What Is a PHD?

Ph.D. stands for Doctor of Philosophy - most consider it to be the highest academic degree. Focusing on research, this degree program trains you to create new knowledge in your chosen field. Read on for details on this degree.

Elements of a Ph.D.

A Ph.D. is almost invariably a prerequisite to becoming a professor in a 4-year college or university, and it's preferred for professors in 2-year schools. It's also a common requirement for independent researchers in a variety of fields. There are several important facets to choosing and completing a Ph.D. program.

Important Facts About the Ph.D.

Online Availability Fully online programs available
Fields of Study Customized topics within larger fields, like business, science, engineering, economics and public policy
Key Skills Critical thinking, intensive research and data collection, scholarly writing
Possible Careers Aside from becoming professors, graduates may become postsecondary education administrators; other careers based on specialty include those of archaeologists, biochemists, political scientists and more
Median Salary (2018)$94,340 (Postsecondary Education Administrators)
Job Outlook (2016-2026)10% growth (Postsecondary Education Administrators)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Choosing a Ph.D. Degree Program

First, you usually must have a bachelor's degree to enter a Ph.D. program. When considering graduate schools, review what the faculty at each possible program are researching. Make a connection with a professor who studies something that interests you, because you'll need a mentor as you do your own research.

Check that the graduate school has regional accreditation from an agency approved by the U.S. Department of Education. With the rise of 'diploma mills,' some employers will not recognize a Ph.D. awarded by an unaccredited school.

Ph.D. Curriculum

Ph.D. courses may be a mix of theory and practice in your chosen subject. Besides courses on subjects in your field, you'll study statistics and research methods to aid your own research. Ph.D. students without a master's degree are frequently awarded one at the end of the first or second year of coursework. You may be required to complete a preliminary research paper that could serve as a master's thesis, and it may also be good practice for your dissertation.

Candidacy Exam

Some Ph.D. programs have a comprehensive exam at the end of coursework. Successful completion makes you a Ph.D. candidate.

The Dissertation

The dissertation, or doctoral thesis, is a major piece of work. You research a question in your area of interest and write up the results, hopefully producing a body of work that advances knowledge in your field. Students typically spend up to five years working on the dissertation.

Dissertation Committee

While you take classes, identify professors with whom you work well. You need a committee of professors to look at your dissertation research design and to critique chapters as you write. Most schools require four professors, including your mentor; some prefer five.

Oral Defense of Dissertation

You meet with your committee to answer questions about your research and your dissertation. Their approval marks the culmination of your career as a student.

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:

The schools in the listing below are not free and may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users. Tuition and costs will vary across programs and locations. Be sure to always request tuition information before starting a program.

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  • Liberty University

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