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The Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) Degree – A Guide

Are you an experienced professional looking to enhance your leadership skills whilst developing new business strategies and solutions? If so, a Doctor of Business Administration could take your management career to the highest level.

The DBA is more than just a PhD in Business Administration. You won’t simply be developing new knowledge through academic research: you’ll be applying that knowledge to real-world business problems and documenting this process with your thesis.

This page explains how the DBA qualification works, who it’s intended for and what you can expect from a course. We’ve also looked at some of the key differences between a DBA and a PhD.

If you’d prefer to start looking at actual programmes, you can search for your ideal DBA project or programme right now.

What is a DBA?

A Doctorate of Business Administration is a widely recognised professional doctorate in Business and Management. It is normally the highest level of qualification available in these fields.

Programmes typically combine discussion of advanced management theory and practice with training in the methodologies and techniques necessary to carry out doctoral research in Business and Management.


Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)
Type Professional doctorate
Subjects Business & Management
Length 4-6 years (part time)
Availability Worldwide

The DBA is equivalent to a PhD (and both award the title ‘Doctor’). But there are several key differences between the two qualifications.

In particular, a DBA usually incorporates more taught modules and practical training, rather than focussing purely on independent academic research.

In some respects a DBA is similar to an MBA (Masters in Business Administration). However, the DBA involves more original research and analysis, feeding back into business theory and practice. Applicants also tend to be more senior professionals (and often already hold an MBA).

Where can I study a DBA?

Like the MBA, the DBA originated in North American education systems, but is now common across the UK, Europe and other parts of the world.

Programmes are often offered within specialised business schools, attached to larger research universities. Most are delivered through part-time distance learning, allowing students to continue with their careers whilst studying.

DBAs by distance learning

Some components of a DBA may take place on-campus. This is worth checking if you are considering studying for a DBA from a university some distance away.

How much does a DBA cost?

Fees for a DBA are likely to be higher than for PhDs. This reflects the added cost of delivering taught units, often featuring contributions from prestigious academic and enterprise experts.

The structure of a DBA also means that fees vary across individual years of study. You will normally pay more during the first part of your programme, when you are receiving direct training and instruction. Fees are typically lower once you begin working more independently towards your doctoral thesis.

You can generally expect to pay in the region of the following:

  • First phase of programme: £10,000-15,000 per year
  • Second phase of programme: £2,000-5,000 per year

Please note that these figures are offered as a general indication only. They are based on typical fees for UK students studying in the UK.

Search for a DBA

Ready to start looking at available DBA degrees? You can view current projects or programmes now.

What funding is available?

The relatively high cost of a DBA can be offset through funding. There are three main avenues available:

  • PhD loans – DBAs and other professional doctorates will be eligible for new UK doctoral loans. Due to be introduced in time for the 2018-19 academic year, these will allow students to borrow up to £25,000 towards the cost of a PhD (or equivalent degree).
  • University scholarships – Universities and business schools may provide merit-based funding to attract the best students to their programmes. The best way to find these opportunities is to view funded courses here on FindAPhD. You can also view a more selection of DBA programmes (along with other ‘taught’ professional doctorates) on FindAMasters.
  • Research Council Funding - The UK Research Councils provide studentships for doctoral research. Occasionally, this support may also be available for professional doctorates.
  • Support from employers / organisations – The DBA is designed to advance management careers to the highest level, whilst also generating actionable insights for real-world business practice. As such, your employer or the organisation you manage may regard the qualification as a worthwhile investment.

You can also look at more general information in our PhD funding section.

Are DBA programmes accredited?

As with MBAs, DBA programmes (and the business schools that offer them) are often externally accredited. This process provides a ‘hallmark’ of quality, but its absence doesn’t necessarily mean a programme (or school) is not high quality.

The three most prestigious accreditors are:

Schools are programmes that receive accreditation from all three of these organisations are referred to as being ‘triple-accredited’.

Who should study for a DBA?

DBA programmes are designed for senior executives or other business professionals with a track record in management and leadership roles.

As such, the Doctorate in Business Administration may be an appropriate qualification for you if:

  • You are an ambitious manager, seeking to acquire the insight and expertise necessary to move into very senior roles.
  • You are an experienced professional, seeking to refine your practical experience and insight in order to develop new business models and strategies through further research and analysis.
  • You hold an MBA or other executive degree and wish to progress to the highest level of professional qualification in Business and Management.

Note that a DBA is not normally intended for students going straight into doctoral study after a Bachelors or Masters degree.

What is the difference between a DBA and a PhD?

In academic terms, a DBA is completely equivalent to a PhD. The qualification is a full doctorate and will allow you to use the title ‘Dr’.

The main difference between the DBA and the PhD is the content of the course and the way it is studied. The following table provides a simple, side-by-side, comparison:


DBA vs PhD
DBA PhD
Offered in Business & Management subjects Offered in all subjects where academic research is carried out
Is a professional doctorate Is an academic research doctorate
Mixes taught units & independent research Primarily consists of independent research
Is usually studied part-time, by distance learning Can be studied full-time, part-time or otherwise

More general PhDs in Business and Management are available for students who wish to focus on academic research or don’t yet have the necessary professional experience for a DBA.

What is the difference between a DBA and an MBA?

Both the MBA and the DBA are designed for experienced management professionals. However, the DBA is a more advanced degree and awards a higher level qualification (for which an MBA may actually be an entry requirement).

The following table summarises the differences between the two degrees:


DBA vs MBA
DBA MBA
Offered in Business & Management subjects Offered in Business & Management subjects
Is a professional doctorate (NQF level 8) Is a Masters degree (NQF level 7)
Consists of taught modules, followed by extensive research towards a doctoral thesis Consists of taught modules, followed by a practical project, placement or other Masters dissertation task
Is usually studied part-time, by distance learning May be studied full-time or part-time

An MBA may be a better option for you if you are more interested in business practice than business theory, or if you wish to complete your degree more quickly.

It’s always possible to return to study a DBA later. In fact, a few business schools actually allow for progression from MBA to DBA within the same programme (candidates normally extend their period of study as they move on to doctoral research).

What are the entry requirements for a DBA?

Entry to a DBA will normally require extensive professional experience in addition to relevant academic qualifications.

You should normally have:

  • An MBA, or other relevant Masters degree.
  • Significant professional experience, ideally in relatively senior leadership or management roles (most universities will specify a minimum of three years).
  • Evidence of a promising research project, related to the interests and expertise of the university or business school you are applying to.

Academic requirements can be flexible: you may be admitted to a DBA without an MBA (or other Masters) on the basis of significant professional experience.

DBA or MBA?

Wondering whether a Master of Business Administration may be a better degree for you? Check out a full MBA guide at FindAMasters.com.

Will I need a GMAT or GRE?

Academic admissions tests such as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) aren’t usually necessary for a DBA application. Your professional experience (and previous qualifications) should be enough to confirm you have the necessary aptitude for a programme.

A GMAT or GRE score could be helpful if you don’t have an MBA, or if you wish to strengthen an application that may be slightly weak in one area.

Language requirements

DBA programmes are often highly international, drawing together exceptional management professionals from around the world. Most are delivered in English and evidence of proficiency may be required if this is not your first language.

What is the application process for a DBA?

To apply for a DBA you will normally need to submit some or all of the following:

  • Evidence of your qualifications (as detailed above)
  • A personal statement outlining your relevant experience and explaining your interest in the DBA programme
  • Appropriate academic and professional references (if requested)

In addition to these, you will need to submit a strong research proposal.

The DBA research proposal

In many ways your proposal will be similar to that for a more standard PhD:

You will need to demonstrate that your project is original (no one has researched this topic before), worthwhile (you will make a valuable and useful contribution to your field) and practical (you have the necessary skills and experience to complete this project and it is a good fit for the university you are applying to).

In addition, the research proposal for a DBA should normally draw upon your professional experience:

  • It may relate generally to an area of business practice you have been particularly interested and experienced in.
  • It may attempt to overcome a challenge or solve a problem you have frequently encountered during your career.
  • It may attempt to translate your practical experiences into a new business model or management theory, to be used by other professionals.

You can read more general advice in our guide to writing a successful research proposal for doctoral study.

Submitting your application

In most cases you should apply directly to universities for admission to a Doctorate in Business Administration. There will usually be a system for doing this online.

However, most institutions recommend that students make contact before applying. This helps ensure that your qualifications are suitable and your application is likely to be a good fit.

You should then follow the university’s guidelines as you submit your application and research proposal. Once your application has been processed you may be invited to an interview. This will help ensure you are the right candidate for the programme – and that you and your university are a good fit for each other.

Application deadlines

The deadline for a DBA application will often be more specific than it would for an academic PhD. This is because DBA programmes include timetabled modules as well as more flexible independent research.

The exact deadline will depend on the start-date for your degree:

  • If your DBA commences in the spring (January / February) you should normally apply by the end of October, or early November.
  • If your DBA commences in the autumn (September / October) you should normally apply by the end of May, or early June.

If in doubt check the specific details for your programme.

Finding and applying for a DBA

You can find details for advertised DBA projects here on FindAPhD. These will normally be opportunities for study and research in specific areas (often with funding attached).

Because the DBA is a professional doctorate, with a substantial taught component, we also list general DBA programmes on our sister-site, FindAMasters.

What’s it like to study for a DBA?

The DBA degree offers a fairly unique experience, combining advanced teaching, discussion and training with significant practical work and independent doctoral research.

The method of study for a DBA is also highly innovative. Because they are designed for practising professionals, most programmes are delivered through part-time distance learning, or online learning. This allows candidates to complete their course whilst still pursuing their careers.

How long is a DBA?

A DBA normally takes between four and six years to complete (on a part-time basis, through distance learning).

How will my programme be organised?

Most DBA programmes are split into two distinct sections:

  • The first phase will follow a sequence of taught modules on specific topics. These will explore management theory and business practice as well as research methodologies and practical training designed to prepare you for your project.
  • The second phase will focus on your independent research. During this period you will implement your research proposal and carry out a project leading to the production of a doctoral thesis.

What will I study?

Course content for the taught part of your DBA will be decided by your university, but you can normally expect to cover topics such as:

  • Business and management theory - Advanced teaching and discussion exploring key theoretical issues and practical topics related to modern management, business practice and leadership.
  • Research principles and philosophies - Grounding in effective Business and Management research principles, including key objectives, deliverables and organisational challenges.
  • Research methods and design – Training in the expertise necessary to conceive, construct and carry out effective research projects in Business and Management, covering issues such as project management, data collection and research ethics.
  • Contemporary issues and concerns – Analysis of the modern Business landscape, together with the challenges and opportunities currently being experienced by organisations.

Exact content will vary between courses, as will the balance between Business and Management theory and research training. The best way to get a more accurate sense of what a DBA might involve is view some programme details.

How will I study?

Most DBA programmes are part-time and take place primarily through distance learning, using online systems and resources. This is designed to allow you to complete your programme flexibly, whilst carrying on with your career.

Individual module delivery will occur through a combination of intensive workshops (usually lasting between one and three days) followed by a course of virtual seminars and tutorials.

The research phase of your degree will be more like a conventional PhD. You will work independently, but will have scheduled meetings (online, or face-to-face) with one or more designated supervisors.

How will my DBA be assessed?

The first part of your DBA will be assessed through coursework. You will complete assignments appropriate to each modules and these will be examined by your tutors, much like the work you would do for an academic Bachelors or Masters degree.

Assuming your work is satisfactory, you will then proceed to the independent research project that is required for a doctorate. As with a PhD, this will normally be assessed through a viva voce (a formal oral examination) during which you will defend your thesis in front of internal and external examiners.

Search for a DBA

Ready to start looking at available DBA degrees? You can view current projects or programmes now.

Last updated - 12/08/2017

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