Phd vs DSc? What’s the Difference?

A Ph.D. is a Doctorate degree given in a variety of subject areas that focuses on a deeper understanding of existing literature, while a DSc is a Doctorate degree given in scientific fields only that focuses on breakthrough research and discovery. Both are advanced academic programs that require significant time and effort to complete.

Here’s what you need to know about the key differences between a Ph.D. and a DSc, as well as what those degrees mean and how they might be earned.

The levels of academic degrees

In higher education – meaning voluntary post-high school or secondary school education – there are four main degree levels.

  • Associate degrees, which usually take two years to complete
  • Bachelor’s degrees, which usually take four years to complete
  • Master’s degrees, which usually take two to three years to complete
  • Doctoral or Doctorate degrees, which can take six years or more to complete

Often, colleges (2-4 year institutions) will offer Associate and Bachelor level programs while universities (4+ year institutions) will offer Master and Doctorate level programs.

The degrees get more difficult to obtain as they ascend in level due to the amount of coursework, the complexity of that work, the amount of necessary practical experience, and the requirements for final thesis projects, which can be complex enough to stop a student from earning their degree even after earning every other necessary credit.

Still, getting a more complex degree in your field of expertise not only offers a deeper and richer understanding of the subject matter, but it can also often lead to better and more secure employment opportunities, opportunities to teach and mentor other professionals, and industry-wide recognition.

Two of the most common doctoral degree level titles are Ph.D. and DSc.

What is a Ph.D.?

Doctor of Philosophy, or Ph.D., programs are intensive doctorate degrees that, despite what the name implies, cover a wide range of topics including but not limited to philosophy. This is the most commonly known doctorate title save perhaps Medical Doctor (MD) and can take upwards of six to eight years to complete depending on the chosen major.

Ph.D.s are what are known as doctoral research degrees, meaning that the majority of the degree program is focused on researching the major subject area and producing original conclusions, either through major discovery or re-evaluation of existing materials through a hyper-specific lens.

Almost all universities offer Ph.D. programs, and there are Ph.D. programs in nearly every subject area. While some institutions require the completion of a Master’s degree before a student can be accepted into a Ph.D. program, this is not a universal rule.

Getting a Ph.D. typically involves literature reviews, original research, creating a detailed thesis and dissertation, and defending that dissertation against a panel in an oral exam.

What is a DSc?

A Doctor of Science, or DSc, degree is a doctoral research degree that involves substantial original research into a scientific subject area – there are not usually DSc programs for subjects like literature, theology, or fine arts.

There is some debate as to whether a DSc is higher than or equal to a Ph.D. or other doctorate degree. In some parts of the world – for example, the United Kingdom – a DSc is considered the highest possible academic degree level, above other doctorate programs, because programs in that country require more detailed and extensive coursework and research.

To obtain a DSc, the student not only has to complete a thesis and dissertation with an oral exam but in many cases, must also present an extensive portfolio of original work published in their field of study. These programs often lead to students making major discoveries and breakthroughs in their fields due to their close work with new material and industry-leading information.

What is the difference between a Ph.D. and a DSc?

While both PhDs and DScs can be achieved in a variety of subjects, PhDs offer a wider range of subject matter. DScs are often more highly detailed and specific and can be more revelatory on an industry level, but PhDs are more widely recognized and offer a thorough review of existing literature.

Beyond this, there is not much difference between regular Doctorate level DSc programs and Ph.D. programs. However, advanced DSc programs are much more difficult and exclusive than Ph.D. programs.


If you choose to apply for a doctoral research degree program, do your due diligence in finding an appropriate school environment; because of the depth of study, you will be spending a significant amount of time for many years with this institution and its professionals, so it’s good to find out whether or not you gel with the structure and culture before you invest your time and other resources in it.

Both PhDs and DScs can be worthwhile degrees to pursue as long as you are passionate about and dedicated to your subject matter.