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Compare Applied Doctorate to PhD

You may be wondering about our new applied doctorate degree programs. One question many students ask is what is the difference between an applied doctorate and a PhD.?

Applied Doctorate

The applied (aka professional) doctoral degree exists in many disciplines, such as law (JD), medicine (MD.), and Education (EdD). In these programs, research focuses on applying, extending, and critiquing theoretical frameworks within real-world professional contexts. While developing research skills is an important part of the applied degree, the application of existing theories and knowledge to new or extant problems in a community or workplace is the focus.


During the course of study, a student notices that there is very little literature focusing on how a particular government agency evaluates the third and fourth order impacts of a specific type of policy. The student then creates a research project around how to address this gap. This may include creating rubrics for measuring policy impact, new mechanisms for the gathering of longitudinal feedback, or new processes for policy implementation. The study may also include recommendations for that particular agency, but the recommendations may have relevance for external audiences as well.


A PhD is a research-based degree in which students are expected to master the subject area thoroughly and advance the discipline by conducting research that contributes new knowledge. The focus of PhD programs is on developing knowledge rather than on applying that knowledge in a professional setting outside of academia.


A student notices that the literature on post-conflict reconciliation does not address the different ways in which men and women experience the reconciliation. As such, the student designs a research project that reviews the relevant literature, is positioned within a theoretical framework, analyzes how/why this absence occurred, explores what the absence says about how scholars approach the topic, and highlights the implications of the study for how reconciliation efforts are examined going forward.

Our doctoral degrees are new terminal degrees in their professional fields, and as such, students and faculty engaged in these degree programs will explore theories that will guide the disciplines and identify strategies for applying them in real-world scenarios.