How Do I Earn an Executive PhD?

Lainie Petersen
Lainie Petersen
Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

To earn an executive PhD, you will first need to investigate several executive PhD programs. During this process, you will need to evaluate each program to determine whether you can meet its admissions requirements, whether it is affordable, and whether its focus can help you achieve your professional goals. In many cases, you will have to demonstrate that you have significant management or executive experience in the business world prior to even being considered for an executive PhD program. You will also typically need to hold a master of business administration (MBA) degree or another master's degree in a business-related area. The structure of individual executive PhD programs depends on the policies of the schools that sponsor them as well as national standards for doctoral education.

An executive PhD is a doctoral-level degree targeted at senior executives who wish to expand their knowledge of business, develop stronger leadership abilities, and contribute to their industry. Unlike many traditional PhD programs, an executive PhD may offer a flexible schedule to accommodate the needs of working students. For example, many of these programs offer the opportunity to study online and may require students to visit a physical campus only a few times during the year.

Before applying to a program, you will generally need many years of work experience, including anywhere from 10 to 15 years at the senior management or executive level. In addition, you should have already earned a pertinent master's degree. After you review programs and select those that interest you, you will need to begin the application process, which can be time consuming. You may need to obtain several letters of reference or write essays to complete your application. It is a good idea to verify application deadlines so that you can allow enough time for this process.

If you enroll in an executive PhD program that is based in the United States, you will generally be expected to complete several courses before you can begin work on a dissertation or final research project. In the United Kingdom, the program may operate differently. For example, you may need to take only a few classes in research methods before you can begin work on your doctoral thesis, although you may also be expected to undergo regular faculty assessments of your work. Other countries have their own standards for post-graduate education, so don't assume that the standards in your own country apply everywhere. After successful completion of your final written project, you can be awarded the executive PhD by your school.

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