Doctoral Program Preparation: Getting Your Mind Ready

by Tobin Perry

Deciding to dive into a doctoral program is no easy choice. Regardless of your field, you’ll be committing yourself to at least three years of intense study. Getting a doctoral degree can be valuable both to your career and your personal growth, and the following advice can help you decide if it’s the right path for you.

How to Decide If You’re Ready

The best way to know if you’re ready to pursue a doctorate degree is by asking yourself a few questions. Here are some ideas you should ponder:

Do I have the time? When you start working toward a doctorate, you’re making a commitment for the next three to five years (likely 10 to 15 hours a week). You may need to let go of a few existing obligations to make your doctoral studies a priority.

Do I feel energized by the thought of reading, writing, and researching? A doctoral degree isn’t for everyone. It’s primarily for those who love to read, write, and research. If you have trouble envisioning yourself doing all three on a regular basis, you may want to reevaluate! Most doctoral programs aim to prepare students for professional roles where these three activities take center stage.

Am I interested in a new level of responsibility and leadership? Your doctoral program will prepare you for a host of new responsibilities. Understanding the gravity of the power that may be entrusted to you is crucial. You might someday find yourself in a position where you need to develop thought leadership and a deeper engagement with broad trends in your field—and you’ll want to rise to the occasion!

How to Prepare for a Doctoral Program

Once you’ve decided to tackle a doctorate, you’ll need to mentally prepare yourself for the next step. You don’t just wake up one day and decide to pursue a Ph.D.; it’s the culmination of much thought and deliberation. Accordingly, it’s important to get ready for the challenge.

Laurie Schreiner, Ph.D., who serves as the chair and professor of the Department of Higher Education at Azusa Pacific University, suggests three strategies for getting started:

  1. Have a candid conversation with your spouse (and employer). Your doctoral work will take time—lots of it. Your other responsibilities will likely need to be adjusted for the next three to five years. Make sure your spouse, children, employer, and any other people who may depend on you are fully on board. This can make your experience much more successful.

  2. Read as much as possible. When your program begins, you’ll likely have a number of reading assignments. Suddenly, a lot of your time will be spent scanning books, journals, and websites. It’s a good idea to start reading broadly now, so you’re mentally and physically prepared for the coursework.

  3. Double-check your commitment level. Being ready to pursue a doctoral program isn’t really about how smart you are. More than anything else, your success is dependent on effort and persistence. Times will get tough. When that happens, it won’t be your intelligence that will get you through—it will be your commitment to keep going. “Success is the quality of the effort you put into your work, your persistence when the going gets tough, and getting the help you need when you don’t understand something,” said Schreiner. Remember, you can do anything you put your mind to!

You’re Ready . . . Now What?

When it comes time to choose a doctoral program, Schreiner noted that it’s helpful to find one that supports a cohort model. APU designed its doctoral programs with cohorts in mind, so students have support throughout their entire time as doctoral candidates.

Through a cohort model, you’ll go through your entire program with the same people. Anytime you have an issue, you may have a classmate in a similar situation who can provide help and support.

“Once in the program, find a buddy—someone in the same classes that you can use as a sounding board and do assignments together or review one another’s work,” Schreiner advised. “Also, connect with a student who is a little ahead of you, to help you know what to expect.”

APU offers nine doctoral programs across disciplines, including ministry, educational leadership, nursing, and psychology. Most of them follow a low-residency model so you don’t have to be on campus and can more easily integrate your studies with your current commitments.

Are you interested in exploring one of the degree paths available at Azusa Pacific University? Explore its offerings to see which doctoral program is right for you.