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Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED)

1. Overview

SED collects self-reported data on:
  • Demographic characteristics
  • Educational history from high school to doctorate
  • Mechanisms of financial support in graduate school
  • Debt related to education
  • Postgraduation plans

The Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) is an annual census of new research doctorate recipients from accredited colleges and universities in the United States. The SED is sponsored by six federal agencies: the National Science Foundation (NSF; the lead sponsor); the Department of Education; the Department of Agriculture (USDA); the National Institutes of Health (NIH); the National Endowment for the Humanities; and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Only research doctorates are included in the SED, with the vast majority being doctors of philosophy (PhD). The survey recognized 18 types of research doctorates in 2011, including doctors of education (EdD) and doctors of science (DSc). Professional doctorates (e.g., MD, JD, PsyD) are not included in the SED. Doctoral degrees are not static entities, and changes in the focus of the doctoral programs awarding a particular type of doctoral degree may make the “research doctorate” designation more or less appropriate for the degree; therefore, as doctoral degrees evolve to meet the needs of students, the orientation of some degrees may change from research to professional and vice versa. The National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES), a federal statistical agency within NSF, monitors the SED contract, which is currently conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago.

The SED was first conducted during the 1957–58 academic year. SED data are collected annually and added to the Doctorate Records File (DRF), a virtually complete national database of the nearly 2.0 million recipients of research doctorates from 1920 to present.


The purpose of the annual SED is to collect current information on the number and characteristics of individuals receiving research doctorates from accredited U.S. institutions. Survey results provide vital de-identified information to educational and labor force planners within the federal government and in academia, which can be used to assess characteristics and trends in doctoral education and degrees.


The SED is a single component that collects information on recipient demographic characteristics, educational history (from high school to doctoral), sources of graduate school support, debt level, and postgraduation plans. More specifically, the following information is collected in the SED: all postsecondary degrees received and years that the degrees were awarded; years spent as a student in graduate school; specialty field of doctorate; type of financial support received in graduate school; level of debt incurred in undergraduate and graduate school; employment/study status in the year following doctoral award; postgraduation plans (how definite, study vs. employment, type of employer, location, and basic annual salary); high school location and year of graduation; demographic characteristics (sex, race/ethnicity, date and place of birth, citizenship status, country of citizenship for non-U.S. citizens, marital status, number of dependents, disability status, educational attainment of parents); and personal identifiers (such as name, last 4 digits of Social Security Number, and permanent address).


The survey has been administered annually since its inception in the 1957–58 academic year, and covers the period of July 1 through June 30.