling in a full-time major or degree and also works well as an additional qualification if one already has a major.

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Comparing the differences between MD vs. PhD vs. professional doctorate

By Michael Feder

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This article has been vetted by University of Phoenix's editorial advisory committee.  Read more about our editorial process.

Reviewed by Marc Booker, PhD, Vice Provost, Strategy

At a glance

  • MD is the abbreviation for Doctor of Medicine and PhD stands for Doctor of Philosophy. These are two types of doctoral degrees in addition to professional doctorates. 
  • An MD is a doctoral degree for medical professionals, while a PhD is an academic degree focused on original research. Somewhat similar to a PhD are professional doctorates, which focus on applying practical research to problems in workplaces or communities.   
  • A professional or practice-based doctorate (EdD, DBA, etc.) can be medical, and others are for scholar-practitioners in disciplines like education, business or psychology.
  • University of Phoenix does not offer MD or PhD programs, but students can earn a doctorate in business, nursing, education or healthcare that allows them to build upon their industry expertise. Learn more about the differences between these degree programs and if one of the  five doctoral programs  at University of Phoenix is right for you !

What is a doctorate? Breaking down the three types

Some people might confuse an  MD (Doctor of Medicine)  with a  PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) , and vice versa. While both an MD and a PhD are prestigious degrees near the top of the  academic ladder , they each have a different meaning and come with very  different requirements .

Different still from both of those degrees are professional doctorates, which allow industry professionals to translate their education and experience into credibility and leadership through research. Professional doctorates have similar requirements to PhDs, such as a dissertation and residency, but focus on the application of research and professional growth over original research.

Upon graduation, those who have earned any of these three degrees can call themselves a “doctor,” but the path to a degree, the purpose behind it and its applications vary based on the choice. MD graduates want to work in medicine and healthcare. PhDs want to bring new knowledge and research to the world. A practice-based doctoral graduate wants to grow in their professional expertise. (If the last one sounds like you, University of Phoenix can help!)

Keep reading to learn more about these doctoral programs and which is right for you.

What does MD stand for?

MD is an abbreviation for Doctor of Medicine and identifies a  medical practitioner  who has completed undergraduate studies and four years of medical school. An MD program teaches medical students about the human body and diseases through a combination of classroom instruction and hands-on clinical labs.

Several  types of physicians  might have this degree, depending on their area of study. For example, medical practitioners with an MD degree might become a medical doctor and potentially specialize in dermatology, cardiovascular disease, family medicine, oncology, pediatrics, neurology or preventive medicine. As you can see, this degree  can lead to a variety of career paths , depending on which specialty interests you and what your medical education is.

Learn more about online doctoral degrees at University of Phoenix. 

How to earn an MD

Becoming a Doctor of Medicine  requires a significant investment of time and money, but the reward can be well worth it. Before medical school, you’ll need to  take the Medical College Admission Test  (MCAT ® ) and earn a passing score. You’ll also need to build a portfolio of coursework and experience to help you gain admittance to medical school.

Medical school typically takes students four years to complete. You’ll learn the latest techniques and approaches for patient assessment, diagnosis and treatment. Medical schools commonly provide a combination of classroom,  research and clinical experience . You’ll work alongside peers and healthcare professionals as you develop skills in general medicine.

You’ll choose a field to specialize in during your final year of medical school. Students have more than 120 options to choose from when specializing, including  primary care,   pediatrics, geriatrics, emergency medicine and family medicine .

After graduating, you’ll complete residency training to further develop skills in your specialty. Residency typically lasts three to seven years, depending on the field you’ve selected. During the residency portion of your education, you’ll treat patients under the supervision of more experienced physicians.

Even after you begin to practice as an MD,  the educational portion of your career never stops . As practices change, patient needs evolve and research continues, MDs benefit from ongoing education to stay current.

What does PhD stand for?

A PhD, or  Doctor of Philosophy , is a doctoral degree that recognizes graduates who have completed a full postsecondary program. Students can earn a PhD in more fields than philosophy. After completing the necessary coursework, original research and hands-on experience, you can earn a PhD in fields like science, the humanities and engineering.

Earning a PhD can help unlock a wide range of potential career opportunities. Computer engineers, research scientists, statisticians, healthcare administrators, professors, chemists and other careers commonly require a PhD degree, in addition to appropriate undergraduate study.

How to earn a PhD

Becoming a PhD is also a  serious commitment  that requires an investment of  time, money and energy .

Here is what’s typically required to become a PhD:

  • Complete a bachelor’s degree in your field
  • Complete a master’s degree in an appropriate field
  • Pass any program entrance exams
  • Fulfill coursework, research and hands-on lab requirements in your program
  • Finalize and defend your dissertation as a  doctoral candidate  (unless your program specifies otherwise)

It’s important to note that many PhD  programs have different requirements , prerequisites and parameters for students. Check with your preferred institution for a more detailed explanation of these requirements.

What is a professional doctorate?

While some professional or practice-based doctorate programs are medical,  others are designed for professionals in other fields . These programs are meant for  scholar-practitioners  in disciplines like education, business or psychology. One of the key differences between this degree and a PhD is the focus on applying research to a professional setting rather than conducting theoretical and research-focused studies. Often, programs are differentiated as academic versus professional.

Examples of doctoral degrees are Doctor of Education, Doctor of Nursing Practice and Doctor of Business Administration. Each of these programs focuses on a specific discipline and applying research in those areas to a professional setting.

How to earn a doctorate

While  practitioner doctoral programs  teach different skills, they all share common requirements. You’ll need to  complete a bachelor’s degree  in your field and sometimes a master’s degree, depending on program requirements.

After completing the necessary coursework and research, students also typically need to finish a supervised thesis and defend their dissertation or capstone project-specific coursework, research and hands-on labs alongside other students in the same field. However, this will depend on the specific program and its requirements.

What does the title “Dr.” really mean?

The term “doctor” or “Dr.” is commonly used today to describe a wide variety of occupations. Students who complete a doctoral degree can earn the title of “Dr.” even though they earned their credentials in a non-medical field like education or business management.

While a variety of professionals can earn a doctorate, the term is often still  reserved for medical practitioners . In conventional use,  doctors typically refer to medical physicians . However, it is appropriate to use “Dr.” if you graduated from any of the three programs discussed above.  

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major vs phd

What is doctoral candidacy?

Practitioner doctoral degree programs at university of phoenix.

While University of Phoenix (UOPX)  does not have  MD or PhD programs, it does offer several professional doctoral degrees that can be earned completely online. Students might choose the UOPX programs because classes are flexible and offered online, and because of the University’s unique “ Scholar-Practitioner-Leader model .”

If you are curious about a doctoral degree, the following programs are available at UOPX:

  • Doctor of Business Administration  — This doctorate can help you gain strategic vision and skills to position yourself as a business leader. It explores how to solve organizational problems, how to design and conduct research studies, how to introduce innovative business ideas to the industry and more.
  • Doctor of Management   — This doctorate equips you with critical thinking skills to find creative solutions to complex problems.
  • Doctor of Education  — This doctoral program prepares you to use analytical, critical and innovative thinking to improve performance and solve complex problems in education.
  • Doctor of Health Administration  — If you’re a health professional who is seeking greater responsibility in shaping the future of the health sector, this doctorate can help you meet the challenges inherent to today’s healthcare landscape, including economic fluctuations, burgeoning patient needs and industry-changing legislation.
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice  — This doctorate is designed for working nurses who require a doctorate for advanced practice or nurses who desire their terminal degree. It does not prepare students for professional certification or state licensure as a nurse or as an advanced practice nurse.

These doctoral studies are only some of the many options for professionals who want to gain the  highest academic credentials  in their fields. Doctoral programs offer significant benefits to program graduates, including  newly developed skills , insight into field trends, hands-on research opportunities and  leadership capabilities .

Completing a doctoral program is also a strong indication to employers that you’re serious about your career and your field. With so many options for advanced study, these programs are available for most major fields. Even if you have already completed a bachelor’s or master’s degree in your discipline, a doctorate lends further credibility to your reputation and  can help prepare you for a leadership position .

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Michael Feder is a content marketing specialist at University of Phoenix, where he researches and writes on a variety of topics, ranging from healthcare to IT. He is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars program and a New Jersey native!

Photo of blog author Michael Feder smiling.

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  • DBA vs PhD – Differences Explained
  • Types of Doctorates

Is a DBA and PhD Equivalent?

A  Doctor of Business Administration  (DBA) is equivalent to a  Doctor of Philosophy (PhD); however, there are fundamental differences between these two doctoral degrees. These differences are nearly always at the centre of DBA vs PhD discussions, and they stem from the intended career path of the student following their degree.

A PhD focuses on the ‘ theory ’ underpinning business management, whereas a DBA focuses on the ‘ practical ’ concepts. Those who complete a PhD in business management usually do so as they wish to pursue a career in research or academia. Those who complete a DBA do so as they want to pursue a more advanced role in the business industry or within their organisation.

What Is a PhD?

A PhD is a doctorate degree and is the highest postgraduate qualification awarded by universities. It involves undertaking original research in a narrow subject field and typically takes 4 years to complete.

A PhD in Business Administration provides an individual with a specialised and research-based background for a topic in the business management field. This is one of the key reasons it’s sought after by those who wish to work in business-related academia or research.

What Is a DBA?

A  Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) is a business-orientated professional doctorate. Like a PhD, it is the highest-level postgraduate qualification which you can obtain from a university.

The degree programme focuses on providing practical and innovative business management knowledge which can apply to any workplace. DBAs are designed for experienced practitioners such as senior managers, consultants and entrepreneurs who want to further their practical abilities.

This form of doctorate was first introduced as a way of allowing a distinction to be made between experienced practitioners and expert practitioners. The doctorate is an equal alternative to a traditional PhD and is an advanced follow-up for a  Master’s in Business Administration  ( MBA ).

Research Scope

A noticeable difference between a PhD and a DBA is the research topic. A PhD candidate selects a research project of theoretical value to the academic environment. A DBA candidate selects a research project which has a practical application to the business environment.

This means that while the research topic for a PhD will centre around a gap in knowledge of existing theories, the topic for a DBA will usually focus on developing a new theory or innovatively improving an existing one.

DBA students typically choose research topics based on real-life scenarios they are facing or have faced. This is contrary to a PhD student where their research topic usually centres around a topic they don’t have first-hand experience in.

Programme Structure

PhD Vs DBA Salary

A PhD usually takes 4 years to complete while a DBA degree takes between 4 – 7 years to complete, with most students requiring 6 years.

Due to DBA students being working professionals, nearly all DBA degree programmes are part-time courses carried out under a ‘distant learning’ arrangement. This is opposite to PhD programmes where most are offered as full-time projects which require extensive amounts of physical presence on the university’s campus.

Another difference in the programme between PhDs and DBAs is that PhDs have no taught components, while DBAs have a significant number of taught components .

Due to these taught components, DBA programmes are split into two sections . The first section is 2 years long and covers the taught elements of the degree and involves completing coursework. A wide range of specialist business management topics are covered, such as market theory , resource partitioning , and organisational development . These first two years provide you with advanced business knowledge and develop your research and analytical skills to prepare for your individual research project. The remaining 2 to 5 years is for you to undertake your individual research project; this is the second section.

As part of your research project, you will have to produce a thesis . The thesis will outline your methods and results and include a discussion of your research findings. Although the word count will vary for each university, most use an upper word count of around 60,000 words. Besides this, you will also need to defend your work during an oral examination known as a ‘ viva voce ’.

During your degree, you’ll likely have several opportunities to present your research at conferences, universities and related organisations.

Tuition Fees

To fairly represent the two sections of DBA programmes, universities usually adopt two sets of annual tuition fees. These fees vary widely between universities:

  • The first set covers the first two years of the programme and is typically between £13,000 – £30,000 per year.
  • The second set of annual tuition fee covers the remaining years and generally is between £4,000 – £9,000 per year.

The reason for this difference in fee is that the first two years will heavily utilise the university’s resources and a professor’s time to deliver the taught modules.

In contrast, the average cost of a full-time PhD is fixed throughout its full duration and is typically around £4,700 per annum. Given this difference in tuition fee and programme duration, a DBA is approximately two to three times more expensive than undertaking a PhD.

Besides having a greater reliance on a university’s resources, another reason DBA programmes cost more than a PhD is because of the differences in the students undertaking them. A PhD student is usually a young individual who has just completed a Master’s degree and has little to no working experience. On the opposite side of the spectrum, a DBA student will be an older individual with up to 10 years of professional working experience, and will likely still be working alongside their studies. As a result, universities can set a higher tuition fee due to DBA students being financially stronger.

Funding Opportunities

Compared to PhD programmes, DBAs don’t have as much access to funding opportunities.

DBA students can apply for Doctoral Loans or try to secure funding from external sources. The most accessible source of these external sources will always be their employer. While their employer may not cover the full tuition fees, they may subsidise part of it and help supply you with data and other resources you may need.

Entry Requirements


As DBAs are intended for experienced practitioners, you will be expected to have significant experience in your field. Although the entry requirements will differ between universities, most business schools will require you to have at least ten years of professional work experience with at least five years in a senior management or leadership position.

Most universities will also require you to have a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) or an equivalent Master’s degree in a business management subject. Depending on the strength of your bachelor’s degree and the significance of your professional working experience, you could still be enrolled into a DBA programme without a relevant Master’s degree; however, you will need to demonstrate why you are a strong DBA candidate.

As part of your application, most universities will also require you to prepare and submit a short research proposal. A research proposal outlines the ‘what, why and how’ of your intended research project.

Similar to PhD programs, you will need to meet English language requirements should English not be your first language. These requirements are usually:

  • a minimum overall IELTS score of 7.0, with no less than 6.5 in each component,
  • a minimum overall Pearson Test of English (PTE) of 70, with no less than 62 in each component.

PhD vs DBA Salaries

Typically, DBA graduates earn more than business management PhD graduates. This is because a DBA focuses on the practical applications of business management, and as such, what students learn can be applied in professional practice in their industry.

Due to this practical aspect, a DBA graduate becomes well suited for top leadership positions such as Operation Managers , Managing Directors and CEOs .

On the other hand, a PhD provides graduates with applied research skills and the ability to theorise, understand and develop business management concepts. This makes them better suited for a research or academic career. These positions attract less pay compared to leadership roles in large organisations.

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  1. F.A.Q.s About A Ph.D.

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  6. Know The Differences Between Professional Doctorate And PhD

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    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.

  13. Master's Vs. Ph.D.: What's The Difference?

    Master's Degree. Ph.D. A master's degree takes about one to three years to obtain. A Ph.D. takes three to seven years to obtain. A master's degree requires a bachelor's degree. A Ph.D. usually requires a master's degree. A master's degree mostly involves coursework with one to two semesters dedicated to research for a thesis and/or ...

  14. Masters vs PhD

    A Masters degree is the next level of education after the completion of an undergraduate degree, commonly known as a Bachelors. These degree levels are often referred to in terms of cycles so that a Bachelor's is a first-cycle degree, a Masters is a second-cycle and finally, a PhD is the third-cycle of higher education (and the highest).

  15. Master's vs PhD: Key differences explained

    On paper, Master's programs tend to be cheaper than PhD programs. This difference is not surprising considering the shorter duration required to complete a Master's degree. However, there is usually more funding and financial aid available for PhD students in the form of fellowships, teaching assistantships, or grants.

  16. Master's vs PhD

    2. PhD: After earning a master's degree, the next step is a PhD, which entails both working and performing research at an institution. A PhD is an abbreviation for "Doctor of Philosophy.". It is the highest academic degree one can achieve. As such, it is a time-consuming pursuit that requires a lot of studying and research.

  17. Masters vs PhD

    Generally, individuals with a PhD tend to earn higher salaries than those with just a Master's degree. The advanced knowledge, specialized skills, and research experience gained during a PhD program make individuals more valuable in the job market, leading to better job prospects and higher earning potential.

  18. Ph.D.s vs. Doctorates

    The Ph.D. is the most common research doctorate. Although the title stands for "doctor of philosophy," students can earn Ph.D.s in a wide range of subjects, including science and technology. In contrast, applied research doctorates often relate to specific fields, such as education, music, or social work. The main difference between the two is ...

  19. PhD vs. Doctorate: Everything You Need to Know

    Key Takeaways. Both a PhD and doctorate are the highest level graduate degrees one can earn. PhDs focus on theoretical research while doctorates put theory into practice. On average, PhDs require a more time to complete vs doctorate. Salaries for PhD or doctorate degree earners vary depending on the career entered.

  20. PhD vs Doctorate: What's the Difference?

    The PhD, also known as the Doctor of Philosophy, is a research degree, which is one of the most common types of doctoral degrees, and is awarded to graduates in many different fields. For those asking, "Is a PhD higher than a doctorate?" the answer is simple: no. A PhD lies within the doctorate category, so one is not better than the other.

  21. Ph.D. vs. Doctorate: What are the Differences?

    A Ph.D. or Doctor of Philosophy, on the other hand, is a subcategory of a doctoral degree, it is much more distinct and clear-cut and is usually narrower in nature encompassing only humanities and scientific fields. In plain English, when someone says they are enrolling on a doctoral degree, it means they are doing a Ph.D. in a specific field.

  22. Degree Vs. Major: What's the Difference?

    A dual degree is when you get two degrees at the same time, for instance, a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science. It's a much faster way of getting two degrees at once, because otherwise, you'd have to go to school consecutively for eight years, whereas doing it this way could get you two degrees in half the time!

  23. MD vs. PhD vs. Professional Doctorate Comparison

    A PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy, is a doctoral degree that recognizes graduates who have completed a full postsecondary program. Students can earn a PhD in more fields than philosophy. After completing the necessary coursework, original research and hands-on experience, you can earn a PhD in fields like science, the humanities and engineering.

  24. DBA vs PhD

    A PhD usually takes 4 years to complete while a DBA degree takes between 4 - 7 years to complete, with most students requiring 6 years.. Due to DBA students being working professionals, nearly all DBA degree programmes are part-time courses carried out under a 'distant learning' arrangement. This is opposite to PhD programmes where most are offered as full-time projects which require ...