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Doctoral Degree (Doctorate)

Last updated 4th Oct 2022


The term doctoral degree is used to describe an award given to students completing a combination of graduate level study, achieving a minimum grade point average and contributing to a body of knowledge through a dissertation. A doctoral degree is the highest of the graduate level academic degrees, and typically requires four years of full time study.


Also known as a doctorate degree, students wishing to receive a doctoral degree must first receive their bachelor's degree. If the student has a master's degree, some course credits may be applied towards the doctorate, but holding a master's degree is not required before being admitted to a program.

Doctoral degrees can be separated into two classifications. Students that wish to become researchers will enroll in a Ph.D., or Doctor of Philosophy program. Students that desire to become skilled practitioners will enroll in a program specific to that skill, for example:

  • Skilled Practitioner Programs: includes D.A., Doctor of Arts; D.M.D., Doctor of Dental Medicine; D.D.S., Doctor of Dental Surgery; Ed.D., Doctor of Education; M.D., Doctor of Medicine; O.D., Doctor of Optometry; D.O., Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine; Pharm.D., Doctor of Pharmacy; Psy.D., Doctor of Psychology; D.V.M., Doctor of Veterinary Medicine; D.S.W., Doctor of Social Work; and J.D., Juris Doctor.

The vast majority of students enrolled in Ph.D. programs will eventually teach in university and college settings or become a professional researcher. The exact number of graduate level courses may vary by program; however, the requirements generally include:

  • A minimum of 120 graduate-level course credits.
  • Research or study conducted while on the university's campus; referred to as a residency program or requirement.
  • A dissertation demonstrating the ability to add to the area's body of knowledge and present those materials to university experts.
  • An oral examination, conducted by experts both within and external to the student's major department or program area.

As is the case with master's programs, a doctorate program must be completed within a certain time frame, typically within seven years after being admitted. Students may also be required to maintain a minimum grade point average (GPA). When received, a doctoral degree is normally combined with the student's major. For example, a student can receive a Doctor of Philosophy in Anthropology.

Related Terms

associate degree, bachelor's degree, master's degree, Latin honors, dissertation, ACT, SAT

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