Online Ph.D. Programs Overview

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An online doctorate / Ph.D. program provides a flexible —  and, in many cases, more affordable —  route to the terminal degree in your area of interest. The doctorate is the highest degree level in most fields, and pursuing this degree online can help you advance in your profession while shaping your education around the demands of work and life.

Don’t be fooled: online doctoral programs require a great deal of commitment, dedication, and skill to complete. However, when compared to a traditional on-campus program, online Ph.D. programs can make the world of difference for busy students and professionals aspiring to research opportunities, professorships, or organizational leadership roles.

In some fields — like higher education and research — a doctoral degree may necessary for advancing into certain positions. But working toward this challenging degree can also mean putting your career on hold. An online Ph.D. can provide a flexible path forward, one on which you can advance your education and credentials without missing a beat at work.

Many of the universities that offer full-time bachelor’s degree programs also offer opportunities to earn your doctorate. To get started on your search, check out the The 50 Best Online Colleges & Universities 2019 and find out who offers an online doctoral program in your field.

If you’re looking for a doctoral program close to home, take a look at The Best Online College by State.

Otherwise, read on to learn more.

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Online Doctorate Degree Basics

Depending on the field of study and specific type of degree, your online doctorate can require anywhere from 60 to 120 credit hours and can take five to eight years of study. While your life and career could take you to any number of places during that time span, a traditional doctoral program could keep you pinned to a single locale for the duration. An online doctoral program can allow you to complete your degree while neither uprooting your life nor preventing you from uprooting if you so desire .

Over the course of earning a doctorate degree online, you will take on in a heavy courseload in advanced classes, including seminars, research, and practice. You will also develop a dissertation project and mount a defense of this dissertation that reflects your studies and establishes you as an expert in your field.

Earning a doctorate degree online may also require the completion of a work component, typically as an adjunct professor or research assistant. Fortunately, these positions also come with tuition remission, and sometimes a stipend (but be warned, they are notoriously low-paying jobs). In other cases, you may be offered a fellowship that pays for your tuition on the condition that you research and publish on a topic.

Three Reasons to Get a Ph.D. Online

There are numerous good reasons to earn a Ph.D. online:

  1. Professional advancement on your own time — Doctorate degrees are the “top floor” of the ivory tower; you can’t earn anything higher. Because of this, a doctorate can give you the qualifications necessary to occupy the “top floor” positions in your professional field. Earning your doctorate degree online means you can ascend to this floor without taking a break on the way.
  2. Personal growth with slightly less stress — Earning a doctorate degree can be an extremely rewarding experience, but it can also be very stressful. Online Ph.D. programs can provide a level of flexibility and accommodation that traditional doctoral programs simply can’t. These benefits can dramatically reduce your stress levels. This can clear your headspace to focus on your studies and balance your personal responsibilities.
  3. Quality and convenience — Online doctoral programs demonstrate the same quality and hold the same respect as their on-campus counterparts, and are offered by many reputable, well-known schools. Entering an online doctoral program allows you to combine the quality of a doctoral reputation at your school of choice, with the convenience to fit your lifestyle.

Types of Online Doctorate Degrees

Online doctorate degrees, like traditional doctorate degrees, fall into two broad categories.

  • The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
    Online Ph.D.s indicate their holder is well versed in the theory of a field, and has performed a significant amount of research. These degrees center on research, and while the “philosophy” in the title can be a little confusing, it simply refers to the significant level of knowledge and specialization someone has achieved in their field of study. Ph.D. programs typically consist of a coursework component, a practicum component, and a research component, culminating in a lengthy dissertation project and defense. Common Ph.D.s include the Doctor of Education (EdD), the Doctor of Public Health (DPH), and the Doctor of Theology (ThD).
  • The Applied Doctorate
    Also sometimes referred to as the professional doctorate, this degree program focuses on developing real-world knowledge and skills for application at the highest levels of your chosen profession. Though research may be a component of an applied doctorate program, the greater focus is on practice over theory. These programs can encompass a range of professions, including the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), Doctor of Healthcare Administration (DHA), or, in the case of advanced legal studies, a Juris Doctor (JD). Earning a professional doctorate will usually require fewer credits toward completion and therefore may be completed in slightly less time than the typical PhD.

Are Online Ph.D. Programs Respected?

Yes! Accredited online Ph.D. programs culminate in degrees in a wide array of fields, and come with the same level of respect and reputation as their on-campus counterparts. Earning a doctorate degree online can increase your earning potential and lead to professional advancement at the height of your field of study. The following fields are among the most popular for online doctorate degrees.

Admission Requirements

At a bare minimum, online doctoral programs require applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree with a highly competitive GPA. Most require some form of standardized test scores (with a minimum score to be met by applicants, varying from school to school). Some universities may allow scores to be waived, or may not require them at all.

Also of note, some online doctoral programs may require applicants to hold a master’s degree. Most doctorate degrees do not hold this requirement, and some will even allow students with master’s degrees to transfer these credits and reduce the overall length of their program. Every program is different, however, so be sure to do your research.

Online doctoral programs, like traditional doctoral programs, are highly competitive. Successful applicants need to stand out from the crowd, with an exceptional admissions letter or essay, glowing recommendations, relevant field experience, and preferably a CV that displays significant involvement and interest in the field, such as publication of papers, internships, or professional achievements.

Online Ph.D. Programs Costs

Online doctoral programs can vary significantly in cost; the variation is largely due to factors that include: the quality and reputation of the school; whether the school is public or private; the type of program; the length of program; the type of degree; and whether the student is considered in-state or out-of-state. Most programs cost around $30-$40K per year, though some can cost as much as $60K or more.

However, because an online Ph.D. is a unique and more exclusive academic tier, many scholarship and funding opportunities exist for those who do reach this level. To learn more about scholarship opportunities and how you can apply, check out How to Find Scholarships — Scholarship Indexes, Directories, and Databases.

Featured below are the top online doctoral programs in the most popular areas of study.

Top 10 Online Doctorate in Business Administration Degree Programs

  1. Liberty University Online
  2. Drexel University
  3. Johnson & Wales University
  4. Saint Leo University Online
  5. Golden Gate University
  6. George Fox University
  7. University of Dallas
  8. California Baptist University
  9. City University of Seattle
  10. Concordia University–Chicago

Top Five Online Doctorate in Public Health Programs

  1. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  2. Johns Hopkins University
  3. University of South Florida
  4. University of Illinois at Chicago
  5. Nebraska Methodist University

Top Two Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Degree Programs

  1. California University of Pennsylvania
  2. Nova Southeastern University

Top 10 Online Doctorate in Management Programs

  1. Creighton University
  2. University of Dallas
  3. California Baptist University
  4. Concordia University–Chicago
  5. Golden Gate University
  6. Wayland Baptist University
  7. University of Maryland–University College
  8. Franklin University
  9. Lincoln Memorial University
  10. Felician University

Top Online Doctorate in Public Administration Degree Programs

  1. West Chester University of Pennsylvania
  2. California Baptist University

Top Five Online Doctorate in Theology Degree Programs

  1. Liberty University Online
  2. Regent University
  3. Lexington Theological Seminary
  4. Amridge University
  5. Faulkner University

Find the Best Online Ph.D. Programs for You

Doctoral students face many challenges in their quest for knowledge. This includes balancing family, career, and home-life on top of loads of research and coursework. Online doctoral programs, however, provide flexibility, affordability, and convenience to help mitigate the stress and allow even the busiest students and professionals to earn this highly-regarded degree.

For many doctoral students, one of the biggest challenges is balancing the enormous commitment of time spent on research and coursework with career, family and home-life demands. Managing all the moving pieces in your life is a critical part of succeeding in your doctoral program.

Want to learn more? Check out our wide range of online doctorate degree program rankings. The convenience and flexibility of online classes is making it eminently more possible to attain a doctoral level of mastery in your subject while balancing everything else in your life.

Another great place to start your search is our ranking of the The 50 Best Online Colleges & Universities 2019.

If you’re looking for a doctoral program close to home, take a look at The Best Online College by State.

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TheBestSchools.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured programs and school search results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other information published on this site.
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