The most advanced degree bestowed upon students in the United States is known as a Doctorate degree. There is often a great deal of confusion surrounding the terms PhD and Doctorate as the two are often used as interchangeable words even though they have different meanings. The term Doctorate refers to the group of degrees that make up the highest level of academic achievement in the U.S. On the other hand, PhD is a type of Doctorate known as the Doctor of Philosophy. The PhD degree is the most commonly awarded type of Doctorate degree in the United States.
The PhD degree, or Doctor of Philosophy, is awarded to students who complete a research doctorate program. Doctorate programs are divided between research and professional doctorate degrees. While technically labeled the Doctor of Philosophy, a PhD is awarded to any student who completes relevant coursework in any research doctorate program. The Doctorate degree awarded to those who complete a professional Doctorate program is not considered a PhD but is equivalent to it as far as recognition and meaning is concerned.
American students can pursue a PhD degree at one of 282 different universities across the U.S. The requirements for admission to the different universities can vary depending upon the institution and the programs offered within the school. An online phd can also be obtained for students who are currently working full time, have personal responsibilities, or for those who prefer flexibility and time. Some of the general requirements for admission to a PhD program include:
- Bachelor’s Degree in required field of study
- High grades
- Numerous letters of recommendation
- Academic studies related to field of study
- Statement of interest in the program
- Satisfactory results on entrance exams (for example the GMAT for business Doctorate programs)
The specific entrance requirements will differ from school to school. Some areas of study will require students to have a Master’s degree in their field of study before applying for a Doctorate program; others will not have that same requirement.
Individuals pursuing a PhD degree will undergo anywhere from four to eight extra years of study after completion of a Bachelor's degree program. Most PhD programs offered in the U.S. put students through three phases on the way to achieving a PhD. During the first phase students complete coursework in their relevant field of study over the course of one to three years. Upon completion of the coursework students will be expected to pass a comprehensive exam (or in some cases several cumulative exams) designed to test the individual's variety of knowledge in the field of study with little focus on depth of knowledge. The final step for many PhD students will be to complete a dissertation paper.
A written dissertation can take a student anywhere from two to four years and can range from 50 to 450 pages in length depending upon the discipline the individual is studying. Dissertation papers generally consist of three parts which include:
- Comprehensive literature review
- Outline of methodology
- Analysis of the impact of studies in scientific, social, and/or historical circles
Generally, when a PhD student is finished with their dissertation paper they will face an oral examination from a committee of individuals with expertise in the field of study. Depending upon the field of study, students may be required to complete other assignments in order to attain a PhD degree. These can include clinical internships or teaching undergraduate classes in their field of study.
PhD degree programs can be very time consuming and many institutions will discourage their doctoral students from having an outside job that will distract them from their studies and take away free time. Tuition for PhD programs is often waived for many students; in return they receive a small stipend each month for subsistence and pay for their education by working as teaching or research assistants in their field of study.
Individuals considering a PhD program should carefully consider whether or not they actually need to attain such a high level of education. While a PhD degree can lead to more money, more career options, prestige, and a more affordable education than a Master's program; not every career field requires an individual to hold a PhD in order to reach the highest levels of the career field. It is estimated that only 57% of individuals who begin a PhD program will finish within 10 years while 30% will dropout or be dismissed with the remaining 13% taking more than 10 years to complete their PhD degree.