When students say they're "getting a doctorate," it usually means that they're pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy degree, or Ph.D. But aside from the Ph.D., students can earn several other kinds of doctorates. These doctorates are similar in that they all require students to complete graduate-level coursework, qualifying examinations and a dissertation that contributes substantial original research or research applications to the doctoral candidate's field of study.

Doctor of Philosophy

The most commonly sought kind of doctorate is the Doctor of Philosophy. This degree spans the arts and sciences broadly, and it is always qualified with a discipline title -- for example, "Doctor of Philosophy in History" or "Ph.D. in Biochemistry." Every research university in the U.S. offers Doctor of Philosophy programs, although they may not offer any other kinds of doctorates. The Doctor of Philosophy prepares students to work as university faculty or to perform high-level research in the public or private sectors.

Doctor of Education

A second type of doctorate is the Doctor of Education degree, or Ed.D. Dissertations for this degree must demonstrate a firm grasp of theoretical issues in education as well as the student's ability to apply that knowledge to specific educational problems, making real-world recommendations. Students who earn a Doctor of Education degree frequently find work in educational administration and public policy, or they teach at the university level. For those who want to go into academia, however, a Ph.D. in education is often considered better preparation than the Ed.D.

Doctorates in the Arts

Within the arts, several types of doctorates exist, such as the Doctor of Arts, Doctor of Fine Arts, Doctor of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts. The Doctor of Arts degree was introduced at Carnegie Mellon in 1967 and intended for doctoral students who wanted to focus on university-level teaching rather than on research. But according to Lee S. Shulman and his colleagues, although 12 D.A. programs still existed in the U.S. as of 2006, the academy never fully embraced the distinction, perhaps because doctorates in specific professions such as music proliferated. The Doctor of Fine Arts degree is often used as an honorary degree that universities confer on visiting speakers for their notable contributions to society, such as director Martin Scorsese's honorary degree from Yale University.

Doctorates in Religion

Several research doctorates deal specifically with spirituality and religion rather than with the humanities and sciences more broadly, as the Doctor of Philosophy degree does. These are the Doctor of Canon Law, Doctor of Hebrew Letters, Doctor of Juridical Science, Doctor of Sacred Theology and Doctor of Theology. The Boston University School of Theology, for example, offers a Doctor of Theology program in missiology, in which candidates work with faculty both at the School of Theology and at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and study the history of church mandates and missions. Dissertations in this field frequently analyze the past to provide concrete recommendations for best practices in religious organizations. These degrees generally prepare their holders for work in such organizations rather than in academia.