Doctorate in Business Administration Similarities: DBA vs PhD

Published: 3 January 2020 | by Thomas Graf

PhD stands for Doctor of Philosophy – DBA means Doctor of Business Administration. Two doctors but does that mean that the PhD in Business Administration and the DBA program are the same? Well, they are not the same but they have some important characteristics in common:

DBA vs PhD in Business Administration: Stages of learning

Both program types require a period of coursework, followed by an exam, and finally a research period when PhD and DBA students develop their dissertation. At least this is often the case. The coursework usually is the same for both PhD in Business Administration and DBA students. On top of that, both program types often require not only the successful accomplishment of each course but also a comprehensive exam at the end of the course period. Once you have passed this exam you are no longer a doctoral student but a doctoral candidate. A typical DBA or PhD structure, for example, is this one:

  • Coursework
  • Development of research project: for instance, development of a research idea and collection of data
  • Defense of research proposal
  • Writing the dissertation
  • Final defense

Doctorate in Business Administration Curriculum

PhD in Management and DBA students have similar or even the same courses to accomplish. Even though they may not have classes together, the content is the same. A common practice is that PhD in Management and DBA students need to accomplish methodology courses on the one hand and management theory courses on the other.

  • Methodology courses are courses in statistics, quantitative research, qualitative research, or specific methods courses such as experimental design or survey studies. The goal here is that you develop skills that you need as a competent researcher. For instance, you need to know how to identify relevant research questions and how to approach these questions with the right methodological tool.
  • Management theory courses, on the other hand, are about management disciplines such as strategy, marketing, organizational theory or human resources management. The idea here is that you gain an overview on many relevant management fields or even specialize in your preferred area from the perspective of social sciences. In contrast to MBA programs, hence, this coursework is not about applying management nuts and bolts in practice. Instead, it is about the theoretical and empirical foundations of management knowledge. This coursework will tackle questions such as: What do we know about why some firms make profits and others not? What do we know today about group performance and leadership behaviors? What do we know about international diversification in theory and to what degree is this theory supported empirically? In a DBA program you research papers and try to explain phenomena rather than solving practical problems from the perspective of managers.

DBA: Admission requirements

Both, PhD and DBA programs require an academic qualification on the master level. There may be exceptions, however. For instance, a bachelor degree alone may qualify for a PhD at some universities if that bachelor degree has been attained with honors; or admissions to a DBA program may be granted even in the absence of a master degree provided that the applicant shows a lot of work experience in managerial functions and responsibilities. The rule of thumb, however, is: PhD and DBA applicants need an academic degree on the master's level. Furthermore, both PhD and DBA programs may require proof of language skills – for example by the TOEFL or the IELTS – and your analytical capabilities by the GMAT or GRE.

Degree acceptance

Both, the PhD and the DBA are doctoral degrees. Whether the degree is officially accepted and whether the title can be officially held in a specific country, however, depends on the country's regulations. In Germany, for instance, a degree - no matter if a bachelor, master, or a doctoral degree - is only accepted officially if the institution (where the degree was obtained) is officially accepted in its country. This official acceptance of a doctoral degree counts for both PhD and DBA. In reality, however, many schools may care less about whether the degree is officially accepted or not but rather in the institution's reputation where you gained that degree.


Both degrees, PhD and DBA, qualify for research and teaching. There are differences in the qualification, however, that need to be pointed out. Please read our article on differences between the PhD in Business Administration and the DBA.

Further information about doctoral degrees in management for professionals

By Thomas Graf