DBA vs PhD: Which is the Best for Your Career? — The Admit Lab

Philippe Barr, PhD
8 min readApr 26, 2023

Are you a business enthusiast who desires to advance your knowledge and expertise in the field of business administration? Well, pursuing higher education can be your game-changer. However, you may be stuck in DBA vs PhD in Business Administration dilemma.

Choosing between DBA and PhD in Business Administration is a daunting task that requires thorough research and analysis. In this blog post, we will highlight the core differences between the two programs to help you in your decision-making process.

DBA vs PhD 101

Although the DBA degree is becoming more common worldwide, it remains relatively unknown and unfamiliar in the United States. Additionally, there are far fewer DBA programs and graduates compared to business PhD programs. It’s worth noting that this wasn’t always true if we look at the past.

The PhD degree in business has been offered in the US since the early 1920s. The DBA degree, on the other hand, originated at Harvard Business School in 1953 and became the foremost business doctorate by 1960. Other American universities subsequently embraced the DBA, and by the early 1990s, it had been extensively adopted worldwide.

Although the DBA degree was initially popular, it was eventually replaced by the PhD in business at many institutions to prevent confusion and take advantage of the PhD’s more scholarly connotation. However, in more recent times, there has been a reversal of this trend and many respected research institutions are now offering both degrees in their Business School.

(Would you like to know what PhD admissions committees are looking for? Watch this quick video to find out key elements to highlight in an application)

DBA vs PhD: Common Threads

When comparing two degrees, it’s helpful to start by looking at the similarities. Both the doctoral degree and the business degree are considered terminal degrees in business, meaning that they represent the highest academic achievement in the field. They are both at a doctoral level.

Furthermore, top-tier research institutions offer both degree programs with a strong emphasis on research, providing an in-depth understanding of advanced research concepts and practices. This equips graduates with the ability to apply scientific research methods toward advanced business knowledge acquisition.

Both programs require a dissertation project, or similar, near the end of the course. They also develop scientific communication skills relevant to business research for wider audiences. In the US, both degrees are recognized as equal by major research bodies, like the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Education, and similar recognition can be found around the world.

DBA vs PhD: The Curriculum

The DBA program focuses on the practical application of business theory. The courses in the DBA program incorporate real-life case studies, research-based practices, and process-oriented approaches to problem-solving.

The research focus in a DBA degree program is on applied research rather than theoretical. The goal of the applied researcher is to use academic theory to address and solve advanced business problems through scientific inquiry. The focus is on applying existing theory rather than creating new theory.

Generally, to begin this type of research, one identifies a specific business problem based on their personal business domain and experience. Next, a theoretical model of the problem can be created to facilitate a scientific investigation into its causes and potential solutions. These business problems are typically seen as pertinent and current by both scholars and practitioners.

On the other hand, the PhD in Business Administration program emphasizes research-based knowledge and skills required to become effective scholars in the field of business administration. The curriculum includes theoretical concepts, research methodologies, and statistical techniques for conducting empirical research.

The PhD program primarily emphasizes theoretical research with a focus on developing new theories and refining existing ones related to business and human behavior. This makes it a social science that aims to enhance our comprehension of human behavior and the impact of numerous factors on business-related matters.

The PhD candidate is required to gain expertise and knowledge related to their chosen field of concentration, which can be one of the following: management, finance, marketing, information systems, and accounting.

Applicant Profiles

The PhD degree program is designed to train graduates for an academic career, with a focus on conducting theoretical research, teaching at colleges and universities, and enhancing their expertise and reputation as academic scholars on an international level.

Publishing relevant research contributions in academic journals and books is a key activity throughout the career of PhD graduates. Although some may become senior researchers in the government and corporate sectors, most PhD graduates stay in academia.

A DBA graduate has various career options. Usually, a DBA graduate is a talented and accomplished business professional, so many of them choose to work within their organizations and aspire to become influential decision-makers in their workplace and industry.

Sometimes, individuals who have completed a degree in DBA utilize the knowledge they acquired to become a consultant for different companies and industries that align with their expertise and background. Alternatively, some use their degree as a stepping stone to pursue a career in academia, such as being a guest lecturer, adjunct faculty, or tenured faculty member at a college or university. Academic institutions and students highly value the knowledge that successful practitioners bring to the research arena and classroom.

Campus-Based Vs. Online program

A traditional PhD program is dedicated to developing an individual as a scholar. It is uncommon for PhD programs to allow part-time enrollment and to be delivered completely online. Typically, students must complete for a limited number of spots and are prohibited from working outside the program. Some programs offer a stipend and waive tuition fees, but the student is expected to focus solely on becoming a scholar and pursuing a research career in academia. The main objective takes priority over everything else. Based on the description above, achieving the highest business degree using this method is only possible for individuals who fully dedicate themselves to their training and career, sidelining all other life pursuits.

The DBA degree is meant for those who have the potential to succeed at a doctoral level, but are unable to pursue the extensive training and knowledge required for it due to commitments towards their career and family. The degree provides a chance for such individuals to engage in scholarly activities and accomplish their desired goals.

The DBA program delivery is designed to be flexible and accommodate your work and family commitments. You won’t need to spend all your time solely focused on scholarly pursuits. DBA degrees are typically delivered as blended programs, with hybrid elements of both online and on-campus classes. This allows students to benefit from the flexibility of online learning while also having the opportunity to develop relationships with faculty members and their peers through in-person instruction. In addition, many DBA programs offer a variety of learning activities such as workshops, field trips, and industry visits that enable students to gain valuable professional experience. The mode of delivery for DBA degrees allows students to engage in research projects and scholarly activities while still being able to maintain their professional commitments. This makes them ideal for those who are looking for a degree program that offers an effective balance between academic learning and practical experience.

Time to Completion

The completion time for a DBA program is generally shorter than the PhD in Business Administration program. The average time for completing a DBA program is three years, while the average completion time for a PhD in Business Administration is six to 10 years.

The shorter completion time in the DBA program is due to the program’s focus on practical-oriented courses that aim at solving specific business problems relevant to the current world of business.

Dissertation Requirements

Dissertation requirements significantly differ between the DBA and PhD programs. DBA students are required to write a dissertation rooted in practical business problems that they aim to solve. The purpose of a DBA dissertation is to contribute to the current knowledge of business practices and bring relevant and innovative solutions to the industry. On the other hand, a Ph.D. dissertation requires original research that aims to contribute new theoretical knowledge to the field of Business Administration.

Cost

One important difference between the two degrees is the cost of education. PhD programs are usually fellowship-funded, which means the university covers the tuition fees and pays a stipend to the student. In exchange, the student works as a research or teaching assistant while pursuing their studies.

The DBA program works differently. Students pay for the costs of obtaining the degree, but they have the flexibility to manage their work and family obligations while studying. Both types of degrees are eligible for additional financial aid, and many students in either program use this financial support.

Conclusion

In conclusion, having a full understanding of the DBA vs PhD in Business Administration dilemma will undoubtedly play an instrumental role in your decision-making process. If you have any further questions or need assistance picking the program that best aligns with your future career aspirations, seeking out professional support could be just what you need. Ultimately, both of these programs present great opportunities to enrich your knowledge and further develop your leadership and management skills.

If you’re ready for the next step, we invite you to explore our PhD Application Services. Here, you’ll discover our suite of enrollment resources to help maximize your chances of gaining acceptance into the program of your dreams. Remember — there are no limits when it comes to achieving whatever goals you set for yourself! So take that big leap today and never look back!

With a Master’s from McGill University and a Ph.D. from New York University, Philippe Barr is the founder of The Admit Lab. As a tenure-track professor, Philippe spent a decade teaching and serving on several graduate admission committees at UNC-Chapel Hill before turning to full-time consulting. With more than seven years of experience as a graduate school admissions consultant, Philippe has stewarded the candidate journey across multiple master’s and Ph.D. programs and helped hundreds of students get admitted to top-tier graduate programs all over the world.

Originally published at https://admit-lab.com on April 26, 2023.

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Philippe Barr, PhD

I am Philippe Barr, founder of The Admit Lab, a graduate school admissions consultancy that helps students get admitted into grad school: https://admit-lab.com/