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Doctoral degrees are generally the highest terminal degrees you can seek. A doctorate represents the pinnacle of learning in most fields, although some areas such as the sciences and education offer post-doctoral studies. Students intelligent and determined enough to have a doctorate often represent the very best and most elite learners in any field of study.

There are several different types of doctorates with different requirements for each. Here are some facts about doctoral degrees that will help you understand your particular educational goals and how to reach them.

Professional vs. Philosophical Degrees

Doctorates can be divided into two basic categories: professional terminal degrees and philosophical doctorates.

Professional degrees include such degrees as Medical Doctor (MD) and Juris Doctor (JD). These degrees are required for certification in the medical and legal fields, respectively. You cannot sit for state examinations to be licensed to practice in these fields without these degrees. There are also professional degrees in such fields as physical therapy and counseling that are not required to practice but are becoming standard for professionals in those areas. Professional doctorates are usually conveyed by schools dedicated to the study of that subject such as medical schools or law schools.

Philosophical doctorates, or PhDs, are conferred in a large number of fields and represent education beyond the normal level representative of that area of study. PhDs are available in business, education, nursing, and the sciences. PhDs are often the next step after a master of science or master of arts in a discrete area. For example, a person with a master’s in English can seek a PhD in English; a person with a master’s in biology may want to seek a biology PhD or enter medical school and seek a medical doctor degree.

How Long Does It Take To Get a Doctoral Degree?

The time period necessary for a doctorate is determined by the type of degree you are seeking. Professional degrees such as MDs or JDs that are conferred by specific schools generally take three to four years. PhDs can take from three to seven years, depending on degree and research requirements.

PhDs usually require original research to be published in the form of a dissertation. A dissertation is a long study that often takes several years to complete. Most doctoral candidates work on a dissertation as part of their degree requirements after completing all coursework in that subject and focus on a very specific topic in their field. For example, a person seeking a doctorate in education might take several years’ worth of coursework then propose a dissertation on student reading habits. The student would then study students in classrooms and write up the findings of his or her research.

What Can I Do With a Doctoral Degree?

Many people who have PhDs work in the educational field, training those who practice in that field. For example, a student who earns a PhD in chemistry might decide to teach college-level chemistry courses to undergraduates. Some PhDs also work in high-level jobs in their fields of study. A student who gets a PhD in psychology may seek a job as resident director of psychology in a counseling center or hospital. Nurses with PhDs are often the heads of departments at hospitals, or they may teach nursing courses at a college.

Doctorates generally allow students to earn the highest salaries available in their fields and allow graduates to apply for the most responsible jobs as well as those with the highest pay.

Where Can I Get A Doctoral Degree?

Relatively few schools offer doctoral-level graduate classes. Your choices will necessarily be limited to research universities and larger colleges. Some college departments offer doctoral degrees while other departments at the same school do not. You can perform searches to find doctoral programs in your area in the field in which you are interested. You must have a terminal master’s degree to be admitted to most doctoral programs, so you should concentrate on schools that offer both a master and doctorate in your field if you do not already have your master’s degree. Check to be sure the program you have in mind is accredited by a national or regional agency.

You can earn a doctorate with hard work and perseverance. Start your research today to choose the perfect doctoral program for your needs, and prepare to enjoy potentially greater opportunities with your new degree!



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