DBA vs. PhD: What’s The Difference?

Yelena Skosyrskih

If you are planning to get a terminal degree, your research may lead you to two solutions: PhD and DBA. When it comes to the level of education, a Doctor of Business Administration is equivalent to a Doctor of Philosophy. However, there are a few differences that can have a significant impact on your career.

When you think about DBA vs PhD, you compare theory to application. PhD focuses on theoretical input and academic contributions while DBA is geared toward practical solutions to real-life problems.

What Is a PhD?

A PhD is the highest academic degree you can get in many different fields of study, including business, engineering, education, and computer science. The process of getting this type of degree involves conducting research to contribute to a body of knowledge. The type of knowledge depends on the subject and specialization you choose when entering the program.

During your studies, you will be focusing on conducting research and completing a doctoral thesis or a dissertation. All the work you do during your years with the program can become highly valuable for relevant industries.

The goal of a PhD program is to teach you how to conduct independent research. While you may already have some experience and even publications related to the field, during your studies you will gain robust critical thinking skills and learn how to analyze complex programs.

Doctoral candidates work with mentors and supervisors not just to learn how to conduct original research. But also improve their data collection methods, experiment, and find solutions to pressing real-world problems.

The duration of a PhD program can vary. Factors that may influence it include the field of study and the chosen research topic. However, the student’s ability to dedicate sufficient time and effort to the program is also important. Some candidates can complete their PhD in two years while others take as long as seven or eight years.

Since many PhD students already have jobs and families, they often can’t provide as much dedication to their studies as they did when getting bachelor’s and master’s degrees. After earning a PhD, you can pursue several careers, including academia-related positions.

It’s worth noting that PhD program duration, structure, and outcomes vary from program to program and from university to university. It’s possible to get a PhD online in many disciplines.

What is a DBA?

A DBA is also a professional doctorate. However, unlike a more general PhD definition, a Doctor of Business Administration has a narrow focus. While getting this degree, you will be learning how to apply business theory and research to real-world business challenges.

This degree is specifically for people who want to gain new knowledge and hone their expertise in the field of business management.

When you enter a DBA program, you will see a strong emphasis on practical application. The faculty will help you develop managerial skills and improve your leadership abilities. More often than not, people looking to earn a DBA are professionals who want to take the next step in their careers. This step generally requires more leadership skills and a deeper understanding of the industry.

Depending on the specialization, DBA programs can offer coursework on such business disciplines as finance, strategy, marketing, and entrepreneurship. Similar to PhD studies,  DBA students need to complete a doctoral project or a dissertation. The focus of the project is usually a real-world business problem. To demonstrate your right to hold the degree, you would need to conduct rigorous research, apply business theories, and develop a practical solution to this problem.

Since candidates who are entering DBA programs are usually working professionals, universities often accommodate the studying format to suit their busy schedules. It can take between three and six years to complete a DBA program. Some students may require more time.

Once a student completes the program, they obtain a degree and the title of “Doctor.” This allows pursuing various career options, including executive leadership and entrepreneurship.

Key Differences Between DBA and PhD

While both a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) are doctoral degrees, they are hardly similar. To understand how they differ, you need to consider the following factors.

PhD vs DBA: Research Orientation

While in a PhD program, students focus their efforts on research. They create new knowledge and contribute to an academic discipline of their choice. Meanwhile, the DBA program focuses mostly on practice. In the program, students gain skills that they can use to apply existing research to solving real-world business challenges.

Simply put, a PhD provides the theory while a DBA puts the theory into practice.

DBA and PhD: Academic vs Professional Focus

PhD is an academic degree. In most cases, students who earn this degree have the opportunity to pursue a career in academia. However, they aren’t limited to research or teaching. They can use this academic knowledge to fill business roles as well.

Meanwhile, DBA is a professional doctorate that focuses on managerial and leadership skills. After earning this degree, students can apply the newly found skills in a business landscape.

DBA vs PhD: Program Structure

Program structures for the two degrees can differ significantly. During your PhD studies, you will learn research methodologies, explore theoretical frameworks, and read academic literature. The program is structured around conducting original research.

The coursework for DBA students focuses on practical application. While in the program, you will learn business disciplines, and hone your managerial abilities.

PhD vs DBA: Target Audience

When choosing which degree to pursue, you need to ask yourself what the goals are. PhD programs are designed for people who plan a career in academia or want to advance their careers with scholarly expertise.

Meanwhile, DBA programs attract people who already have experience in business administration and need an opportunity to enhance their knowledge. These students usually already have jobs in the desired industry and want to fill relevant leadership roles.

DBA vs PhD: Time Commitment

DBA programs are usually shorter than PhD programs. The average time to earn a PhD is around three years. Meanwhile, it usually takes four to seven years to complete PhD studies. The duration of PhD programs usually varies according to the specialization.

PhD students are often more willing to commit the majority of their time to research and studies. Meanwhile, DBA candidates are generally working professionals for whom time is of the essence.

PhD vs DBA: Salary

It can be hard to compare PhD and DBA salaries because you can get a PhD in different fields while DBA is much more focused.

For fairness purposes, it’s possible to compare the salaries of professionals with a PhD in Business Administration and professionals with a DBA. The average annual salary for professionals with a PhD in Business Administration is around $100,000. Meanwhile, the average annual salary of those who have a DBA is around $80,000.

Choosing Between a PhD and a DBA

If you are wondering whether to pursue a PhD or a DBA, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

  •  Do I see myself in academia, conducting research, and teaching, or am I more interested in applying business knowledge and assuming a leadership position?
  • Am I passionate about conducting original research or do I prefer focusing on applying existing theories to real-world business challenges?
  • How important is developing advanced managerial skills to me?
  • Am I seeking to enhance my leadership abilities?
  • How comfortable am I with a longer time commitment and a heavier focus on research and academia?
  • Am I willing to dedicate several years to conducting research and writing a dissertation?
  • Am I ready to commit to a rigorous program that demands self-motivation, discipline, and the ability to work independently on research projects?

Before making the choice, consider speaking to professionals in the field of your choice. Find out how their degrees helped them achieve similar goals.

Taking the First Step Forward

After learning the differences between a PhD and a DBA and asking yourself relevant questions, you are ready to make a choice. Remember, when you apply to a program, make sure to check how long studies are expected to take. This way, you can juggle your time commitments.

To simplify the process of getting a terminal degree, consider online doctorate programs. They can help you achieve professional and personal goals simultaneously.

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