Choosing a Degree

Applied Doctorate vs. Ph.D.: What are the Differences?

Making a choice between two similar but different things can be a challenge.

Oh, sure, some things don’t fall under the “do-or-die” category of decision making. With some things, there simply is no wrong choice.

Take a sports car versus an SUV, for example. Either is a great choice, depending on your budget, your lifestyle and your personal preferences.

What about an angus beef burger versus a textured soy protein patty? When it comes to radically opposing food choices, there’s usually a clear-cut winner.

Yet what about the more important things in life … like your career, your future and your doctoral education?

You already know the drill when it comes to deciding if a Ph.D. or doctorate is right for you:

  1. Investigate each type of degree program.
  2. Make a list of personal and professional pros and cons for each type of degree.
  3. Seek the wise counsel of colleagues, academic advisors and professional mentors.
  4. Make a confident decision about which degree is right for.

But first, let’s define the Ph.D. and the professional doctorate and then look at how they’re different from one another.

What is a Ph.D.?

A Ph.D., or Doctor of Philosophy, is a high-level degree earned after a period of three or more years of graduate-level study, culminating in the creation, submission, presentation and defense of a research dissertation.

The Ph.D. can be awarded in a wide variety of fields, including the sciences, engineering and humanities. The term “philosophy,” according to Wikipedia, “does not refer solely to the field or academic disciple of philosophy, but is used in a broader sense in accordance with its original Greek meaning, which is ‘love of wisdom.’”

For some professions, such as university professor or researcher, the Ph.D. is pretty much de rigor. Most Ph.D.s are earned as a means of contributing original research findings to an academic community, field of study or professional discipline.

What is an applied professional doctorate?

This doctorate is an advanced, high-level degree, too, earned after a period of three or more years of graduate-level study across a wide variety of disciplines. Like the Ph.D. it, too, culminates in the creation, submission, presentation and defense of a research dissertation or similar type of comprehensive final project.

The professional doctorate is also a research-based degree, only it emphasizes looking at existing bodies of knowledge and raising questions for the purposes of solving a problem and applying theories to a real-world setting.

Applied doctorate degrees first became well established in the United Kingdom and Australia and were initially offered in the United States by for-profit colleges and universities. Employer demand for higher skill levels and actionable problem-solving, however, opened up new programs at accredited non-profit institutions.

Different than a theoretical, Ph.D. degree, the professional doctorate is often the best terminal degree for the working professional who’s driven to lead and innovate.

Applied doctoral degree programs offer the opportunity to earn a practical degree that enables both subject mastery and field application.

What is the difference between the Ph.D. and doctorate?

It’s often assumed that a Ph.D. is a teaching-only degree while a professional doctorate is for the corporate player. The truth is, either degree can be valued in an academic or professional setting, depending on the type of institution or organization. Furthermore, either degree could be right for you.

Dr. Christopher Washington, Franklin University’s provost and chief academic officer explains the fundamental difference between the Ph.D. and the applied professional doctorate degree this way:

“With a Ph.D., you generate new theory. With the professional doctorate, you start from a place of practice and what’s going on in the world. You look at existing bodies of knowledge to see what theories have been created. Then you raise questions to determine how to design experiences that test theory to practice. In cultivating these types of practitioner-oriented scholars, there’s potential for a stronger and better relationship between the scholar and the community he or she serves. Such a connection helps us convene people to tackle the hard questions.”

Here we offer a side-by-side comparison of the Ph.D. and the professional doctorate to further demonstrate the differences (and similarities):

Ph.D. Professional Doctorate
Goal – Advance the field through theoretical research
– Construct new knowledge or theories
– Advance the field through applying an existing body of knowledge, research and theory
– Enrich knowledge base and research skills
– Form questions to make sense of data to advance organizational goals and address societal problems
Outcomes – Conduct theoretical research
– Seek a tenured, higher education academic position
– Practice in the field and advance to leadership
– Teach in higher education institutions
Student Population – Those seeking theoretical research experience – Those seeking to solve practical problems in their field
Admission Requirements – Master’s degree – Master’s degree
Assessment – Comprehensive exam
– Research portfolio
– Dissertation
– Comprehensive exam
– Portfolio
– Dissertation

 

As you can see, the differences between the Ph.D. and the applied doctorate are few – and many – most of which are directly related to how earning the degree will impact your career.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself before deciding which degree is right for you:

  • Do you want to conduct research or analyze and apply it?
  • Do you want to work in an academic or professional setting?
  • Do you want to identify problems or lead solutions to them?

Explains Dr. Washington, “If you want to generate new theory and conduct pure science within the pursuit of an academic life, then the Ph.D. is probably more in line with what you’ll need. If, however, you want to advance knowledge within a complex, global practice context while challenging yourself professionally, consider the applied doctorate degree.”