TheBestSchools’ Online Doctoral Degree Guide

by Brendan Gawlowski
• 6 min read
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Earning a doctorate can lead to higher pay, new career opportunities, and more responsibilities. Online universities make it easier than ever to earn doctoral degrees through flexible enrollment options.

Is it worth it to earn a doctorate? What's the best specialization in a doctoral program? Can you earn a doctorate online? Our resources walk through the process of deciding whether to pursue a doctorate, along with how to choose a doctoral program and transition into the workforce afterward. We also help prospective students evaluate the career benefits of different degrees.

We rank healthcare, business management, computer science, social science, and education doctoral programs. Our resources also rank the best online universities. Prospective students can use these rankings to find the right fit for their circumstances and career goals.

Deciding to Pursue an Online Doctoral Degree

A doctoral degree offers many benefits. Graduates can advance their careers, increase their earning potential, and move into new fields after earning doctorates. Online formats may appeal to working professionals and students who need more flexible schedules.

Before applying to online doctoral programs, research how to choose a college to learn more about the top-ranked online universities. Our guides on using our rankings can help prospective applicants sort their options and identify the strongest program for their personal and professional aspirations.

How to Pick a College

Rankings: How to Use Them

Business Management and Administration Doctoral Degrees

Management occupations offer the highest median salaries of any occupational group. A doctorate in business management or administration strengthens problem-solving and analytical skills. Graduates typically pursue careers in business.

Within the field, graduate students can earn degrees in nonprofit management, project management, and business administration. A doctorate in management emphasizes leadership theory and management principles. Learners study organizational behavior, team leadership, and strategic management.

Specialized programs in organizational leadership and human resources can lead to focused career paths. For example, doctoral degree-holders can pursue work as human resources managers, CEOs, and nonprofit managers.

Business Administration

Human Resources

Management

Nonprofit Management

Organizational Leadership

Project Management

Computer Science and Information Technology Doctoral Degrees

Computer science and information technology degrees can lead to many opportunities for candidates with doctorates. A computer science degree can open pathways to careers as software engineers, computer scientists, and computer and information systems managers. During a doctorate in computer science, learners complete advanced courses in complex algorithms, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and computer architecture.

Tech degree-seekers can also earn doctorates in information technology. An IT doctorate includes coursework in information systems, computer networking, and systems analysis. The degree often includes graduate-level business training, preparing professionals for managerial roles in diverse organizations.

Information Technology

Criminal Justice and Legal Studies

A criminal justice or legal studies doctorate prepares professionals to pursue top positions in the criminal justice system. A doctorate in criminal justice can train learners in criminal justice policy, program evaluation, and research methods. Graduates can seek leadership positions in law enforcement and higher education.

A legal studies doctorate offers focused training in the law and legal analysis. Through coursework in legal ethics, legal theory, and legal policy, doctoral students strengthen their research and analytics skills. Like a criminal justice doctoral, legal studies programs require each enrollee to complete a dissertation. Graduates can find work in research, legal adjudication, and academia.

Criminal Justice

Legal Studies

Education Doctoral Degrees

A doctorate in education trains educators for leadership and administrative positions. For example, a doctorate in educational administration emphasizes school leadership and may lead to opportunities to pursue work as principals or superintendents. With doctoral degrees in reading and literacy, educators can work as instructional coordinators and school administrators.

Similarly, professionals with doctorates in educational technology can manage technology for school districts.

In addition to these programs, graduate students can pursue doctorates in child development to move into research or academic roles. These doctoral programs offer advanced training in pedagogical techniques, evaluation and assessment, and administration. They also strengthen research skills.

Child Development

Curriculum and Instruction

Early Childhood Education

Education

Educational Administration

Educational Leadership

Educational Technology

Higher Education

Reading and Literacy

Finance Doctoral Degrees

The fast-moving financial sector requires strong data analysis and research skills. During a doctorate in finance, graduate students can strengthen their research skills and analytical abilities. A finance doctoral program includes coursework in finance theory, economic analysis, and applied behavioral finance.

Doctoral candidates also complete original research to write and defend dissertations. After earning doctorates in finance, graduates can pursue work in leadership roles like financial manager, director of finance, and chief financial officer. The degree may also lead to academic positions like finance professor.

Finance

Medical, Dental, and Nursing Doctoral Degrees

A doctorate in healthcare trains graduates for leadership positions in the fastest-growing sector of the economy, with a projected 2.4 million new jobs from 2019-2029. Many healthcare careers for individuals with doctorates also offer above-average salaries. For example, a doctorate in nursing may open the door to advanced practice careers like nurse practitioner or nurse anesthetist.

With doctorates in public health, professionals can pursue employment as epidemiologists, public health directors, and public health researchers. A doctorate in healthcare administration emphasizes non-clinical leadership roles through coursework in healthcare finances and management. These doctoral programs help healthcare professionals increase their responsibilities and earning potential.

Healthcare Administration

Nurse Practitioner (DNP)

Public Health

Public Administration and Public Policy Doctoral Degrees

A public administration or public policy doctorate prepares graduates for leadership positions in government and policymaking organizations. During a doctorate in public administration, graduate students explore public financing, public management principles, and nonprofit management. The degree can lead to employment as a city manager, nonprofit director, or public administration professor.

Graduate students can also earn doctorates in public policy. Public policy programs emphasize policy research and assessment. Doctoral candidates learn to evaluate and suggest new policies. They study quantitative analysis, public sector budgeting, and strategic management. As with public administration, the degree may present employment opportunities in the public sector, nonprofits, and academia.

Public Administration

Public Policy

Marketing Doctoral Degrees

Marketing doctoral programs can help marketing professionals advance their careers. The marketing field requires strong analytical and research skills. An online doctorate in marketing strengthens these abilities through coursework, research projects, and a doctoral dissertation. Doctoral candidates can elevate their quantitative research skills and carry out original research projects to earn their degrees.

After completing marketing doctoral degrees, graduates often pursue leadership roles in marketing firms, enterprise-level businesses, and other organizations. These professionals can advance into roles such as marketing director, vice president of marketing, or chief marketing officer. The degree also meets the requirements for careers as a marketing professor.

Marketing

Psychology, Counseling, and Social Work Doctoral Degrees

Doctoral degrees in psychology, counseling, and social work train graduates to pursue top positions in these fields. For example, licensed psychologists typically need psychology degrees at the doctoral level. A social work doctorate prepares graduates for policymaking and leadership roles.

Students can specialize in general psychology, social work, human services, and educational psychology. Doctoral candidates may also select concentrations like family counseling, addiction recovery, and counselor education. Many online doctoral programs meet the requirements for professional licensure. Distance learners typically complete practicum requirements at local sites.

Addiction and Recovery

Behavioral Psychology

Counselor Education

Educational Psychology

Family Counseling

Human and Family Development

Human Services

Organizational Psychology

Psychology

Social Work

Theology and Religion Doctoral Degrees

Theology and religion degrees bring together philosophy, faith, and history. A doctorate in theology or religion prepares graduates for leadership roles in ministry and theological interpretation. Online universities offer doctoral programs in ministry to train pastors, religious counselors, and other faith leaders. Doctoral degree-holders can also become ministry professors.

Distance learners can also pursue doctorates in theology online. Learners examine theological scholarship and study religious history. Many theology programs focus on Biblical analysis and Christian theology, though some may emphasize comparative religious texts.

Ministry

Theology

Doctoral Degrees for Career Paths in the Trades

In addition to academic programs, prospective students can pursue trade degrees. While trade schools do not offer doctoral degrees, many universities enroll doctoral students in trade-focused programs. These programs prepare graduates for many different skilled trade careers.

A degree in emergency management or public safety administration can prepare graduates for leadership roles in emergency management and homeland security organizations. They can also earn doctorates in conflict management. For business-focused individuals, supply chain logistics degrees can lead to management-level roles in distribution and transportation.

Negotiation and Conflict Management

Emergency Management

Public Safety Administration

Supply Chain and Logistics

Pursuing an Online Doctoral Degree

Many learners prefer online delivery for their doctorates. Working professionals and busy adults may enjoy the flexibility and convenience of online learning formats. Before applying to programs, research the top online universities, what to look for in online programs, and the essential tools for distance learners.

First-time distance learners also may benefit from learning about synchronous and asynchronous classes. Remember to check our online education checklist to make sure you're ready for school. Applicants can identify programs that best fit their needs while also preparing for their doctoral classes.

The Best Online Colleges and Universities of 2021

What to Look for in an Online College

Essential Tools for Online College Students

Paying for Your Doctoral Degree

The costs of earning a doctorate can add up quickly. Most doctoral programs take at least 3-5 years, with enrollees typically paying higher tuition rates than undergraduates.

Many students worry about college finances and paying for an online degree. Fortunately, doctoral-level enrollees qualify for several scholarships and grants. They can also pursue fellowships and assistantships to cover costs. Some employers even offer tuition remission programs. Finally, doctoral candidates can take out student loans.

TheBestSchools' College Finances Guide

How to Find Scholarships for College

Paying for Online College

What You Should Know About Student Loans

Recent Publications for Prospective Doctoral Degree Students

What's the best way to network in an online program? What red flags should you watch out for in a job interview? Can you get a work visa after earning a doctoral degree? Our recent publications offer valuable information for prospective and current doctoral students. Whether you're focused on finishing school or transitioning into the workforce, our publications can help.

Consider bookmarking TheBestSchools Magazine to catch up on all our latest posts.

Frequently Asked Questions About Pursuing a Doctoral Degree

Can You Get a Doctorate Degree Online?

Yes. Many universities offer online doctoral programs. Degree-seekers can study finance, marketing, psychology, education, and more in online doctoral programs.

Is It Hard To Get a Ph.D. Online?

Earning a Ph.D. online requires strong organizational and time management skills. Many distance learners work while pursuing doctoral degrees.

What Doctorate Degrees Can You Get Online?

Graduate students can earn doctoral degrees in business, psychology, education, healthcare, and technology online. Many universities offer online doctoral programs

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