PhD Programs: Overview

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What do you need to know before you start your PhD program?


The amount of schooling and work necessary to earn a PhD is daunting. A doctoral degree, while prestigious, requires years of work. Make sure you understand the rigors of a PhD program as you decide whether it is right for you.

Master’s vs. PhD Programs?

While both a master’s and PhD represent a higher level of education beyond an undergraduate degree, there are many key distinctions you should be aware of before committing to either program.

  • Master’s programs generally require two years to complete, whereas PhD programs take anywhere from five to nine years.
  • While earning a PhD costs more money because of the increased amount of time involved, more forms of financial aid are available to PhD students than to master’s students.
  • PhDs place a heavy emphasis on research and academia, while many master’s programs have a professional focus.
  • After the second or third year, a PhD student must begin work on a thesis or dissertation, which she will continue to work on throughout the rest of her studies.

PhD Programs: Should You Enroll?

Ask yourself these questions to decide the best fit for your academic needs.

  • Are you willing to put in the time necessary to earn a PhD?
  • Some master’s programs, such as creative writing, do not have PhD programs. Does your area of study offer a PhD?
  • What are some of the jobs master’s and PhD holders have in your field? How do they vary in responsibilities, pay and career advancement?
  • Considering that the amount of time and money you must devote to earn a PhD, will the degree provide you with significant employment and financial benefits when you finish?

Preparing To Be Successful PhD Candidate?

In order to ensure that you prosper during your studies, you will need to understand how to manage your time as effectively as possible.

  • Have your goals in mind when you start. Five to nine years might seem like a long enough time to sort out your aspirations, but you will lose valuable time if you do not have an idea of what you hope to get out of your PhD studies.
  • Once you have established your goals, create a general schedule and a timetable for your studies. If you are unsure about the best way to go about this, talk to an adviser in your department.
  • No matter what field of study you are pursuing, your thesis will require a great deal of writing. Even if you don’t have to start your thesis for several years, continuing to develop your writing skills will benefit you throughout your program.
  • Your dissertation will likely be the longest writing project you undertake, so make sure you choose a topic you are passionate about.

PhD Salaries: What Can You Expect?

Salaries for those who earn PhDs fall under one of two categories, university research/faculty positions and commercial jobs. Below is the average salary for graduates of some of the most common PhD programs.

  • Psychology: A professor of psychology will earn between $60,000 and $105,000 per year, while a clinical psychologist with his own practice will earn $70,000-$120,000.
  • Business: A PhD in business usually leads to a commercial job rather than an academic career. Benefits usually will not be seen immediately, but you will have greater career-advancement opportunities than MBA holders. The average salary is around $115,000 for those with a PhD.
  • Engineering: Your salary will depend heavily on the specific field you pursue, such as chemical, mechanical and electrical, but you can expect about $100,000 in your first year.

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