Difference between PhD and Doctorate

January 14, 2017 by Editorial Team

PhDs and doctorates signify the pinnacle of academic achievement in many countries. In the United States alone, more than 50,000 PhD and doctorate students receive their degrees each year. These individuals make up a significant proportion of a workforce that constantly requires fresh research and educated analysis in a number of fields. However, despite being commonly mistaken for each other, PhD and doctorate degrees are actually quite different. This article will discuss their differences.


Champion boxer Wladimir Klitschko holds a PhD in sports science

In many countries, the PhD (doctor of philosophy) is the highest degree that a student can earn. Institutions award PhDs in different fields, such as the humanities, sciences, engineering, management, and social sciences. The path to a PhD can be long and tedious. An individual must first finish up to three years of coursework in his/her chosen field before taking a comprehensive examination. Upon passing the examination, the student must then spend between two to eight years in research, culminating in the submission and public defense of a dissertation.

After earning their PhD, graduates expect to work in the academe, either as a professor or full-time researcher. They may use the title “Doctor” before their names.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel holds a doctorate in physical chemistry

A doctorate is considered the terminal degree in certain fields of study. These fields include science, humanities, psychology, and education. To qualify for a doctorate, an individual must finish three years of coursework; a terminal “capstone” project or written dissertation is also required for most doctorate programs. Doctorates awarded by institutions include the Doctor of Business Administration, the Doctor of Education, the Doctor of Psychology, and the Doctor of Science. These doctorates differ in terms of prestige, with many people considering them to be a notch below the highest academic achievement. Many institutions also award honorary doctorates (such as the Doctor of Humanities) to chosen individuals that make outstanding contributions to their fields.

A doctorate degree can help its holder get a job in his/her field, such as research, consulting, clinical practice, or teaching. Job prospects often depend on the type of doctorate studies completed.


The two types of academic degrees are very similar to each other, yet are different at the same time. They differ mostly in subject matter, requirements, recognition, and job prospects.

Subject Matter

Institutions offer PhD studies in a number of fields, ranging from arts, sciences, engineering, and social sciences. These same institutions could also offer doctorate instruction in other fields, such as theology, business administration, psychology, and education. These studies may or may not culminate in the awarding of a PhD; instead, institutions award specialized doctorates, such as the Doctor of Business Administration, Doctor of Psychology and Doctor of Education.


To receive a PhD, a student must first take up to three years of coursework. He/she must then write and successfully defend a dissertation, a process that could take up to eight years. In contrast, the requirements for a doctorate vary according to the institution and the field of study. Many doctorates require coursework and a dissertation, while others require only a terminal “capstone” project without any public defense. Certain institutions also award honorary doctorates to distinguished individuals without requiring them to submit original research or go through coursework.


PhDs enjoy worldwide recognition as the highest individual academic achievement. These degrees often signify that the holder has contributed immensely to a field’s body of knowledge. In addition, most PhD holders exercise the right to call themselves “Doctor.” Meanwhile, many doctorate programs, such as the Doctor of Education, are seen as purely practical in nature and might be considered a notch below the PhD in terms of prestige. As such, not all doctorate programs confer the privilege of the title “Doctor” upon their graduates.

Job Prospects

PhD holders often devote themselves to teaching and research, usually in an academic setting. Depending on the field of study, holders of doctorate degrees could either go back to the academe or work in a clinical or professional setting.

Comparison Chart

Requires coursework and a written dissertationRequires coursework; may or may not require a dissertation
Offered in different fields such as sciences, humanities, social sciences, and engineeringCould focus on sciences, humanities, social sciences, engineering, law, medicine, theology, and other fields of study
Considered the height of academic achievementMany doctorate programs are not as prestigious as the PhD
Graduates often go into research or teachingGraduates could either teach, do research, or work in a clinical or professional setting