Doctorate in business administration: An insider's guide

A doctor of business administration degree offers advanced training for careers at the executive level. Learn more about earning a DBA degree.

Professionals with a doctor of business administration degree work as corporate executives, company presidents, CEOs, and business leaders. 

But what is a DBA degree, and what are the benefits of earning one? Our insider's guide walks through everything you should know before going back to business school. 

What is a doctorate in business administration?

A doctorate in business administration is the highest degree granted by business schools. The degree emphasizes career-focused skills for graduate students seeking leadership positions in diverse industries.

Compared to a research-focused Ph.D. in business, a DBA emphasizes practical skills and real-world applications. While a Ph.D. largely leads to research and academic jobs, a DBA prepares graduates for careers as a CEO, company president, or corporate executive. 

Before enrolling in a DBA program, applicants must hold a master's in business. Most complete an MBA as preparation for the higher-level, more focused DBA. After earning an MBA, for example, professionals might pursue a DBA to gain doctoral-level training in their specialization. 

While some programs require or expect relevant professional experience, others do not.

Cost and length of time to complete a DBA program

Before applying to doctoral programs in business, prospective students must consider the time and money required to earn a DBA degree.

Business schools charge around $500-$1,000 per credit for a doctor of business administration degree. Depending on the school and the total number of credits, you should expect to spend at least $30,000 earning a DBA degree.

Most DBA programs take around three years to complete for full-time students. Part-time students may spend four to five years earning their degree.

Hard skills taught in a DBA program

  • Data analytics

  • Financial statement analysis

  • Marketing information management

  • Information technology management

  • Product management

People skills taught in a DBA program

  • Collaboration and interpersonal abilities

  • Mentorship skills

  • Business communication

  • Leadership

  • Fostering creativity and innovation

Why get a DBA?

Why do professionals enroll in DBA programs? The best doctorates in business administration help professionals add marketable skills, network with people in their field, and pursue promotions. 

  • Return on investment: Many careers accessible with a DBA degree, including executive roles, offer six-figure salaries. The earning potential with a doctor of business administration makes the degree a smart investment. 

  • Promotion opportunities: Professionals can advance the career ladder by earning a DBA. The degree may lead to opportunities as a top executive or company head. 

  • Career-focused skills: During a DBA program, learners strengthen skills directly related to their industry. Coursework, projects, and the doctoral dissertation build strong analytical, strategic, and interpersonal skills. 

  • Networking opportunities: A DBA helps professionals expand their network. Students network with classmates, professors, and alumni. Learners also build connections during internships or professional development activities.

Career opportunities after completing a DBA program

As the highest degree in business, a doctorate leads to many business administration career opportunities that offer a high earning potential. The degree prepares learners for leadership and executive roles. 

For example, DBA-holding professionals work as company presidents, management consultants, executive directors, chief financial officers, and CEOs. Graduates may also hold academic roles.

What to expect in a DBA program

Earning a DBA degree requires commitment and discipline. While enrolled in a doctor of business administration program, learners complete coursework in financial decision-making, organizational behavior, and business process analysis. 

These courses strengthen strategic thinking and analytical skills through project-based assignments. Many programs also incorporate research courses that strengthen qualitative and quantitative research skills. 

Most DBA programs culminate in a dissertation or research-based project. Graduate students identify a problem or issue in business, research potential interventions, and analyze the outcome. The dissertation demonstrates mastery over a subject and prepares doctoral students for the workforce.

Doctoral students who bring strong problem-solving and time management skills to their DBA program can thrive in the self-directed environment. Online learning programs offered by accredited business schools, in particular, appeal to busy adults and working professionals.

Concentrations in a DBA program

Choosing a DBA concentration helps degree-seekers focus their course of study.

 During a DBA program, doctoral students take core business classes and specialized courses based on their interests or career goals. These specialized courses, in areas like accounting, management, and computer information systems, prepare graduates for focused career paths. 

Most business schools offer concentrations. Students can often create a custom concentration by selecting electives. Many DBA programs offer the following concentrations:

  • Business analytics

  • Entrepreneurship

  • Finance

  • Information technology

  • Management

What's the difference between a DBA, PhD, and MBA?

A business master's degree typically takes two years and prepares graduates for managerial roles in business. During an MBA program, graduate students strengthen their supervisory and leadership skills, while specialized programs like a master's in accounting or a master's in marketing provide focused coursework. 

Business schools also offer doctoral degrees. As a practitioner-focused degree, a DBA prepares graduates for top-level careers in business. 

In contrast, a research-focused Ph.D. program leads to opportunities in academia or research. While a DBA generally takes three years, a Ph.D. in business takes 4-5 years.

In conclusion

A doctor of business administration degree can lead to leadership roles and a higher earning potential. The degree strengthens critical thinking, decision-making, and analytical skills while also emphasizing management and leadership. 

A DBA opens the door to opportunities as a business consultant, chief financial officer, CEO, and more. 

This article was reviewed by Krystal Covington, MBA

Krystal Covington, a woman with medium-length, curly hair, smiles at the camera.

Krystal Covington, MBA, is a business growth strategist with 15 years of experience in marketing and public relations. Her company, Go Lead Consulting, provides clients foundational tools to build new client and customer relationships. 

Covington founded Women of Denver, one of the largest privately held membership organizations in Denver, Colorado. Her program helps women increase their business acumen, sharpen leadership skills and connect with other high-achieving women. Covington received her MBA from Western Governors University in 2012.

Krystal Covington is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.