Doctorate of Business Administration (DBA) Overview

Written by Coursera • Updated on

A doctorate in business administration is tailor-made for busy business professionals. Learn more about this degree and whether it might support your career goals.

[Featured image] A Doctorate of Business Administration student stands on the steps of a university building while using his cell phone. He's wearing a jacket and scarf.

Earning a Doctorate of Business Administration (DBA) offers a path toward personal and professional advancement in business. This relatively new degree, first offered at Harvard Business School in the early 1950s, is an option for professionals who want to deepen their understanding of business practices and pursue education beyond the Master of Business Administration (MBA) level.

While typically less well-known than the related MBA and PhD degrees, a DBA may be worth your time, especially if you're interested in practical, hands-on learning and an academic environment where you can explore research-based solutions to challenges you're facing in the business world.

What exactly is a Doctorate of Business Administration?

A Doctorate of Business Administration is a professional degree designed for individuals who want to expand or develop their business skills. Those who pursue this degree typically have experience owning, managing, or operating a business. This allows them to experiment with the theories they study in a real-world situation and seek solutions to problems they may encounter in the course of business operations.

Although the degree focuses on business theory and practice, it differs from an MBA or a PhD in Business Administration. The coursework in an MBA program tends to cover topics relevant to general business management, while a DBA program typically allows for more individual study in a specific area. A PhD program may be more beneficial to you if you want to do academic research or teach at a university.

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Typical concentrations in DBA programs

Depending on your school, you may have to select a concentration within your DBA program. Others allow you to incorporate the areas you want to study into your research, creating a built-in concentration to meet your individual needs. Some common concentrations you may find in DBA programs include:

  • Accounting: Explore investments, taxes, and other topics for a career as an analyst, manager, or chief financial officer.

  • Business management: Study methods for implementing change and managing people and projects for roles as a consultant, department or division manager, or executive.

  • Finance: Dive into tools for financial modeling, analysis, and decision making used by financial analysts, CEOs, CFOs, and consultants.

  • Health care leadership or management: Examine laws, regulations, and systems specific to the health care industry to prepare for positions like hospital administrator, facility director, or executive.

Is a doctorate in business administration worth it?

People have many different reasons for getting a DBA, including learning more about the latest research and theories that apply to their business, qualifying for a new position, or positioning themselves as experts in the field. Some want to transition into a role as an instructor and mentor for the upcoming generation of business leaders. Others see the coursework as an opportunity to explore problems affecting their industry and identify possible solutions.

No matter why you decide to work on this advanced degree, you're likely to enjoy the challenge of the work and find plenty of practical applications for it. Along the way, you may be able to expand your business management skills and distinguish yourself from other business leaders who work in similar roles. 

Specifically, you can refine your ability to identify and frame problems, seek solutions for them, and share your findings with your team. This competitive advantage may be helpful when you're up for a promotion or applying for a position with another company.

Earning a DBA can also increase your earnings potential and job security. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that people with a doctorate tend to have lower rates of unemployment and higher wages than those with a master's or bachelor's degree. In 2021, the unemployment rate for individuals with a doctorate in the United States was 2 percent lower than for those with a bachelor's degree [1]. Here's how the median weekly wages of the different degrees compare:

  • Doctorate degree: $1,909 

  • Professional degree: $1,924

  • Master's degree: $1,574

  • Bachelor's degree: $1,334

What can you do with a doctorate in business administration?

The knowledge and skills you develop as you earn a DBA apply to many different areas in business. You can use your degree in various careers, including business administration, executive positions, market research, and more. After graduation, you may find that your newly enhanced skills boost your performance at work, and this may put you in line for a promotion and higher salary — that may or may not be with your current company.

With your doctorate, you may find work in private and non-profit sectors. You may decide to strike out on your own and start your own company. Whether you stay with your current employer or look elsewhere, here are some of the roles you may consider:

  • Analyst: $93,000

  • C-suite executive: $98,980

  • Economist: $105,630

  • Information systems manager: $159,010

  • Human resources director: $126,230 

  • Professor: $76,640

  • Organizational manager: $105,310

*All data represents median annual salaries in the United States according to the BLS (May 2021)

Read more: 10 In-Demand Jobs You Can Get with a Business Degree

What will you learn in a DBA program?

In a DBA program, you study current research and theories about business practices, including topics like leadership and decision making, as well as how to conduct research at the graduate level. These courses typically build on content taught in MBA programs and help prepare you to work on your dissertation and residency. You can divide the content you may encounter into three broad categories: theory, research, and problem-solving.

Business and management theory

Business and management theory classes address topics like how to lead organizations in the current environment, set up and manage teams of people, and identify strengths and areas of concern in personnel, as well as corporate governance and ethics. These courses help establish the foundation of knowledge you use as you progress through the curriculum. You may apply one or more of the theories you study in your daily work life to deepen your understanding of the merits and deficits of the thinking. This also can inform your research. Examples of these courses include:

  • Entrepreneurial Behavior in Organizations

  • Influences and Limitations on Executive Decision Making

  • Leadership to Create Human Value

  • Leading 21st Century Organizations

  • Quality Improvement and Organizational Change

Research principles, philosophies, methods, and design

For many DBA students, researching questions and finding solutions to problems is one of the more exciting parts of a DBA program. The curriculum typically includes introductory courses in research methods and experimental design, as well as how to read and analyze articles from scholarly journals. Sample courses include:

  • Advanced Statistics and Applications

  • Archival Research Methods

  • Creating and Disseminating Research Knowledge

  • Defining the Dissertation Research Problem and Research Question

  • Qualitative Research

Contemporary issues and concerns

DBA programs usually include opportunities for students to learn more about contemporary issues that today's business leaders may need to address in their work. These courses can cover topics like global warming, scarce resource management, and cultural responsiveness in the workplace. Depending on the specific curriculum at the school, you may take classes that specifically address these topics or find them embedded in the theory and research courses you take.

How to choose a DBA program

When choosing a DBA program, consider how the program's design and curriculum fit into your schedule and align with your personal and professional goals. You may prefer a fully online program if you're already working full time and have personal obligations. Alternatively, you may prefer attending classes in person because it gives you a chance to give your full attention to the work without distraction. Some schools offer a hybrid course schedule with online classes and weekly or monthly face-to-face sessions.

The good news is that most schools design their DBA programs for working professionals. Not only does this let you keep your day job while you work on the degree, but it also means the professors may be more understanding when an emergency arises. They also try to arrange students in cohorts, so you have an opportunity to develop relationships with other students, share your knowledge, and support each other.

How to get a Doctorate of Business Administration

To get a Doctorate in Business Administration, you have to apply to, be accepted by, and complete a program at a school that offers the degree. Each school sets its own admission requirements, and these may include an MBA or relevant master's degree, professional experience, and evidence of a promising research project. The school may also ask you to explain why you want to earn the degree and whether you have time to commit to the program.

The DBA application process

The DBA application process usually starts when you complete the school's application and pay the application fee. You'll include details like your contact information, education, work experience, and why you're interested in the program. Some schools also ask for professional references and proof of English language proficiency at this stage.

If you make it through the first stage in the process, you may be invited to interview. During the interview, you have an opportunity to demonstrate your critical thinking and communication skills and share what motivates you to complete the degree program. The school wants to see evidence that you will complete the program.

The school you choose may also have additional steps in the application process. This can include an on-site campus visit where you can talk face-to-face with staff. Others may ask you to submit GRE scores or academic references. They will use all the information they collect to evaluate your candidacy.

Next steps

For many, the first step toward a DBA is earning an MBA. Check out programs like the Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, available on Coursera. You can earn this degree in as little as two years from anywhere with an internet connection.

If you already have an MBA, you may prefer expanding your business knowledge and building skills by earning a Professional Certificate such as the Google Digital Marketing & E-commerce Professional Certificate. Learn the basics of digital marketing, including how to set up and market an online store and measure its performance. This can help you choose an area of focus when you're ready to start your DBA courses.


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Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Education Pays, 2021,"" Accessed June 20, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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