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How to Become a Scholar

Updated on January 14, 2015

What Is a Scholar?

There are usually a couple of different definitions of scholar that frequently get bandied about. The first, according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary refers to anyone who studies in a school or who studies under a teacher. This is a very broad definition that can refer to any jock who attends class occasionally.

A more accurate and more common understanding of a scholar is a person who has undertaken extensive and advanced study in a specialized field. The first definition does not take much in the way of hard work. The latter definition can take a lifetime to achieve.

A graduate degree can help a person earn a reputation as a scholar.
A graduate degree can help a person earn a reputation as a scholar. | Source

The First Step in Becoming a Scholar

This may seem like a relatively simple step, but one of the first steps that must be taken in becoming a scholar is graduation from high school. It is possible to become a scholar without a high school diploma, but society looks down upon those who drop out of high school and have no credentials from formal schooling.

Those who do not have a high school diploma should go and get a General Equivalency Diploma. This credential will open up the next step toward the goal of becoming a scholar.

Step 2 in Becoming a Scholar

Most people who become scholars are associated with the world of academia. The common high school basketball coach/history or English teacher does not qualify, even though his or her job might be in an academic subject. The main emphasis of these teachers is usually the teaching and or coaching aspect of education.

The next step in becoming a scholar is earning a bachelor's degree. There are many open-enrollment colleges, so being a great student in high school is not required to get into college. However, being a better-than-average student in a 4-year degree program is a necessity. The world of graduate school is highly competitive, and those who do not get good grades in an undergraduate program are not terribly likely to get into a master's program.

At a minimum, most schools require a 3.0 grade point average. The most competitive schools will require a 3.5 or higher. Therefore, slackers need not apply to become a scholar.

Earn a Master's Degree

The next step on the road to becoming a scholar for most people is the master's degree, although this is not necessary for some would-be scholars. There are some people who can go directly from a bachelor's degree to a doctorate if they get into the right program.

The master's degree generally takes at least two years after a 4-year program. Master's degree programs become more selective. Those who want to go to the top schools need very impressive resumes and references, but those from less impressive schools can still admitted to lower-tier grad schools.

A part of most master's degree programs, especially in the humanities and social sciences, is the master's thesis. This is the part of the program in which students actually start to become scholars. A master's thesis is a fairly lengthy piece of research that looks into a specialized field. Reading and research are very important parts of any master's program.

Although the thesis is widely considered a necessity in a master's program, there are some graduate schools that will award a master's degree based entirely upon course work. While one of these degrees would not qualify an individual as a scholar on its own merit, a non-thesis master's degree can still qualify its holder to get into a some doctoral programs.

A Diploma Can Impress Many
A Diploma Can Impress Many | Source

Earn a Doctorate to Obtain a Reputation as a Scholar

A very important step toward becoming a scholar is the earning of a doctoral degree. It is possible to get a teaching position at a college or university with a master's degree, but those who are able to do so are expected to be teachers, not scholars.

Those who are able to achieve the highest levels in academia will hold a doctorate. In many of the humanities and social sciences, the time to a doctorate can be around 5 to 8 years after a master's degree. There is extensive coursework and reading for comprehensive exams. This process then qualifies a would-be scholar to begin the work of writing the dissertation.

The dissertation solidifies a person's standing as a scholar. The dissertation has to contribute new knowledge to a field that has not previously done. This can be work on newly-discovered or newly-available sources, or it can be a new related to the formulation of a new framework for understanding a topic. The doctorate requires a great deal of reading and research in a very limited area of study, and those who complete it can truly be considered scholars.

The Title of Doctor Does not Seal a Reputation

The process of earning a doctoral degree can take up to 10 years or more after finishing up a high school diploma. Those who earn a doctorate are in the top echelon of society when it comes to academic knowledge. The doctoral dissertation is the capstone of an education that earns one the status of scholar.

However, those who want to be true scholars cannot rest on their laurels at this point. The world of academia is very competitive, as mentioned above. This does not just relate to graduate school. This competitiveness also relates to the process of getting a good academic appointment and then getting tenure.

To earn tenure as a scholar, it is necessary to publish research results in academic journals and books. Those who are able to do get their work published on a regular basis earn more and more respect in their fields and obtain the near-universal approval as first-rate scholars.

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    • cprice75 profile image
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      cprice75 4 years ago from USA

      I am actually enrolled in a Doctor of Arts program in history. It focuses on teaching more so than research (although there is a substantial research component. I was actually aware that the MFA was considered a terminal degree, but just used the PhD terminology because it's what most people are familiar with.

    • KatSanger profile image

      Katherine Sanger 4 years ago from Texas

      There are other terminal degrees besides doctoral degrees. I am currently enrolled in an MFA in Creative Writing. While there are PhD programs for creative writing, they tend towards a different philosophy. There is no doctorate of fine arts, and so MFA are the end of the road. The same is true for many "art" degrees, and it is only recently that a DBA (Doctor of Business Management) came into existence - before that, it was only an MBA as the final degree. You will often see jobs that specify "terminal degree" instead of "doctoral degree" because of that difference.

      Very interesting, though, and it is how many people choose to pursue their scholarly interest.

    • cprice75 profile image
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      cprice75 4 years ago from USA

      True enough. From my experience, many people will not consider non-school learning as terribly impressive. Intellectual snobbery? Perhaps, but most people look for some sort of certification. Thanks for reading.

    • jo miller profile image

      Jo Miller 4 years ago from Tennessee

      Enjoyed your hub. I would define scholar, though, a little more broadly as a learned person, especially in a certain area. I suppose originally the word derived from school, but school is just the place to begin. Degree's don't always correspond to learning as closely as we might like to think.