How Long Do Doctoral Programs Take to Complete?

The amount of time it takes to finish a doctoral degree program varies depending on a number of factors, such as the amount of credits you need or whether you attend part-time or full-time. A doctorate is often required for research, higher education teaching and advanced medical fields; however, this degree may also be required in other fields or be beneficial in advancing in your career.

Doctoral Program Lengths

Most doctoral programs take between four and seven years to complete, although schools may allow students up to 11 years to earn a doctorate degree. If you find that you need more time, some schools will grant extensions for extenuating circumstances. To be granted this time, you'll need to show intention to finish, planning and proper documentation.

Factors Affecting Completion Time

Your time as a doctoral student may be shorter or longer than the average, depending on a number of factors. Some doctoral degree programs have requirements that take longer to complete because of their nature; for example, a research project might lengthen your time because you'd need to design a study, find participants, run the study and finalize your findings. Financial aid is another factor that can affect the amount of time you need; some schools cut off financial aid for students who take longer than the set amount of time to complete their degree. Without financial aid, you may need to work, which can leave less time for your studies.

Enrollment Status

If you decide to enroll only part-time in your doctoral program, you will most likely take longer in earning your degree than students who enroll full-time. Many schools will allow you to switch between part-time and full-time enrollment from semester to semester, so you may slow down or accelerate your degree program as needed.

Previous Education

You may enter a doctoral degree program immediately after earning an undergraduate degree, or you may earn a master's degree first. Some programs prefer you to have graduate school experience before entering a program, but others don't. If you earn a master's degree before entering a doctoral program, you may be able to apply some credits towards your doctoral degree, which could reduce the amount of time spent in the program.

Completion of Dissertation

Before you can be granted a doctoral degree, you must successfully complete the required number of credit hours, pass any required written and oral exams, and write and defend your dissertation. A dissertation is a book-length work demonstrating a student's knowledge in his or her chosen field. It can often take two years or more to complete a dissertation. You can cut down on the amount of time you'll take in completing a dissertation by choosing a school with an adequate support system for doctoral students, and by asking for help when you need it.

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