Data: How Many Years Does It Take to Complete a Ph.D.?

Data: How Many Years Does It Take to Complete a Ph.D.?

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We have gathered data from 52 universities to determine how long it takes to complete a doctoral degree (see methodology below).

According to the data gathered, the average minimum time to complete a Ph.D. program is 3.1 years! However, do not jump to conclusions too quickly. Most Ph.D. students take longer than the minimum time to complete their Ph.D.

You must also consider that some Ph.D. programs take longer to finish than others. Most degrees have a three-year minimum requirement for completion. However, some degrees may require you to finish the program within four or five years, while others within one or two years.

So how long does it take to complete a doctoral degree?

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How Long Does It Take to Complete a Research Doctorate?

A research doctorate program provides you with a structured curriculum of advanced study and supervised research. Acquiring a research doctorate entails completing graduate-level coursework, participate in seminars and colloquia, pass comprehensive examinations, and finish dissertation research. It also provides you with the opportunity to pursue careers of being a professor, scientist, or researcher in your chosen academic discipline.

Research DoctoratesMinimum Years to Complete
Doctor of Missiology (D.Miss.)5
Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.)4
Doctor of Public Administration (D.P.A.)4
Doctor of Public Health (Dr.P.H.)4
Doctor of Science in Dentistry (D.Sc.D.)4
Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A.)3.5
Doctor of Architecture (D.Arch.)3
Doctor of Arts (D.A.)3
Doctor of Applied Science (D.A.Sc.)3
Doctor of Business Administration (D.B.A.)3
Doctor of Design (D.Des.)3
Doctor of Education (EdD)3
Doctor of Engineering (D.Eng.)3
Doctor of Fine Arts (D.F.A.)3
Doctor of Professional Studies (D.P.S.)3
Doctor of Sacred Theology (S.T.D.)3
Doctor of Science (D.Sc.)3
Doctor of Theology (Th.D.)3
Doctor of Criminal Justice (D.C.J.)2
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)2
Doctor of Canon Law (J.C.D.)1
Average3 Years
Table 1: Time to complete a research doctorate.

The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) is one of the research doctorate titles signifying you are an expert in a specific field of study. Moreover, being a Doctor of Philosophy allows you to contribute to the existing knowledge in your domain of study through research. Two years is the minimum required time to complete this degree.

Other research doctorate titles and the minimum years to complete the degree is shown in Table 1.

How Long Does It Take to Complete a Professional (Applied) Doctorate?

Pursuing a professional doctorate degree has identical requirements and challenges to a research doctorate. It also involves a series of coursework, exams, and research dissertations or comprehensive projects.

The doctoral programs of professional doctorate degrees prepare you to apply theories. It also makes you practice your expertise in a real-world setting, e.g., a medical internship.

Professional DoctoratesMinimum Years to Complete
Doctor of Acupuncture (D.Ac.)4
Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.)4
Doctor of Medical Physics (D.M.P.)4
Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)4
Doctor of Educational Ministry (D.Ed.Min.)4
Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine (N.D.)4
Doctor of Optometry (O.D.)4
Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.)4
Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.)4
Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (D.P.M.)4
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.)4
Doctor of Chiropractic Medicine (D.C.)3.3
Doctor of Audiology (Au.D.)3
Doctor of Clinical Laboratory Science (D.C.L.S.)3
Doctor of Computer Science (D.C.Sc.)3
Doctor of Health Administration (D.H.A)3
Doctor of Health Science (D.H.Sc.)3
Doctor of Jurisprudence (J.D.)3
Doctor of Management (D.M.)3
Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.)3
Doctor of Church Music (D.C.M.)3
Doctor of Worship Studies (D.W.S.)3
Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice (D.N.A.P.)3
Doctor of Occupational Therapy (O.T.D.)3
Doctor of Physical Therapy (D.P.T.)3
Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.)3
Doctor of Social Work (D.S.W.)3
Doctor of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.)2.5
Doctor of Athletic Training (D.A.T.)2
Doctor of Behavioral Health (D.B.H.)2
Doctor of Medical Science (D.M.Sc.)2
Doctor of Law and Policy (D.L.P.)2
Doctor of Sacred Music (D.S.M.)1.5
Doctor of Speech-Language Pathology (S.L.P.D.)1
Average3 Years
Table 2: Time required to complete an applied doctorate.

Table 2 shows the lists of other Ph.D. programs that you can pursue and the minimum years required to complete the degree.

Why does it take so long to earn a Ph.D.?

Completing a Ph.D. program is no easy task.

In order to earn their doctorate, many Ph.D. programs require students to:

  • Build key academic knowledge – this first phase involves reading the academic literature for long hours and attending classes. It takes at least a year to grasp the knowledge required to conduct original academic research.
  • Conducting original academic research – this is the most challenging part of their project. PhD students need to come up with something of value for their thesis or dissertation. The length of their research may vary, but it takes typically 1-3 years (depending on the subject).
  • Writing a thesis or dissertation – the average Ph.D. thesis is 60,000 words long, it usually takes a few months to write the first draft.

They are also typically required to teach courses and review homework submitted by undergraduate students.

Which Degree Takes Longer to Finish: Research Doctorate or Professional Doctorate?

You may categorize a doctorate as a research doctorate or a professional doctorate. The main difference between the two is the focus.

A research doctorate focuses on mastering and further extending the knowledge of a specific area of study. On the other hand, a professional doctorate allows you to master a subject and apply your mastery to both theory and practice.

According to the gathered data, results show that the average minimum years to complete a doctorate is similar between a research doctorate and a professional doctorate, three years upon the start of the doctorate study. The data also shows that professional doctorate programs have more four-year degree programs, which are longer than the average minimum time of completion compared to the research doctorate. This difference is due to the degree requirements between the two.

A research doctorate requires you to finish a master’s degree or an equivalent degree related to your chosen doctorate program. The Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) degree is one of the research doctorates that requires master’s degree completion before admission.

Whereas, most professional doctorate programs do not necessarily require you to complete a master’s degree program before admission, such as the Doctor of Acupuncture (D.Ac.) program that only requires you to have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university to be admitted. Consequently, some professional doctorate programs require a minimum of four years of study to cover other graduate courses not included in the bachelor’s program.

Thus, if you consider the time from the start of the doctoral studies, which includes the years to complete a master’s degree program, a research doctorate may take you longer to finish than a professional doctorate.

Why Does It Take Longer for Researchers to Complete Their Doctorate Degree?

In the survey of earned doctorates, the medium duration between starting and completing graduate school, including completion of a master’s degree program, among research doctorates in the U.S. was 7.7 years.

Based on the data gathered in this article, the average minimum time to complete a doctorate is 3 years, while it takes a minimum of 1.5 years to complete a master’s degree. The data suggest that not all graduate students complete the degree within the minimum years required.

Aspiring doctors can either be full-time or part-time students. Full-time doctoral students can complete the degree within the minimum years required in the program since they can take the maximum course credit allowed in a semester. However, postgraduate students studying on a part-time basis have a more flexible program. Usually, part-time doctoral students take fewer courses in a semester and finish the degree longer.

Additionally, some students do not even complete their chosen doctorate program. In a study conducted on drop-out intentions in Ph.D. studies, 135 out of 422 students were identified as non-completers. They found out that perceived competence, student-advisor relationship, and colleague interactions greatly influence student’s persistence in completing a doctorate program.


The time it takes to become a doctor can be measured at different points:

  • (a) The time a person completed his/her baccalaureate degree
  • (b) The time a person started his/her graduate studies (master’s degree program)
  • (c) The time a person started his/her doctorate study, until the completion time of the doctorate chosen

In this article, the required time to complete a doctorate in the U.S. upon starting with the doctorate program (a) was identified using official university websites. We gathered data across different degrees to determine the average minimum time to complete a doctorate.


Pursuing a doctorate requires time, resources, and dedication. If you have all three, you will likely complete your doctorate within the minimum time required — which, on average, is three years. If you have other priorities but still would like to continue your formal studies, you will likely finish it longer.

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