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What's the difference between a phd and a professional doctoral degree.

What's the Difference Between a PhD and a Professional Doctoral Degree?

If you’re thinking about pursuing a doctoral degree, including an online doctoral degree , you might be considering a PhD vs. doctorate. Perhaps you’re wondering, “What is a PhD, exactly?” or “Is a doctorate a PhD?” You’re not alone in asking these questions. In many fields of study, you can choose between a PhD degree and a professional doctorate. For instance, you could earn a Doctor of Education (EdD) or a PhD in Education.

What does PhD stand for? A PhD is a Doctor of Philosophy. In answer to the question, “Is a PhD a doctor,” the answer is yes. Both a PhD and a professional doctorate like an EdD earn you the title of “doctor.” But there are differences between the types of doctoral degrees. Learn more about a PhD vs. a professional doctorate below.

Is a Professional Doctorate the Same as a PhD?

Professional doctorate and PhD degrees are considered terminal degrees, meaning when you earn either degree, you will have achieved the highest formal degree in the field. As such, they can significantly enhance your résumé and your career. For example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, doctoral degree holders earn about 20% more on average per week than those who have a master’s degree. 1

When choosing a doctorate vs. PhD, consider the focus of the degree. A PhD is an academic degree focused on original research, data analysis, and the evaluation of theory. A professional doctorate focuses on applying research to practical problems, formulating solutions to complex issues, and designing effective professional practices within your field.

Is a PhD Higher Than a Professional Doctorate?

No, a PhD is not a higher degree than a professional doctorate. If you’re wondering what’s better than a PhD, both PhDs and professional doctorates are the highest level of college education that can be earned. Both degrees are doctoral degrees.

Professional doctoral degree examples include the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) , Doctor of Education (EdD) , Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) , and Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) . Or you could earn a PhD in Management , PhD in Education , PhD in Nursing , or PhD in Public Health . All of these degrees are doctoral degrees, even though some are professional doctorates and some are PhDs.

Differences Between a Professional Doctorate and a PhD

When deciding between a PhD vs. a doctorate, it’s important to understand that while both are doctoral degrees, the educational goals and typical career paths for each type of degree differ.

When it comes time to choose, it’s good to know that both PhD degrees and professional doctorates have their strengths. Your decision should be based on what you want to study and how you want to use your degree. Explore the key differences between a professional doctorate and a PhD in the chart below.

Dissertation and Doctoral Study Requirements

While all colleges and universities establish their own policies on how you earn a degree, the methods by which you earn a PhD or a professional doctorate almost always differ. Though it can vary by degree program and university, PhD candidates usually complete a dissertation while many doctoral candidates complete a doctoral study.

Doctoral Study

A doctoral study requires you to identify a real-world problem within your field and research it thoroughly with the intent of uncovering new understandings that can eventually lead to new solutions. Completing the study takes multiple steps, which may include:


A PhD dissertation requires you to conduct research into an approved area of study within your discipline. While this can be in an area that has not yet been explored, it often complements existing knowledge by adding new or missing research. Completing the dissertation takes multiple steps, including:

What Do You Learn When Studying for a PhD vs. Doctorate?

A PhD is designed for college graduates who are interested in doing original and applied research that tests theory and adds to the existing knowledge in their particular field or discipline. A PhD program can help you learn how to:

A professional doctorate is designed for working professionals who have practical experience in their field and want to increase their knowledge, advance their careers, and translate their work experience into a higher position of credibility, leadership, and influence. A professional doctorate program can help you learn how to:


Not all universities offer fellowship programs; however, many do. And while fellowships are often offered to PhD students conducting research, there are also programs designed for professional doctoral degree candidates.

How You Can Earn Your PhD or Professional Doctoral Degree

PhD degrees and professional doctorates have this in common: You can earn either through an online university. Why should you add online options to your list of universities to consider? Because online education provides a number of benefits you won’t enjoy at even an exceptional campus-based university.

Walden University is an accredited online university offering professional doctorates and PhD degree programs online . When you choose Walden, you won’t have to worry about moving to be close to campus. You won’t even have to drive to a campus. Instead, when you earn a degree online, you can complete the majority of your coursework from home. Plus, both online PhD programs and online professional doctorate programs often offer a flexible format that doesn’t require you to attend class at a specific time of day. With Walden’s online degree programs, you can arrange your learning schedule so that it works with your full-time job and family responsibilities.

Visit Walden’s online doctoral degree page  to see the wide range of professional doctorate and PhD programs offered. Find out how Walden’s numerous support opportunities, from doctoral peer mentors to knowledgeable financial advisors, can help make your doctoral degree experience a success. For more details, explore Walden’s doctoral journey page . There, you’ll learn more about what your educational path could look like, what it takes to earn a doctorate, and how to fund your degree.

Still have questions? Simply complete a quick form online to request information . Whether you have questions about degree programs, admissions, financial aid, or any other details, a Walden Enrollment Specialist will respond with all of the information you need.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a range of PhD and professional doctoral programs online . Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

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In this post, we’ll explore the definitions, differences and similarities of PhDs and doctorates, as well as what a Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) entails.  

After completing a master’s degree and spending time building a career, many professionals consider continuing their education and pursuing a higher level of academic achievement.

Two of the most common options are a PhD or a doctorate, but what is the difference between the two?

Defining a PhD and a doctorate 

A PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy, is a specific type of doctorate degree that focuses on research in a particular field. It is highly theoretical and involves extensive research to generate new knowledge.

On the other hand, a doctorate degree is an umbrella term for any doctoral-level degree. It can be further categorised into two types: academic and professional.

Academic doctorates, such as a PhD, are focused on research, while professional doctorates, like the Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) , focus on practical application in professional settings.  

Want to know more about the benefits of a DBA? Explore our guide:

Show me DBA benefits  ❯

Differences between a PhD and a doctorate 

While both a PhD and a doctorate are doctoral-level degrees, there are some key differences between the two. One of the main differences is that a PhD is typically an academic degree, while a doctorate can be either academic or professional. Additionally, a PhD is highly theoretical and research-focused, while a professional doctorate is practical and geared toward applying research to specific professional settings.  

Similarities between a PhD and a doctorate 

Despite their differences, there are also some similarities between a PhD and a doctorate. Both degrees require significant research, critical thinking, and independent study. They are both highly respected and recognised as top-level degrees in their respective fields, and both confer the title of “Doctor” upon completion.  

Examples of professional doctorates 

Examples of professional doctorates include the Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA), Doctorate of Education (EdD), Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP), and Doctorate of Psychology (PsyD), among others. These degrees are typically designed for individuals who want to apply research to specific professional settings.  

What is a Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA)? 

A DBA is a professional doctorate degree that is focused on applying research to real-world business problems. It is typically designed for individuals who are in senior-level or executive positions in private or public sector organisations. A DBA is often seen as a practical alternative to a PhD in business, as it allows professionals to apply research directly to their work .  

Benefits of pursuing a Global DBA 

Portsmouth Online offers a Global DBA that is online and part-time, making it accessible from anywhere in the world. This course  is specifically designed for senior-level professionals who want to become more qualified in the field of business.

The structured modules will help you develop your ability to challenge current thinking and provide authoritative solutions to practical and research problems. Additionally, the applied research in the DBA thesis will allow you to conduct research on a topic that is directly relevant to your organisation.  

Ready to find out more about what a DBA involves? Explore the Portsmouth Online course:

Show me course details  ❯

Choosing between a PhD and a doctorate 

Choosing between a PhD and a doctorate depends on your goals and aspirations. If you are interested in academic research and generating new knowledge, a PhD may be the right path for you.

However, if you want to apply research to specific professional settings, a professional doctorate like a DBA may be a better fit. Ultimately, it is important to choose the degree that aligns with your career goals and interests.  

Have questions about whether a DBA could be right for you? Speak to a Portsmouth Online course adviser who can help you explore your options: 

Discuss my options ❯

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Differences Between a PhD and Professional Doctorate

Higher education has long made a distinction between those who are expert in creating knowledge (PhDs) and those who are expert in using knowledge (e.g., MDs and JDs).

In response to demands from students and employers, institutions of higher education have developed professional doctorates, for example the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) , and the Doctor of Education (EdD) . The essential difference between a PhD and a professional doctorate is that the possessor of a PhD has demonstrated the ability to use research skills to create original knowledge that contributes to the research and theory in a field, and a possessor of a professional doctorate has demonstrated the ability to evaluate, synthesize, and apply knowledge in a field. Learners in professional doctorate programs may choose to write PhD equivalent dissertations.

Who should choose to enroll in a PhD program?

Someone who wants to make an original and significant contribution to a body of knowledge in a field and whose career goal is to teach at a university or do research.

Who should choose to enroll in a professional doctorate program (i.e. EdD, DBA)?

Someone who has an interest in the practical application of knowledge in a field and wants a career in a practical setting (such as a business or corporation, a K-12 school system or training institute, or a clinic or hospital).

The Dissertation

Unlike medical degrees (MD, DO, etc.) and law degrees (JD), which are earned by success in examinations and courses, earning a PhD or professional doctorate requires a capstone achievement in the form of a dissertation. This is often the endeavor that launches a scholarly career or entitles one to claim professional expertise in a field.

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doctoral vs phd

Applied Doctorate vs. Ph.D.: What are the Differences?

Making a choice between two similar but different things can be a challenge.

Oh, sure, some things don’t fall under the “do-or-die” category of decision making. With some things, there simply is no wrong choice.

Take a sports car versus an SUV, for example. Either is a great choice, depending on your budget, your lifestyle and your personal preferences.

What about an angus beef burger versus a textured soy protein patty? When it comes to radically opposing food choices, there’s usually a clear-cut winner.

Yet what about the more important things in life … like your career, your future and your doctoral education?

You already know the drill when it comes to deciding if a Ph.D. or doctorate is right for you:

But first, let’s define the Ph.D. and the professional doctorate and then look at how they’re different from one another.

What is a Ph.D.?

A Ph.D., or Doctor of Philosophy, is a high-level degree earned after a period of three or more years of graduate-level study, culminating in the creation, submission, presentation and defense of a research dissertation.

The Ph.D. can be awarded in a wide variety of fields, including the sciences, engineering and humanities. The term “philosophy,” according to Wikipedia, “does not refer solely to the field or academic disciple of philosophy, but is used in a broader sense in accordance with its original Greek meaning, which is ‘love of wisdom.’”

For some professions, such as university professor or researcher, the Ph.D. is pretty much de rigor. Most Ph.D.s are earned as a means of contributing original research findings to an academic community, field of study or professional discipline.

Earning a doctorate is challenging and rewarding, but do you know what to really expect? Download this free guide for tips and insights to help you prepare for success.  

What is an applied professional doctorate.

This doctorate is an advanced, high-level degree, too, earned after a period of three or more years of graduate-level study across a wide variety of disciplines. Like the Ph.D. it, too, culminates in the creation, submission, presentation and defense of a research dissertation or similar type of comprehensive final project.

The professional doctorate is also a research-based degree, only it emphasizes looking at existing bodies of knowledge and raising questions for the purposes of solving a problem and applying theories to a real-world setting.

Applied doctorate degrees first became well established in the United Kingdom and Australia and were initially offered in the United States by for-profit colleges and universities. Employer demand for higher skill levels and actionable problem-solving, however, opened up new programs at accredited non-profit institutions.

Different than a theoretical, Ph.D. degree, the professional doctorate is often the best terminal degree for the working professional who’s driven to lead and innovate.

Applied doctoral degree programs offer the opportunity to earn a practical degree that enables both subject mastery and field application.

What is the difference between the Ph.D. and doctorate?

It’s often assumed that a Ph.D. is a teaching-only degree while a professional doctorate is for the corporate player. The truth is, either degree can be valued in an academic or professional setting, depending on the type of institution or organization. Furthermore, either degree could be right for you.

Dr. Christopher Washington, Franklin University’s provost and chief academic officer explains the fundamental difference between the Ph.D. and the applied professional doctorate degree this way:

“With a Ph.D., you generate new theory. With the professional doctorate, you start from a place of practice and what’s going on in the world. You look at existing bodies of knowledge to see what theories have been created. Then you raise questions to determine how to design experiences that test theory to practice. In cultivating these types of practitioner-oriented scholars, there’s potential for a stronger and better relationship between the scholar and the community he or she serves. Such a connection helps us convene people to tackle the hard questions.”

Here we offer a side-by-side comparison of the Ph.D. and the professional doctorate to further demonstrate the differences (and similarities):

As you can see, the differences between the Ph.D. and the applied doctorate are few – and many – most of which are directly related to how earning the degree will impact your career.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself before deciding which degree is right for you :

Explains Dr. Washington, “If you want to generate new theory and conduct pure science within the pursuit of an academic life, then the Ph.D. is probably more in line with what you’ll need. If, however, you want to advance knowledge within a complex, global practice context while challenging yourself professionally, consider the applied doctorate degree.”

doctoral vs phd

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doctoral vs phd

Ph.D. vs. Doctorate: What are the Differences?

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For those who have a deep-seated attitude, pursuing a doctoral degree can be a tough yet beneficial journey. Currently enrolled in a doctorate program means that a person has already scooched over college admissions, went through high stake tests and exams, and finished all those research papers and long hours spent in university libraries hitting the books. While studying for a doctorate entails asserting oneself to an extensive amount of quality time and money, its significance and purpose usually pave the way to a lucrative end.

After having finished the Master’s Degree, students begin to think about their next step in their academic career. Then, paradoxically, while navigating through academia, they find themselves baffled by the immense terms and terminologies used to label specific degrees. Because the terms “Doctorate” and “Ph.D.” are somehow interlocked and overlap, and because “PhD” is sometimes used inconsistently, it can lead to considerable confusion. Ph.D. vs. Doctorate? You might wonder what their difference is, and why they are important. E xplaining what each of these terms stands for, the difference between them, and why they are valuable, can help you steer yourself down the right path from the outset.

Doctorate Degree vs. Ph.D.


At first glance, it is pretty easy to confuse these two terms. But it is important for everyone to be able to make a distinction between the two. In this article, we will discuss the difference between Ph.D. and Doctorate in detail in order to get rid of any confusion you may have. In the academic world, the terms Doctorate and Ph.D. are currently used interchangeably. Both of them are the top cap of the ladder. However, a doctorate is mostly used as an umbrella term covering many fields ranging from professional degrees, humanities, and scientific disciplines.

A Ph.D. or Doctor of Philosophy, on the other hand, is a subcategory of a doctoral degree, it is much more distinct and clear-cut and is usually narrower in nature encompassing only humanities and scientific fields. In plain English, when someone says they are enrolling on a doctoral degree, it means they are doing a Ph.D. in a specific field. So, technically, in common parlance, there is no difference between the two terms.

But at the other end of the spectrum, one should be careful not to confuse a professional doctoral degree with a Ph.D. The former is more practical and is designed to prepare students to apply existing knowledge to find solutions to real-life problems and has a direct application to a particular profession.

A Ph.D. is theoretical by nature and is more academic and research-focused. it is often fixed on disseminating knowledge by conducting authentic research which means reviewing and identifying gaps in current literature and evaluating the relevance of existing and emerging theories within a particular field.

What Is a Ph.D. Degree and Why Should You Go for It?

Students who acquire a Ph.D. are justly proud — they wear it as a badge of identity in the academic elite. Traditionally, a Ph.D. was associated with teaching, which from Latin licentia docendi meant “license to teach”. However, the concept of Ph.D. has been on shifting sands nowadays and has become a more general term that isn’t necessarily confined to teaching only.

The Value of a PhD


Obtaining a Ph.D. helps you capitalize on the emerging academic opportunities making you more easily identifiable to employers or businesses seeking to fill professional, higher-level job positions. Many of these career options, conversely, are not available to those who do not belong to the Ph.D. club. While pursuing a Ph.D. requires devoting a tremendous effort and time and making significant personal sacrifices pushing the boundaries of knowledge, it’s all in service of the area of study you’re most passionate and zealous about. Ultimately, once you’ve attained your Ph.D., you will have achieved the pinnacle of education— something not too many people have or are able to accomplish.


doctoral vs phd

A Guide to Choosing and Applying to Ph.D. Programs

Learn everything you need to know about selecting and applying to Ph.D. programs. Learn tips and tricks for a successful application and find your ideal program today!

What Is a Doctorate Degree?

A doctoral or doctorate degree is usually the most advanced degree one can earn in an academic discipline. Many pursue a doctorate degree to increase their professional credibility, be acknowledged as an expert in a specific field, and improve their resume.

A doctorate degree is a graduate-level credential that is usually earned after multiple years of graduate school. Earning a doctoral degree requires a significant level of research and work. In order to get this degree, one has to research a subject thoroughly, conduct new research and analysis, and provide a solution or interpretation into the field. But what types of doctoral degrees are available?

Types of Doctorate Degrees

There are two categories of doctorate degrees: an academic degree and a professional doctorate degree. An academic degree focuses on research, data analysis, and the evaluation of theory. A professional doctorate degree, on the other hand, is considered a terminal degree, which means that one has achieved the most advanced degree in the field. This degree is specifically designed for working professionals who want to grow in their careers.

Professional Doctorate Degrees

A professional doctorate is designed for working professionals who have experience in the field and want to increase their knowledge, improve their credibility, and advance their careers. This degree focuses on applying research to practical issues, coming up with interpretation and solutions, as well as designing effective professional practices within a particular field.

Professional doctoral degrees include:

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Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)

The DBA degree is ideal for students who already have a general business background and are interested in delving deeper into the practical and theoretical aspects that underpin business education. More to the point, in DBA you will develop the ability to solve real-life problems, discover the relevant expertise to innovate and uphold complex business issues and so much more. Upon completion, DBA students will possess enhanced leadership and strategic skills as well as the tools to propel their careers in today’s marketplace. The Business Administration industry is keen on finding such graduates with business skills and this is indicated by the immense job positions currently available.

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)

If you are interested in setting your eyes on creating lifelong learning among your students, making a positive influence in educational culture, contributing to the growing body of research in the education realm, or just enhancing your subject matter expertise, the Doctor of Education program ticks all the boxes. This degree maintains a rigorous approach in academic education that prepares graduates to showcase the skills and expertise to devise solutions in tackling the challenges in contemporary education practice and become transformational leaders in the industry.

Doctor of Computer Science (DCS)

The demand for computer scientists has reached its peak and it is among the most sought-after positions nowadays. With a degree in DCS, you will have the opportunity to design, apply innovative experiments, predict trends and, ultimately, develop a richer understanding and contribute to your area of expertise. After all, who doesn’t want an exciting and financially stable career?

Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)

The Doctor of Medicine degree is designed to prepare you for various medical challenges in different settings nationally and internationally. This program will further develop your critical thinking and clinical reasoning skills required for safe, high-quality medical practices. It will also improve your leadership, communication, and teamwork skills for collaborative patient care.

Doctor of Optometry (O.D.)

This professional degree typically requires four years of study. It focuses on basic biological sciences such as anatomy and physiology, microbiology, neuroanatomy, and so on. This doctoral degree will prepare, educate, and train professionals to practice at the highest level of proficiency, professionalism, and integrity.

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)

The Doctoral of Psychology degree concentrates on the clinical and applied aspects of psychology. This type of doctorate prepares students for professional practice and clinical placement. This degree will be highly beneficial when working directly with patients who need psychology services. In addition, this degree allows doctors of psychology to confidently function as researchers and clinicians.

How to Choose a Ph.D. Program?

Choosing a Ph.D. program can be pretty challenging; it is a big academic decision and investment that requires commitment and perseverance. But how can you pick the right Ph.D. program for you? Well, there are some tips to help you choose the best fit for your goals and preferences:

All in all, the terms “Doctorate’’ and “Ph.D.” are in essence the same, which means all Ph.D. students are Doctoral students as well. On the other hand, earning a Ph.D. degree is no joke. If anything, Ph.D. students have the tenacity, patience, persistence, and years of hard work that you can vouch for. Ultimately, deciding what type of doctoral degree you should hop on, depends on your career goals, what you are passionate about and how you are going to achieve it.

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Doctorate vs PhD: What’s the Difference?

In the academic world, achieving a doctoral degree represents the highest level of study within a field. These degrees grant their recipients not only more knowledge within their particular field, but also more respect and more upward mobility in their careers. 

Is a doctorate a PhD? Often, the terms doctoral degree and doctor of philosophy, or Ph.D., are used interchangeably. This isn’t 100% accurate, though. There are subtle but important differences that set a doctoral degree apart from a Ph.D. degree. These differences are critical to understand before you plan your own path through higher education. 

Related Resource:   What is a Bachelor’s Degree?

What Is a Doctoral Degree?

Doctorate vs PhD: Diploma and tassel

A doctoral degree is a general term for a terminal degree that usually is awarded when someone pursues their studies beyond the level of a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. It can be awarded in any number of fields, from education and English literature to chemistry and calculus.

Doctoral degrees typically come in two forms:

What is an Applied Doctorate Degree?

Professional or applied doctorate degrees qualify someone to work in a specific profession. This includes things like:

Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)

Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)

Degree holders with a professional doctorate degree are qualified to work at the highest level within their field. 

These professional degrees culminate in a dissertation which must be defended in front of a group. A dissertation, like a thesis, is a lengthy and involved paper that incorporates research and applies a theory to make advances within the field.  

Some of the most common fields for a professional doctoral program are:

We’ll discuss a few of the most common professional doctorate degree programs below.

An Ed.D. is a professional doctorate for educators with teaching and administration responsibilities as well as those working in nonprofits and governmental agencies. These programs offer advanced leadership training which can help students advance their career. Students learn effective strategies to solve real-world problems they’ll encounter out in the field.

Ed.D. programs do not follow a standard curriculum. Each program is unique, and many can be tailored to meet the needs of each individual student. Some are offered online while others follow a more traditional format.

Doctor of Business Administration

The DBA is a professional degree for business professionals. These programs build upon the skills taught in an MBA program. Students are often accomplished executives who want to be better, more innovative business leaders.

DBA students conduct practical research that directly applies to the business world. Students will develop new insights and solutions to business challenges.

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)

Psychology is an area where students can choose to complete either a Ph.D. or a PsyD degree. A PsyD degree emphasizes the clinical and applied aspects of psychology. This degree is growing in popularity for several different reasons:

The PsyD focuses on practice over research so students begin working on fieldwork sooner in the program. This hands-on experience is valuable as students begin to build their professional portfolio.

An M.D. is the degree of choice for students planning a career in medicine. These highly competitive and rigorous programs include the classroom and intensive training students need to join the medical field.

M.D. programs usually require students to complete four years of medical school followed by a residency. The residency can take between two and five years depending on the area of medicine.

While an M.D. degree requires a significant commitment of time and money, the investment plays off with a high salary and job security.

Doctor of Optometry (O.D.)

An O.D. an expert in primary eye care. They diagnose and manage diseases and disorders of the eye. An O.D. degree can take between eight and nine years of education beyond high school. Students take classes in areas like:

An optometrist can determine if an individual needs corrective lenses or contacts to improve their vision. They can check for signs of glaucoma or other degenerative eye conditions. In some states, an optometrist can prescribe certain medications.

Regardless of the individual field that you pursue, you can know that a doctoral degree will make you a highly qualified candidate for upper level positions in your field. 

See Also: 30 Best Bachelor’s in Biomedical Engineering

What Is a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) Degree?

Doctorate vs PhD: Graduates wearing toga

Academic doctorates, on the other hand, are degrees that qualify someone to study, research, or teach at the highest level in his or her field. At some schools, like Franklin University , professional doctorates are referred to as an application oriented-degree while Ph.D.s, or academic doctorates, are referred to as research degrees. 

A Ph.D. is actually a specific type of doctoral degree. This means that rather than being completely separate from one another, Ph.D.s are really just a specific subtype of the umbrella term “doctorate degree.” 

A Ph.D. is an academic degree focused on original research and the application of new ideas to existing knowledge. This research based degree emphases research skills that allow student to contribute to the advancement of their field. Lots of people falsely believe that a Ph.D. is limited to fields in the social sciences. This is likely due to the word “philosophy” in the title. Rather than meaning philosophy in the modern sense, though, the word philosophy in a Ph.D. refers to its Latin origins, meaning “love of wisdom” . 

The reality is that Ph.D.s are research degrees available in many fields. Some of the most common degree fields for a Ph.D. include:

No matter what kind of Ph.D. you undertake, you will always graduate from a Ph.D. program with a high level of competence, respect, and mobility within your career field. 

How To Apply for a PhD vs Doctorate Program

Doctorate vs PhD: Application form

Once you’ve made the choice between a professional degree versus doctorate , you’ll need to figure out how to apply to your chosen program. Because Ph.D. programs are simply a specific type of a doctorate program, the application process varies more by school than it does by degree type. 

In general, when you apply to a doctoral program, you’ll need to have already completed a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. In many cases, your bachelor’s degree can be in any field. It does not need to be related to the field you’re pursuing at the professional level. In most cases, your master’s does need to be related in some way. 

If it’s not, there’s a strong likelihood that you’ll need to complete some prerequisite graduate-level classes before you can apply for your doctorate program. You’ll need to check with each program about the prerequisites before you apply. 

Once you’re sure that you meet the prerequisites required of a doctoral student, you’ll also need to get your application materials. Generally this means:

Again, application requirements will vary by school so you’ll want to check directly with those you’re applying to. 

PhD vs Doctorate Degree: Which is Longer?

Doctorate vs PhD: Doctorate toga

The amount of time it takes to complete your doctorate vs PhD degree will largely depend on what work you’ve done before it, and whether you’ll be pursuing it part-time or full-time. If you have completed a master’s in the field already, you will need to complete fewer credits to complete the doctoral degree. 

At some schools, there is an option to combine your master’s with your doctorate degree. These accelerated programs usually allow you to take a year of study off your total commitment.

Still, terminal degrees are no small time commitment. Most degrees take anywhere from five to eight years to complete when pursued full-time. In general, Ph.D. programs tend to take slightly longer than professional doctorates. For example, to complete a doctor of education (Ed.D.) degree , doctoral students must complete at least 60 credits. In contrast, Ph.D. students completing a Ph.D. in Education must complete 90 credits. 

Earning Potential of a Professional Doctorate vs PhD

Doctor using microscope

While a professional doctorate and a Ph.D. are seemingly very similar, they do differ in terms of earning potential. 

This is likely because many Ph.D. programs lead to careers in teaching or research. These are two fields that are notoriously low in funding, unless you find one of the relatively less common highly paid positions in these fields. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics , the average salary for a postsecondary teacher at colleges or universities is about $80,000. The average salary of postsecondary teachers in the field of scientific development and research is more, at nearly $110,000, and the average salary of a researcher in the field of medical science is nearly $90,000. 

Compare these salaries to those of professional doctorates like a medical doctor or a lawyer. A medical doctor earns an average salary of $208,000 while a lawyer receives an average salary of roughly $123,000 . 

Doctoral Degree vs PhD: How Do They Stack Up?

Toga hat, diploma and books

While a Ph.D. is simply a subtype of doctorate, there are some distinct differences that set it apart from professional doctorate degrees. 

While Ph.D.s are typically heavy on research, professional doctorates are heavy on application of knowledge to a specific professional field. The body of knowledge developed in a Ph.D. program may be slightly broader, while the knowledge built in a professional doctorate program is tailored more directly to a specific career. 

Both programs have similar application processes, but the Ph.D. program may take slightly longer to complete on average than the professional doctorate program does. Finally, professional degree PhD program graduates tend to earn slightly more than Ph.D. graduates. 

If you’re interested in pursuing a doctorate degree, you’ll need to consider a professional doctorate degree vs PhD. You’ll want to research your programs before applying. Sites like CollegeRank can help you to narrow your options by providing curated college rankings geared to a number of different factors, from campus size to return on investment, and more. 

To get started on your search for a doctorate program, don’t miss these rankings from CollegeRank: 

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Doctorate Degree vs PhD: Which Is Best for You?

If you want more information about a doctorate degree vs PhD, this article is for you. We talk about the difference between a doctorate degree vs PhD, and the different career paths you can choose with a doctorate or PhD. 

Most degrees can be studied on campus, but there are a few online doctorate degrees, or you could choose to study in a hybrid format. Whatever format you choose, make sure you check out the admissions requirements and dissertation requirements before deciding between a doctorate degree or PhD.

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What Is a Doctorate Degree?

It is a terminal degree, meaning it is one of the highest degrees you can earn. You can study for a doctorate degree in a wide variety of subjects such as business administration, education, nursing, or public health. The study area focuses on studying the chosen field and applying that knowledge to the field. A doctoral degree tends to be more professional-oriented and leads to a professional career. 

Types of Doctorate Degrees

What Is a PhD?

A PhD is a Doctor of Philosophy . You can study many different topics to earn your PhD like, psychology, engineering, physical sciences, health, humanities, and art. Although it is traditionally considered a degree that you can use to teach in your field of study, it can also lead to work in those fields of study. 

Types of PhDs

Is a Doctorate Degree Faster Than a PhD?

No, it is not. A doctoral program from start to finish, including acquiring a bachelor’s and master’s, can take up to 10 years to complete. PhD programs can take between five and six years to complete. This is dependent on your professional goals and academic qualification. A doctorate caters to professional careers, and a PhD caters to academic careers. 

Is a Doctorate Degree Easier Than a PhD?

A doctorate degree is not easier than a PhD. They’re different and both take hard work. It would be best to research the area of study you are pursuing. A PhD demands years of original research, while a doctorate degree looks at an existing body of knowledge and looks into theories created by this knowledge.

Is a Doctorate Degree Better Than a PhD?

A doctorate degree isn’t better than a PhD, it depends on your outcome. They both lie in the doctorate study category. If you’re into theoretical research, a PhD will suit you. A professional doctorate degree would work for you if you’re interested in solving existing problems in your field of study. 

They also offer different career options. A doctorate degree focuses on hands-on, real-world problems suitable for a professional setting. A PhD focuses on the theoretical aspects of the topic you choose, suited to educational settings in terms of career opportunities. 

5 Key Differences Between a Doctorate Degree and a PhD

1. program focus.

A doctorate study program will educate and train you in hands-on, real-world problems and the application of knowledge within your chosen career. A PhD study program will educate and teach you in the theoretical aspects of your chosen topic and can be more research-intensive.

2. Student Differences

A doctorate study program focuses on practical application in a given field. PhD students typically have already acquired their bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Most PhD program graduates aspire to academic research and prestigious academic careers. While doctoral students are also working professionals who are aspiring leaders seeking professional career advancement. 

3. Dissertations

A doctorate dissertation focuses on identifying real-world issues within a field of study and figuring out the solutions professionals can apply. A PhD dissertation focuses on exploring, developing, and defending theories. A PhD candidate analyzes their data using analytical techniques and develops hypotheses and theories to contribute to their field. 

4. Time to Complete and Average Cost

A doctoral degree can take up to 10 years to complete, including graduating from bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. A PhD can take between five and six years to complete, with PhD learning taking approximately two to three years. Achieving the dissertation requirement can take another two to three years. 

According to the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of a doctorate degree is around $114,300 and the average cost of a PhD is $98,800 . While this is quite expensive, having an advanced degree like a doctorate or PhD leads to higher salaries. According to Statista, those with a professional doctorate degree or PhD earn an average salary of $136,702 per year.

5. Career Options

The career options can overlap in terms of doctorate versus PhD. That said, doctorate students are usually already working in a particular profession and use their degree to achieve their future career goals like leadership roles. PhD students typically pursue an academic career that allows them to apply their academic research skills, including education leadership roles. 

Jobs That Require a Doctorate Degree 

Jobs That Require a PhD

Should You Get a Doctorate Degree or a PhD?

Yes, if a postgraduate degree aligns with your career goals you should get a doctorate degree or a PhD. If you’re interested in acquiring a leadership role in your professional field, it would be best to pursue a doctoral degree program and achieve your doctorate degree. If you are interested in a career in an academic field, it would be best to pursue a PhD program and earn your PhD degree.

PhD stands for doctor of philosophy. Philosophy means the study of existence, knowledge, and reality. A PhD will be an excellent choice if you want to study a particular subject deeply and present new findings to the world. A professional doctorate program applies to a specific career, like medical doctors, Juris doctors, and psychologists.

Both degree options offer excellent average salaries and future career goals. Since both are doctoral degrees, these doctoral degree holders can benefit in terms of career goals, advancement, and average salaries. 

Doctorate Degree Vs PhD FAQ

Universities give an honorary degree to people for their generous or altruistic actions that benefit a community, nation, or humanity. Honorary degrees are awarded to recognize a lifetime accomplishment. Those awarded honorary degrees do not attend an academic institution to earn this degree. Universities all have different criteria for these awards.

Yes, you can avoid unemployment with a doctoral degree or PhD. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it pays to be educated. People with a doctoral degree or professional degree have the highest chance of avoiding unemployment and earning higher salaries .

Yes, you can get a job without a doctoral degree or PhD. If you have business knowledge or you’re tech-savvy, you can get a job without a degree . You can also get high-paying jobs with a technical certificate or an undergraduate degree like an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree.

No, bootcamps do not offer doctoral degrees or PhD’s. Bootcamps offer intensive technical training that have the potential to land you the best tech jobs in the shortest amount of time.

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doctoral vs phd

Doctorate vs. Ph.D. | What are the main differences?

By Emilya Galstyan

Luckily, a portion of the world population has a forever appetite for studies and new knowledge. Those people with higher academic potential drive progress to our daily lives through numerous researches and innovations. 

There are genius people who do not need specific academic education and environment to make a breakthrough. However, the usual path for reaching high authority and expertise in a field lies in completing quality education steps. 

As mentioned in our previous article on differences between undergraduate and graduate studies, a Master's degree assumes a person has advanced skills in his profession. A Master's degree allows students to enter higher positions in the employment market and be eligible for better career opportunities. 

However, perfection has no limits. Here comes the next level of graduate education for those who want to be more than good professionals. A Doctorate is the highest level of an academic degree one can get in their field. This stage is designed for students to continue their academic careers and develop their unique concepts and innovations. 

The way one could upgrade their academic degree to the highest differs from country to country. Due to the educational system reforms, historical approaches, and other factors, doctorate structures vary in different parts of the world. 

There are variations in general structure, admission requirements, study duration, etc. Therefore, consider exploring all the possible opportunities before deciding on your Ph.D. program, as the approach is not the same everywhere. 

Every country and university have their specifications and are subject to personal, thorough research before applying. This article discusses the notable differences between Russia & CIS countries, Europe, and the US to give you a base for further navigation. 

You are going to read:

1. What is a doctorate?

2. Doctorate structure in Russia and CIS countries. 

3. Doctorate structure in European countries and the US. 

What is a doctorate?

A doctorate is the highest academic degree one can have in any sphere. It is informally subdivided into Ph.D. ( Doctor of Philosophy) and applied doctorates. Those two are of the same academic status and importance, with minor differences in the nature of studies and further career applications.

What is a Ph.D. ?

Ph.D. stands for Doctor of Philosophy. You may also meet this term under the title Research Doctor's degree or Research Doctorate, which describes the degree's idea. 

Ph.D. is an academic degree focused on original research and data analysis. Its main purpose is to create new knowledge through independent study. To complete a Ph.D., one should present and defend a dissertation on a new and unstudied topic before in the specific field. 

During the Ph.D. studies, students follow the following chain of actions:

Carefully analyze the already existing researches in the field

Identify the existing knowledge gaps to choose a topic for personal research

Conduct an original research

Prepare a dissertation (usually 70,000-100,000 words)

Present and defend it to an academic audience and topic stakeholders

Usually, people with PhDs continue their careers in the research or education sphere. Some universities even have a Ph.D. as the main employment requirement. 

Applied Doctorate Degrees

Besides Ph.D., mostly focusing on research and enrichment of knowledge, there are opportunities to hold a doctorate in almost all areas. The title Applied indicates those doctorate degrees are usually for certain professions and are purposed for more practical applications of the existing research. 

Other than Ph.D., the main types of doctorate degrees include Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), Doctor of Education (EdD), Doctor of Architecture (DArch), Doctor of Medicine (DM), Juris Doctor (JD), etc. 

Doctorate students complete the following chain of actions:

1. Evaluate the effectiveness of existing practices in the field

2. Choose the topic of focus among the identified problems in the working processes

3. Formulate the implementation plan of either current theories or a new one to solve real existing problems in the field

4. Make a dissertation ( 70,000- 100,000 words)

5. Organize and present the implementation test results to an academic audience and problem stakeholders

Applied Doctorate Degrees usually lead to a professional career upgrade, as students become more specialized in their working practices. For some high corporate positions, it can even be required to take a Doctorate.  

You may be interested in Distance learning PHD programs. 

Differences in Doctorate structure among countries

Each doctorate procedure may have its specifications based on the country and specific university, as mentioned above. Usually, Doctorate is considered the last and highest academic degree after the Master's, and one can apply to it with the completion certificate of the Master's degree. 

More specifically, the below sections present the Doctorate structure and procedures in different locations. 

Doctorate in Russia and CIS countries

In the mentioned group of countries, there are two academic grades pursued after the Master's degree: the Candidate of Sciences and Doctor of Sciences. This division of doctorate structure is inherited from the former Soviet Union approach. It's worth noting that unlike other European countries, Germany has the same doctorate structure. 

In the Western Scientific Hierarchy, a candidate of science is viewed as equivalent to Ph.D. According to the International Standard Classification of Education, the Candidate of Sciences belongs to level-8- "doctoral or equivalent."

However, Candidate and Doctor statuses are divided with a certain level of importance and opportunities they give. 

Candidate of Sciences is viewed as similar to Ph.D., DPhill, LLD, etc. Usually, the career perspective of Candidates of Science is the Associate Professor. Doctor of Science is gained after the Candidate of Science and is viewed as a more valuable degree, similar to Doctor of Natural Sciences (DSc), Doctor of Humanities (DLitt), etc. The Doctor's degree allows for becoming a full professor. 

Students are allowed to apply for a Doctorate strictly after completing the Master's level of education in those countries. Usually, it takes two years for each degree to complete.

Explore Ph.D. program opportunities in Russia. 

Doctorate in Europe and US

The above mentioned two-grounded system for Doctorate is hosted outside the EU countries and the US. There is one full doctorate study program for these countries that provides the student with the highest academic achievement. 

However, within this unanimous conceptual approach, Europe and the US have differences in doctorate study procedures, which might also be useful to consider.

Europe is the continent of origin for the modern doctoral degree. Doctorate studies in Europe are designed with a wide diversity of qualification and credit systems, due to which the absolute majority of European Doctorate degrees are internationally recognized and accepted. Many European universities provide additional training and development opportunities included in the doctorate study program.

Explore the Ph.D. studies opportunities in Europe . 

The US is considered another destination for taking a doctorate due to the internationally famous universities and an abundance of further career opportunities. A notable difference between doctorate studies in the US and Europe is that US students are usually required to teach as a part of their studies. Also, US students typically have more supervision from their advisor professors. 

Explore Ph.D. opportunities in the USA.  The below comparison chart highlights the Doctorate study main differences in Europe and the US. 

PhD vs. Doctorare

Knowing the below mentioned differences in academic programs will help you to make wiser decision on where you want to upgrade your degree. You may reach the same result (highest degree) with a shorter path: less years of studies, easier admission, etc.

Use the above links to navigate among the abundance of choices for your highest degree studies.

Published on Dec 29, 2020

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Professional Doctorate vs PhD: What's the Difference?

Earning a doctoral-level degree is a major accomplishment. Students who commit to earning these degrees go through a rigorous and difficult academic process. Thanks to years of advanced study and practice and the many academic and professional experiences that each doctoral candidate faces, holders of doctoral degrees gain respect and positions at the top of their field.

When earning a doctorate degree, there are two main options: a professional doctorate and a Doctor of Philosophy degree (PhD). While these are both advanced degree programs that are found at many different universities, there are many differences to be aware of before choosing which degree you want to pursue. 

Why Should I Earn a Doctorate?

There are many reasons that individuals ultimately decide to pursue a doctoral degree. These degrees, such as a PhD or professional doctorate, are terminal degrees. This means that when you earn it, you have reached the highest formal degree in your field. This looks great on a resume and can widen your career options as well as earn you a higher salary than people with only a master’s degree. While both a PhD and a professional doctorate have these benefits, it’s important to know the differences between the two.

What Is a Professional Doctorate?

A professional doctorate degree program often leads to a professional career, as these programs focus on helping individuals study within their current field in order to apply knowledge directly to their specific career. Individuals can earn professional doctorates in business administration , education, nursing practice or public health. Professional doctorate holders typically qualify for specific leadership roles that require this level of degree.

The major focus of work during a professional doctorate program includes: 

What Is a PhD?

A PhD, or a Doctor of Philosophy degree, was traditionally considered the degree that prepares you to teach in the field of study of your choice. However, many people who earn a PhD go on to work in practice fields and use their foundational knowledge from this degree and apply it to the needs of their current profession. Like a professional doctorate, you can get a PhD in many different topics, including psychology , engineering, physical sciences, humanities, health or the arts.

The major emphases in a PhD program include: 

Similarities Between a Professional Doctorate and a PhD

During both a professional doctorate program and a PhD, students will find themselves in a long commitment that will ultimately bring them the highest level of academic achievement. As mentioned, both terminal degrees will earn individuals respect in their field as well as a high-level position and salary.

Additionally, both programs require that students complete a dissertation, which is original research that expands and contributes to the body of work already available in the field of study. While some schools offer hybrid learning options for doctoral students, both a PhD and a professional doctorate program typically end after the dissertation process is completed. 

Differences Between a Professional Doctorate and a PhD

While a professional doctorate and a PhD can sound similar at first, at the core of each program they are very different programs aimed to help students learn in different ways. While a professional doctorate is focused on practical problems faced by professionals working in the field, a PhD takes a more theoretical approach to learning, looking closely at research in the field rather than practical application.

Typical Students

Because the focus of these two degrees differ, each program is designed to better suit different career goals. A PhD, for example, is geared toward teaching, leading and training learners to be experts in their field through a research-intensive program.

Those who enroll into a PhD program are typically college graduates who have a bachelor’s and master’s degree in a related field to whatever field they want to pursue. Most learners who earn PhDs go on to conduct academic research and fill prestigious roles in academia, including teaching.

A professional doctorate, however, is geared more toward practical application within a field. Those who earn a professional doctorate are typically already working professionals who want to increase their knowledge in their field to advance their career and salary to the next level and beyond. These professionals are from all areas of work, but usually aspire to become leaders within their field.


While both degrees end with learners defending a dissertation, the approach to the dissertation process in each program is extremely different. In a PhD program, the foundation of the dissertation is focused on the exploration and development of a theory that each doctoral candidate must defend. A PhD candidate analyzes their data and evaluates their hypothesis, coming up with new theories to contribute to the field.

The dissertation process for professional doctorates, on the other hand, includes identifying real-world issues within their field of study and working out a solution to these challenges faced by professionals. The candidate researches the problem and applies possible solutions to this problem while documenting their results. The end of the dissertation generally includes suggestions for how others in the field may use this information to solve problems in their own practices.

Post-Degree Career Options

While careers for a professional doctorate overlap with those for PhD graduates, the skills learned in each program will better equip graduates for certain roles over others.

PhD graduates typically pursue a career that lets them apply their academic research skills, such as: *

Because professional doctorate graduates usually are already rooted in a certain profession, they will use their degree to secure a leadership position within their field, such as: 

How to Earn a PhD or Professional Doctorate

Once you have considered your career goals and how much time you have to dedicate yourself to earning an advanced degree, you can determine whether earning a PhD or professional doctorate is the best choice for you.

Because many doctoral candidates are already working professionals, many universities offer both in-person evening classes and online programs that can work around your already busy schedule. This way, it’s possible for you to continue in your current career while also advancing in your education and pursing your career goals.

Grand Canyon University’s College of Doctoral Studies offers professional doctorate programs that encompass a variety of professional fields, from a Doctor of Business Administration in Data Analytics to a PhD in General Psychology. Click the Request Info button at the top of the page to learn more about your options at GCU.

*Retrieved from MLA Profession, Ten Jobs Where You Can Use Your PhD in May 2021

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.

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  1. What's the Difference Between a PhD and a Professional Doctoral

    A PhD is an academic degree focused on original research, data analysis, and the evaluation of theory. A professional doctorate focuses on applying research to

  2. What is the Difference Between a PhD and a Doctorate?

    The PhD, also known as the Doctor of Philosophy, is a research degree, which is one of the most common types of doctoral degrees, and is awarded

  3. What's the difference between a PhD and a doctorate?

    One of the main differences is that a PhD is typically an academic degree, while a doctorate can be either academic or professional.

  4. Differences Between a PhD and Professional Doctorate

    Unlike medical degrees (MD, DO, etc.) and law degrees (JD), which are earned by success in examinations and courses, earning a PhD or professional doctorate

  5. Applied Doctorate vs. Ph.D.: What are the Differences?

    It's often assumed that a Ph.D. is a teaching-only degree while a professional doctorate is for the corporate player. The truth is, either degree can be valued

  6. Ph.D. vs. Doctorate: What are the Differences?

    In plain English, when someone says they are enrolling on a doctoral degree, it means they are doing a Ph.D. in a specific field. So, technically, in common

  7. Doctorate vs PhD: What's the Difference?

    Is a doctorate a PhD? Often, the terms doctoral degree and doctor of philosophy, or Ph.D., are used interchangeably. This isn't 100% accurate, though

  8. Doctorate Degree vs PhD: Which Is Best for You?

    A doctorate degree is not easier than a PhD. They're different and both take hard work. It would be best to research the area of study you are

  9. Doctorate vs. Ph.D.

    A doctorate is the highest academic degree one can have in any sphere. It is informally subdivided into Ph.D. ( Doctor of Philosophy) and

  10. Difference Between Professional Doctorate vs PhD

    While a professional doctorate is focused on practical problems faced by professionals working in the field, a PhD takes a more theoretical approach to learning