Online Doctorate & PhD Degrees

A doctorate degree is the highest level of academic credential you can attain. Many take about three years of full-time study to complete, although it’s possible for a program to take as much as ten. In some cases, you need to have earned a Masters degree to qualify for entrance into a Doctorate program, although some programs of study only require a Bachelor’s degree. Some programs award Masters degrees as a part of the Doctorate process.

The word “doctorate” is derived from the Latin word docere, meaning “to teach.” Many Doctorate degrees are used in higher education, and most universities require candidates to have a Doctorate degree for professorship positions. However, Doctorates have practical applications in other professional areas as well.

Types of Doctorates

Research Doctorates. These doctorates are typically rewarded for a body of academic research publishable in a peer-reviewed academic journal. Candidates submit a substantial amount of original research, usually in the form of a single thesis or dissertation but occasionally as a portfolio of shorter projects. A panel of examiners assesses the research and usually delivers an oral exam. In the U.S., there is usually a formal course component as well; in other countries, the research is typically independent.

Research doctorates can be awarded in a wide range of subjects and are usually indicated by the title “Doctor” and the abbreviation “Ph.D.” A Ph.D is typically required for teaching positions at the undergraduate and graduate level.

Professional Doctorates. These credentials are given to candidates in certain professions where the goal is practice, not research—common examples include law, medicine, veterinary medicine, and pharmacy. These degrees can take as much as four years to earn, not including required residency or apprenticeship periods and the passing of a licensing exam such as the Boards (for doctors) or the Bar (for lawyers). Abbreviations vary by profession; a professional doctorate in medicine is expressed as “M.D.” and one in law is “J.D.,” for example.

Why Earn Your Doctorate?

Your career path requires it. Some career paths require a Doctorate degree even for entry-level positions. Doctors, lawyers, veterinarians and some pharmaceuticals positions require an advanced degree before or during the apprenticeship period.

You want to teach at an academic level. Academic teaching positions typically require a Ph.D credential, although a select few will accept teachers with only a Masters degree. Some teaching positions in certain fields will accept a professional Doctorate as well.

You want to research. Most advanced research positions are found at academic institutions and include a teaching component; however, research professionals are also employed with pharmaceuticals, manufacturing and development, hospitals and other organizations. In most cases, a Ph.D is required either for entry or advancement.

You want to earn more. There is no guarantee that a Ph.D will lead to a higher salary—especially if you’re planning to head into academia. However, some companies compute starting salaries based on education, and in some industries a Ph.D may have access to a higher pay scale.

Getting an Online Doctorate

Some employers and industries are more accepting of online degrees at the graduate level than others. In law and medicine, a hands-on component is a required part of the education program and in law, the American Bar Association (ABA) will not accredit schools that offer Juris Doctor degree programs entirely online. This is a serious impediment to prospective online students, because in almost all states students who have not graduated from ABA-accredited schools are not allowed to sit for the Bar exams.

However, lately the ABA has relaxed its standards slightly—schools that offer Juris Doctor programs partially online are eligible for accreditation. In addition, research Doctorates may or may not be accepted at academic institutions depending on the school, but an online Doctorate from a respected traditional school may carry the same weight as a traditional course of study within the same school. Industry is typically more accepting of online degrees than academia.

A Doctorate degree is a prestigious credential, and it isn’t for everyone—look into it if your chosen career path requires it. Both professional and research Doctorates can lead to satisfying careers that challenge the mind and have a positive impact on society. With a Doctorate degree, you’re likely to have a lot of options.