What is the Difference Between a Ph.D. and a Doctorate Program?

Is a doctoral degree a Ph.D.? The short answer is no. It is not. People do tend to use these terms interchangeably, though, because, in most cases, both degrees require the same amount of coursework and years in college and graduate programs. And when graduates of both types of programs get those degrees, they are then referred to as “Doctor.”

So, let’s first look at the difference between a Ph.D. and doctorate.

Just What is a Doctorate Definition?

Doctorate degrees are awarded in all fields of study once a student has earned a Bachelor’s, Master’s, and then completed all of the requirements of a university’s doctoral studies in a specific field. Doctorate requirements will vary from program to program. Usually, there is coursework to complete and then a major culminating doctoral project. This will go under any number of different names and types. They may be called doctoral theses in European institutions; they may be called dissertations, as in the U.S., for example, or doctoral essays in other places. No matter what the terminology, this is part of what is required for a doctorate degree. And that project will involve significant research and writing.

What is a Doctorate Degree Difference from a Ph.D. Degree?

A Ph.D. is a specific type of doctorate degree. A Ph.D. degree means literally “Doctor of Philosophy,” but this can be a bit confusing. A Ph.D. is not only conferred upon students who have completed graduate coursework in philosophy. It is a degree that is awarded in a number of subject fields, and those fields may vary based upon the institution and the country where it is earned. And in many subject areas, students can earn either a Ph.D. or a doctorate, depending upon their career goals. For example, consider the difference between Ph.D. and doctorate in Psychology. The student who is looking at an academic career in Psychology will choose a Ph.D. The student who intends to be a practitioner will probably choose a doctorate degree. And this really defines the difference between a Ph.D. and a doctorate. Those who intend to be practitioners will receive degrees, such as a JD in Law, a DDS in Dentistry, and Ed.D. in Education, or an MD in Medicine. Ph.D.’s, on the other hand, are awarded to those who will pursue a career in higher education or research.

In the end, the Ph.D. is a doctoral degree under the larger umbrella of all doctorate graduate programs. 

Looking at the Doctor Degree Requirements

Whether you are going for a Ph.D. or a doctorate in any field, your program of studies will be rigorous. Just how many years of college for doctorate degree? This will depend on whether you decide to pursue this degree full-time or part-time? On a full-time basis, you should plan on three years after you have earned a Master’s degree. Of course, the final semester will not include coursework, as a rule. It will be spent on constructing that doctorate paper, in whatever form the program requires.

Just remember this: earning a doctorate, no matter what the field, is a tough, demanding program of doctorate studies.

What are The Doctor Degree Types and What is Involved in Earning?

Now that you understand what’s a Ph.D. degree and that it is a part of the larger concept of a doctoral degree, we need to talk about all that is involved in doctoral work. Is Ph.D. the highest degree possible? Yes. Is a doctoral degree the highest degree possible? Yes. You must have already decided for yourself what is a doctorate degree for you, personally. So, how do you get there?

  • You already know that to be accepted into a doctoral program, you need to have completed a Master’s program, applied to, and been accepted into doctoral classes.
  • Once you begin your program, you will proceed through the sequential program of coursework, and this will involve an average of five semesters as a full-time student, or more if part-time. Doctorate college programs vary, of course, but this is a general progression of most programs.
  • There will be a culminating project, no matter what it may be called. Any doctoral or doctorate degree program will require it. This usually requires 12 – 18 months of research and writing, so it will obviously be begun before your last semester. But that last semester will involve the big push to get that culminating project completed and, in most cases, defended before a committee. When that is accepted, you will then be approved for that coveted degree.

So, this is the answer to how do you get a doctorate degree. The coursework is clear and laid out. Now, this is how you craft that culminating project. For the sake of simplicity, we will call it the dissertation.

How Do You Complete that Doctoral Research?

Obviously, you have not completed a dissertation before. You may even have a question about exactly what is a doctoral research project. This section should answer any questions you have and show you exactly how to write a doctoral dissertation.

  1. You have to select a topic area for research. This is usually done with the help and approval of your advisor. Choose something you have a real interest in. If you don’t, the whole project will be nothing but drudgery. And don’t be swayed by what your advisor would like you to do if it is a topic area that you are not excited about.
  2. Now you will need to narrow the topic area to a more specific research area and develop a research question. This will require some initial research – what research already exists that you can look to further validate or add to?
  3. Develop a scholarly research question and get it approved by your advisor before moving forward.
  4. If you are required to have a committee that will approve your proposal and your final work, you and your advisor should work together to choose those committee members
  5. Develop your research proposal for advisor/committee approval. This will be a piece of writing that includes the following:
  • A statement of your research question
  • A justification of why your research is important to your field
  • A brief synopsis of the literature you have already reviewed
  • A research design for the original research you plan to conduct
  • The method by which you will collect and analyze your data
  • What you hope to “prove” through your research
  1. Once your proposal has been approved, you are ready to dig into the project. And depending upon the departmental guidelines and specifications, you will have four or five chapters to produce.
  • An introduction that presents your research question and the importance of your study to your academic community
  • A full review of the literature that directly relates to your research and the conclusions reached by each of these other researchers
  • A detailed explanation of your research project and design, how that research was conducted, and the data that was collected as a result of your research – often called the methodology chapter
  • An analysis of the data you have collected. This will require statistical analysis to show the significance of your findings.
  • A conclusion that encapsulates your findings, their contribution to your field, any limitations to your study, and that will point future scholars in the direction of additional research.

How Long Is a Doctoral Dissertation?

Given your coursework and the understanding of what is involved, you should no longer have any question about what is a doctoral dissertation. As to doctoral dissertation length? That varies, but you can plan on producing a piece that could easily be 200 pages long.

How Many Years is a Doctoral Degree?

First, prepare to plan on many challenges. In fact, complexity is a reason that almost half of the candidates never finish their dissertations. It is a massive project that requires commitment, time management, and the ability to work through frustration, anxiety, and even writer’s block.

The key will be to develop a schedule for yourself, to stick to it as much as possible, and to take breaks when the pressure is getting to you. Remember, this project can take 12-18 months to complete as a norm, but many doctoral candidates take longer. Most institutions do have a time deadline, but it is much longer than 18 months. 

Will You Need Help?

It is the rare candidate that goes through this whole process solo. Some need help with their literature reviews; some need help with tight research design, and certainly, many will need help with their statistical analyses. If you find yourself “stuck,” we can help you get the assistance you need. Just let us know.

In the End…

Just what does doctorate mean to and for you? In many academic and professional circles, what is considered a doctoral degree is a minimum you will need to proceed in your chosen career, whether that is in academia or in a professional field. And while many professional fields will allow you entry with simply a Masters, the difference between doctoral and Master's degrees can mean a much faster track to your career goals.

Again, know what you are getting into, prepare yourself in advance, establish a schedule, take those breaks when needed, and talk to us about help to get you over those stressful challenges involved in writing a doctoral essay.

Posted by Diana B.

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