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Is PhD the highest degree one can earn?

Updated on July 27, 2008

There are several higher doctorates awarded by universities, including Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.), and Doctor of Science (D.Sc.).

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

PhD is probably the most well-know higher doctorate in the world, but not the highest degree one can earn. The PhD applies to graduates in a wide array of disciplines in the sciences and humanities, and it has become a requirement for a career as a university professor/lecturer or researcher in many fields.

Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.)

In the UK, the degree D.Litt. is a higher doctorate, above the PhD, and is issued on the basis of a long record of research and publication. The D.Litt. is awarded to candidates whose record of published work and research shows conspicuous ability and originality and constitutes a distinguished and sustained achievement. University committee and board approval is required, and candidates must provide documented mastery of a particular area or field. In the US, the degree is almost always an honorary degree often conferred to those who have contributed to the humanities or society.

I first heard of the degree Doctor of Letters in my PhD graduation ceremony. It was awarded by my university to a famous playwright as an honorary degree.

Doctor of Science (D.Sc.)

In the UK, the degree of Doctor of Science is probably the Highest Doctorates, typically is conferred on a member of the university who has a proven record of internationally recognised scholarship. A candidate for the degree will usually be required to submit a selection of their publications to the board of the appropriate faculty, which will decide if the candidate merits this accolade. The degree will only exceptionally be awarded to a scholar under the age of forty. The status of the degree has declined because it is not widely understood, but in former times the doctorate in science was regarded as a greater distinction than a professorial chair. The Doctor of Science may also be awarded as an honorary degree, that is, given to individuals who have made extensive contributions to a particular field and not for specific academic accomplishments.

I heard of the D.Sc. when a colleague of mine who is a professor was award the degree by our university. I asked him, "You have already a PhD degree long time ago. What's the difference between this doctor degree and the PhD?" I was told then that the Doctor of Science is even greater than the professorship and is the highest doctorate one can get in UK, though it might have different meaning in other countries.


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      Dr Nat Khublall 

      2 years ago

      A person who has not given his name says that about half of the article and two-thirds of the comments are incorrect. I don't find anything which is wholly incorrect with the article. As far as my comments are concerned, I can vouch 100% for the their accuracy. I became aware of higher doctorates around 1986 and, having published 9 textbooks, 6 study manuals and 33 academic papers, I made my detailed submission in 1996 for examination to a highly reputable UK university. Before this submission, I acquainted myself thoroughly with the requirements at two universities I was associated with. They are reproduced in my published autobiography a few years ago.

    • profile image

      Dr Nat Khublall 

      5 years ago

      It has come to my knowledge recently that the Vice Chancellor of the University of London chaired a committee in 1999 to review higher doctorates. According to the Times Higher Education (28 September 2001) "to the astonishment of many, the committee decided to flout tradition and abolish its [higher] doctorates." According to Regulation 1 of the University, entries to the examination for these degrees have not been accepted since 30 September 2001, but that they are offered as honorary degrees only.

    • profile image

      Mark Andrews 

      5 years ago

      In the field of music there is a lot of inconsistency. For example, D Mus at Cambridge is more prestigious than PhD, while The Royal College of Music offers both TAUGHT Dmus and PhD programs on an equal footing.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      About half the information in the article and two-thirds of the information in the comments is incorrect. Please don't write things unless you really, truly know what you're talking about.

    • profile image

      Dr Nat Khublall 

      6 years ago

      Th Doctor of Science (DSc)in the United Kingdom is higher than the PhD. When the PhD was first introduced into the UK, having been imported from the USA, the local doctorate degrees, such as DLitt, DD and DSc, etc were upgraded to higher doctorates. In the USA, a DSc (or ScD) is equivalent to an ordinary doctorate degree, such as a PhD. To appreciate the higher status of the DSc and other UK higher doctorates, one should look at the stringent requirements which must be satisfied to obtain the higher doctorate compared with the requirements for the PhD. I am in possession of a UK Doctor of Science degree, having prepared for it over the period of my professorial appointment.

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      7 years ago

      no the highest in theology is the d.litt.

    • profile image

      kenneth york 

      8 years ago

      um gihan the doctor of divinity is an honerary degree in the usa so for religious degrees it is doctor of ministry

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      At the University of Oxford (and, I would assume, at other UK universitities), the highest degree is the DD, the Doctor of Divinity.

    • elfear profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Thanks for the information, Wong.

    • LY Wong profile image

      LY Wong 

      10 years ago

      Other doctorate degrees include the DBA- Doctor of Business Administration.


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