How Hard is it to Earn a Professional Doctorate?

One of the most common questions I ask students starting their doctorate journey is how hard the program is or what’s the most difficult part about earning a doctorate.
Earning a PhD or a professional doctorate requires you to overcome several challenges.

Fewer than 2% of adults in the U.S. hold a PhD or professional doctorate. Joining this exclusive club can put you in a position to become a leader in your field and achieve a personal goal few others attain. However, you must first have to get through a doctoral program. And that’s not always easy.

Among those who start a doctoral program, who are the best and brightest that higher education has to offer, nearly 57% earn their PhD or professional doctorate within 10 years.2 If you don’t want to face similar struggles, you need to understand the challenges ahead—and a have a plan for overcoming them.

The Biggest Challenges

Once the coursework for a doctoral degree is complete, the dissertation or doctoral study becomes the primary focus. Prior to beginning, it can be helpful to know some of the challenges faced by others. Here are a few:

Getting Started Takes Time
After you have settled on a topic, the first step in the dissertation or doctoral study process is to produce a proposal. Your proposal summarizes the plan you’ll use to conduct your project. And not just any topic will do. Your goal is to explore an aspect of your field that no one else has explored in depth, or no one has explored with the method(s) you wish to use. Plus, your proposal must be presented to a committee, which will either allow you to proceed or require you to make changes. For those who are eager to actually start writing their dissertation or doctoral study, keep in mind that the process of creating a proposal and winning approval takes time and requires a steady focus.

There’s A Lot of Back-and-Forth
In most bachelor’s programs, when you write a major paper, you don’t receive any feedback until the professor gives you a grade, and often you may have been frustrated because you did not get a chance to correct it! That’s not the case when writing a dissertation or doctoral study. Instead, your faculty advisor will provide regular feedback, which may take some time but it will certainly strengthen your work. To keep moving forward, manage your time to account for this editorial process.

You Have to Manage Your Own Time
Most students are used to attending classes at set times and turning in assignments on set days. But once you enter the dissertation or doctoral study phase of your doctoral program, you’ll be expected to set your own deadlines and manage your own time. While this structure is meant to provide flexibility, some find it difficult to work without a set schedule. Develop strategies to be independent and stay motivated! It’s also important to let your friends and family know about your educational plans so that they understand that any shift in your social or family schedule is for a good cause. Be sure to set an expectation with them in terms of your time and availability.

One of the best tools I have found to help me on my doctorate journey is my MacBook Studio and Studio Display

How to Overcome the Challenges

Two critical components of a strong PhD degree or professional doctoral program include working with a strong faculty and resources. But what if you don’t live near such a university? Or what if you have a full-time job that limits your ability to get to class on time? In these cases, online education can be a great solution.

No matter where you live or your daily responsibilities, an online university can make it possible for you to complete a PhD or professional doctoral program. That’s because online PhD programs and online professional doctoral programs allow you to handle the majority of your degree from home and on a flexible schedule designed specifically for you—the working professional.

However, convenience and flexibility are hardly the only advantages of online learning. When you enroll in a top online university, you’ll have access to high-quality resources available 24/7. Plus, you’ll have direct contact with a faculty advisor who understands your challenges and can provide the guidance you need. Some top online universities even offer all-but-dissertation programs for those who’ve completed all the doctoral program requirements except for the dissertation or doctoral study.

If you’re enrolled in an all-but-dissertation program, you already know that staying motivated is key. Suppose you’re new to earning a doctorate. In that case, you’ll appreciate how studying from home during the coursework phase of your online PhD or online professional doctorate can help you learn how to manage your time, which will be an invaluable skill once you enter the dissertation or doctoral study phase.

Earning a PhD degree or doctoral degree can be difficult, but the right online university can make it possible.

If you are interested, I have written an entire series on my blog about my journey in earning a Doctor of Strategic Leadership. Check it out here.