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PhD vs. Doctorate: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 17, 2023
A PhD is a specific type of doctorate focused on original research, while a doctorate is a general term for the highest degree awarded in many disciplines.

Key Differences

A PhD, which stands for "Doctor of Philosophy," is a specific category of doctorate degrees, primarily centered on original academic research. In contrast, a doctorate is a broader term encompassing the highest level of academic degrees in various fields, not limited to research-focused ones.
The term PhD often brings to mind rigorous research, academic publications, and scholarly pursuits. Meanwhile, the word doctorate can apply to both research degrees, like the PhD, and professional degrees, such as the Doctor of Education (EdD) or Doctor of Business Administration (DBA).
One seeking a PhD typically undergoes intensive training and submits a thesis or dissertation based on original research. On the flip side, while some doctorate programs also require a dissertation, others might prioritize practical experience or examinations.
The title conferred upon completing a PhD is "Doctor," reflecting its status as a doctorate degree. However, not all doctorate recipients have a PhD; they might hold other types of doctorate degrees, like the aforementioned EdD or DBA.
In essence, while all PhDs are doctorates, not all doctorates are PhDs. The distinction rests in the specificity and nature of the study: a PhD is research-oriented, while a doctorate can be broader in scope.

Comparison Chart


Specifically research-focused.
Can be research-focused or professional.


Primarily academic disciplines.
Various fields including academic, business, and education.


Typically requires a dissertation.
Might require a dissertation, project, or examination.


Conferred title is "Doctor."
Conferred title is "Doctor."


A type of doctorate.
The highest degree in many disciplines.

PhD and Doctorate Definitions


PhD candidates undergo rigorous scholarly training.
During his PhD studies, he attended numerous international conferences.


A doctorate is the highest level of academic degree in various fields.
He pursued a doctorate in music, showcasing his compositional brilliance.


The degree typically requires a dissertation based on original research.
Her groundbreaking findings were detailed in her PhD dissertation.


The degree showcases expertise in a particular subject or field.
Holding a doctorate in literature, she authored several critically acclaimed novels.


A PhD is a Doctor of Philosophy degree focused on academic research.
After years of research on neural networks, she finally earned her PhD.


Some doctorate programs prioritize practical experience.
His doctorate in business administration involved real-world case studies.


It represents the pinnacle of academic achievement in various disciplines.
With his PhD in linguistics, he became a leading expert in ancient languages.


Completing a doctorate typically grants the title "Doctor."
After finishing her doctorate, she proudly used the title Doctor before her name.


A PhD is globally recognized as an advanced academic qualification.
Many professors hold a PhD, demonstrating their deep expertise in their subjects.


It encompasses both research and professional degrees.
After her master's, she decided to go for a doctorate in clinical psychology.


An American doctorate usually based on at least 3 years graduate study and a dissertation; the highest degree awarded by a graduate school


The degree or status of a doctor as conferred by a university.


The highest degree awarded by a university faculty.


(archaic) To make (someone) into a doctor.


The degree, title, or rank, of a doctor.


To make (one) a doctor.
He was bred . . . in Oxford and there doctorated.


One of the highest academic degrees conferred by a university


How long does it typically take to earn a PhD?

It can take anywhere from 3 to 8 years, depending on the field and institution.

Is a PhD a type of doctorate?

Yes, a PhD is a specific type of doctorate focused on academic research.

What does PhD stand for?

PhD stands for "Doctor of Philosophy."

Do all doctorate degrees require a dissertation?

While many do, not all doctorate degrees require a dissertation. Some might require projects or exams.

Is a PhD necessary to become a university professor?

While it's common, not all professor positions require a PhD, but it's often preferred.

Are all doctorate degrees PhDs?

No, not all doctorate degrees are PhDs; there are other types like EdD or DBA.

Which is higher: a master's or a doctorate?

A doctorate is higher than a master's degree.

Do PhD holders get a higher salary than those with just a master's?

Often, but it varies by field, geography, and specific job roles.

What's a common reason to pursue a PhD?

A passion for research, desire for academic recognition, or aiming for a specific career path in academia or research.

Is a PhD only awarded in the sciences?

No, a PhD can be awarded in various disciplines, including humanities, arts, and sciences.

Can professionals like doctors or lawyers have doctorates?

Yes, professionals like doctors (MD) or lawyers (JD) have professional doctorates.

How is a PhD dissertation evaluated?

It's typically reviewed by a committee of experts and followed by an oral defense.

What distinguishes a professional doctorate from a PhD?

While both are doctorates, professional ones often prioritize applied knowledge and practice over original research, unlike PhDs.

What's the main focus of a PhD program?

The primary focus of a PhD program is original academic research in a specific field.

Do you need a master's degree to pursue a doctorate?

While many programs prefer or require it, some doctorate programs accept students directly after a bachelor's.

Do you need a PhD to be considered an expert in a field?

Not necessarily, though a PhD often signifies deep expertise; experience and other qualifications also matter.

Are online doctorate degrees credible?

Some are credible and accredited, but it's essential to research the institution and program.

Are the terms "doctorate" and "PhD" used interchangeably?

While they're related, they're not the same; a PhD is a type of doctorate.

Can you have more than one doctorate?

Yes, it's possible, though rare, to earn multiple doctorate degrees in different fields.

Why might someone pursue a doctorate instead of a PhD?

They might seek a more professionally oriented degree or a program that doesn't emphasize original research as in a PhD.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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