A doctoral degree represents advanced study beyond the master's level that focuses on a single subject. It is the highest degree possible. The different types of doctorate degrees include the Doctor of Philosophy, or Ph.D., which is available in most disciplines, and specific degrees, such as Doctor of Social Work, Doctor of Education, Doctor of Nursing Practice and Medical Doctor. Ph.D. degrees typically focus more on theory, while professional degrees like the Doctor of Nursing Practice, or DNP, focus on practice.

Doctoral Requirements

Courses in doctoral programs focus on the specialty. For instance, students in the Ed.D. program at Johns Hopkins University take classes about teaching and learning theory, leadership, diversity in education and educational policy making. For a Ph.D. in counselor education and supervision through Walden University that focuses on research, students study counseling theories, ethics and advocacy in addition to research methods. Doctoral programs nearly always end with a research project and may also include required internship programs, particularly with professional degrees. For example, at Duke University, DNP students perform clinical hours and a project while nursing Ph.D. students instead teach and write a dissertation.

Benefits of the Degree

Obtaining a doctoral degree can help you reach your career goals, get a better-paying and more fulfilling job and create an impact on the field. Some jobs require this advanced degree. These include most higher education professorships and administrative positions, lead scientist positions and high-ranking economics positions, such as those on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. Within science in particular, jobs within some general areas such as anthropology and astronomy often require a doctoral degree.

Misconceptions About Doctorates

Students sometimes feel they need to finish a master's degree or obtain extensive experience before enrolling in a doctoral program, but that is not always the case. Some programs may require students to take preparatory coursework before enrolling, but not all demand graduate education or work experience. Some people also view doctoral work as too expensive and a poor long-term economical choice. But most doctoral students receive some sort of financial aid, such as scholarships or teaching assistant positions. Doctoral degree holders receive better pay over their careers than those without the degrees. A study published in "U.S. News & World Report" indicates doctorate holders make about 20 percent more in their lifetimes than those with a bachelor's, and professional degree holders will make more than $1 million more than bachelor's holders in their careers.

Time Frame to Obtain a Doctorate

The number of credits needed to complete a doctoral degree varies widely depending on the specialization and school requirements. For instance, within the DNP program at Duke, students may finish with as few as 34 credits but may also need up to 94. Students at Stony Brook University are told to expect anywhere from four to eight years of work covering both the classroom experience and research and writing for the dissertation. Programs typically set an overall time limit for completion of all the work. For example, both the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of California at San Diego restrict students to eight years in the doctoral program.