Search PHD/Doctoral degree offered by 1300 accredited US universities.

What does phd stand for ?

Phd is the doctorate degree in any field. Historically phd stood for Doctorate in Philosphy. There is an interesting theory about why phd is doctorate of philosophy. Previously around 1700s science did not exist. There was no physics and chemistry. It was called natural philosophy or philosophy. That's why when Newton's published his ground-breaking work, it was called "the principles of natural philosophy."

The Doctor of Philosophy is the highest degree of education offered in the United States. There is a PhD degree offered in all subject of studies. For example, biology, chemistry, physics, philosophy, philosophy/law (combined PhD/JD), politics/law (combined PhD/JD), etc. A more common dual degree is the MD/PhD which provide training in both medicine and research. These programs are designed for those who want to become research physicians, or physician-scientists. A MD/PhD graduate normally goes on to become a faculty member at medical schools or research institutes.

Choosing a PhD program is very important because it requires a lot of interest, passion, and commitment on one specific subject. The USA’s Board on Higher Education and Workforce has published studies and research on ranking of all PhD programs offered at universities around the nation. Click here for a quick glance of all universities that offer PhD programs, who also participated in the studies.

It is difficult to determine what universities are best to pursue a PhD program. Rather, it makes more sense to pursue the top PhD programs based on your interests. However, to give you rough idea of the top rated PhD programs in the US, here is a list of universities ranked by their research findings (normally measured by Federal research funding):

  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Columbia University
  • Stanford University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • University of of Pennsylvania
  • Duke University
  • University of California - Los Angeles
  • Yale University
  • University of Michigan - Ann Arbor
  • Cornell University
  • University of Chicago
  • Boston College
  • Princeton University
  • Harvard University
  • Northwestern University
  • California Institute of Technology
  • University of Notre Dame
  • Brown University
  • Rice University
  • Dartmouth College
  • Tufts University
  • Emory University
  • University of Virginia
  • Georgetown University
  • College of William and Mary

Indeed, more popular and higher ranked universities are more selective of their candidates.

So what if you studied something totally unrelated to what you now want to pursue your PhD in ?

The short answer is: it doesn’t matter.

In order to pursue a PhD degree, you need a Bachelor degree. Some students have a Master’s degree, but this is not mandatory. In terms of field of study, there will not be any university that tells you can’t apply for a degree because your Bachelor’s degree is in an unrelated field. However, that could be your disadvantage to you compared to other candidates, because graduate level by definition is advanced level of something. At the same time, it has become more common that people pursue a different field for their Master’s to broaden knowledge or to change career direction.

For PhD it may be harder to go from B.A. in Political Science to PhD in Economics but if you are able to prove your interest and connect the two fields using your work experience and transferable skills, you probably will be able to convince admission that you are a strong candidate that bring in diversity of thinking. Again, PhD is research, so if taking an internship or project in research is something that could help your case, you will have to do so.

Is work experience required for a PhD ?

The short answer is: NO.

You want to be creative and do whatever you can to prove your case and why you are a good PhD candidate for the school. Hypothetically, if you are suddenly hoping to change direction of your career and have not done research at all in your life, that would raise a red flag to the admission office. In that case, taking up a research analyst position or internship is a good idea, then you can relate that to show your interest in doing academic research.

Another example is if you want to study PhD in Economics, you should make sure your math is solid, especially if you did not study math or something quantitative in your Bachelor’s. Depending on your motivation to pursue your PhD field, just be sure to make a linkage to your previous academic or professional experience.

Can I do phd without doing Masters or without a Graduate degree ?

Sometimes students like to go for a phd right after completing their undergraduate or graduate degree for international students. Question is can you do phd without having a masters degree or a graduate degree ? Short answer is yes, you can do it but then it varies across various universities and program.

When it comes to chose between phd and Masters and let us help you dissect and understand what and how each degree is like, before deciding which to apply for. Both degrees are huge commitments, so it’s important to consider different factors. It is not just about getting a degree. Either of those degree will sail your career ship in a different direction

Differences between a PhD and a Master’s degree

PhD Master's
Career objective Academic and research career Traditional professional career
Length of study 5-6 years full time 1-2 years full time, or longer part time
Costs Full scholarships and a living stipend Possible scholarships but do not come with admission automatically
Style Independent work, research including writing and reading More group work, projects, cases, problems
Path to obtain the degree
  • First three years you take core courses to fulfill degree requirements
  • Choose an academic advisors
  • Write a dissertation proposal / thesis
  • Work as research or teaching assistant
  • At the end of the second of third year, PhD students complete a thesis, take comprehensive exams, or both
  • From year four through six, you take fewer to no courses and focus on writing your dissertation. You are required to present and your thesis in front of a faculty committee. You will be given a chance to revise your dissertation if need be.
  • First year Master’s students take core courses to fulfill degree requirements and choose their specific concentrations, or electives, during the second year
  • May or may not have to complete a thesis
  • Has option to continue towards a PhD program

How to Apply for a Phd Program ?

Like any typical graduate school application, a typical PhD application process involves few steps. Use this as a check list because this is the most standard of an PhD application. It is recommended that you double check with the school(s) you are applying to. If you are an international, the application is nothing different but you might have to provide the financial statment. Be sure you indicate correctly your immigration status, and apply for the correct visa. Often you will need to submit more, and not less, than the following list:

PhD Application Process and Checklist

1. Application form: This is normally in an online format. You will need to create an account with the school you have chosen. This is where you will be uploading your personal statement, writing sample, and resume.

2. Personal Statement: This should consist of 2-3 page statement describing your reasons of pursuing a doctoral degree, your educational objectives (or why you choose this field of study), and your future professional objectives. Strategies to write a winning personal statement is ultimately showing your passion and interest in your chosen field.

3. Transcripts: Official transcripts of all previous colleges, both undergraduate and graduate courses. GPA is super important to apply for a PhD. In other words, as you are pursuing a degree in academic, presumingly, your past academic performance has to be proven excellent.

4. GRE Score: official score report of the last five years should be requested by you to the specific school code(s).

5. TOEFL Score: official score report from the TOEFL, addressed to the specific school code(s). Required mostly from International applicants.

6. Resume: Include all relevant employments, internships, volunteer experiences, community services, etc. The key here is relevant to your application, your chosen field of study, following a logical sense of why this field of study interests you.

7. Writing Sample: A piece of writing to shows your ability to think critically, creatively, and communicate your thoughts into written words. If you have publications, a master’s thesis, papers, feel free to include them.

8. References (or Letter of Recommendation): Normally 3 of them, but depending on the school. This is crucial for PhD application because a lot of candidates go from undergraduate and their lack of professional experience is compensated by academic performance and scholarly work recommended by their advisors or previous supervisors, preferably in research if you have done so in the past. Though it’s not all the time true because there are Master’s degree holders or working professionals who pursue PhD as well. In either case, you are becoming a PhD to do research and academic works, so you have to demonstrate your ability to do impactful research.

9. Application Fee: Remember this is non-refundable and can be paid online.

Strategies to have a winning PhD is a little different. As mentioned before, the career objective and motivation to pursue a PhD are more research and academic-driven than professional or graduate school. Be sure to indicate that clearly as a theme of your application.

The test required in your PhD application is the GRE test, which is the general test. It has verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking, and analytical writing skills that are not directly related to any specific field of study. It is the baseline tests that graduate schools require, for Master’s or PhD level. It provides a standard way of scaling and comparing candidates to each other.

There are computer-based and paper-based GRE General tests. Refer to the link to see how and when you can register: https://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/register/computer/. It is advised that you plan to take the test ahead of time and spend enough time studying.

Is GRE test required for phd ?

GRE Subject Tests are optional, or recommended, and are used to highlight your strengths in a specific field of study, such as Physics, Biology, or English; and you will choose the subject upon what area of study you want to get your PhD in. The GRE Subject Test cannot be used to replaced the General Test. However, it can be used to supplement your undergraduate records, recommendation letters, etc. Some Subject Tests report subscores that can identify the strengths and weaknesses in an individual’s profile. It is not common that any university will require this but they wouldn’t say no if you asked. Taking this test or not depends on how strong of you as a candidate. You may not submit your Subject Test score if you did not score well.

The Subject Tests are given as paper-based tests worldwide three times a year, in September, October, and April. Refer to this link to register: http://www.ets.org/gre/subject/register/.