What is the Value of a Doctorate/PhD Degree?

It usually takes students reaching high school before they get a full grasp of the concept of academic degrees. Although a master’s or bachelor’s degree both sound prestigious, a doctorate degree adds even more valuable prestige, notes The City University of New York’s Brooklyn College. When it comes to the PhD, just about any aspiring student and professional can identify with; it’s the top honor.

Doctorate Degree Explained

The doctoral degree is the culmination of graduate education and attracts the brightest and best international and domestic students. It is considered in the United States to be the highest degree a student can earn in any given study or field.

A doctorate degree, on average, takes anywhere from 4 to 6 years to complete after completing the bachelor’s degree. If you already hold a master’s degree in the field you are studying and you are pushing for a doctorate degree, it might only take 3 years to complete this additional study.

There are essential two common forms of doctorate degrees.

Research (Ph. D.) programs

The Research doctorate is awarded by universities and colleges all over the world. This degree is awarded to candidates who were able to conduct research that could be published in a peer-reviewed academic journal. Obtaining a doctorate degree can lead to existing research positions in the chosen field.

Professional doctorates

This degree focuses on research that is applied or research designed to be used exclusively for professional purposes.

Examples of professional doctorates include:

  • Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.)
  • Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.M.D)
  • Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.)
  • Doctor of Ministry (D.Min)
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.)
  • Doctor of Optometry (O.D.)
  • Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.)
  • Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.)
  • Doctor of Physical Therapy (D.P.T.)
  • Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (D.P.M.)
  • Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.)
  • Juris Doctor (J.D.)
  • Medical Doctor (M.D.)
  • Veterinary Medical Doctor (V.M.D.)

The Prerequisites

Typically, a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree is the only prerequisite in addition to the usual application trials and requirements. Your GRE scores should be high too since you will be going after a more prestigious academic degree.


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, between the years 2012 and 2022, employment by education requirement for doctoral degrees will increase by 16 percent. Students who absorb knowledge like a sponge, yearn for intellectual challenges, and are searching for better and new ways to advance knowledge will thrive in doctoral study. See our list of the 9 highest paying PhD programs of the future.

Median Weekly Earnings in 2014:

  • Doctoral Degree: $1,591
  • Professional Degree: $1,639
  • Master’s Degree: $1,326
  • Bachelor’s Degree: $1,101
  • Associates Degree: $792
  • Some College; no degree: $741
  • High School Diploma: $668
  • Less than High School Diploma: $488

Benefits of a Doctorate Degree

Higher-Level Skills

You won’t just show, but prove, that you have higher-level skills in research, analysis, and writing with a doctorate degree. Many fields now require top professionals to possess advanced abilities like these. They may insist on clinical or applied research. The educational process behind a doctorate degree enhances how you analyze and how you see connections.

Become Qualified for Top-Level Positions

A good candidate for a doctorate degree is an individual who is reasonably well-established in a career or field. They might currently be a manager or decision maker, but are looking to refine their skills so they can move to higher levels of decision-making.  A meticulous professional doctorate program pushes your boundaries and gives you the skills to think through and solve challenging and complex problems which can be translated directly to your field.

Gain Leadership Benefits and Scholarly Respect

Since this degree is the top-level academic achievement no matter what field you are going into, holders of this degree receive the scholarly respect that accompanies it. Doctorate holders are considered leaders in their chosen fields and contribute regularly to the development and innovation of relevant practices and knowledge.

Economic Payoff

Increasing your earning potential is a good reason for considering a doctorate degree whether it is for a present or future career. In fact, a doctorate degree is in some cases, a requirement for candidates to get into a top-level position. This might be pleasing to hear after sacrificing your money and time to get this degree.

It’s important, however, to understand that some fields provide a higher payoff than others. Be sure to take your future earning potential into consideration and calculate your ROI. For example, Payscale.com reports that a Psychologist with a doctorate degree can earn upwards of $114,000 and a Professor of Post-Secondary High School Education can earn upwards of $172,000.

In addition, a doctorate degree increases a student’s chances of avoiding unemployment, a very real problem in today’s economy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment rates in 2014 for individuals with a doctorate degree are 2.1 compared to 3.5% for those with a bachelor’s degree and 2.8 for those with a master’s degree.

Factors you Should Take into Consideration

Your Career Goals

Your career goals should be an important factor in making the decision to apply for your doctorate degree.  There are various types of higher degrees in the field of psychology.  Plus, graduate school is a huge commitment so it’s essential that you thoroughly research which degree will be better suited to your career goals.

Time Commitment

In addition to the tuition, there is another major investment associated with earning a PhD; that is your time. It requires you being a full-time student for over 8 years. You could be making a full time living during these years instead of a scanty graduate assistant’s allowance.

Instead of the two years it would take to get your Master’s degree, the doctorate degree takes between 4 to 8 years. You might want to consider how old you will be once you finish graduate school and reflect on how it will relate to other facets of your life and non-educational goals such as your relationships, family, and location.

Doesn’t Guarantee a Pay Increase

College graduates who are stuck in a mundane job may think they will get an instant salary bump if they go to graduate school. This is not true. It’s a gradual process. Based on a new report by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, across just about any field, individuals holding bachelor’s degrees who have a minimum of 3 years workforce experience out-earn individuals fresh out of graduate school.

The report analyzed census data from the years 2009 to 2012. This data revealed that work experience wielded a big impact on what individuals earn and in some cases, more than holding a degree.

When going to graduate school, no matter what degree or field you are pursuing, it’s important you prepare for a much different experience than during your years of being an undergraduate. When enrolling in a graduate degree program, your academic and professional goals should be your motivator.  Obtaining hands-on work experience through undergraduate work and internships will equip you for when you finally do get out there to start your career.

Takes Longer to Establish Yourself

It takes twice as long to get your PhD than your bachelors. For the average student, this is approximately eight years to get through a PhD program and an age of around 33. Many individuals holding a bachelor’s degree only are already established professionally at this age.


Around 40 percent of doctorate degree candidates have to borrow money in order to get their degree.  This averages close to $37,000, according to FinAid.org, and reported by CBS Money Watch. This is debt that is in addition to any other student loan assumed as an undergraduate.

Obtaining a PhD or other doctorate degree takes both an incredible amount of money and time. However, depending on your career goals, a doctorate degree might be absolutely essential and even required.  The path is rigorous, but it is well worth your time and effort since the contacts you make and experience you gain can be beneficial.  While earning your degree, it’s wise to keep close ties to your friends and professors since many of them can serve as useful allies later on after graduation.