Distinguishing Between A PhD And An Honorary Doctorate

Confused between Ph.D. and an Honorary Doctorate? This article will clear all your doubts on the same.
Distinguish Between PhD And Honorary Doctorate

Surely, you have heard of the academic terms Ph.D. and an honorary doctorate, and you are probably thinking about the difference between the two. If so, you are in luck because this article will distinguish between these two privileged titles. First up, let us talk about the honorary doctorate.

Understanding An Honorary Doctorate

Typically, you earn a degree after completing your schooling or through academic achievements. However, that is not the case with the honorary degree. So, what is an honorary doctorate degree?

Universities award it to individuals who have made solid contributions to society, the university itself, or a specific field. Fundamentally, an honorary degree recognizes a person’s incomparable accomplishments or philanthropic actions that resulted in the good of humanity, a nation, or the community. Hence, this degree is also called “honoris causa” or for the sake of honor, since it is primarily a mark of esteem.

Authors, politicians, musicians, scientists, philanthropists, and celebrities are among those who receive honorary degrees in acknowledgment of their exemplary accomplishments that benefited many. Some stars who received honorary doctorates include:

  • Meryl Streep – She has a total of four honorary degrees! The Academy Award-winning actress’s recent honorary degree was from Indiana University at Bloomington, which awarded her a Doctorate of Fine Arts for her advocacy for women and cinematic talents. She also has honorary degrees from Ivy League schools: Princeton, Yale, and Harvard.
  • Oprah Winfrey – Like Ms. Streep, Oprah has four honorary degrees for her philanthropic works and business acumen. These doctorates are from Howard University, Harvard, Princeton, and Duke University.
  • J.K. Rowling – The woman behind the best-selling Harry Potter book series has seven honorary degrees! Since the year 2000, she has amassed doctorates from the University of Aberdeen, University of St. Andrews, Dartmouth College, Napier University, University of Exeter, Harvard University, and University of Edinburgh.
  • John Legend – Howard University awarded the nine-time Grammy winner an honorary degree by Howard University for his humanitarian work and musical talent. And in 2014, when he returned to his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, to deliver the commencement address, an honorary Doctorate of Music was likewise conferred to him.
  • Earvin “Magic” Johnson – The NBA legend has an honorary Doctorate of Business from Xavier University for his contributions to the business world.
  • Morgan Freeman – The veteran actor-producer received an honorary degree for his achievements in film from Howard University. Boston University likewise awarded him an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters in 2013 during the school’s 140th commencement exercises.

These people did not receive honorary degrees because of their celebrity status. These prominent figures are not alumni of the universities that bestowed them the degrees, and neither did they nominate themselves. Like everyone who was a recipient of this prestigious recognition, they went through a nomination and selection process. Who nominated them?

Just as it is with those nominated for honorary degrees, the administration or Board of Trustees, any member of the faculty, staff, the student body, or an alumnus of the university conferring the honorary degree can nominate any individual who meets the criteria for receiving the degree.

Criteria For Receiving Honorary Degrees

Any or all of the previously mentioned individuals may submit a nomination form together with their chosen candidates’ biographies before the deadline. The nominations will be forwarded to a distinguished panel composed of the university’s chancellor, provost, and honorary committee.

There are no stringent criteria for an individual’s nomination for an honorary degree. Also, very few universities set age restrictions. Usually, it is the university conferring the degree that sets its own standards for the candidates. Nevertheless, rooted at the bottom are the candidates’ distinguished scholarly, creative, professional, or intellectual achievements or interests in public service and philanthropy. Moreover, these achievements must be continuous.

The panel will review the nominations, go over each candidate’s paperwork, and shortlist their choices. Afterward, they will present their endorsements to the university president, the board of trustees, and the governing faculty. The university will duly notify the selected honorees, and they will award the honorary degrees during the commencement exercises.

Ideally, the recipient of the award should be around to accept the honorary doctorate personally. However, if the recipient has already passed away, the degree will be awarded posthumously. In such a case, a member of the honoree’s family or a colleague will accept the degree for him.

So now you have an idea what an honorary degree is. This time, let us see how it differs from a PhD.

What Is A PhD?

A point of confusion among many is the relationship between a PhD and a doctorate. For some, these two are the same; thus, they use the terms interchangeably. However, that should not be the case.

The term doctorate is a blanket term for any qualification that warrants a degree. The “doctor” in doctorate is derived from the Latin verb “docere,” which essentially means teach. A PhD falls under that blanket and is the most common doctorate awarded to people who produce innovative work in a specific field. The PhD is a terminal degree because there is no higher degree beyond it.

Suppose you are wondering how to get a PhD. In that case, you will earn this high-level degree after spending three or more years in graduate study, which you will cap off by creating, submitting, presenting, and defending a research dissertation. And as already mentioned, you need to have made a significant contribution to a particular field that underscores your expertise.

There are other types of doctorate degrees, but the PhD or Doctor of Philosophy is the most common type. Universities worldwide award it for almost all subjects – humanities, engineering, and the sciences – and because of this, the PhD is, to some degree, de rigueur, especially when it comes to certain professions. Why is that?

Because in this case, “philosophy” no longer exclusively refers to the academic discipline. Instead, its use is much broader and in harmony with its original meaning in Greek – ‘love of wisdom.’ So, in essence, we can say that all PhDs are doctorates. However, not all doctorates are PhDs.

How To Qualify For A PhD

In case you want to find out how to get a PhD, first, you must have gone through undergraduate studies. That means you must have a bachelor’s degree to your name. You will need to obtain a master’s degree in some countries, too, before getting a PhD. However, in the United States, you can go straight to PhD studies after obtaining your bachelor’s.

Typically, a PhD program lasts about four to six years, similar to a full-term undergraduate degree. Hence, you will need to dedicate ten years of your life (four years for a bachelor’s, plus two years for a master’s, and another four years for a PhD) before receiving a PhD degree.

Now, the question that begs to be answered is, should you opt for a PhD now that you know how much time you have to commit to your studies? Only you can answer that. However, if you are currently working, that may mean quitting your job to concentrate on your studies since you will need to study for a comprehensive exam and work on an 80,000-word dissertation based on your original research.

You will need to research, write, proof, edit, and finalize your work with the help of an advisor, and this process takes almost two years of arduous work; that is the time taken away from your job or family.

Alternate Solution To Getting A PhD Or Honorary Doctorate

If getting a PhD or an honorary doctorate is the end-all and be-all for you, then you must choose now whether you are willing to give up essential things in your life to pursue it. On the other hand, there is an alternate solution to getting a PhD or honorary degree that you might want to explore. What is more, you would not have to give up family time or quit your job for this alternative.

So, how to get a PhD or honorary degree without any sacrifices on your part? Buy it. Yes, you read that right. You can buy a PhD or an honorary degree online. There are online providers that prestigious universities worldwide accredit. You will do well to visit one of these online providers and read the description of the degree you want to get to see which one fits your profile.

It would be best if you were wary, though, since there are so-called scam websites that appear to be the real deal, but in fact, the degrees they provide their customers are fake. Being meticulous in your search will be a good idea to ensure you are dealing with a legitimate provider. An honest provider will only give you a PhD or honorary degree that is authentic and verifiable with the conferring university.

You might not have received the degree the conventional way, but the university’s name is there along with your name. Anyone can call the university to check the degree’s veracity, and they will be none the wiser.

Kartik Prajapati
The Founder of two great blogs "Be Curious" and "A Perfect Review". I love travelling a lot and when at home, I spend my day watching movies and web series.