Entering a doctoral program can be overwhelming to consider, and the first step—applying—can seem daunting.

Tim Capelle, Capella University’s Senior Doctoral Program Manager, and Heather Laska, Enrollment Services Supervisor, discuss what you need to know about the application process and tips to get you through it.


Understand Your Goals

Before even filling out the name and address portion on an application, both Laska and Capelle say there is research—and soul-searching—that needs to be done first. “You need to identify your goals and motivations for pursing a doctoral degree,” says Capelle. “What do you want to do with the degree? What do you want to study or research? Is it a wise career move? Is this a lifelong goal of yours? How do you want to impact your field of study? Then see who’s out there, what’s out there, and what programs are available.”

There’s a second part to that research, too. “You’ve also got to consider what it’s going to cost, how you’re going to pay for it, and if you have (or can make) the time, especially if you’re managing a full-time career or family needs.”


Do Good Research

Once you’ve answered those questions, you probably have a pretty strong sense of what you’re looking for and if it’s both feasible and valuable for you. Then it’s time to narrow your focus and dig deeper. “You should have a list of schools that have strong programs in the field you’re interested in, about 3-5 schools,” says Capelle. “Then you’ve got to do more intense, in-depth research, and get that list down to 2-3 schools.”

For this kind of research, keep a spreadsheet so you can easily compare and contrast the different schools and programs with these types of information (most of which can be found online or in conversation with enrollment counselors):

  • Which schools offer your choice of program.
  • Career placement rates and types of jobs graduates pursue.
  • Faculty bios, research interests, and published papers.
  • Dissertations published by graduates of the school and program.
  • Perspectives of enrollment counselors about the program and faculty.
  • Requirements for the program (including dissertation, field work, and residency).
  • Pricing comparisons, factoring any additional costs for residency, field work, etc.
  • If possible, speak with people who have recently graduated from the program about their experiences.

This final research and the beginning of applying is not a process you have to go through alone. “You can start an application online, or reach out to the school’s enrollment counselor,” says Laska. “Work with that enrollment counselor step by step. They’re your main point of contact, and they’ll help you work through the final steps of understanding your goals and what you want out of the program. It’s rare that you would go through this process by yourself.”


Submit Your Application

“It’s a pretty easy process overall,” says Laska, noting again that there are enrollment counselors to help you. The counselors will guide you through filling in relevant information from your education, professional experience, and they’ll help you get transcripts from previous educational institutions to complete the application. “At Capella, we have applicants take a personal skills inventory which matches them with resources they can benefit from,” Laska notes. “For example, we offer help in writing or time-management skills.”

The time it can take from first considering applying to a doctoral program to completing the application will vary depending on the candidate, school, and the specific program. Generally, once the initial research is completed, Capelle and Laska say the actual process is about 1-3 months. “It’s not unusual for someone to be considering it and doing preliminary research for six months or more before committing to the application,” says Laska.

Capelle agrees. “This may be an idea simmering in someone’s mind, then there’s some kind of trigger event that makes someone say, ‘Yes, I want to do this,’ and from that point, it’s about 1-3 months.”



Admission requirements for Capella doctoral programs vary by program; refer to your program’s admission requirements page or talk to an enrollment counselor for more details.


Capella University offers PhD and professional doctorate degree programs ranging from business to education and health to technology. Learn more about Capella’s online doctoral programs.

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