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The decision to pursue a PhD in any given field is an accomplishment in itself. Already studying for a doctorate means that a person has crossed the bridge of applying for colleges or universities, rock-climbed the mountain of university level tests and exams, and hiked through forests of paper-writing, and all that not only for a bachelor’s degree but for a master’s degree as well. One may have even written a master’s thesis, which is a relatively small foretaste of what lies ahead with the doctoral dissertation.

It is after having written the master’s thesis when some students begin to think about the next step on their academic career path – the doctorate degree. However, before you even start considering it, you need to know what a doctorate is, and what your options are. There are actually several doctoral degrees, and it is possible that, just like many other people, you need some answers and clarifications to get a grip on the situation. For example, is there a significant difference between a PhD and a doctorate? What is a professional doctorate? How is it awarded, and what about an academic doctorate?

There are various titles linked to different doctoral programs, such as the research doctorate, the PhD, the Doctor of Education (or any other field), the MD, or the professional doctorate. The number of choices may depend on the country, institution, or even the chosen area of studies, such as psychology, education, or medicine.

Conducting the proper research of the types of doctoral programs is crucial if you want to arrive at the top of your field. In this article, you will find all the necessary information for graduate students (and not only them) who want to explore the world of higher education carefully. We outline the differences between various academic degree programs, supplementing it with the list of most of the doctoral degrees available online.

Types of Doctorate Degrees

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The National Center for Education Statistics, which is a part of the US Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences, divides all US doctorates into three groups in order to gather data effectively. These categories are:

  • Doctor’s degree-research/scholarship,
  • Doctor’s degree-professional practice,
  • Doctor’s degree-other.

These three groups of degrees are defined by the National Center for Education Statistics as follows:

Doctor’s degree-research/scholarship – according to the NCES website, it is a PhD or doctoral degree that includes the advanced study and work beyond the master’s level; it consists of writing a dissertation, conducting original research or the completion of an innovative project, which demonstrates significant artistic or academic achievement.

Doctor’s degree-professional practice – commonly known in the US as the doctor’s degree, it requires the fulfillment of a program that provides expertise and advanced knowledge, which allows a graduate to gain “recognition, credential, or license” in order to practice professionally. These degrees are completed by lawyers and physicians who want to practice their profession legally. For a degree program to fall under this category, both pre-professional and professional studies must equal a minimum of six full-time academic years.

Doctor’s degree – other – this group covers all the doctor’s degrees that don’t meet the requirements of the other two categories. According to Wikipedia, the categorization of degrees is left to the institutions awarding them. Examples of these degree titles would be the Doctor of Education or the Doctor of Business Administration.

So, is a doctorate the same as a PhD? Well, no.

In this article, these categories will be explored to show the most important differences between doctorates. We will focus mainly on the research/scholarship doctorate, which is often a PhD, and a doctor’s degree/professional practice, unless otherwise specified.

Similar Objectives

The goals of a research doctorate degree student are similar in many ways to those of a student pursuing a professional doctorate. Both these types of studies offer their graduates terminal degrees in their fields. Both also give advanced training and specialized knowledge within an area of study.

Research Doctorate: What is a PhD?

phd and professional doctorate program

According to the definition given above, the research doctorate (very often called a PhD) needs to include writing a dissertation on some original topic or the completion of a unique project, either an artistic or an academic one.

Therefore, along with the goals stated earlier that equally apply to both types of a doctorate (professional and PhD), the purposes of a research student would include new research and/or an artistic presentation.

The main objective of the research-oriented doctoral work would then basically define the rest of a student’s academic career. All the classes, papers, and themes of their studies chosen and done during their pursuit of the doctorate would ideally be oriented toward the culmination – the end of their original research, specifically within the final scope of themes and issues discussed and analyzed in their dissertation or another type of project.

A research doctorate program student would also concentrate more on developing new ideas throughout their research and thus broadening and pushing the boundaries of their field of study. A successful research doctorate needs to be about something innovative, even surprising; it needs to contain elements that have never been studied or analyzed in this particular way before.

How Is a Professional Doctorate Different from a PhD?

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If you look again at the definitions above, you will gather that the professional doctorate refers mainly to physicians and lawyers who require licensure in order to work professionally. Therefore, a professional doctorate student’s primary goal would be to gain not only knowledge but also hand-on proficiency in a given skill set.

The professional doctorate often does not require a dissertation. If it does, the thesis is oriented less toward any original research. It should be more of a proof of what one has learned as well as of their ability to analyze available research, not necessarily conducting their own.

Depending on an institution, a scholarly project, mini-thesis, or dissertation may sometimes be required, but most often it is not. However, one must show the ability to identify problems as well as read, use, and put other research into practice, making it relevant to the field of study in which one works.

For a physician or a lawyer to practice in their field, the professional doctorate, and the completion of the whole doctoral program are required.

Other Doctorates

doctorate vs phd degree holders

The types of doctoral programs that fall into the third category don’t necessarily provide licensure, credentials, or enough recognition, without which a person can not practice in specific fields, such as medicine or law.

However, it does not apply to all professions. Other doctorate programs may allow you to practice professionally in other areas, such as an accountant or a veterinarian. Still, it is worth knowing that this program is only one of the several ways of acquiring professional licensure.

The main goal of pursuing any kind of a doctoral program would be studying, obtaining the highest degree in your field, as well as putting yourself in the best position to conduct research or teach other students later. But if you do not see yourself as a researcher or a teacher, it may not be the best idea to try obtaining licensure this way.

Admission Requirements

doctoral candidate conducting research

Applying for a doctoral program admission can be an extensive, demanding process. What is more, being admitted is not always a given. On the contrary – many doctoral programs accept only a few of the absolute best students each year, as they can provide only a certain number of scholarships. Quality over quantity at all times – all institutions want to put their money and other resources to only the most ambitious, talented, determined, and promising individuals.

If you’re thinking about entering any doctoral program, here are some of the most frequently appearing admission steps that you will probably need to take:

Admission Tests

GRE – In the past, it was obligatory to complete the GRE test even to enter a doctoral program in the first place. However, nowadays, more and more schools are starting to appreciate the undergraduate GPA of a student more, along with their other merits preferred in a given area of study or experience in the field. Most institutions still require the GRE score if you want to pursue a research doctorate, such as a PhD, but it is now required within five years from the submission of your application.

TOEFL – the Test of English as a Foreign language – this or any similar test is usually required if you are applying for a doctoral program in an English-speaking country, but English is not your first language.

MCAT – The Medical College Admissions Test – it is normally demanded when applying for a medical school. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, “nearly all medical schools in the United States and several in Canada require MCAT scores, and many health profession schools and graduate programs now accept MCAT scores in place of other standardized tests.”

LSAT – According to Concord Law School, “historically, your LSAT score, along with your UGPA, would be far and away, the most important factor that most law schools consider. However, some law schools are starting to consider alternatives to the LSATs.” The LSAT is usually a pre-requisite for acquiring a professional doctoral degree in law.

GMAT – The Graduate Admissions Test is usually required for doctorate degrees in Management or Business, such as the Doctor of Business Administration. According to findaphd.com, universities often won’t demand a particular score on the GMAT in their admissions requirements but instead publish the average GMAT score. The GMAT is usually associated with the third category of doctorates.

Letters of Recommendation and Resume

Most universities will typically require applicants (no matter the type of doctoral degree they apply for) to submit a resume and letters of recommendation. This part should always be taken extremely seriously, especially the letters, which are highly important for those considering your candidature.

According to Berkeley’s career center, it is not unusual for an applicant’s letters of recommendation to be the deciding factor in determining their admission. Recommendations should usually be written by supervisors or university professors one has worked with and should address the applicant’s suitability for a graduate program. It is essential for them to be closely related to your chosen field of study.

Then, there is a question of a resume that is also required along with the letters of recommendation. A good resume will summarize your education, skills, experience, and achievements – the more, the better, but the resume itself should be clear and concise. It is also best when all your experience is somehow related to the theme of a doctorate program you’re applying for.

When it comes to preparing a resume for different programs, the one for a professional degree should emphasize your hands-on skills and experience in the field. In contrast, a resume submitted for a PhD program admission would probably focus more on your academic achievements.

Statement of Purpose

Some universities may require you also to submit something called a statement of purpose. In this case, an emphasis should be placed differently, depending on whether you are applying for a professional degree program or a research doctorate.

A statement of purpose is a succinct description of why you are applying for a program. A well-written piece should include your future plans, background, and interests – it is a given that they should be closely or at least loosely linked to your area of study. Ideally, the whole statement, your points, and arguments should be oriented around research and innovative thoughts for a PhD application and more practical experience, skills, and the ability to work with research data for a professional doctorate candidate.

Style of Studies

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Research Doctorate

People who apply for a research doctoral degree program are usually more theoretical than practical. Their interests lie in creating new lines of inquiry and thought into existing materials and research. They must know their field of study inside and out, be familiar with data, and capable of working with it.

However, a vital part of the work of every student pursuing a research degree is going beyond current research and available information into unique and exploratory paths. Most of these students are curious by nature; they are not afraid to experiment, doubt, and explore. They acquire new knowledge very quickly but are also capable of looking at everything critically.

Students in various PhD or doctoral research programs are very often younger and have an exclusively academic background.

Professional Doctorate

Students in any professional doctoral degree program, such as an MD, EdD, or DBA, often show exceptional leadership qualities and unusual determination. They need to like working in the professional field, and usually, they need to do it with other people, both colleagues and patients or clients. They are more skill-oriented and practical than students who decide to pursue a doctoral research program. Professional doctors are required to be great at decision making and solving problems, very often in short periods of time.

If you want to apply for a professional doctorate, you need to possess a broad knowledge of your field, be able to compile, analyze and work with data and continue improving, always aiming for better understanding and application.

Professional doctorate students are generally older than those pursuing a research degree, as it is not unusual for them to be working adults with considerable experience in their field.

Degree Outcomes

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When discussing possible degree outcomes in the academic world, you probably expect to hear mostly about financial benefits. However, financial results don’t always correctly reflect how valuable a doctorate can be, as not all results and advantages are calculable.

If you keep reading, you will learn some more about possible outcomes of pursuing either a professional doctorate or a research one. You will see that they are not only monetary.

Research Doctorate (Such as a PhD)

When it comes to PhD holders, they gain a broad set of invaluable resources during their studies. These include skills in both independent and group research, analytical thinking, interpretive thought in research, and the very much-needed ability to keep broadening the field, doubting, digging, questioning, and looking for information.

People with PhDs usually work in university environments. They continue with their research, work as consultants, experts in their field, or teach the next generations of students.

Professional Doctorate

Professional doctorate holders are usually more successful financially. Needless to say, professional skills are highly valued in today’s society, and it has certainly always been that way – it doesn’t look as it’s going to change anytime soon. There’s a constant need for problem solvers, whether in medicine, law, or another field. 

Practitioners with an academic background often contribute to helpful discoveries and develop new solutions by quickly putting their ideas into practice, communicating with others in their area of work, and outside of it. They usually work in more professional realms – offices, companies, institutions, and organizations, though it is not uncommon for a professional doctorate holder to pursue an academic career, too.

Online Availability of Doctoral Programs

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Various types of doctorates are available online for students these days, though, logically, not all of them. For example, the nature of some professional doctorates, such as an MD, requires a pursuer to complete a lot of practical classes, as well as gain a considerable amount of field experience, which is rarely doable online. 

However, many schools work on other solutions to make things easier for their students. Some are developing online doctorate degrees that require more frequent visits to a campus or a residency completed outside of it. Other degrees, which are less oriented on practice, such as the Doctor of Business Administration, Education, and so on, can be efficiently completed 100% online. It may be a particularly attractive option for those who want to avoid relocating or quitting their job.

PhDs or Research Degrees Offered Online:

  • Doctor of Philosophy in Biblical Studies
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Business Management
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Classical Civilization
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Communication
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Criminal Justice
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Curriculum and Instruction
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Education
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Psychology
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Engineering
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Family and Consumer Science Education
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Health Leadership
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Healthcare Genetics
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Higher Education Administration
  • Doctor of Philosophy in History
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Human Resource Management
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Latin and Roman Studies
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Leadership
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Marriage and Family Studies
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Parks, Recreation and Tourism
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Plant Breeding
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Public Policy
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Strategic Media
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Technology Management
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Theology and Apologetics

Other Doctorates Offered Online:

  • Doctor of Business Administration
  • Doctor of Clinical Laboratory Science
  • Doctor of Education
  • Doctor of Educational Administration
  • Doctor of Education in Human Resources
  • Doctor of Education in Teachers, Schools and Society
  • Doctor of Educational Technology
  • Doctor of Health Sciences
  • Doctor of Interdisciplinary Studies
  • Doctor of Ministry
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice
  • Doctor of Occupational Therapy
  • Doctor of Physical Therapy
  • Doctor of Public Administration
  • Doctor of Social Work
  • Doctor of Strategic Leadership
  • Doctor of Technology Management
  • Doctor of Worship Studies