DBA vs PhD: What Are the Differences?

GCU doctoral student with her PhD degree

You’ve decided that it’s time to add to your academic qualifications in order to enhance your promotion prospects, seek a university academic appointment, engage in business consulting or perhaps to enter into a new industry or job role. But which doctoral degree program should you choose? There are many degree options available to you, including Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), which includes programs specializing in business. Use this guide to explore the similarities and differences between the DBA vs PhD and choose which one is best suited to your career goals.

Understanding the DBA and PhD

PhD degree candidates focus on the preparation and execution of original investigations to develop, expand or refine business theories. In contrast, DBA degree candidates focus on the preparation and execution of an original investigation to apply academic theory to solve a local problem while also adding to the body of knowledge within the professional practice. As such, PhD and DBA dissertations are both rigorous and adhere to the standard five-section dissertation format. However, PhD dissertations are generally theoretical while DBA dissertations apply theory to address professional practice. Both PhD and DBA graduates seek employment opportunities as faculty, senior academic administrators, executives in both private and public industries and industry specific consulting experts.

The PhD is the most recognized terminal degree in academe today. The benefits in pursuing a PhD include the tremendous flexibility it provides in career choice and opportunities in business, non-profit, government and academics. To teach at the university level, universities are requiring a PhD or other terminal degree to be considered for employment more and more frequently. The PhD provides the opportunity to research a broad range of topics and can be particularly suited for those interested in theoretical concepts and how those can be applied in life.

The Doctor of Business Administration degree is relatively new compared to the PhD degree. Sometimes referred to as a Professional Doctorate, the DBA has experienced significant growth as institutions apply research methods to address local problems resulting from an unprecedented economic climate fueled by changing consumer demand models. Learners apply proven research methods to access industry or company specific issues, providing substantial benefits and significant career opportunities for those individuals able to combine theory with application. In addition to working to solve business problems, DBA graduates pursue teaching and administrative opportunities in higher education and executive positions in both private and public industries.

Dissertation Focus

In a doctoral program, the culmination of a student’s research is the dissertation. Both programs include writing a dissertation, though the focus will be slightly different for DBA vs PhD. A PhD learner may develop a dissertation by exploring current gaps in knowledge relative to existing theories. As such, a PhD candidate may develop a new theory and conduct research to substantiate it.

In contrast, DBA students do not typically develop new theories or expand upon existing ones. Rather, their focus is to take existing business theories and combine them with real-life business problems. For example, a DBA student might use a real-life problem from their own company as a starting point. The dissertation will build upon a theoretical model that seeks to solve not only the problem in that specific company, but similar problems in other companies.

In both instances, the focus of the dissertation is to expand upon the body of knowledge in the field and make a positive contribution that other scholars can then explore and build upon.

Program Length

The length of a degree program is an important consideration, especially for working professionals who are short on time and would like to graduate as quickly as possible. It generally takes students several years to complete either degree depending on their preferred course load. Check the credit requirements of each degree program and how they vary between universities when making a decision between the two.

Career Options

Students who earn a PhD in business or management generally do so with the goal of working in academia. They may also seek teaching positions in business schools or as a researcher or business consultant.

Students who complete a DBA develop expertise combining academic theory with practice. They therefore have a wide range of career possibilities available to them. They may choose to pursue a career in academia or consulting while also exploring opportunities in senior management, administration or entrepreneurship.

When you’re ready to take your academic qualifications to the next level, explore the available doctoral programs at Grand Canyon University. The College of Doctoral Studies is pleased to offer a number of degree specializations designed with modern industries and business challenges in mind, such as the Doctor of Business Administration: Management (Qualitative Research). Click the Request Info button on this screen to explore the possibilities.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.