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Doctoral Degrees

If your career path has you on track for studies at a graduate school, you may be considering a doctoral degree program. The doctorate is considered the highest degree in many fields of study in the U.S. Stemming from the Latin docere (“to teach”) a doctorate qualifies degree holders to teach at the higher education level within their specified field, or to practice certain professions, such as law and medicine. Most doctoral programs take four to eight years to complete, though some may take as long as 10 years. The length of time required to complete the degree varies from university to university and depends on many factors within the student’s selected field, especially research requirements and the time to complete a written dissertation.

Typical Courses for a Doctoral Degree

The courses needed to complete a doctoral degree vary widely from program to program, and in some cases courses are only a small portion of the requirements to earn the degree. In the first year of study, some doctoral candidates (mainly in the sciences and social sciences fields) will need to pass exams that demonstrate scholarly aptitude and/or assess the knowledge gained in their bachelor’s degree program. In addition, the first two years of the degree program generally includes the most coursework.
Most doctoral candidates begin research by the end of their second year of study, and in the second and third years of the doctoral degree program students typically take one or several exams to test how they are progressing and to determine if they are able to continue with their studies and research at an academic level acceptable to the university and within their field. These exams include the General Exam, the Qualifying Exam, the PhD Candidacy Exam, and in some cases Special Field Examinations.
If the required exams are passed, students progress to the level of doctoral candidate and begin doctoral research and work toward their thesis and dissertation. If the student’s scores are not passable at the doctoral level, they may be considered for a master’s degree, or the student in some cases may opt to re-take the exams after a period of time away from the doctoral program.
For the remainder of most doctoral programs, students conduct research in their field and also often take on teaching, tutoring, or lecturing positions within their university department. Competition for academic and other careers has increased the quality of research expected from doctorate degree holders, and therefore also the amount of time spent conducting it and completing the degree.

Types of Doctoral Degrees

In the United States, doctoral degrees generally fall into one of three categories: Research Doctorates, which recognize completion of extensive academic research and often turn out academics and specialized professional researchers; Professional Doctorates, which include doctors of law and medicine and related disciplines, qualified to practice in these professional fields; and Honorary Doctorates, which waive most or all formal degree requirements and recognize outstanding contributions to a particular field or sometimes to a philanthropic cause.
Specific degrees include:
Research Doctorates:

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
  • Doctor of Arts (DA/DArts)
  • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)
  • Doctor of Church Music (DCM)
  • Doctor of Canon Law (JCD/DCL)
  • Doctor of Design (DDes)
  • Doctor of Education (EdD)
  • Doctor of Engineering (DEng/DESc/DES)
  • Doctor of Fine Arts (DFA)
  • Doctor of Health Science (DHSc)
  • Doctor of Hebrew Letters (DHL)
  • Doctor of Industrial Technology (DIT)
  • Doctor of Juridical Science (JSD/SJD)
  • Doctor of Management (DM)
  • Doctor of Music (DM)
  • Doctor of Musical/Music Arts (DMA/AMusD/DMusA)
  • Doctor of Musical Education (DME)
  • Doctor of Modern Languages (DML)
  • Doctor of Nursing Science (DNSc)
  • Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD)
  • Doctor of Public Administration (DPA)
  • Doctor of Physical Education (DPE)
  • Doctor of Public Health (DrPH)
  • Doctor of Sacred Theology (STD/DST)
  • Doctor of Biblical Studies (DBS)
  • Doctor of Science (DSc/ScD)
  • Doctor of Social Work (DSW)
  • Doctor of Theology (ThD)

Professional Doctorates:

  • Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO)
  • Medical Doctor (MD)
  • Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM)
  • Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT)
  • Doctor of Chiropractic (DC)
  • Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD)
  • Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS)
  • Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM)
  • Veterinary Medical Doctor (VMD)
  • Doctor of Ministry (DMin)
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
  • Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD)
  • Juris Doctor (JD)
  • Doctor of Optometry (OD)


Careers Requiring Doctoral Degrees

Many research, academic, and professional careers require a doctoral degree to be considered or to practice in the field. A sampling of these careers includes:

  • Physicians/doctors/surgeons
  • Chiropractors
  • Dentists
  • Social workers
  • Physical therapists
  • Pharmacists
  • Government research
  • Veterinarians
  • Advanced Practice Registered Nurses
  • Optometrists
  • Audiologists
  • Lawyers
  • Physician assistants
  • Health science-related positions
  • Public health-related positions
  • Ministers/clergy
  • Psychologists
  • College professors/lecturers
  • Music-related fields
  • Management-related fields

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