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Types of PhD Degrees: Overview of the Most Common Doctoral Programs

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the most popular fields of study by number of degrees awarded are in health professions, education, engineering, biological and biomedical sciences and legal professions. Doctorate programs in these fields can result in degrees such as a Doctor of Philosophy, Doctor of Medicine and Doctor of Education.

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What Are the Most Common Doctoral Programs?

The NCES ( publishes statistical data on a variety of educational topics, including the most common doctoral degrees awarded. According to the NCES, the most common field for doctoral degrees in the 2010-2011 academic year was health professions. The NCES reported that 60,200 doctoral degrees in health professions were awarded in that year.

In order, the next four most common fields for doctoral degrees in the same year were legal professions, education, engineering and biological and biomedical sciences. Together, these fields accounted for 70,600 degrees awarded.

Doctoral Programs in Health Professions

There are a wide range of doctoral degrees available in the health profession and related sciences. This field includes the Doctor of Medicine, Doctor of Nursing Practice and other degrees related to medicine and psychiatric health. Programs generally require 72 credit hours and are designed to prepare licensed health professionals for clinical practice and leadership roles. Doctoral graduates can also research, develop and implement solutions for the health industry.

Doctoral Programs in Legal Professions

The most common doctoral degree in the legal field is a Juris Doctor (J.D.), but some schools offer a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Law. The Ph.D. in Law program is for J.D. graduates and is primarily focused on research and a dissertation. J.D. students initially study general law topics before focusing on an area of concentration, such as business law, entertainment and public law.

Doctoral Programs in Education

Doctoral programs in education can lead to a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) or a Ph.D. in Education. Students can major in education, educational leadership or special education. There are also a variety of concentrations available, such as educational administration and policy, early childhood education, education policy, evaluation and reform, teacher leadership and higher education.

Doctoral Programs in Engineering

Engineers use knowledge of math, material sciences, natural sciences and physics to develop ways of using materials and natural forces to benefit people in a wide variety of ways. Ph.D. programs for engineers offer many areas of concentration. Possible engineering concentrations include civil, electrical, computer, mechanical, petroleum and geological. Depending on the school and program, 36-72 credits may be required.

Doctoral Programs in Biological and Biomedical Sciences

Schools offering doctoral degrees in biomedical sciences also offer several areas of specialization. Students can choose from concentrations such as biomedical engineering, developmental biology, biochemistry and molecular biology, virology, neurobiology of disease, cancer biology, immunology, genetics and genomics, gene therapy and pathology. Programs often include lab rotations and teaching training.

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