What is a Doctorate Degree? 2023 Costs, Admission Requirements & Salary Expectations

What is a Doctorate Degree? 2023 Costs, Admission Requirements & Salary Expectations
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

Moving up the ranks is often a career goal for professionals. However, this goal usually requires upskilling, collecting years of experience in a position, and continuing education through different types of academic degrees. Pursuing a doctorate degree is one way of increasing your knowledge to advance in your career.

For example, the health and allied medicine sectors saw the most doctorate degrees between 2018 and 2019, with around 83,000 graduates. This is due to the increasing demand for specializations and administrators in the field. Other industries are experiencing the same changes as well, resulting in the need for more people with postgraduate degrees.

This guide will help explain what a doctorate degree is and whether getting a doctorate degree is the right career move for you. It includes the typical costs of degree programs, potential salary in selected fields, and the types of doctorate degrees that you can take. With this information, you will hopefully have all the data you need to make an informed decision.

What is Doctorate Degree Table of Contents

  1. What is a Doctorate Degree?
  2. Types of Doctorate Degrees
  3. Doctorate Degree Requirements
  4. Cost of a Doctorate Degree
  5. Why Earn a Doctorate Degree
  6. Doctorate Degree Jobs

What is a Doctorate Degree?

Beyond professional experience and training, one way to upgrade your skills and career opportunities is by taking a doctorate degree. To better understand how it can help your career, one must first know–what is a doctorate degree?

A doctorate degree is an advanced certification that is generally awarded after years of tertiary education, with the graduation time changing depending on the type of doctorate program. This form of postgraduate degree generally takes around four to eight years of work, depending on the intricacies and requirements of a doctorate study.

Doctorate degrees are also considered terminal degrees, which means they are the highest possible degrees in any field. These programs can be research-based or applied with the aim of enhancing students’ capabilities, discovering new knowledge, or evaluating existing literature.

Earning a doctorate degree is a pathway to career advancement with potential salary and leadership growth. Depending on the program and the field, degrees can be taken fully or partially online. However, most applied degrees require laboratory work, which means attendance in classes.

Other sectors may even require doctorate degrees in order to fulfill specific roles. For instance, academic librarians in North America often have subject doctorates. That is, aside from their degree in library and information science, they also earned doctorate degrees in other fields.

The study, “Measuring the Applications of the Subject Doctorate to Academic Librarianship in North America”, published by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill highlighted that academic librarians with subject doctorates are better equipped to handle various roles and responsibilities.

“The ability of librarians with non-LIS Ph.D.s to continue to put their knowledge and expertise to work in a host of different positions in universities and colleges of nearly every conceivable type despite the far-reaching changes that have been observed throughout the profession since the greatest economic crisis the world had seen in nearly a century suggests that the presence of these specific information professionals will continue to be felt throughout the academy for years to come,” the research suggests (Zalin, 2019).

Source: National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES), 2020

Is a Ph.D. and a doctorate the same?

Typically, the terms Ph.D. and doctorate are interchangeable, especially to those outside the academe. A doctorate and a Ph.D. both refer to the highest honor and degree that an educational institution can bestow to an individual. A university is in charge of conferring this type of educational attainment. It is generally awarded as the highest level once an individual has completed both a master’s degree and a bachelor’s degree.

However, doctorate and Ph.D. have a few distinct differences:

  • Ph.D. – The term stands for Doctor of Philosophy, which is a type of academic degree. Ph.D. programs also employ the same scholarly and professional qualities as doctorate degrees. However, Ph.D. recipients are more focused on participating in research. They are more focused on contributing original knowledge or findings to a field of study, professional discipline, or academic community.
  • Doctorate – It is used as an umbrella term for a rank or degree. Taking doctorate degrees can result in either an academic or professional degree. Those who finish a doctorate degree are considered experts in their fields or scholars. They are concerned with examining existing bodies of knowledge to apply them in real-world situations and solve problems.

Types of Doctorate Degrees

After asking “what is a doctorate degree,” your next concern is probably the types of doctorate degrees available. Colleges and universities can offer two types of doctorate degrees:

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Also known as research doctorates, Ph.D. degrees are developed and designed to prepare students for careers in research under an organization or academic institution. These programs aim to teach students how to discover new knowledge and insights in their respective fields.

It is a common study path for tenure-track university and college faculty. Instructors and professors are expected to eventually earn their doctorate degrees in order to further their academic careers. However, academia is not the only path for doctorate degree earners. They can also work as researchers for companies or hold public positions.

Doctorate degrees are offered in most academic subjects, including applied and technical fields such as engineering, physics, biology, and mathematics. These are also common in social sciences such as economics and sociology as well as humanities like philosophy.

Clinical or Professional Doctorates

Clinical or professional doctorates are aimed at providing students with practical skills. These programs help students become leaders in their industries. While they may share some characteristics as Ph.D. degrees, the list of doctorate degrees in this type is fairly shorter. Some examples are:

  • Doctor of Nursing Practice. The Doctor of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.) program aims to train nurses for advanced practice roles as well as clinical scholars capable of translating research and other evidence into clinical practice, measuring patient outcomes, and transforming health care systems to guarantee quality and safety. D.N.P. graduates will be leaders in the field of policy advocacy and national agenda development.
  • Doctor of Medicine (MD). An MD program trains students to practice as licensed physicians. These studies last about three years; however, after graduation, graduates must undergo a residency program that might last another three to five years. Doctors might specialize in areas such as oncology, primary treatment, children’s medicine, and emergency medicine. Meanwhile, there are also those who opt to work at medical schools, where they will interact with residents.
  • Doctor of Jurisprudence. These degrees provide a wide range of fundamental legal knowledge, qualifying graduates as attorneys for the bar examination and practice. Prospective attorneys usually receive a J.D. to practice law, as it is unusual to practice with a master. Graduates work as attorneys in many types of fields, including business, finance, compliance, and law.
  • Doctor of Business Administration. A DBA expands on the skills learned in M.B.A. degrees. With more graduates obtaining M.B.A.s, obtaining a D.B.A. can help individuals stand out in the job market and prepare them for more advanced positions. Typically, D.B.A. programs need about 60 credits. These programs can be completed in three to four years by students who are full-time. It prepares graduates for the position of CEOs and senior company analysts.
  • Doctor of Psychology. A Psy.D. degree is best suited to those who want to practice psychology and work with patients rather than conduct research and scholarship on the subject. Like a doctorate in psychology, Psy.D. prepares psychologists for professional licensing. Psy.D. programs, depending on the needs of each curriculum and the academic history of each student, last four to six years. Graduates typically assist patients with clinical psychology.

Doctorate Degree Requirements

Doctorate degree programs are often rigorous and demanding. That means it requires dedication, aptitude, training, experience, and even some level of expertise among its students depending on the program. As such, applying for doctorate degree programs is usually challenging and much more difficult than those at the bachelor-level. Below are some of the requirements on how to get a doctorate degree.

Admission Requirements

The admission criteria for doctorate programs differ depending on the field, institution, and competition. Many programs, however, have comparable prerequisites, including the following:

  • Curriculum Vitae (CV) – Most programs will require at least a CV that outlines the applicants’ academic achievements, professional experience, degrees earned, and scholarly publications. This allows the admission committee to determine if the applicant is capable of completing the program. In some cases, GRE results may be required. However, there are plenty of graduate schools that do not have GRE requirements.
  • Letters of Recommendation – Most doctorate programs require at least three letters from professional referrals that can tell the academic history of a candidate and past fieldwork.
  • Statement of Purpose – In order to be accepted into the program, students must describe their professional and academic objectives. And then show how the program will help them accomplish those goals.

Degree Requirements

Once accepted, students in the program are required to fulfill various requirements in order to graduate. While this varies from program to program, most doctorate degrees are composed of the following:

  • Coursework requirements – The majority of doctorate programs require approximately 60 credits, but this number varies significantly. Because Ph.D. programs emphasize scholarship and research, they sometimes need more academic credits than applied professional degrees.
  • Exam requirements – Many doctorate programs require students to take comprehensive exams in their chosen subjects at the conclusion of the first or second year. If they pass, they will move on to the candidacy stage.
  • Research requirements – In their first or second year of study, doctorate students begin conducting research with professors. After the third year, they concentrate their efforts on unique research and writing, known as the dissertation. A professorial committee advises students on their research topics and projects.
  • Oral Defense – Doctorate students are required to submit their completed dissertations to special committees. After the committee has evaluated the dissertation, students must respond to questions about their research techniques and findings in order to ensure the quality and accuracy of the dissertation.

Cost of a Doctorate Degree

The cost of your program will be determined by the sort of doctoral degree you pursue as well as the educational institution you choose. Different factors also play a role in the overall costs, such as:

  • Degree Field – Some disciplines provide students with extra financial help in the form of assistantships and fellowships. Ph.D. programs frequently offer financial support in exchange for work within the academic institution, such as research and teaching.
  • Delivery of the Program – Online programs may be a more cost-effective way to obtain a doctorate. However, on-campus programs often have more options for financial support.
  • Location and Type of School – Public universities are often less expensive than private schools. Similarly, schools in costly cities may be more expensive than institutions in less expensive regions, especially when students consider their cost of living throughout the program.

Some of the most popular degree programs cost as follows:

Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reported that new medical students paid between $38,000 and $62,000 on average for tuition, fees, and health insurance to attend a public medical school during the 2019-2020 academic year (Association of American Medical Colleges, 2021). Those who attended a private medical school spent an average of $61,000.

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Ph.D. degree programs vary in costs depending on the field of study. For example, a doctorate degree in business, nursing, or engineering at many state universities is around $43,000 (Ph.D. Program Costs, 2021). In non-technical fields, in-state students pay about $17,000 per year, while out-of-state students pay around $33,000 (Tuition & Student Fees | UCLA Graduate Programs, n.d.).

Doctor of Physical Therapy (D.P.T.)

Laboratory fees also contribute significantly to the overall costs of doctorate degree programs. For instance, in most programs, students pay an average of $38,000 plus, $2,000 in laboratory fees annually and another $2,000 for technology fees during their first two years in the program (Tuition and Expenses | Duke Doctor of Physical Therapy, n.d.).

Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.)

Pharm.D. prices vary by institution and state, according to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP). For example, the average cost of a Pharm.D. program for in-state students was $12,000 and $32,000 for out-of-state students for the 2019-2020 academic year (Pharm.D. and Graduate Programs Tuition and Fees | AACP, n.d.).

Aside from tuition fees, research endeavors also contribute to the overall costs of doctorate programs. However, numerous institutions provide grants to studies relevant to their sectors. In fact, according to the research titled, “Post-Doctoral and Non-Faculty Doctorate Researchers in Engineering Education: Demographics and Funding”, published in the International Journal of Education and Practice, doctorate research programs typically receive support from the public and private entities.

“Findings reveal that most prominent primary sources of support for postdoctoral appointees are federal and nonfederal domestic,” the research showed (George Fomunyam, 2020). The study also noted that “research grants were the most available for postdoctoral appointees.”

Source: US News, 2021

Why Earn a Doctorate Degree

Doctorate graduates can earn more, have a reduced unemployment rate, and gain valuable new skills. As such, it is not surprising that the number of people with doctorate degrees has doubled between 2000 and 2018 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2019). Moreover, around 13.1% of U.S. professionals have advanced degrees.

Besides the possibility of adding a suitable designation after your name, the academic, career-related, and personal and interpersonal benefits are also excellent. Here are some of the most common qualifications that a graduate may expect.

Personal and Interpersonal Skills:

  • Leadership
  • Communication
  • Project management
  • Personal effectiveness
  • Time management

Career-Related Skills:

  • Organization and management
  • Presentation
  • Expertise and specialization
  • Laboratory or application experience

Academic Skills:

  • Advanced analytical skills
  • Creative and critical thinking
  • Research skills and experience
  • Academic presentation

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2019

Doctorate Degree Jobs

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (B.L.S.), the average annual pay for a doctorate degree holder in 2017 was about $104,000, compared to $68,000 for those with a master’s degree (Torpey, 2019). On top of the type of degree and specialization, the annual salary also varies depending on the industry and the position. Some of the highest-earning doctorate degree jobs are as follows:

Psychologist – $80,000

The majority of psychologists will require a Ph.D. in psychology. A Doctor of Psychology, on the other hand, will qualify individuals for this type of profession. The primary distinction is that a Ph.D. in psychology is more research-based, whereas a Doctor of Psychology is a clinical degree that does not need a dissertation. With just a 3% increase predicted, this may not be one of the top Ph.D. degree jobs, but it is still one of the most profitable.

Medical Scientist – $89,000

These scientists, who have some of the highest-paying Ph.D.s, typically have a background in medicine or science. They may or may not have medical degrees. Medical scientists with a background in biology, chemistry, scientific techniques, and mathematics may earn a salary of more than $159,000 in the top 10% of the profession.

Biochemist – $94,000

Biochemistry is one of the most financially rewarding Ph.D. options. Biochemists contribute to our world in a number of ways by researching the chemical processes of living things. Their work has an impact on medicines, nutrition, healthcare, and a variety of other fields. Planning research initiatives, supervising laboratories, presenting results to key decision-makers, and creating technical reports and scientific publications are some of the duties that may be assigned.

Postsecondary Education Administrator – $96,000

Education may be difficult and frustrating when dealing with instructors, students, parents, employees, and community leaders. It is the responsibility of postsecondary administrators to assist students in navigating the intricacies of institutions and support their vital work. The specific tasks may vary, but most administrators meet with prospective students, examine applications, decide how many students to admit, and analyze statistics to get the best results possible.

Economist – $105,000

Economists examine more than simply money. They also research, evaluate, and even influence the allocation of commodities, services, labor, and resources. They investigate issues, gather data, analyze results, and, in certain circumstances, submit their findings to the government’s highest echelons.

Political Scientists – $122,000

A political scientist investigates the design and execution of government systems, studying political concepts to determine what works best for a city, state, or nation. This is a very numbers-oriented career, and part of the work is gathering and evaluating data from surveys and other sources.

Career Advancement Through an Advanced Degree

Doctorate degrees provide better career and learning opportunities. Graduates often enjoy career security and flexibility along with higher earning potential. Similarly, professionals who want to specialize and become experts in their field often take Ph.D. degrees for research opportunities.

Many industries are currently experiencing changes, which means an increasing need to fill highly specialized roles. Sectors such as medicine, law, and engineering always need people to discover new knowledge and apply them to real-world problems. Similarly, leadership training skills show that numerous private and public organizations need leaders with the right advanced academic training and practical experience. While doctorate programs are often challenging, the benefits are well worth the time and effort.



  1. Association of American Medical Colleges. (2021). Tuition and Student Fees Reports. https://www.aamc.org/data-reports/reporting-tools/report/tuition-and-student-fees-reports
  2. George Fomunyam, K. (2020). Post-Doctoral and Non-Faculty Doctorate Researchers in Engineering Education: Demographics and Funding. International Journal of Education and Practice, 8(4), 676–685. https://doi.org/10.18488/journal.61.2020.84.676.685
  3. Pharm.D. and Graduate Programs Tuition and Fees | AACP. (n.d.). American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy. Retrieved June 26, 2021, from https://www.aacp.org/research/pharmd-and-graduate-programs-tuition-and-fees
  4. Ph.D. Program Costs. (2021). Penn Student Registration & Financial Services. https://srfs.upenn.edu/costs-budgeting/phd
  5. Torpey, E. (2019, January 31). High-wage occupations by typical entry-level education, 2017: Career Outlook: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2019/article/high-wage-occupations.htm
  6. Tuition & Student Fees | UCLA Graduate Programs. (n.d.). University of California Los Angeles. Retrieved June 26, 2021, from https://grad.ucla.edu/funding/tuition/
  7. Tuition and Expenses | Duke Doctor of Physical Therapy. (n.d.). Duke Doctor of Physical Therapy. Retrieved June 26, 2021, from https://dpt.duhs.duke.edu/application-requirements/tuition-and-expenses
  8. U.S. Census Bureau. (2019, May 23). Number of People With Master’s and Doctoral Degrees Doubles Since 2000. The United States Census Bureau. https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2019/02/number-of-people-with-masters-and-phd-degrees-double-since-2000.html
  9. Zalin, M. (2019). Measuring the Applications of the Subject Doctorate to Academic Librarianship in North America. Carolina Digital Repository. Published. https://doi.org/10.17615/v0v9-qp23

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