Exploring the Process of Earning Your Doctoral Degree

Woman balancing life and earning doctoral degree

A doctorate is a high-level academic degree that marks a turning point for students. Rather than solely learning from the work of others, students earning a doctoral degree actively begin to contribute original research to their field of study. Earning a doctorate is the pinnacle of academic achievement in the United States, and there are many compelling reasons to embark on this rewarding and purposeful journey. 

Why Should I Consider Earning a Doctorate?

It takes several years of hard work and study to earn a doctoral degree. Completing this work is a mark of distinction, because not every college graduate goes on to earn a doctoral degree, and those who do are highly regarded in their professional community. Indeed, many doctoral students pursue this high-level degree because they wish to command professional respect and because earning it can provide a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Earning your doctorate is no small feat, and adding it to your resume demonstrates that you are a tenacious, hard-working individual.

Of course, there are other reasons to earn a doctorate. Such a degree can help you to:

  • Ascend to a high-level position within your current organization or pursue high-level positions at other organizations
  • Pave the way for a career change
  • Command a higher salary and better benefits
  • Make a positive difference in your field by contributing original research
  • Become recognized as an expert in your field

Furthermore, in the process of earning a doctorate, learners acquire advanced skills that are useful in their professional and personal lives. For example, you will need to do a great deal of in-depth research. You will significantly improve your research skills, as well as your time management, organizational, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. These skills are all highly prized at virtually every type of organization.

Is a Doctorate the Same as a PhD?

The terms “doctoral degree” and “PhD” are often used interchangeably. However, they are not quite the same. There are several kinds of doctoral degrees, and a PhD is just one of those kinds, although it is the broadest category. “PhD” stands for “Doctor of Philosophy,” a degree that can be earned in most fields of study. For example, PhDs are available in psychology, education, nursing, business and management.

What Kinds of Doctoral Degrees Are There?

In addition to the PhD track, the following doctoral programs are available for advanced learners in certain fields:

Note that there is one major difference between professional doctoral programs, such as the above, and a PhD program. A PhD program is research-focused, whereas a professional doctoral program is practice-focused. Those who earn a PhD typically expect to go into academic work and research, whereas those who earn a professional doctorate may go into consulting or corporate practice. However, this is not a hard and fast rule; crossover does occur. 

Both types of doctoral programs involve writing a dissertation—a book-length paper that explains the student’s research and findings. A PhD dissertation typically offers a new theory or poses challenges to existing theories. In contrast, a dissertation by a professional doctoral student is more likely to explore the real-world applications of established theories.

How Long Does It Take to Earn a Doctorate?

The length of a doctoral program can vary considerably. On average, completion takes four to six years. The duration depends in part on the school and the specific program. It also depends on the learner’s schedule. Those who pursue the degree on a full-time, accelerated basis may complete their degree more quickly. Learners enrolled as part-time students may need longer to finish their work.

What Should I Expect When I Start a Doctoral Program?

The application process differs from one school to the next. Some programs may require you to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). You can also expect to submit letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, prior transcripts and your resume or CV.

The initial process common to many schools is to work through a set number of courses and then complete comprehensive examinations. After that point, learners are ready to begin the dissertation process. However, other schools integrate the dissertation process directly into the coursework. This arrangement allows you to get started on your original research immediately while continuing to work through the curriculum.

How Will I Begin My Dissertation?

You will work closely with your academic advisor on your dissertation project. In addition to your primary advisor, you will have a dissertation committee. The committee is comprised of several other faculty members who will offer guidance and constructive criticism designed to help you develop a well-researched, thoughtful dissertation.

To begin with, you will conduct a literature review. This is a comprehensive review of the existing literature in the field that bears on your dissertation topic. Along the way, you will further refine your dissertation topic and develop a list of questions that you intend to explore in your research. Under the guidance of your advisor, you will then develop your research methods, complete your research and finish writing your dissertation. Once you have successfully defended your dissertation to the committee and implemented any required revisions, you will have earned your doctorate.

The College of Doctoral Studies at Grand Canyon University offers a wide variety of doctoral degree programs for students, with online and evening campus classes available to fit the schedules of busy professionals. Apply to enroll in doctoral programs such as the Doctor of Nursing Practice program or the Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership: K-12 Leadership (Qualitative Research) program. Click on Request Info above to explore how GCU can help you achieve your professional and academic goals. 

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.