Executive PhD Program Information

Executive Ph.D. programs are designed for working professionals seeking to expand their leadership knowledge and skills in order to advance their executive careers. Learn what these programs have to offer in terms of prerequisites, specialization options, and common course content.

Essential Information

Busy professionals who currently hold high-level leadership positions in their fields may be interested in applying to an executive Ph.D. program. These programs are designed for working professionals; students do not attend full-time, and most classes are held on evenings or weekends. Executive Ph.D. programs are offered in many areas, but higher education, business administration and organizational leadership are three common choices.

Areas of emphasis include technology management, entrepreneurship, operations management, and many others, especially for a Ph.D. in business administration. Extensive research and dissertations may be required. Entrance into these programs typically requires a master's and/or bachelor's degree and experience in the field you're applying to.

Executive Ph.D. in Higher Education

Executive Ph.D. programs in higher education focus on management and leadership in postsecondary educational settings. Although programs vary, they share common values, including diversity and strategic leadership. Some schools allow students to specialize in the administration of student affairs, assessment, government relations or financial administration. Upon applying to an executive Ph.D. program in higher education, prospective students should hold a master's degree in education and professional experience in educational leadership. Applicants submit GRE or GMAT test scores, letters of recommendation and writing samples. Some schools expect students to discuss plans for their dissertation topic as part of the application process. Additionally, executive Ph.D. applicants may be expected to have completed transferable graduate course credits to apply toward the Ph.D. degree.

Executive Ph.D. programs have flexible weekend cohorts; students meet with the same group of students for the duration of the program. In addition to the completion of a dissertation and defense, Ph.D. students are expected to perform research and publish findings in academic journals. Course topics associated with Ph.D. in higher education include:

  • International education
  • Foundations in higher education
  • Strategic planning
  • Globalization in higher education
  • Delivery systems
  • Program evaluations

Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership

Organizational leaders with a Ph.D. conduct research, teach and manage programs in a variety of industries, including business, education, healthcare or the nonprofit sector. Most organizational leadership programs are interdisciplinary, which means they draw upon specific knowledge from many professional fields, such as psychology, global studies, entrepreneurship, education, business and management. Schools may allow students to concentrate in one or more professional fields. Ph.D. programs in organizational leadership can be completed in 3-5 years of full-time study, but some schools offer executive Ph.D. or other flexible formats. Applicants for a Ph.D. program in organizational leadership should possess a master's degree from an accredited institution, but select schools will accept students with a bachelor's degree and a strong sense of professional direction. GMAT, MAT or GRE scores should be submitted with the Ph.D. application. In addition, schools require applicants to submit written recommendations, writing samples and a resume.

To earn a Ph.D. in organizational leadership, students should expect to complete a combination of exams, an oral defense and dissertation. Professional research is a significant component to any Ph.D. program. Course topics may include the following:

  • Ethics in planning
  • Change in leadership
  • Instructional leadership
  • Historical perspectives on leadership
  • Policy and politics
  • Standards in higher education

Ph.D. in Business Administration

Students interested in obtaining a Ph.D. in business administration or management may choose from various concentrations, including entrepreneurship, operations management, technology management, real estate and risk prevention. Ph.D. program applicants in business administration or management must possess a bachelor's degree and at least two years of graduate work in the applicable field. Upon applying, prospective students should submit a resume, personal statement, GMAT scores, recommendations and official transcripts.

A Ph.D. program in business administration will usually require 4-6 years of full-time study, but schools with executive Ph.D. programs offer weekend classes and flexible schedules. Students should expect to complete a dissertation and take core curriculum classes, such as:

  • Advanced research methods
  • Statistics and probability
  • Leadership and change
  • Organizational systems
  • Marketing theories
  • Information systems

Popular Career Options

Graduates of an executive Ph.D. program in higher education work in colleges, vocational schools, universities and human service agencies. Many graduates accept higher positions within the organization that they are currently working. Others seek new opportunities. Popular careers include:

  • Researcher
  • Policy analyst
  • Administrative advisor
  • Program director
  • College Professor

Because organizational leadership is an interdisciplinary field that can be applied to many organizational missions, Ph.D. graduates will expand on their current work or find new leadership positions in one of many industries. Graduates may be interested in careers such as:

  • College professor
  • Chief executive
  • Professional consultant
  • Political advisor
  • Research analyst professor

Business administrators and managers hold positions in many fields. Below are some of the most popular careers associated with a Ph.D. in business administration and management:

  • Chief executive of operations (CEO)
  • College professor
  • Economic consultant
  • Business analyst

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, top executives were projected to see a 6% growth in employment opportunities from 2014-2024. The mean annual wages of chief executives were $185,850 in May 2015.

Executive Ph.D. programs can teach you the skills to thrive in any number of leadership positions. With flexible learning schedules and several options for specialization, you can make these last few years of study your own and prepare for the job best suited for your talents.

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