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Does a professional doctorate or a Ph.D. better meet your career objectives?

“Better” is a relative word. That’s because “better” for you may not be “better” for someone else. Perhaps the, um, better rationale is as a comparative.

So, comparatively speaking, in order to determine when a professional doctorate is better than a Ph.D. we need to look some of their differences.

Think of the comparison between a professional doctorate and a Ph.D. kind of like fraternal twins; they are alike but wholly and uniquely different.

Both the Ph.D. and the applied doctorate are applicable to many different career paths, including faculty and adjunct educators, as well as corporate professionals. Of course, some careers, such as teaching at a Tier 1 research institute, will require the Ph.D. Others, however, such as analyst or consultant are better served by the applied doctorate degree.

Earning a doctorate is challenging and rewarding, but do you know what to really expect? Download this free guide for tips and insights to help you prepare for success.

Traditionally, according to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) International, “doctoral education, in many respects, has been refined over decades as a rite of passage for those aspiring to one day enter the faculty ranks.”  And yet, AACSB International also states in its report, “The Promise of Business Doctoral Education,” that Ph.D. education models are driven by “traditions and processes” and are “in need of entering a new age.”

That new age being applied doctoral programs oriented toward non-academic career paths.

Here, we offer a visual comparison of the traditional Ph.D. and the professionally oriented doctorate:

 Ph.DProfessional Doctorate
DemographicsYounger adults (mid/late 20s) with predominately academic experienceWorking adults with prior professional experience
MotivationResearching, consulting or teaching at the university levelPersonal ambition and professional development to drive results at the highest level
Skills OutcomeAbility to conduct research, interpret and apply results to broaden the disciplineAbility to frame and communicate research findings toward problem solving
Program FormatOften full-time, with opportunity to teach or conduct research in a university settingOften part-time, academically oriented blended with real-world practice

Although the United Kingdom and Australia have long offered more professionally oriented programs, they are beginning to emerge in the United States at both for-profit and nonprofit educational institutions.

In fact, as demand has increased for enhanced problem-solving, leadership and technology in the corporate world and throughout healthcare and other organizations, accredited, nonprofits like Franklin University have developed high-quality, relevant, innovative curriculum for the adult learner.

Different than a theoretical, academia-focused Ph.D. degree, an applied doctorate is a practical degree that enables both subject mastery and field application.

And therein lies the biggest difference: academic versus application.

While ultimately only you can decide if an applied doctorate or a Ph.D. is right for you, here we offer four truths for your consideration.

Truth #1: An applied doctorate can help you solve practical problems in your field.

Not everyone wants to come up with something brand new. And that’s perfectly fine. In fact, sifting through others’ research and synthesizing the findings to solve a problem, uncover an idea or innovate a solution can be equally beneficial.

An applied doctorate, like the three doctoral programs offered by Franklin, reinforces the core technical aspects of quality research while also providing sought-after communication skills and technology capabilities. With this type of terminal degree, you are prepared to make logical, relevant connections between classroom learnings and real-world challenges.

By combining both research and application, an applied doctorate’s research side can arm you with deeper insight, while the application side can help you make decisions to address, solve and overcome organization-wide issues, challenges and problems.

Truth #2: An applied doctorate can help you advance your field through applied research and development.

Both the Ph.D. and the applied doctorate can help you advance your field. Both involve research.

The difference, then, is in who does the research, how the research is presented, and in what way the research is applied.

Primarily, Ph.D.s broaden their field by conducting new research and developing theories. Those who hold a professional doctorate, however, use existing theoretical research to tackle and solve a current, real-world problem.

Consider how you want to use your degree to advance your field and then decide which one is right for you.

Truth #3: An applied doctorate offers non-traditional learners more flexibility.

While not true of all programs, many Ph.D. programs require a full-time commitment to the pursuit.

So if you’re looking for a professional doctorate to enhance your career and help move you to the next level – without taking time off to pursue your education on a full-time basis – then an applied doctorate could be right for you.

Investigate both Ph.D. and applied doctorate program particulars such as:

  • Online courses vs. on-campus classes
  • Residency requirements
  • Research focus
  • Dissertation structure
  • Doctoral student support and learning communities

Choose the program that suits your learning style, as well as your personal and professional situation.

Truth #4: An applied doctorate can help you finish what you start.

Let’s face it. Completion is many a candidate’s biggest obstacle.

The life changes accompanying Ph.D. studies can be disruptive and overwhelming. Choosing the right research focus can be difficult and laborious. The dissertation process can be scary and intimidating. The duration of the program can be long and challenging.

In fact, a paper published in the International Journal of Doctoral Studies by researchers Karen Hunter of the University of Alberta and Kay Devine of Athabasca University titled “Doctoral Students’ Emotional Exhaustion and Intentions to Leave Academia,” says the typical doctoral program in North America takes five to seven years to complete, followed by up to four years of postdoctoral training in the sciences.

They further found that many students “may be unprepared or poorly equipped to cope with the various challenges of their programs” citing such things as financial stress, isolation, thesis difficulties and advisor problems as reasons to abandon their programs before completion.

In fact, they say 57 percent of North American students never finish their terminal degree program.

You, however, do not have to be among them.

In addition to preparing yourself mentally, emotionally, socially, financially and academically, the right applied doctoral degree program can provide a clear, straightforward path – start to finish.

Look for a program specifically designed for working adults; one that can be completed in as little as three years; and with plenty of academic and motivational support.

Find out how Franklin University’s applied doctorates meet your career objectives.

Free Guide:
How to Complete Your Doctoral Journey
Discover common pitfalls and the 5 key metrics that will help you finish your doctorate degree.