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How to Tell if a Doctorate Degree is Right for You

Master of Leadership vs. MBA_ How to Make the Right Choice

Enrollment in doctoral programs has steadily increased as students pursue deeper understanding, better job opportunities, and higher wages. For many students, a doctorate offers a path to life in academia. Forty-nine percent of people who complete doctorates work in higher education. Even if a life in higher education isn’t for you, doctoral training can make you a more attractive job candidate in virtually any field. 

So how can you tell if a doctorate is right for you? Here’s what you need to know to make the decision. 

Benefits of a Doctoral Degree 

Doctoral training makes you an expert in your field. You’ll take numerous courses that encourage you to think critically and creatively, diving deeply into material that shapes your chosen industry. At the end of your coursework, you’ll complete a dissertation. This dissertation is a published piece of research that helps establish you as an authority while enabling you to research a topic of your choosing. Some graduates use their dissertation as a springboard to further research, as a starting point for a popular book, or as a way to demonstrate expertise in the specific role they hope to occupy. 

So what else can a doctoral degree offer you? Earnings tend to increase with education because employers are willing to pay more for expertise. According to 2018 figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, median weekly earnings with a doctorate were $1,825. The figure with a master’s degree was $1,434, compared to $1,198 with a bachelor’s and $730 with a high school diploma. 

This means that, for a person with a bachelor’s degree, the median annual increase in earnings is more than $32,000. Even if you have to take time away from work or get student loans to pursue your education, this massive earnings increase offers a significant return on your investment. 

People with more education have more employment opportunities too. The unemployment rate in 2018 for doctorate degree holders was just 1.6 percent, compared to 2.1 percent with a master’s, 2.2 percent with a bachelor’s, and 4.1 percent with a high school diploma. In many fields, especially in higher education, the only way to get your foot in the door is with an advanced degree. Colleges often require professors to have doctorates, and many highly paid corporate jobs cater to those with graduate training. 

Even when a job doesn’t require a doctorate, having one can work to your advantage. You might be able to advance in your career more rapidly or demonstrate how your educational background makes you an ideal candidate for the next promotion. 

Some other key benefits of a doctorate degree include: 

  • Communication skills. Defending your dissertation will help you master the craft of public speaking and effective debate. 
  • Better writing. A dissertation is long and challenging, requiring many rounds of edits and a critical eye. Crafting this document hones your writing skills
  • Networking. You’ll take classes with a cohort of other people who are deeply invested in the same field as you. When you graduate, these colleagues become your professional network. They can help you get jobs, understand shifting industry trends, and gain access to opportunities such as the chance to speak at conferences. 

Drawbacks of Doctorate Degree Programs 

Although a doctorate degree program can boost your earnings, offer greater job security, and help you master your chosen field, it’s not for everyone. People considering a doctorate because they can’t decide what to do next should think twice. 

Advanced training is a time-consuming investment, and about half of people pursuing doctorates don’t graduate. For many students, lack of institutional support makes it difficult for them to complete their dissertation. This is why it’s so important to choose a school with high completion rates and plenty of assistance for students. 

Some other drawbacks of a doctorate degree include: 

  • Expense. You’ll need to find a way to pay for your education. If you leave before your degree is completed, you may end up with student debt, while lacking the salary bump that a completed program often offers. Students who take longer to complete their doctorate will incur more costs, so it’s important to choose a program that encourages completion and offers resources to struggling learners. 
  • Stress and workload. You’ll need to carve out time each week for class and will probably have to spend some portion of each day on homework or your dissertation. This requires a balancing act, and you may need support from your spouse or other loved ones. 
  • No guarantees. Doctorate degree holders earn significantly more, on average, than less educated people, but there are no guarantees. You’ll still need to network, find a suitable job, and establish yourself as an attractive candidate. A school with a proactive approach can be helpful in this regard. Be sure to ask what support services your university’s career services office provides. 

What to Expect from a Doctoral Degree Program 

Quality doctoral programs are highly rigorous because the purpose of this degree is to help you become an authority on the topic you choose. Most programs share a similar structure that includes a combination of classwork and writing a dissertation. The specific shape of the program depends a lot on the school you choose. 

At SNU, doctoral students take most of their classes on Wednesday nights. This makes our degree an ideal option for busy professionals who already work in the field or who return to school hoping for a career shift. You may take some classes on the weekend. Others are available in a hybrid format. On average, students take about 32 months to complete the program. 

We work with every applicant to secure a financial aid packet that works with their needs and lifestyle. We help you assess whether student loans are right for you, and can even help you fill out your financial aid application. 

If you find yourself at a fork in the road deciding between an online and  in-person degree program, this infographic can help you visualize each path.

Making the Decision: Is a Doctorate Right for You? 

So how do you know if a doctorate is the right next step? Consider asking yourself the following questions: 

  • What is my ideal career? Would a doctorate help me launch that career, or is another option—such as mentorship or more workplace experience—better? 
  • Do I have time for a doctorate? Whom can I rely upon to support me? 
  • What are my financial aid options
  • How much money do I need to make during school to support myself? What about after school? 
  • Why have I chosen the specific doctorate I am considering? Is this a good career move? Am I genuinely interested in the topic? 
  • What is daily life like in the career I am considering
  • Have I already worked in the field in which I’m pursuing a doctorate? Do I like it? 
  • What do other people with a doctorate have to say about their experience
  • Have I spoken to graduates of the specific school I am considering? 
  • What support does my chosen school offer? 
  • What is my chosen school’s graduation rate? 
  • At six months following graduation, what percentage of students at my school are employed in their chosen field? What is their average salary? 
  • Do I want to work in higher education? How competitive is the job market in my area? 
  • Do I work in an industry where a doctorate would offer a career advantage in the private sector? 
  • Is there a specific dissertation topic I am interested in researching and writing? 
  • Do I enjoy school? 
  • If I previously struggled in school, what can I do to make my graduate experience different? How is my chosen school different from previous schools? 

SNU is committed to building quality, comprehensive educational programs that help our students achieve their goals while allowing them to continue working or caring for a family. Our Doctor of Education In Administration And Leadership degree prepares future leaders and educational professionals to tackle a wide range of jobs. You might become a school principal, district superintendent, college administrator, or a consultant for businesses or institutions of higher learning. Learn in the evenings or online so you don’t have to quit your day job or destroy your work-life balance

We’re here for you from the moment you apply to the day you graduate and beyond. SNU graduates are working in many exciting roles, steadily shaping the future of leadership. If you think a doctorate degree might be right for you, we’ll help you take the next step. 

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