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How Long Does It Take to Earn a Doctoral Degree?

Understanding the process of completing a professional doctorate or PhD program can help you better prepare to earn your doctoral degree.

Everyone has heard the stories about students who spend a decade or more earning a doctoral degree. That might make you think twice about earning your own doctorate. But those stories shouldn’t dissuade you. An important part of the doctoral journey is strong support and flexibility—and you can get that from an online doctoral degree program.


The choice of PhD vs. professional doctorate can influence how long it takes you to earn your degree because the way you earn them differs. The number of doctoral degree years you invest also can depend partly on your intended course of study. For instance, though it can vary by degree program and university, PhD candidates usually complete a dissertation while many doctoral candidates complete a doctoral study.

  • A doctoral study requires you to identify a real-world problem within your field and research it thoroughly with the intent of uncovering new understandings that can eventually lead to new solutions. Completing the study takes multiple steps, which may include:
    • Creating a proposal that describes the problem you want to solve, the design of your study, and the methodology you’ll use.
    • Orally defending your proposal to the committee.
    • Collecting data and writing findings.
    • Orally defending your findings to the committee.
  • A PhD dissertation requires you to conduct research into an approved area of study within your discipline. While this can be in an area that has not yet been explored, it often complements existing knowledge by adding new or missing research. Completing the dissertation takes multiple steps, including:
    • Drafting a dissertation prospectus and orally defending your proposal to a committee.
    • Completing the research.
    • Writing the research dissertation, which includes your methods, findings, literature review, and conclusions.
    • Orally defending your completed dissertation to a committee.

How Long Does It Take to Earn a PhD?

Generally, a PhD program can take three to five years to complete. PhD candidates, typically, must complete a dissertation, which requires them to conduct research into an approved area of study within their discipline. Usually, this is an area no one in their discipline has fully researched before.

And PhD programs are not the only road to earning a doctoral degree. You could also choose to earn a professional doctorate.

How Long Does It Take to Earn a Professional Doctorate?

Professional doctorate candidates must complete a doctoral study, which requires them to identify a real-world problem within their field and research it thoroughly to bring new understanding and solutions to complex issues. Completion time varies by doctoral candidate, but it can take from two and a half years to eight or nine years, depending on your program.

If this seems like a long time, remember that by choosing the field and doctoral program that’s best suited to your interests and career goals, you’re more likely get more enjoyment out of your doctoral degree years.

Get the Support You Need for Your Doctorate

You will also want to make sure that the university you select has the support and resources to help you succeed. Walden’s numerous support opportunities, from doctoral peer mentors to knowledgeable financial advisors, can help you on your doctoral journey. Other resources include:

  • Online Library: Walden’s online library has more than 189,000 electronic books; more than 91,000 full-text journals; and 170+ databases. It also includes tutorials and webinars to help you use research tools and resources more effectively.
  • Center for Research Quality: A wonderful resource for doctoral students, the Center for Research Quality provides access to a wide range of online services and the advice of trained research staff in support of the highest ethical standards in research. You will also find resources for publishing and presenting your research and submitting it to Walden’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) to ensure it conforms to the highest ethical standards.
  • Academic Skills Center: Walden’s CAEX courses, seminars, and doctoral writing workshops can help you strengthen skills that impact your current coursework and beyond.
  • The Writing Center: Walden’s staff of dissertation editors and writing tutors is ready to help you find and refine your scholarly voice, working with you one-on-one online and in person at academic residencies.

For more details, explore Walden’s doctoral journey page. There, you’ll learn more about what your educational path could look like, what it takes to earn a doctorate, and how to fund your degree.

Consider the Advantages of Online Learning

Whether you choose a PhD or professional doctorate program, consider online education.

Online PhD programs and online professional doctorate programs allow you to earn your degree from wherever you live. All you need is internet access. And unlike most campus-based programs, online doctoral programs provide excellent flexibility. Online doctoral degree programs let you choose when to focus on your coursework. They let you work on a schedule that meets your needs and give you the opportunity to continue working and enjoying your personal life.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering doctoral degree programs online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

Walden University is accredited by The Learning Commission,