Depending on what you plan to do after you graduate from college, some jobs require a terminal degree. The term "terminal degree" describes the highest degree you can earn in a given subject. If you have earned a terminal degree, it means that you have earned the highest degree available in that area of study; there is nothing beyond what you have earned.

For many areas of study, the doctorate degree is the terminal degree. However, there are different types of doctorate degrees available. It is important to understand the different types of doctorate degrees and what they entail for various areas of study.

Doctoral Differences

First, it is important to understand that there are differences among the types of doctoral or doctorate degrees. Often a doctorate degree is defined as a Doctorate of Philosophy or Ph.D. To earn a traditional Ph.D., there is a strict research component that must be included in the program of study.

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Other degrees, such as a Doctorate of Education (Ed.D.), are also terminal degrees, however there is not the same strict research component as the Ph.D. In this case, most of the focus areas of study ara specific curriculum or area of education. While the Ed.D. is still a terminal degree, it is different from the Ph.D. in other ways including rigor, focus of study and format.

Types of Doctorate Degrees

The most common doctorate degree is the Ph.D. mainly because you can earn one in just about any subject area. More than likely, if your future job plans require a terminal degree, there is probably a Ph.D. program in that area of study.

This is not a complete list of doctorate degrees, however, a Ph.D. can be earned in the following areas:

  • Agriculture
  • Communication
  • Computer Science
  • Education
  • Engineering
  • History
  • Math
  • Physical Science
  • Political Science

Earning a terminal degree in one of these fields will offer a wide range of employment opportunities. For example, someone with a Ph.D. in history may choose to work in higher education and seek a position as a faculty member within the history department of a university. Someone with a Ph.D. in education may also pursue a position as a teacher or may wish to find work as a consultant or some other capacity within education.

When the Doctorate Degree is Required

In some cases, if you want to pursue a specific type of job, then a doctorate in that specified area is required. One of the more common examples of this is in the field of law. If you want to become an attorney, then you must complete Doctor of Law Degree. The most common doctor of law degree is the Juris Doctor, or J.D.

Additionally, in order to practice medicine, you must earn the Doctor of Medicine or M.D. Similarly, a Pharmacist must first earn the Doctorate of Pharmacy or Pharm.D. degree in order to become a licensed pharmacist.

These degrees are also terminal degrees and focus on the professional practice associated with the specific profession. In contrast, while the general list of Ph.D. programs is also terminal, it focuses more on research within the field of study.

Doctoral Degree Options

As you can see, there are several types of doctorate degrees. It is important to understand the differences and similarities associated with the different degrees. It is important for you to first have a good understanding of what career path you want to pursue in order to best decide which terminal degree you may want to earn. There really isn’t a right or wrong path as long as you are following the one that is right for you.

About the Author

Melanie Forstall has a doctorate in education and has worked in the field of education for over 20 years. She has been a teacher, grant writer, program director, and higher education instructor. She is a freelance writer specializing in education, and education related content. She writes for We Are Teachers, School Leaders Now, Classroom, Pocket Sense, local parenting magazines, and other professional academic outlets. Additionally, she has co-authored book chapters specializing in providing services for students with disabilities.