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What is a doctorate degreeA PhD stands for Doctor of Philosophy, an advanced degree that requires somewhere between two to four years of academic coursework beyond what is needed to attain a Master’s degree.

Earning a PhD does not necessarily mean a candidate studies philosophy – in fact, many candidates study science or engineering, or any of the wide variety of liberal arts fields.

What is a PhD Degree Program

Simply put, a PhD is the highest academic degree that you can earn in a specific subject. You will sometimes hear it referred to as a terminal degree as well. There are two requirements in order to graduate from a PhD program. You must master a subject and extend the knowledge of the subject matter.

Mastering a subject is typically done by taking classes either online or on campus. The number of classes required varies according to program of study and university. This usually takes approximately two years to complete. There are some accelerated programs that can allow students to finish this section of the program more quickly.

The second part of a PhD is extending the knowledge of a particular subject matter. This is done in the form of a research project and corresponding dissertation. This can be a combination of new experiments and research or applying existing research to a new problem.

PhD degrees can introduce you into the world of the academic elite. You can be viewed as an expert in your field and go into a career as a professional researcher or collegiate professor.

How Do I Earn a PhD?

First of all, a PhD program will not accept anyone who has not yet earned a Bachelor’s degree, but assuming you already have one, then the next step is to take the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) and score well. In some cases, a GRE score is not needed if a candidate has a high enough GPA from undergraduate studies. So, check with the college of interest prior to taking the exam.

Candidates will also require a number of academic recommendations from professors just to be able to apply to their PhD program. Some PhD programs are so competitive, however, that they will not accept candidates who do not yet have a Master’s degree, so it’s a good idea to check with your school’s graduate school to determine eligibility requirements.

Earn Your PhD Online

You can now earn your PhD from an accredited university online. Currently, Walden University and Capella University offer the most extensive list of online doctoral programs.

You can compare each below and see if either is a good fit for you:

Both Walden University and Capella University are regionally accredited, the highest level of accreditation possible in the United States.

Walden University – Online PhD Degrees

What is a PhD

Walden University offers accelerated 8-week classes online.

  • Walden University is regionally accredited, the highest level of accreditation possible.
  • Offers wide-range of online degrees ranging from management, education, health and human services to engineering and psychology
  • Year-round program start dates: the ultimate in flexibility

Read more or get a program guide from Walden University.


Capella University – Online PhD Degree Programs

What is a PhD

Capella University offers accelerated 10-week classes online.

  • Capella University is regionally accredited, the highest level of accreditation possible.
  • Capella University offers degrees in the fields of business, health care, higher education, human resources, information technology, mental health, K-12 education, public safety, public administration, social work, and public service leadership.

Read more or get a program guide from Capella University.

A typical PhD program takes between 3 and 4 years to attain, however, there are fast track programs available which allow you to complete your PhD degree in half the time.

In a traditional, campus-based doctoral program, the first two years are spent studying courses given though seminars or lectures. This also holds true for online study. Once again, some universities allow you to take accelerated classes and earn your PhD in less time, but that is not always the case. If earning your doctorate degree at an accelerated pace is a priority, be sure to use our PhD search tool to find universities that offer 8-week classes or other fast track programs.

Regardless of whether you opt for a fast track or traditional program, the final culmination of your doctoral studies will be your dissertation or a thesis fit for publication. If you have a preference (dissertation or thesis), be sure to compare universities and request information to determine all program requirements before you apply. You’ll be glad you did!

PhD Curriculum

Let’s go ahead and assume you have met all the requirements to get into the PhD program of your choice and have been accepted. Now what?

Generally speaking a PhD candidate can expect to spend anywhere from one to two years studying advanced coursework in their chosen subject, requiring a clearly defined major and a specific course of study. Time spent on coursework tends to be significantly less if one has already earned a Master’s degree, eliminating the need to take some courses.

Most PhD candidates will work as graduate teaching assistants, lab assistants, or participate in field studies while completing coursework. For some candidates teaching classes and labs are an expected part of the program requirements, especially since most candidates are working towards the goal of becoming a university professor.

Those candidates who are required to teach are usually paid a stipend for their work, a benefit that better helps students afford to attend school exclusively and eliminates the need for candidates to work outside the university.

Will I have to complete a dissertation?

Most university’s require doctoral candidates to complete a dissertation, however, some universities offer a “final project” in place of the dissertation. However, since most universities require a dissertation, we will discuss the major components here.

After time spent as research or teaching assistants, most students spend upwards of a year preparing to take oral and written examinations that will demonstrate their competency. During this same period of time PhD students are writing a dissertation, a book-length paper that requires original research in the student’s field of study.

The dissertation is an involved process and relies on constant feedback and discussions with the candidate’s adviser, culminating in a submission to the dissertation committee and an oral defense of the subject matter. It’s entirely possible for a dissertation committee to reject a submission, requiring an entire re-write, but if the dissertation is accepted and the candidate provides an acceptable oral defense, the candidate is considered a graduate and awarded a Doctorate of Philosophy.

Online PhD Programs

With the growing popularity of online study, a number of accredited universities have started offering doctoral programs online. The requirements for admission are typically the same, but as with traditional campus-based programs, it pays to do your research and compare each school prior to submitting your application.

Although PhD programs are offered in a wide-range of fields, the most popular online doctoral programs include: Business, Psychology, Counseling, Healthcare Administration, and Education. However, that is a small sampling of the programs available. If online study sounds intriguing, use the degree search tool to explore all your available options prior to making a final decision.

Job Opportunities for PhD Holders

In big corporations, CEOs and CFOs are typically PhD-holders. Aside from opportunities in the corporate world, a PhD will also give you a chance to teach post-secondary students. Universities require their teachers to be PhD-holders. Using your specialization, you can teach the next generation of world leaders.


While schools traditionally follow the same guidelines for PhD candidates, the requirements for admittance into the program, regardless of whether the program is online or on campus, can vary from school to school.  The path to earning a PhD can be difficult, but earning it will prove to be the culmination of an educational career.

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