What Is the Difference Between a DBA and a PhD?

A stair made of colourful books with a graduation hat is on the final step.

Doctoral studies are the pinnacle of the educational ladder and most people talking of doctoral studies imply PhD studies. However, in today’s world focused on specialized skills, problem solving and application of knowledge to real-life problems, DBA programs offer something quite different. In this article, I explore some of the differences between a DBA and a PhD.


Theory vs. Application

Both routes embed research albeit in very different ways. PhD puts a lot more focus on theoretical input and contribution into the academia, whereas DBA is oriented more towards practical application of theories to real-life problems. The DBA, targeting experienced professionals characterizes itself with significant taught content, the aim of which, is to help candidates get to grips with the knowledge that enables them to think critically, consider contemporary business issues to develop a broader perspective and perform research and data gathering effectively. PhD is more of a research-focused study where it’s very unlikely to receive taught content and the aim is to find gaps in the existing knowledge, filling them out rather than coming up with particular solutions.

Practical differences between a DBA and a PhD

There are quite a few differences between DBA and PhD studies when it comes to practicalities. First and foremost is the mode of delivery. A PhD often requires full-time physical presence and focus of the candidate on a specific area of research, typically for around four years. Most DBA programs are part-time options where the candidate is expected to complete research alongside full-time work. Typically, candidates summon for the taught modules and at Munich Business School (MBS) this entails three 5-day weeks delivered together by MBS and our partners at Sheffield Hallam University (SHU).

Furthermore, where a PhD candidate can receive funding support, DBA programs don’t offer such opportunity because the research is completed in parallel with full-time work and very often becomes part of work in the process. This is possible thanks to problem-focused approach and the ‘end product’ in the form of a new theory or practice that is applicable within a specific commercial context.

Costs are also different between PhD and DBA programs. DBA programs appear more expensive in comparison to a PhD however you also get what you paid for. Taking the DBA program offered by MBS and SHU as an example, candidates receive two supervisors from two reputable institutions. They also receive expert knowledge from the taught modules with specialists in different fields of business. Lastly, they gain access to a wider library of resources which is an advantage at the research phase, with more accessible information comes a wider perspective.

Applicant’s background

The last significant difference between DBA and PhD programs is the background of the candidates. DBA programs are suitable to those who have acquired experience in their field via professional work. Typical cohorts consist of people with five or more years of work experience and at least three years of experience in team management or budget responsibilities. There is no upper age limit or seniority when it comes to admission. What matters most is the applicant’s experience, strength of the application and viability of the proposed research. PhD studies are more suitable to those who don’t have extensive work experience in a specialist field and want to follow on straight from their master’s studies.

Summarizing, there are three important areas on which DBA is different to PhD studies. This does not mean that one is better than the other but these differences are quite significant for anyone considering doctoral studies. Whilst there may be other factors that distinguish between DBA and PhD studies, the above are perhaps the most important differences that also wage on the suitability of the program to individual situations and as for which one is a better option.

If you are considering to study a DBA program and want to know more about this opportunity, please feel free to email me for more info on: Maciej.Kapron@munich-business-school.de

Maciej Kapron
About Maciej Kapron 10 Articles
Maciej Kapron is the coordinator for the MBA programs at Munich Business School and also manages sales, admissions and coordination of the DBA program. He holds a BA in Diplomacy with Law and an MSc in International Management from Loughborough University and completed part of his degree at Universidade Catolica Portuguesa in Lisbon. During his MSc degree, he focused on marketing, specifically within the area of brand management and services marketing however, in his thesis he evaluated entry strategies to new markets of a global automotive manufacturer.