What is a professional doctorate?

August 16, 2023

Reading time: 2–3 minutes

A professional doctorate is a doctoral degree designed to help you perform the practical application of knowledge in real-world settings.

Put simply, the professional doctorate is a terminal degree at the doctoral level that is not a PhD. You may hear these degrees called “applied” or “practitioner” degrees.

What is the difference between a PhD and a doctorate?

A doctor of philosophy degree (that is, a PhD) is one of several types of doctoral degree, and all doctoral degree recipients may use the title “doctor” before their name in their professional field.

While all PhDs are doctorates, not all doctorates are PhDs. The primary difference is the type of research conducted in the independent research phase of the program.

For more details, explore the doctoral journey.

PhD students complete a research project that extends theory and uses new knowledge to solve a specific real-world problem. PhD students demonstrate this through a dissertation, which they must successfully defend to earn their degree.

Students working on a professional doctorate are expected to apply existing knowledge to a real-world problem in their workplace or community. Professional doctoral students demonstrate this through the completion of an applied research project presented in the form of a paper, a portfolio or even a dissertation.

Here’s an example. Although a doctor of philosophy in education (PhD) and a doctor of education (EdD) are both doctoral degrees, PhD students will focus on conducting research and extending knowledge in their specialty. In contrast, EdD students will apply existing knowledge to improve education systems.

What are some fields that offer a professional doctorate?

Professional doctorates can be earned in many different areas and professions, including business (DBA), education (EdD), public health (DrPH), nursing (DNP), psychology (PsyD), health administration (DHA), human services (DHS), information technology (DIT) and social work (DSW).

Why would I want to earn a professional doctorate?

There are many reasons to consider earning a professional doctorate.

Some career paths require a professional doctoral degree. A professional doctorate may also help you to advance your career skills or pursue other professional or personal goals.

Many who pursue a professional doctorate are motivated by personal goals. Whether they want to fulfill a lifelong aspiration, become a recognized leader in their field, teach at the college level – or they simply love to learn – doctoral students are passionate about their purpose and their professions.

Capella University offers PhD and professional doctorate degree programs in a variety of fields, from business and education to health sciences, psychology or information technology. Learn more about Capella’s online doctoral programs.

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