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What Does Ph.D. Stand For?

Learn more about a Ph.D. Find out what it stands for and what is required to obtain one. Learn a bit about the expectations for students entering a Ph.D. program. View article »

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  • 0:01 Doctor of Philosophy…
  • 0:45 How Long Does a…
  • 1:19 What Subject Areas are…
  • 1:39 Who Might Pursue a PH.D.?

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Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) Overview

Program Level(s) Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Field(s) of Study Can include history, English, engineering, philosophy, and economics
Prerequisites Master's degree (some programs will accept a bachelor's degree)
Program Format 2-3 years of coursework and exams followed by 2-3 years preparing and defending a dissertation
Program Length 4-6 years
Career Fields Research within universities, organizations, or government agencies; teaching

Ph.D. stands for Doctor of Philosophy. A Ph.D. is the terminal degree for many subjects in the United States. Working towards a Ph.D. requires real dedication to one subject of study, since doctorate programs can take many years to complete.

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs are often taken by students looking for a research career within universities, nonprofit organizations or government agencies. Students interested in becoming university professors should expect to spend about a third of their time teaching and the rest conducting research, writing papers on behalf of the university, and attending conferences to present their research.

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How Long Does a Doctoral Program Take?

A Ph.D. program typically takes 4-6 years of full-time study to complete; part-time study may require a longer time commitment. Many schools have caps on how long a student may be enrolled in a Ph.D. program, which may force some students to pursue full-time status.

Full-time students pursuing a Ph.D. can expect to complete 2-3 years of coursework and spend the remainder of the program working on a doctoral dissertation. A doctoral dissertation is a piece of original research completed under the supervision of an advisor, often a professor.

What Subject Areas Are Available?

Ph.D. programs are offered in many different subjects areas, such as history, English, engineering, philosophy and economics. Not all universities offer Ph.D. programs, but they are common at public state universities. Many Ph.D. programs are highly specific and only offered at certain universities in the country.

Who Might Pursue a Ph.D.?

When choosing a Ph.D. program, students should prepare for a full commitment to the subject they plan to study. Most students earn their Ph.D. because they'd like to dedicate themselves not just to the lifelong study of a subject, but because they'd like to teach others this subject as well.

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