The difficult process of getting a doctorate or PhD is often misunderstood by undergraduates looking ahead. Most universities have developed PhD programs to ensure that doctorate holders can meet certification requirements in certain industries and promote the university's academic standards in the workforce. In order to put the title doctor in front of your name, you need to think about the PhD process from different angles.

Time Frame

Most American universities set a maximum enrollment of 10 years in PhD programs to keep spaces open for new graduates. While the decade limit is universal at most schools, the typical time frame for a PhD degree depends on a student's prior educational experience. The typical student who has completed an undergraduate degree will need to complete a Masters degree as part of a PhD program. This course of study takes between four to eight years depending on a student's enrollment status. PhD degrees can be completed within four years of full-time study by Masters degree holders.


The main function of a PhD degree is to create a terminal point for every field of study. The distinction of holding a PhD degree shows employers and students that an individual has acquired extensive expertise on a certain topic. Doctoral programs throughout the United States require PhD students to demonstrate excellence in writing, research and oral presentations to demonstrate this expertise. From the perspective of doctoral institutions, PhD students serve as temporary employees in teaching and researching positions.


The features of a PhD program for the typical student include departmental activities, annual evaluations and dissertation work. Most programs require doctoral candidates to attend seminars, colloquium and outreach events in order to create a robust and active department. PhD students need to balance department activities with focused studies that lead to annual evaluations and exams to demonstrate academic development. Once a student's graduate committee approves doctoral coursework and evaluations, the path to dissertation work is cleared.


Students who are interested in PhD degrees should think about the impending application process and ongoing enrollment costs. The typical application for a doctoral program requires official transcripts, three letters of recommendation, results from the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) and other tests requested by specific programs. Some law, business and social science programs require students to demonstrate fluency in a second language before enrolling classes.

The larger consideration for most students is the accumulation of fees, transcript costs and tuition payments during four years of doctoral work. The Whittemore School of Business at the University of New Hampshire charges a base tuition of $8,800 per semester as of 2008. These costs can be covered by fellowships, assistantships and financial aid available to full-time PhD students.


The main benefit of holding a PhD degree is the limited number of PhD graduates staying within the United States. International students attend major doctoral programs in the United States and return to their home countries after completing their dissertations. An American PhD holder in engineering can find jobs at major universities, research labs and large corporations looking for future leaders in this high-demand industry.

Another benefit of earning a PhD degree is the ability to earn tenure while teaching at the college level. While universities use adjunct lecturers with Masters degrees to keep costs low, PhD holders can earn progressively higher salaries and achieve job security through tenure. The tenure process allows professors to teach, use university resources and pursue personal research without worrying about finding new jobs each year.

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