Is a Dissertation Required for a PhD?

If you want to take on a professional career in research or teaching at the college level, you’re going to have to go far beyond undergraduate studies – the PhD is still the standard. One relatively new way for this is to enroll in an accelerated PhD program that does not require a dissertation. But for a lot of prospective PhD students, the question remains – are PhD programs without dissertation requirements really going to be taken seriously?

PhD Programs Without Dissertation 

There are many benefits to getting a PhD: a wider and richer scope of job opportunities in academia; higher salaries; prestige and success; and expertise in your field. There are roadblocks to achieving a PhD, though, and most of them are, quite simply, real life – time, money, work responsibilities, family obligations. Universities understand these limitations, and more often, they are developing PhD programs without dissertation requirements, or 1 year online doctoral programs, that will allow students to get their credentials more efficiently.

While still somewhat rare, there are an increasing number of select universities that offer 1 year online doctoral programs.  Online formats make it easier to attend class from far away without having to relocate – a major expense and headache not everyone can take on. This also allows one to stay in the workforce, or to take short breaks (such as using vacation time to attend an orientation), maintaining financial stability and career trajectory. However, some of these programs, as they are shorter and more intensive, may require you to study full-time, so be aware to the requirements and expectations of the programs.  Research programs carefully, and email their admissions departments to ask about their accelerated PhD programs.

What’s a Dissertation Really Worth?

As with the shorter degrees, finding PhD programs without dissertation requirements are more rare than programs that require them.  Yet, they do exist.  Some fields and programs that may not require dissertations can include:

  • JD (Juris doctorates, law degree)
  • DPT (Doctor of Physical Therapy)
  • EdD (Doctor of Education)
  • DM (Doctor of Management)

One of the most common no-dissertation doctorate programs today is the Doctorate in Leadership. These are a relatively new invention, and they are spreading across many different disciplines. There are now doctor of leadership programs in areas including Higher Education Leadership, Organizational Leadership, and Leadership and Management. These professional doctorate degrees are targeted toward working professionals already in their chosen field, and often substitute applied research projects, done within their current jobs, in place of a conventional dissertation.

The nagging question is: Is it really a respectable PhD program without a dissertation? The point of the dissertation is for the program to assess your knowledge in the field. But the dissertation is just one traditional way of doing that. As times change, so do the ways universities assess learning. Some programs may have a doctoral capstone project, or some other way of proving you have developed expertise. Remember: the dissertation was a new and radical idea once. Higher education is always changing, even if it happens slowly, and what seems new and strange today, will be traditional one day.

In the end, what matters is what works for you as a student, and for your career goals. Make sure to research carefully into what programs best suit your interests and needs, and what will make you happy and successful.