If you’re someone who believes a doctorate and a PhD are the same thing, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. They’re not! While a doctorate is a general term that includes the various types of advanced degrees, a PhD is a specific type of doctorate. As both degrees are terminal and have some similarities, many confuse the two and use them interchangeably. However, they do have some stark differences.

This article primarily focuses on explaining the meaning of the terms “doctorate” and “PhD,” why you should pursue these degrees, and how you can make the most of them. Let’s start with the basics.

A terminal degree is considered to be the highest academic degree in a given field of study. It is called “terminal” because it is considered the highest level of education in that particular discipline–the end of the line–and there are no higher degrees in the same field. Typically, a terminal degree is awarded at the doctoral level and signifies that the degree holder has achieved the highest level of expertise in their field.

Terminal degrees typically vary by field and can include Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Doctor of Education (EdD), Doctor of Psychology (PsyD), Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), and others. In some professions like academia and certain healthcare fields, a terminal degree is often required to enter advanced positions or for licensure purposes.

A doctorate is the highest level of academic degree awarded by universities or educational institutions. It signifies a high level of expertise and achievement in a particular field of study. These degrees are typically earned after completing a bachelor’s and master’s degree. 

The main focus of a doctoral degree is to conduct original research, contribute new knowledge to the field, and showcase a high level of critical thinking and analytical skills. If you enroll for a doctorate program, you would be expected to complete coursework, pass comprehensive exams, and write a dissertation based on their research.

A doctorate is available in a wide range of fields, including but not limited to, education, psychology, business, medicine, law, and engineering. Earning this degree could open up opportunities for career advancement, research positions, and leadership roles in academia, industry, and government.

Some common professional doctorate titles include:

What is a PhD?

A PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy, is a specific type of doctorate degree that emphasizes original research and contribution to knowledge in a particular field. It is a terminal degree awarded by universities and is typically earned after completing a bachelor’s and master’s degree.

PhD programs may require you to conduct independent research under the guidance of a faculty advisor, write a dissertation based on your research findings, and defend your dissertation before a committee of experts in the field. Typically, a PhD program also includes coursework and comprehensive exams to ensure you build a strong foundation in your field of study.

Earning a PhD is a significant achievement that demonstrates excellent critical thinking and research skills. As a PhD holder, you could pursue careers in academia, research, or specialized fields where advanced knowledge and research skills are required.

Some common PhD titles include:

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Psychology
  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Economics
  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Education
  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Biology
  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in English Literature
  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in History
  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Computer Science
  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Physics
  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Sociology
  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Engineering

Related: Understanding Doctorate Degrees in Psychology: PsyD vs. PhD in Psychology

With a clear understanding of a terminal degree, a doctorate, a PhD, let’s move on to answer a critical question – how does a doctorate differ from a PhD?

DoctoratePhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
A doctorate is an advanced academic degree awarded by universities or institutions.A PhD is a specific type of doctorate that emphasizes original research and contribution to knowledge in a particular field.
A doctorate has various types, including PhD, EdD, MD, PsyD, etc.A PhD specifically refers to a Doctor of Philosophy degree.
The focus here could be professional or academic, with different focuses such as research, clinical practice, or educational leadership.The emphasis here is independent research, dissertation writing, and defense.
The requirements for a doctorate varies, but generally includes coursework, research, examinations, and a dissertation or thesis.The typical requirement includes coursework, comprehensive exams, a dissertation proposal, completion of a dissertation, and a dissertation defense.
Career paths with a doctorate can lead to careers in academia, research, clinical practice, or leadership positions.A PhD is generally pursued by those interested in careers in academia, research, or specialized fields requiring high research skills.
While the extent and focus may vary, a doctorate might require the completion of original research.A Doctor of Philosophy typically requires completion of original research to be the primary focus.
Some common titles include a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), Doctor of Education (EdD), Doctor of Medicine (MD), Doctor of Psychology (PsyD), etc.The primary title here is Doctor of Philosophy (PhD).

In a nutshell, it’s safe to say that while a doctorate is a broad term encompassing various types of advanced degrees, a PhD is a specific type of doctorate that emphasizes original research and contribution to knowledge in a particular field. 

Both a doctorate and a PhD require a significant commitment of time and effort, and can lead to multiple career opportunities. Let’s look at some of the similarities offered by both degrees.

  1. Length: Both, doctorate and PhD programs typically require 3-7 years to complete, depending on factors such as the field of study and your individual progress. This duration allows for in-depth research and the development of advanced skills.
  1. Emphasis on Research: Both the degrees emphasize original research. While doctorate programs primarily focus on practical applications in professional fields, a  PhD program mainly emphasizes theoretical contributions to academic knowledge.
  1. Rigor: The level of academic rigor and dedication required by both programs ensures that once you graduate, you possess advanced analytical and problem-solving skills, along with a deep understanding of your field of study.
  1. Career Opportunities: Graduates of both doctorate and PhD programs are well-equipped for careers in academia, research, industry, and government. These degrees are highly respected and often lead to leadership positions in a number of fields.
  2. Contribution to Knowledge: Both a doctorate degree and PhD, aim to contribute to the advancement of knowledge in their respective fields. Doctorate programs primarily focus on practical applications and solutions to real-world problems, while PhD programs prioritize theoretical and academic contributions.  

For some subjects, you can earn either a PhD or a professional doctorate to gain expert level-knowledge of your field. Here are some of those subjects that offer this choice: 

Subjects that offer a PhD and a Professional doctorate
  1. Education: If you wish to gain expertise in the field of education, you can choose between a PhD in Education and a Doctor of Education (EdD). While a PhD typically focuses on research and academia, the EdD is geared towards practical applications in educational leadership and administration.
  1. Psychology: Another interesting field of study that offers both the degrees is psychology in the form of a PhD in Psychology and a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD). The PhD emphasizes research and theoretical knowledge, while the PsyD focuses on clinical practice and application.
  1. Business Administration: Business administration is yet another study area that offers both – a PhD in Business Administration and a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA). The PhD is research-focused and prepares students for academic and research careers.  A DBA, on the other hand, is geared towards professionals seeking advanced knowledge and skills for leadership roles in business.
  1. Nursing: IF you’re passionate about nursing, then you could consider either a PhD in Nursing and a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). While the PhD is research-oriented and prepares nurse scholars and researchers, a DNP is practice-focused and can prepare advanced practice nurses for leadership roles.
  1. Public Health: Public health offers both a PhD in Public Health and a Doctor of Public Health (DrPH). The Doctor of Philosophy in Public Health is research-focused and prepares public health researchers and academics. On the other hand, the DrPH is geared towards public health professionals seeking advanced knowledge and skills for leadership roles.
  1. Engineering: Yet another field that offers both a PhD and a professional doctorate is engineering, in the form of a PhD in Engineering and a Doctor of Engineering (EngD) respectively. The PhD is research-oriented and prepares you for careers in academia and research, while the EngD is more industry-focused and can prepare you for leadership roles in industry.

In each of these subjects, both the PhD and professional doctorate programs offer advanced training and expertise, but they are geared towards slightly different career paths and goals.

With advanced degrees in demand, doctoral degrees have not gone unnoticed. According to recent data, the number of people aged 25 and over whose highest degree was a master’s has doubled to 21 million. In addition, the number of doctoral degree holders has more than doubled to 4.5 million. The primary reason for anyone to pursue a doctorate or PhD is to gain in-depth understanding and become an expert in their field of study. Here are some other reasons why you might want to consider pursuing a doctorate or PhD:

  1. Career Advancement: Having a doctorate or PhD can open up opportunities for career advancement, including higher-level positions, leadership roles, and increased earning potential.
  1. Contribution to Knowledge: Pursuing a doctorate or PhD gives you the opportunity to contribute new knowledge to your field through original research, which can have a significant impact on your discipline and society as a whole.
  1. Personal Fulfillment: For many people, the pursuit of a doctorate or PhD is a deeply fulfilling intellectual journey that allows them to pursue their passion and make a meaningful contribution to their field.
  1. Networking: Doctorate and PhD programs provide opportunities to network with other scholars, researchers, and professionals in your field, which can lead to collaborations, mentorship opportunities, and career connections.
  1. Career Flexibility: With a doctorate or PhD, you’ll have the flexibility to pursue a variety of career paths, including academia, research, industry, government, consulting, and more.
  1. Intellectual Challenge: Pursuing a doctorate or PhD is intellectually challenging and stimulating, offering the opportunity to engage in critical thinking, problem-solving, and scholarly debate.
  1. Impact: By conducting original research and contributing to the body of knowledge in your field, you have the opportunity to make a lasting impact on your discipline and society.

Did you know that earning a doctorate can give you a boost of almost 80% in your income as compared to a master’s degree? A doctorate opens up a wide range of career opportunities across industries. In this section, we’ll talk about some of the many industries that hire doctorate degree holders and the career options you could pursue in each:   

Academia/Higher Education:

  1. Professor/Associate Professor/Assistant Professor: If you have a doctoral degree, you could gain the opportunity to  teach undergraduate and graduate courses, conduct research, and publish scholarly work. Speaking of salary gains, a professor with a doctorate degree earns a lucrative salary. For example, the median salary for a history professor with a JD, MD, PhD or Equivalent is anywhere between $103,494 – $129,054.
  2. Researcher: One of the most straightforward career options for those interested in academia is to conduct original research in a specific field. This is often done in collaboration with universities, research institutes, or government agencies. A researcher has the potential to earn much higher than a master’s degree holder. The salary range, however, varies as per their field of work.   


  1. Medical Doctor (MD): As a medical doctor with a doctoral degree, you would be appointed by hospitals and medical centers to practice medicine, diagnose and treat patients. You may also contribute to medical research. Salaries for an MD varies with your years of experience and the field of medicine you practice in.
  2. Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS): Another lucrative career option for doctoral degree holders in the healthcare industry is becoming a doctor of dental surgery. As a dental surgeon, you would be providing essential, sometimes urgent, dental care, along with diagnosing and treating dental issues. You may also get opportunities to conduct research or teach dentistry. Just like an MD, the salary range for a DDS may vary based on years of experience and expertise in the field.
  3. Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD): As a doctor of pharmacy, your prime responsibility would be to dispense medications, and provide drug therapy recommendations to organizations. You may also be required to conduct research or teach pharmacy in a college. 


  1. Executive Leadership: Once you hold a doctoral degree, you can explore executive-level positions in companies and use your business acumen to take key business decisions. You may be required to oversee operations and strategy, and play a pivotal role in decision-making for the organization.
  2. Consultant: Some doctoral degree holders prefer to offer their expertise as consultants. If you choose this career, you would be expected to provide advice to businesses, organizations, or government agencies in a particular field. The salary of a consultant varies based on their level of expertise and years of experience in the field.  


  1. Policy Analyst: If you’re interested in working for a government body, then you could consider becoming a policy analyst, once you complete your doctorate degree. Your primary responsibility would include analyzing policies, proposing recommendations, and contributing to the development of government policies.
  2. Government Researcher: You could also explore becoming a government researcher where you would be required to conduct research for government agencies and inform them about policy decisions and programs.


  1. Research Scientist: If your inclination lies in the tech industry and you’ve earned your doctoral degree, consider becoming a research scientist in the tech space. As a research scientist, you would conduct research and development in areas such as artificial intelligence, robotics, or renewable energy, among others.
  2. Engineering Manager: Another interesting career choice could be to become an engineering manager where you would get to oversee engineering projects, and manage multiple teams. You may also be responsible for ensuring project success within set budgets and deadlines.


  1. Clinical Psychologist: With a PhD, you could be allowed to practice as a clinical psychologist. Licensing requirements for a clinical psychologist may vary by state. In this profession, you would be required to diagnose and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Along with this, you could also explore research opportunities in the field of psychology or work for an institution to teach psychology.  A psychologist with a PhD earns an average salary of about $115,163.
  2. Counseling Psychologist: As a counseling psychologist, you would be expected to offer counseling and therapy services to individuals or groups. While the salary expectations may vary as per education, years of experience, additional certifications, the average salary ranges from $84,536 to $112,558.


  1. Juris Doctor (JD): Once you gain this professional doctorate degree, you would be allowed to practice law in the US along with other common law jurisdictions. You could  represent clients in legal matters, and also work in legal research or academia. As per recent data, the average base pay of a Juris Doctor is around $188,186 per year.

Overall, having a doctorate degree opens doors to a range of rewarding career opportunities across industries, where you can make significant contributions to your field and pursue a successful career.

While both a doctorate and a PhD are advanced academic degrees that signify a high level of expertise and achievement, they differ in their focus and requirements. A doctorate is a broad term that encompasses various types of doctoral degrees, including professional and academic degrees. A PhD, on the other hand, is a specific type of doctorate that emphasizes original research and contribution to knowledge in a particular field. 

Both the degrees are an excellent choice for students as they offer unique opportunities for personal and professional growth. This allows for students to become experts in their field, contribute new knowledge, and pursue rewarding careers in academia, research, and specialized fields.

What is a professional degree?

A professional degree is a specialized academic credential that prepares you for specific careers or professions. Unlike traditional academic degrees, which focus on broad knowledge and critical thinking skills, professional degrees offer specialized training and practical skills directly relevant to a particular field or industry. Professional degrees often require hands-on experience, internships, or clinical rotations to ensure graduates are well-equipped to enter their chosen profession. These degrees are typically required or highly recommended for entry into professional fields such as medicine, law, pharmacy, and business.

How long does it take to get a doctorate?

The time it takes to earn a doctorate can vary depending on several factors, including the field of study, the specific program requirements, and the individual student’s progress. In general, a doctorate degree can take anywhere from 3 to 7 years to complete. For example, a PhD program typically takes around 5 to 7 years to complete, including coursework, research, and dissertation writing. However, some programs may be completed in as little as 3 years, particularly for those who enter with a relevant master’s degree. Professional doctorate programs, such as the Doctor of Education or Doctor of Business Administration, may take slightly less time, typically around 3 to 6 years, depending on the program structure and requirements.