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    What is a PhD?

    By Varonika Ware

    Varonika Ware is a content writer at Scholarships360. Varonika earned her undergraduate degree in Mass Communications at Louisiana State University. During her time at LSU, she worked with the Center of Academic Success to create the weekly Success Sunday newsletter. Varonika also interned at the Louisiana Department of Insurance in the Public Affairs office with some of her graphics appearing in local news articles.

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    Reviewed by Bill Jack

    Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: May 9th, 2024
    What is a PhD?

    If you’re excited about learning and research, a PhD might just be the path for you! With the added bonus of adding “Dr.” to the beginning of your name, a PhD can help you excel in your career. Perhaps you are asking yourself, “exactly what is a PhD, and how do I go about earning one?” Fortunately, this guide has the answers to your questions, so keep reading!

    What is a PhD?

    To put it simply, a PhD is a doctorate of philosophy. It shouldn’t be confused with a doctorate of medicine, but they both usually require eight years of collegiate education

    It’s important to note that a PhD is a postgraduate degree based in research, so be sure to get your textbooks ready. However, you can get your PhD in a variety of different fields of study.

    Why choose a PhD?

    Deciding to get your PhD is a serious decision, and you’ll likely want to understand the benefits of this degree before you enter the classroom. Fortunately, there are many benefits to getting your PhD, but it’ll be up to you to make going back to school worth it. Let’s take a look at some of the top reasons to earn a PhD below. 

    Respect and expertise in your desired field

    Continuing your education is no small feat, which means that postgraduate degrees carry a certain amount of respect in the professional world. Since a PhD is specifically focused on research, you stand to gain more expertise and knowledge than a standard bachelor’s or master’s degree. 

    Job opportunities

    Postgraduate degrees such as master’s and doctorates offer higher salaries and qualify you for upper-level positions in your desired field. However, a degree alone doesn’t guarantee getting a job, so be sure to build up your resume with related experience. Fortunately, PhD students get additional time to network in an educational setting. Getting to know your previous and current professors can make all the difference in your future career. 

    Also see: Average starting salary out of college

    Variety of fields to study

    Getting your doctorate can also mean that you have an opportunity to explore a new field of study or re-explore an old one! While some PhD programs require certain bachelor’s degrees, there’s usually still enough wiggle room for you to decide on a different academic path. Most schools prioritize a background in research, so focus on applying relevant experience in your application regardless of your major. 

    Also see: Top fully funded PhD programs

    What is the cost of a PhD?

    The cost of a PhD program varies, ranging from fully-funded to over $50,000 per year. The cost depends on the chosen field of study and university attended. Students accepted in a fully-funded program may even receive stipends that cover living expenses such as food, housing, and health insurance. Other PhD students receive financial support through assistantships, fellowships, and scholarships.

    The cost  of a PhD involves more than the actual dollar amount . Earning a PhD involves an extraordinary amount of time and effort, and usually requires a loss of earned income and other life opportunities. Potential PhD applicants should carefully consider the pros and cons that apply to their particular situation.

    Further reading: How much does a PhD cost?

    How long does it take to earn a PhD?

    Similar to how much a PhD costs, how long it takes to earn a PhD depends on the field of study and the university attended. Additional factors include each student’s particular pace and whether they require additional time.  Generally, earning a PhD takes from four to eight years.

    The most common requirement for earning a PhD involves a combination of coursework (usually 1-2 years) followed by independent research and dissertation (usually two to six years, depending on field of study). In general, fields that require extensive writing, such as the humanities and social sciences, lean toward the longer end of completion.

    What do I need to know to get my PhD?

    First things first, you’ll have to receive your undergraduate degree before you can apply to the PhD program of your choice. It’s in your best interest to stay on top of your GPA and apply yourself in your classes so that your application stands out. 

    The colleges you submit your application to will likely require an unofficial transcript, letter of recommendation, and a personal statement. Some schools may also require the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), which is a standardized exam. You can even get started on your test preparation today by taking a GRE practice test

    Related: Top scholarships for graduate students

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • A PhD is a doctorate in philosophy, which means it’s a postgraduate degree based in research
    • A doctorate degree can be worth it if you’re hoping to gain expertise in your field or qualify for a new or different job position
    • Going back to school for your PhD will put you in an environment where you can build connections that could later benefit you professionally
    • The cost of a PhD program varies, ranging from fully-funded to over $50,000 per year
    • How long it takes to earn a PhD depends on the field of study and the university attended, but usually takes from four to eight years.
    • A graduate program will usually require an unofficial transcript, a letter of recommendation, and a personal statement. The GRE is also accepted, but sometimes, it’s optional

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    Frequently asked questions about PhDs

    How long does it take to get a PhD?

    A PhD usually requires an additional four years of schooling on top of your bachelor’s and master’s degrees. That means getting your PhD can take about four years. However, everyone’s journey is different, so it can take more or less time depending on the person or field.

    Is a PhD the same as a MD?

    No, these two degrees are not the same despite some similarities. A PhD is a doctorate of philosophy that’s grounded in research while an MD is a doctorate of medicine. You cannot practice medicine with only a PhD.

    What is a PhD dissertation?

    A dissertation is a long research paper (usually from 100 to 300 pages) that is most often required at the end of a PhD program. A dissertation reveals original research in response to a question or inquiry.

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