What is a doctoral degree? (Entry requirements and benefits)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 22 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A doctoral degree can help advance your career in more ways than one. Doctoral degrees are available in a wide range of fields and can help you master a specific field or conduct research to contribute to it. It's helpful to know the two most common doctoral degree types, applied doctoral degrees and research-based doctoral programmes, to guide your academic journey. In this article, we answer the question, 'What is a doctoral degree?', and explore the different doctoral degrees available, along with the benefits and entry requirements of these programmes.

What is a doctoral degree?

A doctoral degree is the highest academic degree programme a person can earn in their respective field. These degree programmes can either focus on coursework and practical training, such as a Doctor of Medicine, or on research, such as a Doctor of Philosophy in Business. Although some doctoral degrees require a master's degree, there are many programmes you can enter after completing your bachelor's degree.

Some students opt to further their studies via a doctoral degree to enter a specific field. These include dentistry, psychiatry and medicine. Besides this, many pursue doctoral programmes to allow them to advance in their careers. People who achieve doctoral degrees become authorities in that specific field, which can lead to an increase in job opportunities and a higher income as well.

Related: PhD vs doctorate: differences and types of doctorate degrees

Types of doctoral degrees

A doctoral degree is the highest formal accreditation you can earn in any specific field. Although academic programmes may vary from university to university, there are two main types of doctoral degrees. This includes research-based academic programmes, such as a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and applied doctoral degrees that specialise and prepare students for a particular career. Here are some of the most common types of doctoral degrees:

Applied doctoral degrees

An applied doctoral degree is a specialised academic programme that expands on your knowledge of a specific field. These academic programmes help prepare you for a certain role and allow you to specialise along a career path. These programmes require you to have completed an undergraduate programme as it contains all the graduate coursework you require. Some of the most commonly applied doctoral degree programmes include:

  • Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)

  • Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.)

  • Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.M.D.)

  • Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.)

  • Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.)

  • Doctor of Optometry (O.D.)

  • Doctor of Jurisprudence (J.D.)

  • Doctor of Social Work (D.S.W.)

  • Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.)

  • Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.)

Related: What are applied sciences? (Definition and degree types)

Research-based doctoral degrees

Research-based doctoral degrees differ from applied degrees, as they're primarily research-based. These programmes are ideal for students who wish to conduct research and make contributions to their specific field. Doctoral studies can further their knowledge in a variety of areas, such as medicine and technology. In most cases, you require a relevant master's degree to apply for a doctoral programme. One of the most well known doctoral degrees is a Doctor of Philosophy, which is commonly referred to as a PhD programme. This programme encompasses all research-based academic doctorate programmes. Research-based doctoral programmes are available in a wide range of fields, including:

  • arts and culture

  • mathematics and statistics

  • engineering and the environment

  • English and literature

  • music

  • nursing science

  • psychology

  • chemistry and physical science

  • computer science

  • business and economics

Benefits of a doctoral degree

Graduates that leave academics with a doctoral degree often find themselves in high demand. While applied programmes may lead directly into highly skilled careers such as medicine and psychiatry, research-based doctoral graduates experience a variety of benefits as well. Here are some benefits of obtaining a doctorate degree:

Advances your career

As a doctoral graduate, you become an authority in your specific field. This helps set your resume apart and can allow you to grow in your career. Doctoral graduates often advance in their respective careers to lead companies, organisations and even government agencies.

Related: Types of degrees and how they can influence your career

Develops your skills to set you apart

These academic programmes help expand your skill set and develop your problem-solving skills. This primes you with the knowledge and experience to set yourself apart and advance towards leadership positions within your career. Although applied programmes develop many role-specific skills, research-based courses equip you with skills such as organisation and time management that can translate across a variety of different industries.

Increases your job opportunities

Having a doctorate degree can lead to an increase in career opportunities in both academic and non-academic industries. Many corporations and large businesses actively seek out doctoral candidates and graduates in their pursuit of attracting top talent. Many organisations even incentivise their employees to continue their education as they recognise the benefits it can have on the company in the long run.

Related: What to do after a PhD (plus answers to other FAQs)

Offers you a chance to make a significant contribution to your chosen field

Research-based graduate programmes allow you to do independent research within your selected field. This allows you the opportunity to contribute significantly to an area you're passionate about. Besides boosting your resume, this can also build credibility for you within your industry and expand your career opportunities in the future.

Requirements for a doctoral degree

The entry requirements can vary depending on both the programme and university. Some universities make applying easier and even offer discounts if you've completed your undergraduate or master's degree with them as well. Besides an application, some universities interview candidates and require a scope for what you wish to research in your specific field. To complete your academic programme and achieve your doctorate, most programmes require around 60 hours of coursework.

Research-based programmes often require more, as they focus heavily on academia compared to the more practical approach of applied degrees. Research-based programmes end with a unique dissertation, while applied programmes often lead to internships, placements, apprenticeships or residencies to complete the degree.

Related: Higher education qualifications and their key benefits

Tips for deciding on a doctoral degree programme

There's a wide range of doctoral degrees offered by universities around the world. Because of the range and specialisations of many of these programmes, it can be a challenge to decide on the right one for you. To help you make the right decision, here are some tips for choosing the right doctoral degree programme for you:

Consider your career goals

When deciding on any educational programme, it's beneficial to consider the career ambitions you have for the future. This can help you decide on what kind of doctoral programme would be right for you plus what field to specialise in. For example, if you wish to advance in the business world as an analyst, you can consider a research-based doctoral programme that specialises in data analytics and economics.

Related: How to Set and Discuss Long-Term Career Goals (With Examples)

Follow your passions and talents

Your individual passions can help lead you to the right academic programme. Although your career ambitions are important, aligning this with your specific talents and passions can help guide you to make the right academic decisions. If you enjoy coursework over research, this suggests you may be better off with an applied doctoral degree instead of one that is research-based.

Do thorough research on all your options

Some doctoral programmes may cover a wide range of topics, while others can be incredibly specific. When deciding on the right programme for you, be sure to research all the differences and specialisations that each course offers you. When conducting your research, you may find that universities use the same titles for their programmes, but they actually differ academically. Understanding all the small details can help you make a well-informed decision.

Related: How long does a PhD take? Including additional FAQs

Compare the financial costs of each programme

A doctoral programme comes with a significant financial cost. The overall tuition costs can vary from university to university and from programme to programme. You may also have increased costs with degree programmes from universities that are further away from where you live or even in another part of the country. When looking at the finances of your desired programme, consider exploring scholarship opportunities that may be available.

Sometimes, companies incentivise their staff to further their education and earn doctorate degrees. Besides this, it's beneficial to approach non-profits, charitable foundations, government departments and even the financial aid offices at various universities.

Meet with an academic advisor

Academic advisors are a great source of information and help whenever your degree programme feels challenging. These academic professionals are there to help you navigate these tough decisions by explaining the university's various offerings and answering questions you may have. If you're still on the fence about a particular programme, schedule a meeting with an academic advisor to help you make the right choice for you.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. This article is based on information available at the time of writing, which may change at any time. Indeed does not guarantee that this information is always up-to-date. Please seek out a local resource for the latest on this topic.

Related articles

What is further education? (With benefits and starting tips)

Explore more articles