Choosing a Degree

How to Get a Doctorate Degree

If earning a doctorate degree were easy, everyone would do it.

But not everyone does.

It takes a certain kind of fortitude to commit to – and finish – such a rigorous academic program.

Those who do are among an elite group of finishers because, according to The Atlantic magazine, about 50 percent of all doctoral students leave their program before completion.

But you don’t have to be one of them.

When it comes to successfully completing your doctorate, here are 3 insider secrets from Franklin University Provost, Christopher Washington, Ph.D.

1. Pick the Right Modality

Modality is defined as “the way something is done.” Keep in mind that there are many ways to skin the proverbial cat. No two doctoral programs are alike. And there is no perfect program.

That being said, do your due diligence in investigating a variety of doctoral programs so you can pick the one that best aligns with your learning approach, lifestyle and professional goals.

“All scholarly work is the pursuit of developing yourself as a leader scholar,” says Dr. Washington. “In that pursuit, look for an institution, faculty, advisor and curriculum that supports your goals.”

For some, that can mean a program with primarily face-to-face classes. Because they’re at the highest level of education, doctoral programs can be intense. Make sure you’re committed to the rigor that a work-to-class-to-home commute and extended in-classroom coursework can bring. If you want and need the structure of in-person classes, seek out a program that offers them while providing work-life balance throughout the course of your studies.

For others, such as the working adult, the right program means earning an applied doctorate degree online. Quality, online doctoral programs let you complete your terminal degree in the convenience of your own home or office via computer. Just be sure you pick one from a fully accredited online institution to ensure you receive the highest quality education possible.

Not sure if online is right for you?
Read this: Six Reasons Why Online Studies Are Awesome.

In addition to class types, there are lots of other considerations when choosing your doctoral program, including:

  • Cost of Tuition
  • Acceptance of Transfer Credit
  • Program Duration
  • Institutional Reputation
  • In- and Post-Program Support
  • Student Resources
  • Dissertation Process
  • Leader-Scholar Communities

2. Prepare Yourself Thoroughly

Like having a baby, most people pursuing a doctorate degree know for certain that their life will change – but few realize just how much and in what ways.

But also like having a baby, preparing as much as you possibly can will help bolster your success rate.

Two Canadian researchers surveyed 186 doctoral students from nine countries and found that, for the most part, being unprepared mentally, emotionally, socially, financially and academically can lead to emotional exhaustion and high dropout rates.

Their research showed that many students (in spite of previously high academic achievement) became depressed over the extreme stresses and pressures of their program.

According to the published research:

“The combination of low status, high workload, frequent evaluation, competition, in- sufficient supervisor support, and financial duress that employees experience are also common for doctoral students, and likely lead to stress. Doctoral student well-being may also be affected by the socialization process and learning environment, which can vary significantly between departments and academic disciplines.”

Source: (Hunter, K.H., & Devine, K. (2016). Doctoral students’ emotional exhaustion and intentions to leave academia. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 11, 35-61.)

But don’t let these findings discourage you. Instead, learn from them.

Here’s how to overcome the potential for burnout and dropout:

  • Pick a program designed for start-to-finish success.
  • Look for programs designed for completion in three or four years instead of five or more.
  • Let go of unrealistic expectations about how things “should be” while you’re enrolled in a doctoral program.
  • Realize that your doctoral studies will require a short-term, temporary life-adjustment on your part.
  • Understand that while you can achieve some semblence of work-life balance it’s virtually impossible to “have it all.”
  • See #3 below. (Hint: It’s the most important one of all!)

Says Dr. Washington, “Low completion rates should be a big concern. Look carefully at the institution and the program. What success does the school and program have with mentoring and coaching students to completion? Talk to alumni who came before you who know the journey. What support did they get before, during and after completion? What can they tell you about overcoming completion obstacles? Find out what kind of student services are in place to support your success. Will you have a dedicated faculty advisor? Is there a community of practice where you can connect and stay connected to others to keep you motivated and on track?”

3. Enlist 360-Degree Support

As reported in The Atlantic, researchers found that completion had less to do with academic prowess than mental distress – including isolation, loneliness and a culture of critique.

To combat the problem, look for a program that offers a wide breadth of support and services, such as:

  • Collaborative Learning Communities
  • Research Advice
  • Faculty Mentoring
  • Progress Reviews
  • Personal Librarian
  • Student Workshops
  • Motivation & Guidance
  • Milestone Completion Checklist

“Program differentiators, including a guided pathway, three-year design, learning communities and faculty mentoring, can really make a difference,” says Dr. Washington. “Find an institution that not only is invested in your success, but literally helps you transform your life and achieve your goal of earning your applied doctorate degree.”