Is a doctorate worth it?

Is a doctorate worth it?

Is a doctorate worth it?

Abraham Lincoln loved to joke about his lack of formal education throughout his life. The fifth Lincoln-Douglas debate was held in Galesburg, Illinois, on October 7, 1858. The speakers stood on a platform that adjoined one of Knox College’s classroom buildings. To reach the platform, the orators had to walk through the building and climb out a window. When Lincoln eventually appeared on the stage, he quipped, “At last I have been through college.” Wouldn’t it be great if getting a doctorate was just as easy—and just as cheap?

Cost-benefit analysis of getting a doctorate

Perhaps you are contemplating taking the plunge and investing in a terminal degree. You’ve probably analyzed the costs and benefits of this decision. After all, there aren’t many things in life you’ll spend $40,000 or $50,000 on. The majority of researchers and experts contend that there tends to be an increase in the financial earning capacity for individuals who earn advanced degrees including doctorates. It’s been like this for years. Of course, there are always exceptions. Some people wonder if the short-term financial hardship is worth it. They question if the delayed fulfillment of salary or income increases in the future is worth the wait.

A doctorate’s returns and lifelong dividends

In addition to the long-term financial benefits, there are so many other positive and life-changing returns or “dividends” in earning a doctorate. Being a “Doctor” often gets you access to the decision-making tables in most organizations. Titles and credentials still matter, especially if you want to be in the room where big things happen.

People with doctorates are experts in their area of research, problem solvers, and in demand. Concordia University Wisconsin’s (CUW) offers a Doctorate of Education in Leadership in Innovation and Continuous Improvement program (LICI). In this program, the dissertation process allows you to focus on solving real-world problems and challenges. Your expertise is not just theoretical, but practical, relevant, and necessary. Your personal growth spurs your professional growth. Therefore, your organization improves and grows because you have. You earn a doctorate to inspire, bring change, improve lives and standards of living, serve others, or share and teach the faith more effectively. A doctoral mindset makes things happen.

Psychological benefits

One of the underappreciated aspects of earning a doctorate are the numerous psychological benefits. A doctoral journey compels one to become more adaptable, persistent, and resilient. Moreover, rigorous learning and intentional growth are associated with increased psychological well-being in the form of greater life satisfaction and self-esteem, lower levels of depression, a sense of coherence and purpose in one’s life, and an increased capacity to manage stress. What price do you want to put on improved mental health and wellness?

Of course, lifelong learning or growth doesn’t require a doctoral pathway, but research demonstrates that meaningful things are often stressful things. In other words, the experience, or process, is the reward. The doctoral journey, challenging but formational at the same time, brings a healthy stress to the learning process and your own personal growth—which you might not have experienced on a more leisurely self-directed path. You learn best when operating at the limits of your current skill and competency levels. Remember, if something feels automatic, routine, or easy, you’re probably not learning. Finally, earning a doctorate is never an easy thing. If it were, more people would do it. Only the learning elite make the doctoral leap.

Learning in community

Sometimes we forget that people are better in community. Learning alongside of other people has a multiplying effect and impact. Learners are motivated by the presence of other learners. Cohort doctoral programs—like CUW’s LICI program—provide a collaborative, synchronistic, and intellectually-electric learning environment. Doing things together, successfully, at the same time and at the same rhythm, has been found to be a powerfully pro-social agent.

Abraham Lincoln once said that his best friend would be the person who gave him a book he never read. Your best friend, or your best learning and investment experience rather, just might be that doctorate that you once thought you could never afford.

So, is a doctorate worth it?

Overall, there are clear financial, organizational, mental, and social benefits to earning a doctorate. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide if your doctorate is worth it.


Dr. Jim Pingel is the Dean of the School of Education. He also teaches in Concordia’s EdD program. Read about him here.

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