The path to earning a Ph.D. in any subject begins with a bachelor’s degree, but sustaining focus and determination, developing character and finding funding are essential to the path of attaining the highest of academic degrees. Earning a Doctor of Philosophy is not completely dependent on intelligence, it is a combination of making educated decisions and having financial and emotional support.

Degrees

After your bachelor's, you can still change your focus for graduate studies.
After your bachelor's, you can still change your focus for graduate studies.

The typical path to a Ph.D. begins by first attaining a bachelor’s degree, followed by a master’s and then finally being accepted into a doctoral program. The major for a bachelor’s degree is traditionally in the same subject area as the graduate degree you hope to attain, although some graduate programs accept college graduates with significant coursework that satisfies prerequisite requirements. For example, an economics major may be accepted to a graduate music program if she has taken equivalent coursework in music and performed well on entrance exams.

Developing Interests

Some students decide to pursue a doctoral degree while doing undergraduate research or writing a major paper for a course. According to Get Educated, you should consider a Ph.D. when you are sure that it is a career requirement or when you want higher pay. At the bachelor’s or master’s degree level of study, having a few well-developed interests may be critical to deciding on the path to a specific doctoral program, as Ph.D. programs are geared toward developing an area of specialization.

Funding

Funding is critical to being accepted into and continuing in a doctoral program. Beyond the funding you may already have, you may be eligible for federal financial aid. As an undergraduate, you may qualify for state financial aid or grants and federal loans, including work-study. At the graduate and doctoral levels, you can apply for assistantships or fellowships. Institutional, governmental, organizational and local grants are available to undergraduate and graduate students.

Persistence

One character attribute that is essential to success in a doctoral program is persistence, not only in finishing projects, but also in giving the extra effort during your studies. Demonstrating your persistence will help you to build a rapport with your professors. According to "The Chronicle of Higher Education," all graduate students should seek mentoring from seasoned scholars as well as recent doctoral degree recipients.

Flexibility

Although the path to a Ph.D. seems straightforward, it requires some flexibility on your part. While applying to schools with graduate degree programs, you may have an idealized view of acceptance and the path to a degree. Be sure that you have several schools in mind and remain open-minded. Evaluate whether or not a program is really right for you. Some students may wish to go directly from a bachelor’s to a doctoral degree program, even though a master’s program provides necessary experience in thesis writing and research.

The Dissertation

According to Inside Higher Ed, a doctoral candidate needs to conform to the established conventions of the field and write a dissertation that presents rigorous and cutting-edge research. The dissertation is one of the final stages of a Ph.D. program, and some students reach this point and never finish. In order to avoid this, take advantage of the mentorship of a faculty member. Set up monthly or weekly meetings in which you spend some or all of your time discussing how to accomplish your goal.