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Is a PhD Degree for Me? This is What it Means

Updated: August 7, 2023 | Published: December 26, 2019

Updated: August 7, 2023

Published: December 26, 2019


Wherever you are in your educational journey, you’ve likely heard of the graduate degree called a PhD degree. You may be wondering what is a PhD degree, what are PhD requirements, and what it means to earn a PhD. At this point, you may be questioning if getting a PhD is the right next step for you.

To receive a PhD, you will add the title “Dr.” to you name, but there is much more to it than that. Here, we will dive into what a PhD means, what it takes to earn one, the different kinds of PhD degrees that exist, and the reasons why you may choose to take the path to graduate with one.

What is a PhD?

First thing’s first, let’s define all the ins and outs of what a PhD means. PhD is an abbreviation for “Doctor of Philosophy.”

A PhD is the ultimate academic degree you can earn in a field of choice. To earn a PhD, you must complete original research and evaluate a theory. More often than not, this includes data analysis. This fact is true no matter where you are in the world.

Unlike undergraduate degrees, a PhD is heavily focused on research. As such, lectures are not all that common when working towards earning the degree, but they do still exist. Rather, students will focus particularly on an aspect of the subject choice to create a dissertation. Along with a written thesis, students must present their work orally (known as a “viva voce”) to a group of examiners.

A PhD is recognized around the world as the highest academic achievement. Therefore, no matter where you go, it bears with it an international standard of understanding and a level of respect. It allows for you to be a professor in academia and work in a highly specialized position within the field.

Requirements and Length of Time

While the payoffs of a PhD may seem enticing, the journey to earn your PhD is not an easy or short one.

More often than not, a PhD comes after a master degree. Yet, that’s not always true. Some institutions allow students to skip the master degree and move straight from a bachelor degree into a PhD program.

The time length of a PhD program can vary, but it generally takes three to four years to complete. If a student chooses to study part-time, it could take upwards of six or seven years to graduate.

In order to be accepted into a PhD program, there are a variety of PhD requirements. The most important requirement tends to be proof of high academic standing from your master degree. Some schools may also factor in your bachelor degree grades.

Grades also play a role in assessing the type of funding you may receive. If you have low grades, but still want to pursue a PhD, you’ll likely have to self-fund.

Along with grades, most institutions will also require the following:

1. Proof of language proficiency in the language you will pursue your PhD.

2. Resume of work experience and transcript of academic courses.

3. A personal statement sharing your reasons why you want to pursue a PhD in your respective field and perhaps why you are choosing the institution.

4. A PhD research proposal, which includes:

  • Your proposed research topic
  • Experience regarding the subject matter
  • Gaps in current knowledge, your understanding of current findings
  • Your research methodology
  • How your research and its implications will affect the world

Student working on a dissertation for a PhD

Photo by Wadi Lissa on Unsplash

How to Get a PhD

Getting a PhD requires planning, research, and commitment. Some schools vary in their requirements to apply, so it’s best practice to create your list of desired schools and research their needs.

You can choose to get a PhD at any age, but it’s best to start thinking proactively when you are moving along your graduate degree program.

Here are the main steps it takes to get a PhD:

1. Get a bachelor’s degree

2. Complete the GRE

3. Apply to graduate schools

4. Begin master’s or PhD program

5. If master’s, graduate and then apply again for a PhD program

6. Complete PhD coursework

7. Start research and write a dissertation

8. Share dissertation and get published

9. Graduate with a PhD

Types of PhD

There are different categories of PhD degrees. However, students only choose between professional and academic. Higher and honorary PhDs are awarded later in one’s career.

These include:

  • Academic

Granted in traditional subjects by performing academic research (PhD/Doctor of Philosophy/Th.D – Doctor of Theology)

  • Professional

These contribute directly to a specific vocational field (Doctor of Business Administration, Doctor of Engineering, Doctor of Education, Doctor of Social Science, Doctor of Architecture, etc.)

  • Higher/Honorary

To honor esteemed researchers and professionals, an honorary PhD may be rewarded (Doctor of Divinity, Doctor of Science – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, Doctor of Science – Arts and Humanities)

Reasons to Get a PhD

Everyone has their own reasons for why they want to get their PhD. Here are some motivations behind why you may choose to pursue the degree:

1. Intellectual challenge:

As the final degree in academics, a PhD will challenge your intellectual abilities.

2. Career goals:

Your chosen career requires that you have the degree (i.e., becoming a professor).

3. Personal passion:

You enjoy the subject matter and want to be an expert in the field.

4. Research:

You have something to contribute or know how to fill a gap in the current information.

Research and PhD publication

Photo by Abby Chung from Pexels

The Bottom Line

Earning a Doctor of Philosophy degree is not only for those who wish to become a professor. Whether your future career requires the degree or not, you may still want to pursue the academic challenge.

The most common trait of a PhD relies on research. As such, a government agency or organization may also want to fund you in performing research if you have something worthwhile to contribute to your field of study.

As the ultimate destination in terms of degrees, the title of PhD next to your name is well-respected and universally acknowledged. However, before enrolling in a program, make sure that you have the time, resources, and personal passion to fulfill all the necessary requirements.