What is the difference between a PhD and a doctoral degree?

A Ph.D and a doctoral degree are two terms referring to a superior level of higher education often confused with each other. While most people understand that these terms describe a covered level of academia, the two are often mixed up, or (mistakenly) used interchangeably. Let’s first define each term on its own before delving into the differences between the two.

What is a Ph.D?

A Ph.D is a postgraduate degree, standing for Doctor of Philosophy. A Ph.D is often viewed as the pinnacle of academic achievement. One must first complete a bachelor’s degree, and often a master’s degree as well, before applying for a Ph.D program. These programs are highly selective and require a very high GPA and usually previous study in that particular field. A Ph.D can be attained in virtually any subject, although it is typically a more narrow field of study than the broader bachelor’s degree.

Typically it takes four years to complete a Ph.D., Ph.D candidates are usually sponsored by a university professor and work directly under them. The final step to completing a Ph.D is to contribute original research to the field of study in the form of a written dissertation. The student must then defend the dissertation before a panel of experts in the field of study. Typically, universities require their professors to hold a Doctor of Philosophy degree. After graduating, most Ph.D holders will work in either research or higher education.

This video is an excellent explanation of a Ph.D.

What is a doctoral degree?

A doctoral degree is a broader term which encompasses all postgraduate doctorate programs which may take anywhere from three to ten years to complete. Doctoral degrees will fall into one of two categories: research degrees and professional degrees.

Research degrees include the Ph.D, as well as the EdD (doctor of education), and DFA (doctor of fine arts) among others. The end goal of these types of programs is to work in research or academia.

In contrast, the end goal of a professional doctorate is to apply the research learned to practical problems in the field. Examples of professional doctorates include MD (medical doctor), DDS (doctor of dental surgery), and JD (Juris doctor). Other examples include chiropractors acupuncturists and doctors of social work or public health.

While those enrolled in research degree programs are required to write and defend a dissertation, this in professional degree programs often is not required to produce original research. Instead, they often must complete a residency, but occasionally they also complete a doctoral defense.

So what is the exact difference between a Ph.D and a doctoral degree?

To summarize, while all Ph.Ds are doctoral degrees, not all doctoral degrees are Ph.Ds. A doctoral degree is a very broad term encompassing all of the highest level postgraduate degrees. A Ph.D is only one of several degrees that fall under that category, one that focuses specifically on research and academics, as opposed to focusing on work directly in the field.