What Is An Honorary Doctorate in 2023? Benefits Attached

An honorary doctorate is an academic distinction awarded to individuals who have made significant contributions to their field of work or society as a whole. Unlike a regular doctoral degree, they do not earn an honorary doctorate through academic study or research. Still, it gets awarded as a recognition of an individual’s outstanding achievements and contributions.

 In this article, we will explore what is an honorary doctorate, history and purpose of honorary doctorates, the different types of honorary doctorates, and how they get awarded. We will also examine some controversies surrounding awarding of honorary doctorates and consider whether these distinctions hold the same value as traditional doctoral degrees.

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What is an Honorary Doctorate? 

They award an honorary doctorate to individuals who have significantly contributed to their work, society, or humanity. It is an academic recognition of an individual’s achievements but not earned through academic study or research like a traditional doctoral degree.

Universities or other academic institutions typically award honorary doctorates. They are for individuals who have made notable contributions to science, medicine, humanities, social sciences, or the arts.

The most common reasons for awarding an honorary doctorate include a distinguished career, significant philanthropic contributions, humanitarian efforts, or exceptional public service.

Awarding an honorary doctorate typically involves a nomination and selection process by the university or institution’s governing body, which may include faculty, alums, and staff.

They usually invite the recipient to attend a ceremony where they are presented with the degree, often accompanied by an honorary hood or robe.

There are several types of honorary doctorates, including Doctor of Humane Letters, Doctor of Laws, Doctor of Science, and Doctor of Fine Arts, among others. Each type of degree represents a specific field or area of contribution in which the recipient has excelled.

While honorary doctorates do not carry the same academic weight as traditional doctoral degrees, they are considered a high honor and can be an essential recognition of an individual’s accomplishments.

However, awarding honorary doctorates has also been criticized for being too often used as a public relations tool or a way to curry favor with influential individuals rather than as a proper recognition of merit.

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What is The History of an Honorary Doctorate 

The honorary doctorate is an academic degree awarded to individuals who have significantly contributed to a particular field or society.

Unlike a traditional doctoral degree earned through years of rigorous academic study and research, an honorary doctorate recognizes a person’s achievements and contributions.

Awarding honorary degrees has a long history dating back to the Middle Ages when universities began to grant degrees to distinguished individuals who had not completed the required coursework.

The first recorded instance of an honorary degree was in the 15th century when the University of Oxford conferred an honorary doctorate in divinity on Lionel Woodville, the Bishop of Salisbury.

In the following centuries, awarding honorary degrees became more widespread. By the 19th century, many universities in Europe and North America were awarded honorary degrees to politicians, scientists, artists, and other notable figures.

Harvard University gave the first honorary degree awarded in the United States in 1692 to Increase Mather, a prominent Puritan minister and scholar.

Over time, the criteria for awarding honorary degrees have evolved. In the early days, they often gave honorary degrees to people who had made significant financial contributions to the University.

However, today, honorary degrees are typically awarded based on a person’s achievements and contributions to society, regardless of their financial assistance to the University.

Despite the widespread use of honorary degrees, there has been some controversy surrounding their legitimacy. Critics argue that awarding honorary degrees undermines the value of traditional academic degrees and is a way for universities to curry favor with influential individuals.

Some universities have re-evaluated their policies on awarding honorary degrees in recent years. Some have tightened their criteria for awarding honorary degrees, while others have discontinued the practice altogether.

However, for many universities, the tradition of awarding honorary degrees remains integral to their history and identity.

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What is The Purpose of an Honorary Doctorate 

The purpose of an honorary doctorate is to recognize and honor individuals who have made significant contributions to a particular field or society as a whole, even if they still need to complete the required coursework for a traditional doctoral degree.

Awarding an honorary doctorate is a way for universities to acknowledge the achievements of individuals who have positively impacted the world and to celebrate their contributions.

They typically award honorary doctorates to individuals who have achieved excellence in their respective fields, whether in the arts, sciences, humanities, business, politics, or philanthropy.

They often recognize these individuals for their outstanding accomplishments, innovative ideas, leadership, and dedication to improving the world.

In addition to recognizing individual achievement, awarding an honorary doctorate can also benefit the University.

By associating itself with thriving and influential individuals, a university can enhance its reputation and prestige, attract more attention from the media, and potentially attract more funding and donations.

Furthermore, the awarding of an honorary doctorate can also serve as an inspiration to other students and faculty members, as well as to the broader community. Seeing individuals who have achieved great things can motivate others to pursue their goals and dreams.

Despite some controversy surrounding the legitimacy of honorary doctorates, many universities continue to see the value in recognizing individuals who have made significant contributions to society.

Awarding an honorary doctorate is a way for universities to honor outstanding achievements and inspire others to follow in the footsteps of those who have positively impacted the world.

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What Are The Different Types of Honorary Doctorate 

There are several honorary doctorates, each with a specific purpose and criteria. Here are some of the most common types:

Honorary Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.)

This type of honorary doctorate is for individuals who have made significant contributions to the arts, literature, or humanities. Recipients may include authors, poets, playwrights, or other creative artists.

Honorary Doctor of Science (D.Sc.)

This type is for individuals who have made significant contributions to the natural sciences, such as physics, chemistry, or biology. Recipients may include scientists, researchers, or inventors.

Honorary Doctor of Laws (LL.D.)

This type of honorary doctorate is for individuals who have made significant contributions to the legal profession or the field of law in general. Recipients may include lawyers, judges, or legal scholars.

Honorary Doctor of Humanities (D.Hum.)

This type of honorary doctorate is similar to the D.Litt. but focuses on general contributions to the humanities. Recipients may include scholars or practitioners in history, philosophy, or theology.

Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts (D.F.A.)

This type of honorary doctorate is for individuals who have significantly contributed to the arts, including music, theater, dance, or visual arts.

Honorary Doctor of Business Administration (D.B.A.)

This type of honorary doctorate is for individuals who have significantly contributed to business or entrepreneurship. Recipients may include successful business leaders, entrepreneurs, or economists.

Honorary Doctor of Public Service (D.P.S.)

This type is for individuals who have significantly contributed to public service or society. Recipients may include politicians, social activists, or philanthropists.

It’s important to note that the specific titles and criteria for honorary doctorates can vary by institution.

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What Are The Controversies Surrounding The Awarding Of Honorary Doctorate 

Honorary doctorates are academic degrees awarded to individuals who have made significant contributions to society but still need to complete the educational requirements for a traditional doctorate. While these awards recognize exceptional achievements, they have become increasingly controversial in recent years.

One of the controversies surrounding it is the perception that they get awarded to already famous or influential individuals rather than those who have made significant contributions to their field. Critics argue that this can undermine the degree’s value and make it seem like a mere publicity stunt for the University or organization awarding it.

Another controversy is the perception that honorary doctorates are for political reasons. For example, a university might award an honorary doctorate to a politician who has supported the University’s agenda rather than someone who has made a genuine contribution to their field.

Additionally, some argue that honorary doctorates are awarded too frequently and have lost meaning. With so many people receiving these awards, they claim, they have become more of a ceremonial gesture than a proper recognition of achievement.

Finally, some argue that awardingit perpetuates the elitism of academia. By conferring these titles on only a select few individuals, they claim, universities reinforce the idea that only certain people are worthy of recognition and respect.

Despite these controversies, many institutions continue to award honorary doctorates to recognize exceptional achievements and contributions to society. However, as the practice evolves, the criteria for awarding these degrees will likely continue to be scrutinized and debated.

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Frequently Asked Questions 

What is the significance of an honorary doctorate? 

The University achieves several goals by bestowing Honorary Degrees: It honors those whose lives and works demonstrate professional, intellectual, or artistic achievement. It keeps and recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to society, the state, and the University.

Is an honorary doctorate the same as a Ph.D.? 

An honorary doctorate is a prestigious title bestowed upon individuals in recognition of their exceptional contributions to a specific field or society. Unlike a traditional Ph.D., an honorary doctorate does not require the recipient to complete a course of study or research.

Can you call someone who has received an honorary doctorate a doctor? 

Honorary doctorate recipients do not have the title “doctor.” In many countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, an honorary doctor should not use the formal title of “doctor,” regardless of the circumstances surrounding the award.

Is there anything you can do with an honorary doctorate? 

An honorary degree does not confer any professional advantages but can provide you with prestige and additional recognition. It usually grants you the following: Having formal recognition as a person of distinction. Adding the title “doctor” after your name.

Is an honorary doctorate considered an actual degree? 

Honorary doctorates, unlike traditional doctorates, carry a different academic weight. While universities may award celebrities and other prominent people honorary doctorates, the degrees have no educational value.


Honorary doctorates have become a common practice in universities around the world. While awarding such degrees does not require the recipient to have completed a program of study or earned a degree, it recognizes their significant contributions to their respective fields or society.

They serve as a way for universities to recognize and honor individuals who have made exceptional achievements or contributions and to celebrate their accomplishments with the broader community.

However, the increasing frequency of such awards has led to concerns about the potential dilution of the value of these degrees. As such, universities must be thoughtful in their selection process to maintain the award’s integrity and ensure that it continues to carry weight and significance.



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