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Considering Ph.D. Degree Programs?

The Ph.D. degree is considered by many to be the pinnacle of the academic world, and rightly so. The addition of those three letters after one's name has a way of opening doors in the academic world and the publishing world.

Though the Ph.D. stands for "Doctor of Philosophy," the degree is offered in countless other fields besides that of philosophy. In fact, the word "philosophy" is simply a reference to the Greek meaning of the word, which is "love of wisdom." Considering how much time and energy is put into the completion of a Ph.D. program, the name of this degree makes perfect sense.

History of a Ph.D. Degree
The first Ph.D. was awarded in Paris during the 12th century, but the degree and studies as we know it didn't truly evolve until the 19th century in Germany. Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut followed suite with the Germans, and the rest is academic history.

Benefits of Earning a Ph.D. Degree
Like other advanced degrees, the Ph.D. degree nearly always means a higher salaries and higher positions. A Ph.D. is required for most full-time college professor positions, particularly if one would like to eventually earn tenure at the college or university at which one teaches.

Different Types of Doctoral Degrees
The Ph.D. degree might be one of the most recognizable post-graduate degrees, but it is certainly not the only doctoral degree one can earn. Besides the Doctor of Philosophy, here are a few other doctoral-level degrees for professionals:

Ed.D. Doctor of Education
Psy.D. Doctor of Psychology
D.B.A. Doctor of Business Administration
J.D. Juris Doctor (Law Degree) -- earned after the bachelor's degree
D.D.S. Doctor of Dental Surgery
D.F.A. Doctor of Fine Arts

It is important to note that colleges and universities vary in their focus for doctoral-level academic programs; therefore not all degrees will have the same title. For example, while most education programs culminate in the Ed.D., there are a number that offer the Ph.D. instead.

How to Obtain a Ph.D. Degree
In order to obtain a Ph.D. degree, one must first earn a graduate degree, which should be in the same or similar academic field, as the Ph.D. program will be a natural extension of those studies. The undergraduate degree may be earned in a different field entirely, though many Ph.D. candidates are consistent with the scope of their studies during the years.

The Ph.D. student must complete credits in classroom instruction, then work with closely with an advisor to complete, defend, and possibly publish a dissertation. The dissertation is a well-researched written work that is the result of years of research.

Since the dissertation is such a time-consuming body of work, it is not uncommon for Ph.D. students to take several years to write it. A number of Ph.D. candidates change their mind and decide not to complete their dissertations, leaving them with the letters A.B.D. (All But Dissertation) after their names, instead of the coveted Ph.D. designation.

Applying for a Ph.D. Degree Program
Prospective students apply to a Ph.D. degree program just as they would any other degree program. Required application materials include a statement of purpose (essay), transcripts, standardized test scores, letters of recommendation, and a writing or research portfolio.

Typical Length of a Ph.D. Degree
It is difficult to determine the typical length of a Ph.D. degree program, as doctoral students often vary in the time it takes to finish the written dissertation. Most students will finish classwork in about two years, but the length of time it will take them to finish the extensively researched written body of work is determined by their own personal schedules. It is not uncommon for students to finish their coursework in due time, but to linger for semesters, even years, with the letters ABD (all but dissertation) after their names, instead of the Ph.D. they have been so focused on earning. As a result, most universities will place a restriction on the length of a Ph.D. program by granting students a certain number of years in which to finish their dissertation and graduate the program.

How to Prepare for a Ph.D. Degree Program
Before you begin a Ph.D. program, you will need to have earned a Master's degree in a similar field. Most likely you will have already taken the GRE exam to get into that graduate program, but many Ph.D. programs require updated scores for the general exam, or else they require score results in the subject test area. Also, there are many schools that offer Master's/Ph.D. programs in which students are accepted with a bachelor's degree, and then they are required to complete a two-year's Master's program before moving onto the more rigorous doctoral program.

A doctoral degree program includes rigorous study of a chosen subject, so it almost goes without saying that a person considering a Ph.D. program should be certain of his or her interest in that field, as he or she will be studying, researching, and writing about topics in that field for years to come.

Skill Sets Developed in a Ph.D. Degree Program
Research and writing are two of the major skill sets that are developed in a Ph.D. program. Speaking is another skill that will be honed first during the Master's degree phase and then during the Ph.D. portion of studies, as oral comprehensive exams are also required, as well as the presentation of important research papers, including a defense of the Master's thesis and the Ph.D. dissertation.

Interesting Ph.D. Degrees

  • Ph.D. in Peace or Conflict Studies
  • Ph.D. in Church Music
  • Ph.D. in Recreation and Leisure Studies

Celebrities With Noteworthy Doctoral Degrees

  • Bill Cosby: Ed.D., the University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • Mayim Bialik: Ph.D. in Neuroscience, UCLA
  • Temple Grandin: Doctor of Animal Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

How to Best Leverage a Ph.D. Degree
"Graduate school isn't as broad based as your baccalaureate program, which prepared you to be a well-rounded citizen," says Jean Dyer, dean of the College of Health Services at Misericordia University in Dallas, PA. "Graduate programs are a lot more focused and, as a result, are more relevant to your interests. That also makes it more fun."

That also means you're expected to be a more active participant in your education that you might have been as an undergrad. "The delivery is more interactive and project-based," says Dyer. "And because you're interested in your subjects, you naturally just get more involved

Universities work hard to make graduate programming convenient for students. "There are full-time day programs, part-time evening programs and online programs. Each type of program requires a different degree of intensity and length of study time, and these attributes are inversely correlated," says Dr. May Lo, professor of accounting and director of the Master of Science in Accounting program at Western New England College in Springfield, Mass. "For example, a full-time graduate study program involves complete immersion, and little time for other professional and personal activities. Fortunately, given the technology available for course delivery today, many graduate programs are innovative and flexible enough to allow students pursue a graduate degree in a way that suits their lifestyle."

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