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Doctoral-level degrees fall into two main categories: PhD degree programs and professional doctorate degree programs. Both represent the highest level of graduate degrees. They share many similarities, including the encouragement of critical and creative thinking and an intensive, independent research component.

PhD candidates present their research findings in the format of a dissertation, while professional doctorate candidates present their findings in the format of a doctoral study. Both types of degrees are recognized equally by the U.S. Department of Education.

Whether you earn a PhD degree or a professional doctorate degree, you will become an expert in your field with the flexibility to move ahead in your current position, switch gears to an academic career, or pursue a position as a consultant or administrator.

Professional Doctorate Degree vs. PhD Degree

To better understand the difference between a doctoral study and a dissertation, it’s best to first define the fundamental differences between a PhD program and a professional doctorate program.

  • A PhD degree, also known as an academic doctoral degree, can be pursued by college graduates who don’t yet have relevant work experience or by working professionals who are interested in using their advanced research skills and dissertation to add to the existing body of knowledge in their field. The estimated time for completing an online PhD program is 4 to 7 years.*
  • A professional doctorate degree is designed for working professionals with practical experience in their field. Professionals often choose a doctoral program to increase their knowledge, advance their careers, and translate their work experience into a higher position of credibility, leadership, and influence. The coursework and research allow students to connect existing theories with practice. Professional doctoral research focuses more on applying existing theories and knowledge to address real-world business problems. The estimated time for completing an online doctoral program is 3 to 4 years.*

Doctoral Study for Professional Doctorate Degree Programs

As a doctoral student, you will learn research methods, plan and design your research, and present your findings in a scholarly paper called a doctoral study. The study’s purpose is to make an original contribution to your field by creating a practical solution to a real problem.

In a doctoral study, you will identify a problem, present your methodology, describe your project, make observations about your findings, and present your practical solution. The doctoral study’s components demonstrate your competence in research and research design, your subject matter expertise, and your command of critical thinking and academic writing.

The capstone of the professional doctoral program consists of:

  • The creation of a proposal that describes the problem you want to solve, the purpose of the study, and your research questions, methodology, and design.
  • A proposal oral defense of your research proposal to the doctoral committee (a 20-minute presentation followed by a question-and-answer session).
  • Collecting data and writing the findings.
  • A final oral defense of your research findings to the doctoral committee.

Notably, Walden University’s online doctoral programs, such as the accredited Doctor of Business Administration, feature a doctoral study that is context-based within an organizational setting and linked to social change.

Dissertation for PhD Programs

As a PhD student, you’ll create a research project that reflects your interests and can have a real, significant impact in your community or your profession. At Walden, you are asked to engage in a research project that can make a positive difference in the world, reflective of our university’s mission of effecting positive social change. You will begin exploring and attempting to solve a real-world problem from day one.

The capstone of the doctoral program consists of:

  • Drafting a dissertation prospectus that outlines your research questions and data collection plan.
  • A proposal oral defense of your research dissertation to the doctoral committee.
  • Completing a research dissertation that identifies a research problem, provides a literature review, defines your research methods, reveals your findings, and ends with a summary, conclusions, and implications. According to DegreeInfo.com, the average length of a dissertation is 150–200 pages.†
  • A final oral defense of your research dissertation to the doctoral committee.

Review Doctoral Dissertations by Walden Students

Browse our archive of hundreds of doctoral studies and dissertations created by Walden University doctoral students.

By learning the answer to “What is the difference between a doctoral study and a dissertation?” you are in a stronger position to make the best decision for achieving your educational and career goals with an online university degree program.

Learn more about Walden’s broad selection of accredited, online PhD programs and professional doctoral programs. Please note that a select number of our doctoral programs only require a bachelor’s degree for admission. For details, call an enrollment advisor at 1-866-492-5336.

Walden University, an accredited institution, has been serving the higher education needs of adult learners for 45 years. Today, more than 47,800 students from all 50 U.S. states and more than 150 countries are pursuing their bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degrees or certificates online at Walden.

Explore Walden University's online doctoral degree programs and change your future faster! Earn your degree at a pace that fits your life and schedule.


*Time to completion may vary by student, depending on individual progress and credits transferred, if applicable.

†DegreeInfo.com. Retrieved from http://www.degreeinfo.com/general-distance-learning-discussions/7163-dissertation-length-no-hard-rule.html

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