Why Earn a Professional Doctoral Degree?

A doctoral degree is the highest degree you can obtain in the United States. The most common forms are:

  • Research or academic (PhD) programs
  • Professional doctoral degrees

So, what’s the difference between a PhD and a professional doctoral degree? Although they sound similar, professional degrees and doctoral degrees are two different types of programs, each suited to a particular type of student. 

A PhD, or doctoral degree, is an academic, research-based degree in which the main goal is to develop advanced research skills and create new knowledge to share with others.

In contrast, a professional doctorate, or a professional degree, is focused on the advanced practice of knowledge and skills, making it a degree for those who are more professionally oriented. While these programs also help to develop research skills, the main focus is to apply knowledge to industry to solve new and emerging problems.

Learn More: Professional Degrees vs. Academic Degrees: What’s the Difference?

Interest in professional doctoral programs has been growing in recent years, largely due to the evolving needs of employers and the desire of professionals to improve their skills and knowledge.

There are many reasons why you might want to go back to school for a professional degree. Here are five ways a professional doctorate could benefit your career.

5 Ways Earning a Professional Doctoral Degree Can Benefit Your Career

1. You’ll be equipped to impact your industry.

A professional degree program will prepare you to have an impact on, and potentially transform, your chosen field. Professional doctoral candidates usually take an existing concept or problem in their industry, conduct thorough research, and propose possible solutions.

The goal of this process is to expound upon existing knowledge or uncover new findings within a field, and the results can have a significant social and economic impact.

2. You can qualify for top-level positions.

A strong professional doctoral degree candidate is someone who is fairly well-established in a field or career. This is someone who might already be a decision-maker or manager but who wants to develop refined and sophisticated skills to move into the top levels of decision-making.

A rigorous professional doctoral program will push your boundaries and teach you how to think through and solve complex problems that you can translate directly to your industry.

3. You’ll demonstrate higher-level skills.

Holding a professional doctorate doesn’t just show—it proves you have mastered top-level skills in writing, research, and analysis. Many fields now demand top professionals to have these advanced abilities

Obtaining a professional degree demonstrates the effort that you have dedicated to achieving the highest level of education in your subject and positions you as a master in the skills associated with your field of study.

4. You will grow your professional network.

Whether you’re taking courses online or face-to-face, your soon-to-be classmates represent a wide swath of fields and sectors, and they’re all in school to improve themselves professionally. These people become not only a great professional network but also your support system.

Taking a variety of competitive people and putting them in a classroom together to challenge one another will help push all of you further than you could have gone by yourselves. Building your professional network can have huge benefits for your career as well, as it can help you exchange industry expertise and even aid in securing a job.

5. You’ll command a higher salary.

An important reason to consider a doctoral degree is that in many fields, earning your doctorate could increase your earning potential with your current or future employers. The expected lifetime earnings for someone with a doctoral degree is $4.3 million, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. What’s more, professionals with doctoral degrees earn 25% more annually than those with just a master’s.

After sacrificing time and money to get your degree, this might be music to your ears. Of course, some fields will have a higher payoff than others. Make sure you carefully consider your future earning potential when calculating your return on investment.

Is a Professional Doctorate Right For You?

If you are considering earning a professional doctoral degree, it is important to understand how this course of action can help you achieve both your personal and professional goals. As outlined above, there are valuable benefits to obtaining a professional doctorate, like industry impact,  advanced skills, and increased earning potential that can make it worthwhile. 

On the other hand, if you are more interested in applying your knowledge in the world of academia or industry leadership, an academic- or research-based doctoral program may be better suited to your goals. 

Ready to Learn More?

Explore Northeastern’s professional doctoral programs to find the one that can best help you achieve your goals.


Editor’s note: This content was originally published in April 2016 and has been updated for thoroughness, accuracy, and recency.