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How Do I Choose a Doctoral Program?

Four Questions to Ask Yourself as You Search for Your PhD or Doctorate Program

When it comes to advancing your college education, earning a doctoral degree is the ultimate feat. With just 4.5 million Americans holding this high-level academic credential,1 a PhD or other type of doctoral degree puts you among a select group of top academic achievers. A doctoral degree can position you as an expert in your field, help you advance you career, prepare you for leadership and research opportunities, and set you up to become a professor at a university or college.


Furthering your college education with a doctoral degree can pay off in other big ways, too. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, professionals who hold a doctoral degree earn almost 25% more in weekly earnings than someone with a master’s degree, and over 35% more than those with a bachelor’s degree.2

Earning a PhD or doctorate has many benefits, but it also requires a signficant investment of time, money, and energy. Choosing the right doctoral degree program is key. Ask yourself these four questions as you compare colleges and doctoral programs during your search for the perfect fit:

1. Does the Doctoral Degree Program Align With My Career Goals?

Few people, if any, return to college for a doctoral education just for fun. You likely have specific career and personal goals driving your decision to earn a doctoral degree. It is important to understand what those drivers are, and then find a doctoral degree program designed to help you achieve those goals.

As part of that process, you’ll need to decide if you want to earn a PhD or a professional doctorate. What is the difference, you might ask? Let’s take a look:

  • A PhD is an academic degree focused on original research, data analysis, and the evaluation of theory.
  • A professional doctorate focuses on applying research to practical problems, formulating solutions to complex issues, and designing effective professional practices within your field.

In other words, if you’re interested in contributing original research to your field, perhaps as a consultant or university researcher, you might prefer a PhD. However, a professional doctorate could be the better choice if your career goals involve working directly in the profession and applying existing research to advance your field.

2. Do I Want an Online or Campus-Based Doctoral Degree Program?

Another factor to consider is whether you want to earn a doctoral degree from an online university or a traditional brick-and-mortar school. Your first instinct might be to explore the PhD and doctorate programs available at local universities and colleges, but don’t overlook online doctoral degree programs. In fact, many doctoral students have found online learning to be an excellent option.

Getting a doctoral degree from an online program offers many advantages. Online PhD or doctorate programs are not only convenient (no commute to campus), they also give you the flexibility to learn from anywhere, anytime. This is especially ideal for busy working adults who want to get a doctoral education while balancing career and life responsibilities.

Also, when you learn online in a virtual classroom, you become part of a diverse global community of learners and educators. Online learning gives you access to peers and experts in your field from around the U.S. and the world—all from the comfort of your own home.

3. Does the University or College Offering the Doctoral Program Have a Good Reptation?

When deciding where to earn your doctoral degree, be sure to choose an accredited university or college. One accredited online school that has been recognized for its doctoral degree programs is Walden University. As the No. 1 granter of doctoral research degrees,3 Walden is a top choice for doctoral students.

4.How Will the Doctoral Degree Program Support My Success?

Earning a PhD or professional doctorate is not an easy task. You’ll likely need a lot of help and guidance along the way. When searching for a PhD or doctorate program, choose a college or university that understands what it takes to support your academic success—as a new student, a doctoral candidate, and a graduate.

Good colleges and universities will offer doctoral students a full suite of personalized services and resources. These services might include peer and faculty mentoring; tutoring and career guidance; and research, library, and writing programs that can help you complete your dissertation.

Choose an Online Doctoral Degree Program That Will Support Your Career Success

Are you ready to make a decision? Walden University offers over 20 online doctoral degree programs with more than 140 specializations designed to fit your career goals and interests. By earning a PhD or doctorate, you can achieve the highest academic standing in your profession and advance your field through leadership, research, and new ideas.

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

3Source: National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Integrated Postsecondary Education Database (IPEDS). Retrieved March 2020; includes 2017–18 provisional data and all classifications of instructional programs (CIP) codes. A doctoral research degree is a PhD or other doctoral degree that requires advanced work beyond the master’s level, including the preparation and defense of a dissertation based on original research or the planning and execution of an original project demonstrating substantial artistic or scholarly achievement. Some examples of this type of degree may include EdD, DMA, DBA, DSc, DA, DM, or others, as designated by the awarding institution.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,