I am curious to know whether PhD is the highest degree one can earn? Is there any other degree beyond that, if so what is it and what are the universities offering the same?

7 Answers 7


The degree you're looking for (at least in the sciences) is called "Doctor of Science" and you can read all about it on Wikipedia:

Doctor of Science

Edit: As aeismail noted: Sometimes this degree is considered equivalent to a PhD and sometimes it's considered beyond a PhD. This distinction typically varies by country (all this is listed on the Wikipedia page).

  • 21
    Be careful—a doctor of science is sometimes the equivalent of a PhD. In Germany, there is a special term given to this, known as a "Habilitation," when it's beyond the first doctorate. Perhaps the better term is "higher doctorate" or "second doctorate."
    – aeismail
    Oct 24, 2012 at 6:20

It depends highly on your university and national system. The Doctor of Science title has already been cited by Dan C, and several European countries have a higher diploma called habilitation.

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    I'm not sure the agrégation in higher education qualifies as a "degree". It seems to be more like an exam (in a similar than "Professeur des universités" is a position, that can be obtained after an exam, but not a degree). On the contrary of the habilitation, which indeed requires the applicant to enrol at the university as a student. But I might be wrong, I wasn't very familiar with this kind of agrégation.
    – user102
    Oct 24, 2012 at 8:02
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    @CharlesMorisset it's definitely not a diploma, but I think it qualifies as a degree (“an academic rank conferred by a college or university after examination or after completion of a course of study, or conferred as an honor on a distinguished person”)
    – F'x
    Oct 24, 2012 at 8:37
  • Fair enough, I guess I was considering a degree more as a diploma (and a diploma more as the actual piece of paper you get at the end).
    – user102
    Oct 24, 2012 at 9:45
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    It's not a degree, it's a hiring process. You usually go through the agrégation to become a teacher, and the state guarantees that you obtain the position if you obtain the agrégation. Oct 24, 2012 at 11:09
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    Address and abbreviations depend on country. In Germany, you become a “Dr. habil.”. In France, it is abbreviated HDR (Habilitation à Diriger les Recherches), but it does not change the form of address.
    – F'x
    Jul 11, 2014 at 7:53

At the risk of answering a question that the OP may not actually be asking....

One of the biggest myths to deprogram grad students of is the idea that the Ph.D is "the highest degree" or is in fact in a well-defined ordering relationship with other degrees. It is true that a Ph.D will typically require other degrees as a prerequisite, and it is also true that (as far as I know) no degree program requires a Ph.D for admission. However, there's no useful sense in which the Ph.D is "highest" in anything. It is a certification that you can do research, and is almost always a mandatory step before getting a research position in academia.

But by that logic, an MBA, a J.D or an MD are also "highest" degrees.

  • 4
    And this is why many statistics in the US do not count faculty with Ph.D.s but rather "faculty with terminal degrees for the field." I do carefully say many rather than most. May 12, 2014 at 14:16
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    And then you get the MD/PhDs (or the JD/MD/PhD I once met...) and it all goes pear-shaped.
    – Fomite
    May 12, 2014 at 15:51
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    An M.Eng. is also one of the ``highest degrees'' one can attain. Perhaps the OP means to refer to terminal degrees? May 12, 2014 at 20:41
  • This is true in my country (Vietnam). For most people, especially who aren't academian, a degree after a PhD is... professor :D
    – Ooker
    Oct 25, 2015 at 13:22

Many countries have higher degrees than the PhD.

In the UK, there's

  • Litt.D Doctor of Letters / Literature
  • DSc Doctor of Science
  • LL.d Doctor of Laws
  • D.D. Doctor of Divinity (the highest)

Each of these typically requires the submission of a body of work - a research portfolio - together with a critique of the work. Or they may be awarded as honorary degrees; see the links above for the requirements for the degrees from the University of East Anglia (Litt.D, DSc, LL.d), and the University of Oxford (D.D.), accordingly.

  • 2
    I thought the DD was more of an honourary degree - I don't know anyone personally that would consider it higher than the other degrees you mention?
    – Michael
    Oct 26, 2015 at 9:35

Another concept of "next step after PhD", at least in some countries, is the notion of an 'academic', i.e., a member of the relevant national Academy of Sciences.

That membership is in essence an awarded/elected degree for continued contributions to science and demonstrated expertise.


I heard that in Russia they have an equivalent to the standard Ph.D and a sort of "second Ph.D" after that, that is way harder to get than the first. One of my Russian friends argued that it is harder and rarer than the European "habilitation", but I guess it is open to debate to see whether it is just a matter of opinion.

Here is the corresponding article in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doktor_nauk

(On an unrelated topic, I think the name is quite cool.)

  • Yes, the classic USSR higher education process has a 'candidate of sciences' that is considered somewhat equivalent to PhD; and you'd get a full 'doctor of sciences' degree after multiple years of post-doc research&teaching. It might be considered somewhat analogous (but also different) to USA concept of tenure track.
    – Peteris
    Apr 1, 2014 at 14:14
  • Actually this system was used in the whole Eastern European block, but disappeared as most of those ex-communist countries joined the EU and coordinated their degree systems to the regular Western one.
    – Greg
    Jul 29, 2014 at 16:45
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    And further after that one can become a correspondent member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, then a full member. There's (rough figures) simultaneously only 1500 correspondent and 700 full members at any given time.
    – LLlAMnYP
    May 12, 2016 at 16:39

In Finland, someone with a doctor's degree and additional body of scientific work equivalent to another thesis can apply for the title of docent (dosentti). The title gives the right to mentor PhD students. Docenture is a degree in the sense that it does not imply employment at the university which bestows the title.

At least some professors consider it kind of a vestige and it might be phased out at some point.

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