Arriving at the point of pursuing an online PhD in any given field is an accomplishment in itself. Studying for a doctorate means that one has crossed the bridge of applying for colleges or universities, rock-climbed mountains of testing and hiked through forests of paper-writing, not only for a bachelor’s degree but also a master’s degree. One may have even written a master’s thesis, which is a relatively small taste of what lies ahead in the doctoral dissertation.

At this point and before, some students are thinking of the next step in order to accomplish that ultimate marathon – the doctoral degree. People applying for a doctorate degree need to know just what a doctorate is. Some important questions and clarificationas need to be answered and applied to the applicant’s understanding of nature of doctoral degrees. For example: Is there an important distinction to be made when thinking of a doctorate vs. PhD? What is a professional doctorate? How is an academic doctorate awarded vs. a professional doctorate? 

Various titles are given to doctoral programs such as the research doctorate, the Ph.D. and the professional doctorate, the doctor of Education and the MD among others. In a given field such as Psychology or Education, more choices in the doctoral world present themselves. Researching types of doctoral programs is an important step for arriving at the terminal location of being at the top in one’s field. This article looks to assist graduate students and others by carefully exploring and outlining the differences between various doctoral degree programs as well as listing most of the doctoral degrees available.

The National Center for Education Statistics, which is “located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences,” places United States doctorates into three sets in order to effectively gather data. These categories are: Doctor’s degree-research/scholarship, Doctor’s degree-professional practice and 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, is a Ph.D. or doctoral degree that includes advanced study and work beyond the master’s level, includes a dissertation on original research or the completion of an original project which demonstrates significant artistic or academic achievement.
  • Doctor’s degree-professional practice, commonly known in the U.S. as a doctor’s degree, requires the fulfillment of a program that provides expertise and advanced knowledge which qualifies a graduate to gain “recognition, credential, or license” in order to practice professionally. These degrees are completed by lawyers and physicians in order to practice their profession. In order 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 covers all 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 the degrees. Examples of this degree program would be the Doctor of Education or the Doctor of Business Administration

So, “Is a doctorate the same as a PhD”? In this article, some further categories will be explored that show other differences between doctorates. These differences will be shown mainly between the research/scholarship doctorate, which is often a Ph.D., and a doctor’s degree-professional practice unless otherwise specified.


The goals of a research doctoral degree student are similar in many ways to those of a student of the professional doctoral degree. Both types of doctoral degrees offer students a terminal degree in their field. They both give advanced training and specialized knowledge within a field of study.  Here are some of the differences:

Research Doctorate: What is a PhD?

According to the definition given above, the research doctorate (very often a PhD) necessarily includes the writing of a dissertation on some original topic or the completion of an original project, either artistically or academically. Therefore along with the goals stated above which equally apply to both types of doctorate (professional doctorate vs. PhD), the goals of a research student would include the exciting end of new research and/or an artistic presentation. This main objective of the research-oriented doctoral student would then color and influence the rest of his or her academic career. Classes, papers and themes of his or her study throughout the doctorate would ideally be oriented toward the culmination of original research and specifically within the final project of a dissertation/project. A student in a research doctorate or PhD program would also be concentrating more on the development of new research within the context of given research and thus broadening and pushing the boundaries of their field of study.  

Professional Doctorate: Professional Doctorate vs. PhD

Looking again at the definition above, the professional doctorate applies mainly to physicians and lawyers who require licensing in order to practice a skill. The goals of this kind of student would be to gain not only knowledge but hands-on proficiency in a given skill set. The professional doctorate often does not require a dissertation. If it does, the dissertation is oriented less toward original research as it is a proof of what one has learned as well as the ability to analyze research. A scholarly project, mini-thesis or dissertation may be required but often is not. One must, however, show the ability to identify problems as well as analyze and apply research, making it relevant to the field of study in which one works. The professional doctorate, as it applies to medicine or law requires the completion of the doctoral program in order to practice as a physician or lawyer.

Other Doctorates

The types of doctoral programs that fall into the third category don’t necessarily provide licensure, credential or recognition, without which one could not practice in one’s profession such as an M.D. or Law Degree. The objective of these degrees could possibly be to practice professionally as in the case of an Accountant or Veterinarian. However, the licensure or recognition can be acquired separately from the doctoral degree program.  The goal of pursuing such a degree would also include having the highest degree in one’s field as well as putting one in the best position to pursue research or to teach.

Admission Requirements:

Matriculating into a Doctoral program can be an extensive process and being admitted isn’t always a given. Some doctoral programs accept only a few students each year and give only a certain amount of scholarships. Here are some admission steps to consider for different doctoral programs.

Admissions Tests

GRE – Completing the GRE test in order to enter a doctoral program used to be a given. However, some schools are beginning to look more at the undergraduate GPA of a student as well as their particular merits or experience in a given field. When applying for a research doctorate such as a PhD, most schools will still require a GRE score from within 5 years of the application submission. 

TOEFL – The Test of English as a Foreign Language or a similar test is often required when applying for any doctoral program for those whose first language is not English. 

MCAT – The Medical College Admissions Test is usually required when applying for 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 lieu 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 would consider. However, some law schools are starting to consider alternatives to the LSAT.” The LSAT is usually a pre-requisite for acquiring a professional doctoral degree in law.

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

Letters of Recommendation and Resume

Usually a university will require any type of doctoral applicants to submit a resume along with letters of recommendation. These letters of recommendation are extremely important. According to Berkeley’s career center, an applicant’s letters of recommendation could 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.

A resume is usually also required for a doctoral application of any kind. A good resume summarizes one’s education, skills, experience and achievements. They should be clear and concise. A resume submitted for a professional degree could emphasize one’s hands-on skill and experience whereas a resume for a Ph.D. would probably look more academic.

Statement of Purpose – If the doctoral program one is applying for requires a statement of purpose, a different emphasis should be placed on a statement for a professional degree program vs. a research doctorate. A statement of purpose is a succinct description of why one is applying to a program. Points such as future plans, background and interests should be oriented around research and innovative thought for a Ph.D. application vs. more practical experience, skills as well as analyzing research for a professional doctorate.

Style of Student:

Research Doctorate

Candidates for research doctoral degree programs are people who are more theoretical than practical. Their interests lie in creating new lines of inquiry and thought into existing material and research. They must know data and be familiar with their field. However, they must also go beyond current research into unique and exploratory avenues. Most students pursuing research degrees are experimental and curious by nature as well as good at remembering what they have learned. Students in Ph.D. programs or research doctoral programs are often younger and have often had exclusively academic training.

Professional Doctorate

Students in a professional doctoral degree program such as an M.D., Ed.D. or D.B.A. often have leadership qualities. They are people who like working in the professional field, often with other people. Students in these degree programs are usually skill-oriented and also practical. Since professional doctors are required to be practical they are also problem solvers. Professional doctoral candidates are required to have a wide basis of knowledge in their field in order to compile and analyze data toward better understanding and application. Professional doctoral students are often working adults with experience in their field.

Degree Outcomes:

When discussing degree outcomes in the academic world, one usually thinks of monetary outcomes. However, monetary outcomes don’t always reflect how valuable a doctoral degree can be. Below are some outcomes in both types of doctoral programs that are not only monetary.

Research Doctorate (Often PhD)

Ph.D. holders of any kind have gleaned invaluable resources. These include skills in independent and group research, analytical skills, interpretive thought in research, and the necessary ability to broaden the research in their field. Their field of work will usually be in the university setting through research, consulting or teaching.

Professional Doctorate vs. PhD

Most professional doctoral degree holders are more successful monetarily. There are various reasons for that which would take a doctorate to unravel. Needless to say, professional skills are highly valued in today’s society and have certainly always been necessary and important. The skill set of professional doctors includes problem solving, communicating their research discoveries to others in the field and often outside of their field in medical practice or as a consulting lawyer or business man. Their field of work will usually be in a professional realm, an office, business or organization though work in a school or university may also be an option for the professional doctor.

Online Availability of Doctoral Programs

Various types of doctorates are available for online students as well as traditional doctoral students. The nature of some professional doctorates such as an MD require enough practical application that they become more difficult to offer online though schools are moving more and more toward offering professional doctoral degrees online. Some of the more practical online doctoral degree programs may require more frequent visits to campus or a residency. However, many doctoral degrees such as the Doctor of Business Administration, Doctor of Education and many different types of Phds are able to be completed completely online. This gives more potential students the opportunity to complete a terminal degree without the expense of relocating or quitting a good job.

Ph.D.s 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