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Doctoral Degrees: How Many Years Is a Doctorate Degree Program?

A degree may open the door to a variety of opportunities and diverse career paths. The degree programs offered at CTU will not necessarily lead to the featured careers. This collection of articles is intended to help inform and guide you through the process of determining which level of degree and types of certifications align with your desired career path.

If you’re in the process of deciding whether to pursue a doctoral degree program, one of your top questions may be, How long does it take to earn

a doctorate degree? But you might also have other important questions: Why is there more than one type of doctorate degree? What are typical doctorate degree requirements?

Before we dive into how may years a doctorate degree program is likely to take to complete, let’s start with the basics—what is a doctoral program?

What Is a Doctorate Degree?

A doctorate, or doctoral degree, is, in most fields, the highest level of academic achievement offered. (In certain fields, like the fine arts, a terminal master’s is the most advanced degree you can earn.)

There are two types of doctorate degrees—Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and applied or professional doctorate.

PhD vs. Applied Doctorate:

  • A PhD is a research or academic degree that is typically pursued by those who want to conduct original research and expand existing knowledge in their particular field.
  • An applied or professional doctorate focuses on practical professional skills and is typically pursued by those who want to develop advanced skills and knowledge that can be applied in the field in which they work.

One degree is not “better” or more advanced than the other—the difference lies in their focus (research versus application).

Many universities require doctoral students to attend in-person classes. However, some, like Colorado Technical University, offer online doctoral degree programs. Online doctorate programs combine the convenience of distance learning with opportunities to network and interface with other doctoral students and faculty face-to-face, in real life.

Doctorate Degree Requirements

Doctorate degree requirements vary by school and field of study and may include a combination of coursework, examinations and a dissertation. CTU’s online doctorate degree requirements include:

  • Completion of rigorous online coursework
  • Attendance at two symposia events
  • Submission of a research proposal
  • Final dissertation

How to get accepted into a doctorate degree program varies by school as well. For example, some schools or programs may require that you already have a master’s, while others will admit students directly out of undergrad; some schools require the GRE, some don’t. CTU doctoral programs require having a master’s degree but do not require taking the GRE.

Types of Doctorate Degrees

We already know that there are two types of doctorate degrees: PhD and applied doctorate. While the credential for a Doctor of Philosophy is PhD regardless of discipline, the credential for an applied doctorate varies depending on the discipline. Examples of applied doctorates are Doctor of Computer Science (DCS), Doctor of Management (DM) and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

Doctor of Computer Science

CTU’s doctorate in computer science program is designed to help candidates build their theoretical, research and application abilities in the field of computer science. The DCS program encourages strategic thinking and acting and is designed for computer science professionals, consultants and academics. Courses may include:

  • Current Topics in Computer Science and Information Systems
  • Futuring and Innovation
  • Principles of Research Methods and Design
  • Advanced Topics in Database Systems
  • Information Assurance
  • Advanced Topics in Big Data Analytics
  • Enterprise Security Architecture

Doctor of Management

CTU’s doctorate degree in management program is designed for management professionals who want to enhance their existing management skills. It is structured to help candidates work to develop the ability to think and act strategically and the ability to integrate management theories, models and skills in support of organizational missions. Our doctoral program emphasizes research and writing as well as leadership and change management—in addition to your chosen concentration discipline. Courses may include:

  • Management Theory
  • Management and Ethics
  • Leadership Theory and Development
  • Application of Action Research
  • Strategic Thinking and Organizational Alignment
  • Practice and Theory of Consulting and Intervention
  • Organization Innovation and Scenario Thinking

Doctor of Nursing Practice

CTU’s doctorate degree in nursing practice is designed for actively licensed Registered Nurses (RNs) who want to prepare for more advanced administrative or leadership roles in nursing. In this doctoral program, candidates evaluate health issues of diverse populations, appraise and ethically apply evidence to complex health issues, analyze and apply policy and more—all with the objective of improving practice and/or healthcare outcomes. Courses may include:

  • Scientific Underpinnings of Nursing Practice
  • Applying Evidence-Based Practice and Research to Improve Health Outcomes
  • Information Systems and Advanced Nursing Practice
  • Health Policy and Advancing Nursing Practice
  • Population Health and Epidemiology
  • Organization and Systems Leadership

How Many Years Is a Doctorate Degree Program?

There is no single, straightforward answer to the question of how long it takes to earn a doctorate degree. This is because program lengths tend to vary significantly among students. According to the National Science Foundation (NSF), in 2020 the median number of years taken to complete a doctorate was:1

  • All fields:
    • 8.7 years since bachelor’s degree
    • 7.5 years since starting graduate school
    • 5.8 years since starting a doctoral program
  • Business management and administration: 5 years since starting a doctoral program
  • Mathematics and computer science: 5.6 years since starting a doctoral program
  • Health sciences: 5 years since starting a doctoral program

Potential factors that may affect the time to complete a doctorate include the state of the job market, advising and financial funding. But there are other obstacles that could also impact the length of your doctoral degree program and whether you complete the program at all.

CTU’s doctoral programs are designed to be completed in three years, but they may take you more or less time depending upon your individual circumstances. In contrast to on-campus doctorate degree programs, the online format of our programs provides more flexibility to balance your studies and personal obligations and to work at your own pace.

How to Apply for a Doctorate Degree Online Program

Before applying to one of CTU’s doctorate degree online programs, we recommend reviewing CTU’s admission requirements for doctoral programs to make sure you meet the program prerequisites.

You can request to speak to an Admissions Advisor who can answer any questions you have about our doctoral programs. Alternatively, you can call 1-855-230-0555 to speak to an Admissions Advisor.

If you already have all the information you need and are ready to take the next step, then apply now.

1 National Science Foundation (NSF), Survey of Earned Doctorates, “Table 31: Median years to doctorate, by major field of study: Selected years, 1970–2020,” (visited 12/29/2022).

CTU cannot guarantee employment, salary, or career advancement. Not all programs are available to residents of all states. REQ1890107 12/2022

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