What is a Ph.D.?

A Doctor of Philosophy or Doctorate

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The Ph.D. is a doctoral degree, specifically called a "doctor of philosophy" degree, which is misleading because Ph.D. holders are not necessarily philosophers, unless they earned their degree in philosophy!

That said, Ph.D. recipients are able to engage in thought experiments, reason about problems, and solve them in sophisticated ways due to upwards of 8 years of continued education after completing high school.

Doctoral candidates require anywhere from 2 to 4 years of additional schooling after completing a master's program to graduate and earn their Ph.D. Also, graduate students must complete additional coursework, pass comprehensive exams, and complete an independent dissertation in the field before receiving their degree.

What Does Earning a Ph.D. Entail?

A Doctor of Philosophy degree can be awarded in any discipline and typically takes an extra two to four years to complete after earning your master's degree, and just like a  master's degree, the doctorate also entails additional coursework and pass comprehensive exams. However, a Ph.D. also requires students to complete a large scholarly project known as a dissertation, which signifies the student is able to make significant independent contributions to their chosen field of study.

Graduate school advice books recommend hopeful Ph.D. recipients carefully consider the field of study they are pursuing the degree in for this very reason, because if the student finds him or herself no longer enjoying the pursuit of a particular field, the student may find completing a full 60-or-more-pages dissertation quite tedious and indeed impossible.

More than the field itself, though, the particular Ph.D. program a student selects will greatly weigh on the educational outcome for that student; choosing a program that suits the student's needs, as well as interests, is imperative to managing a successful graduate degree.

Prerequisites for Ph.D.

Students typically must earn a master's degree before applying to a doctorate program, though this is not always the case.

Some programs also offer fresh undergraduate students the opportunity to complete their master's degree on the way to earning a Ph.D. from the same program.

In any case, it typically requires several years of study beyond the master's degree to complete doctoral study — with more time added if the student has not already earned a master's degree. The exact number of years varies by discipline and by student wherein some students complete their Ph.D. in 4 years and others take up to 8 or more years of study depending on the field, the student's research topic, and the student's skills.

Most Common Ph.D. Degrees

Though most assume that the medical and law fields boast the most number of doctoral recipients, social work awards the most individual doctorate degrees in the United States, accounting for over four percent of the total number of Ph.D. degrees awarded in the past year.

Education also accounts for a large block of these doctoral awards from recent times, with Elementary Education, Curriculum and Instruction, Educational Leadership and Administration, Special Education, and Counselor Education / School Counseling coming in at the number 2 through 6 spots on most-awarded degrees.

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Kuther, Tara, Ph.D. "What is a Ph.D.?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 17, 2017, thoughtco.com/what-is-a-phd-1685884. Kuther, Tara, Ph.D. (2017, April 17). What is a Ph.D.? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-phd-1685884 Kuther, Tara, Ph.D. "What is a Ph.D.?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-phd-1685884 (accessed December 14, 2017).