What Are Doctoral Degrees?

A doctoral degree is often regarded as the highest educational credential in most parts of the world. Doctoral degrees are offered in a variety of topics, but they typically focus on either a specific area of research or professional practice, and they're completed following a master's or bachelor's program in a related field. Continue reading to learn more about this degree option.

Types of Doctoral Degrees

In the U.S., there are many different types of doctoral degrees. The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) prepares you for scholarly research in science and humanities fields, and it's among the most common doctoral degrees. Law students earn a specific kind of doctorate, called a Juris Doctor (J.D.); however, you must pass your state's bar exam to qualify to practice law.

Graduates of medical school traditionally earn the title of Doctor of Medicine (M.D.), but programs in naturopathic medicine may confer the Doctor of Naturopathy (N.D.) degree. Other common professional doctoral programs include the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) and Doctor of Engineering (Eng.D.).

Important Facts About Doctoral Degrees

Prerequisites Along with a bachelor's degree, standardized test scores are typically required
Online Availability Fully available for select disciplines, though in-person sessions are often required for meetings with faculty and dissertation presentations
Possible Careers Professor, physician, surgeon, psychologist
Continuing Education For careers that require licensure, like those of psychologists and physicians, continuing education coursework must be completed regularly

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

The cornerstone of most Ph.D. programs is the defense of a dissertation or thesis containing original research. This dissertation is the final stage of a curriculum that includes seminars and individual research in your field of interest. The need for additional graduate-level coursework varies depending on the institution and whether or not you've earned a master's degree prior to the doctoral program.

Ph.D. programs in the soft sciences and humanities, including psychology, business, history, English and more. These programs can last anywhere from 2-6 years or more, and common courses during this time include college-level teaching and graduate research methods.

Doctor of Medicine (M.D)

Medical doctorates are considered one of the most rigorous doctoral programs in the United States. Nearly every medical school's doctoral program lasts four years. An M.D. requires clinical rotations throughout the coursework and a thesis to be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal in the third year.

In contrast to the somewhat loosely-defined curricula of Ph.D. programs, as a M.D. student, you must complete a variety of direct coursework, including:

  • Body and disease
  • Medical practice
  • Advanced anatomy
  • Medical legalities
  • Health systems
  • Doctor and patient communication

Juris Doctor (J.D.)

Similar to the M.D. program, a J.D. program has a rigorously structured curriculum. Schools approved by the American Bar Association require programs to generally entail three years of full-time or four years of part-time study. According to the Law School Admission Council, the J.D. utilizes a teaching tool called the 'Case Method Approach', whereupon numerous legal cases are analyzed to identify critical factors affecting the outcome. Common courses in J.D. programs include:

  • Legal writing
  • Torts
  • Constitutional law
  • Contracts
  • Civil procedure
  • Property law

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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