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5 Things to Know Before You Start Your Doctoral Program

doctor of education and dnp graduates at the graduation ceremony

I started my doctoral program in 2013. Now, at the end of 2020, and I am finally making progress toward completing my dissertation. The road to earning my doctorate — such as the Doctor of Education (EdD) and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs offered at Aspen University — has been interesting, filled with ups downs, twists, and turns. 

As an Aspen University doctoral advisor, I believe all students should know these 5 things before entering into a doctoral program to help them navigate the waters of the dissertation process.

Choose the Correct Program for Your Goals – Be clear of your intentions when looking for a program. Sit down and write out your 5-10 year career action plan because the program you choose may take that long to complete. If needed, seek out a career coach. When talking with each university, ask your advisor how you can apply each program specialty to the real world. This should help you refine which program will help you with your career goals and overall passion. 

Suppose you work as a Human Resources Manager and are really interested in the human condition within the workplace. You would be best suited for an EdD in Leadership and Learning specializing in Organizational Psychology.

Have Passion for Your Program – When you select a program to pursue, be sure you are passionate about the course content. There is nothing worse than getting halfway through a program and finding you that you no longer enjoy what you are learning! Devout interest in the subjects will keep the fire burning on those hard days.

Choose Your Dissertation — or DNP Project — Early – The earlier you can identify a topic, the better. Sure it will change a little over time, but that is a part of the process. As long as the foundation principles are intact, your passion for the program will get you to the end of your dissertation. 

Network! – As an Aspen doctoral student, you are given access to the DOC Lounge or the DNP Lounge. These are wonderful areas to begin meeting others on the same journey, those who’ve completed the journey and meeting your faculty. You can also find doctoral support groups on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. 

Create Balance – The road to the doctorate is a long one. You must have balance in life. Going to school will take up a fair amount of time, but do still make time for yourself, friends, and family where you can. They are your first support system and will be there when you finish celebrating your accomplishment. 


Tarrah Whitehead is an Aspen University Enrollment Manager pursuing a Doctorate of Education in Organizational Leadership with an emphasis in Organizational Development. She was born and raised in Flagstaff, AZ and now lives in Phoenix, AZ with her energetic Chiweenie Frank. For fun she likes to read, complete various crafts, and be outside…pending the 100 degree weather.