Best Online PhD Programs

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For those looking to complete the highest level of education and climb to the top of the corporate ladder, online doctoral programs and degrees may be the answer!

Online PhD Programs

The experience and skills you can gain by completing an online doctoral program can help you land leadership roles or negotiate a significant promotion or pay raise. Successfully completing a rigorous program can help you set yourself apart from others as an expert in the field.

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But make no mistake, earning a doctorate degree is a huge commitment in terms of time and money. We have compiled important information to help you make the decision that is right for you and your future!

What Is an Online Doctorate Degree?

Coworkers looking at Online PhD Programs options

An online doctorate degree is the same as a traditional doctorate degree but with some or all of the coursework completed online.

A doctorate degree is the highest level of education in most fields. You can earn a doctorate in nearly any area. The most common types of doctorates are the MD and the PhD, but other areas that require state licensing, such as engineering or teaching, sometimes require a doctorate for top positions.

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Most doctorate-level students are adults who have already put extensive time into building careers within their industries. For those who want to continue working while pursuing their doctorate-level degrees, programs for online degrees may be the right fit.

Much as with masters programs online, there are several advantages to pursuing a doctorate degree online, including:

  • Ability to specialize within your degree program
  • Potential for lower tuition costs and expenses
  • Highly flexible class scheduling
  • Opportunities for flexible, in-person required training
  • Technological resources to maximize your study program
  • Accelerated programs to help you complete your degree faster

Today, more than ever, accredited universities across the country are offering high-quality doctorate degrees through online learning.

For motivated self-starters that need flexibility in their school schedules, this type of degree program could be the ticket to completing a doctorate-level degree in a timeframe that works with their busy lives.

Are There Different Types of Online Doctorate Degrees?

There are online doctorate degrees available in nearly every field. You could pursue a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.), Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), Doctor of Fine Arts (DFA), Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), Doctor of Social Work (DSW), and more.

Arguably the most common doctorate degrees are the Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) and the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), so let’s take a closer look at these two options.

Online Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) Degree

Woman getting Online Doctor of Psychology Degree

For students who have studied psychology and social services in their prior degree programs, a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degree may be the logical next step.

This degree program prepares students to become licensed clinical psychologists, giving them the opportunity to provide counseling services directly to clients on a professional level.

While a PhD program typically focuses more on research and scholarly publication, a PsyD education usually provides a clinically focused curriculum and is considered an applied degree. Typical topics covered in PsyD programs include:

  • Psychopharmacology
  • Advanced psychology and ethics
  • Cultural diversity
  • Psychological assessment
  • Cognitive behavioral psychotherapy

Traditionally, to complete a PsyD degree program, you must pass comprehensive examinations and present a doctoral project or dissertation.

In some cases, you may also need to complete in-person educational components, so be sure to check with your school about their requirements when enrolling in an online PsyD program.

Online Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Degree

Man taking Online Doctor of Philosophy Degree

Regardless of your field of study, a PhD program is a research-based educational path that typically cumulates with a doctoral dissertation.

A dissertation requirement will typically ask you to develop an original contribution to knowledge within your field, and it is the end result of several years of professional academic research and development.

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In many industries, such as education, earning a PhD is the only way to reach the top of the career ladder. While this is not considered an “applied degree” like a PsyD, a PhD can help you develop valuable skills and knowledge you can use to contribute to your field and pursue advanced career opportunities.

The typical PhD program involves several steps, such as:

  • Surveying and reviewing scholarly research within your field
  • Conducting and interpreting original research
  • Developing a thesis that supports your original research
  • Submitting a dissertation to your school’s doctoral committee
  • Defending your dissertation in an oral examination

When considering a PhD degree, it is important to have a clear understanding of your future career goals. Many professionals can benefit from having a PhD label after their name, but being able to translate this skillset to the workforce is a critical step to gaining the most value from your doctorate-level program.

Are Online Doctorate Degrees Credible?

Two professionals discussing Online Doctorate Degrees

An online doctorate degree earned from an accredited university can be just as credible, legit, and highly respected as a degree earned on campus. In fact, unless you attended an online-only university or specify it in your resume, employers typically won’t even know you earned your degree online!

What makes a degree creditable, be it online or traditional, is accreditation. To become regionally accredited, schools must meet very strict standards established by a board or agency.

To find out if a school or program you are considering is accredited, you can search for it in the US Department of Education’s database.

How Long Does It Take to Earn an Online Doctorate Degree?

It takes most students 4 to 9 years to earn a doctorate. That’s a pretty big window, but there are a lot of variables to consider.

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How quickly you are able to finish will depend on your area of study, school or program, and whether you attend full-time or part-time. If you are able to study full-time and already hold a master’s in the field, you may be able to finish sooner.

It may be worth noting that if you had to leave your PhD program for an extended period of time and are now ready to return, a growing number of universities offer online degree completion programs for just such a case.

How Much Does It Cost to Earn an Online Doctorate Degree?

Woman estimating expenses for her Online PhD Degree

How much your online doctorate degree costs depends on the school, location (in- or out-of-state), type of school (public or private), and type of program.

According to a 2019-2020 report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the average published yearly tuition and fees for graduate programs was $12,410 for in-state. public institutions and $26,597 for private institutions.

Most schools charge the same tuition rate to online and on-campus students, but occasionally, online programs are cheaper. Here’s why:

  • Often schools don’t charge out-of-state tuition fees to online students. At these schools, you’ll pay the same rate whether you live across the street or across the country.
  • Online students typically don’t have as many additional expenses, like campus fees, commuting costs, and parking fees, and often do not have to purchase expensive textbooks and course materials.

Earning an online degree typically costs the same, if not less, than it costs to earn the same degree on campus.

Is Financial Aid Available for an Online Doctorate Degree?

Yes. many doctoral students are able to receive financial aid! Online doctoral students may fill out the FAFSA and seek private grants and scholarships, but typically the bulk of the financial aid at this level comes from fellowships.

A fellowship is a merit-based grant awarded to a doctoral student to support his or her further research into a specific subject. The grant may come from the government, the university you are attending, an organization, or a private company and may cover tuition as well as living expenses.

How Much Money Can I Make with an Online Doctorate Degree?

Online doctoral programs are an investment of time, effort, and money, but there is usually a significant payoff. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), workers with doctorate degrees earn on average $335 more per week than those with master’s degrees. That’s a difference of $17,420 in a year!

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The change in earning potential varies by occupation, of course. Advanced degrees in science, medicine, technology, engineering, and math often result in the highest paid positions.

These are some of the top-paying positions often held by those with doctorate degrees, according to the BLS.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Anesthesiologists $208,000 or more
Orthodontists $208,000 or more
Psychiatrists $208,000 or more
Family Medicine Physicians $208,000 or more
Dentists, General $163,220
Judges, Magistrate Judges, and Magistrates $148,030
Physicists and Astronomers $147,450
Pharmacists $128,570
Lawyers $127,990
Engineering Teachers, Postsecondary $104,940

The median salaries are the average wages workers in these fields earn, meaning approximately half earn more than these figures listed and half earn less.  As you can see, all of these careers have six-figure median salaries.

Do You Need a Master’s to Get a PhD?

Man taking Online PhD Degree

Not necessarily! In the US, most PhD programs do not require a master’s. You can apply right after completing your undergraduate degree.

Here are a few advantages to skipping your master’s and going right for the PhD:

  • It will likely take less time.
  • There are more funding opportunities (grants and fellowships) for PhD programs than there are for master’s programs.
  • Most programs award master’s degrees along the way when that level of coursework is completed on the path to earning the doctorate.

What Colleges Offer Online Doctorate Degrees?

Many of the top schools in the country offer online doctoral programs! You can look for accredited, reputable schools such as those listed below.

What Is the Application Process Like for an Online Doctoral Program & Degree?

Woman filling up application for Online Doctoral Program

Class sizes for doctoral degree programs are typically small, and entrance into these programs can be competitive.

Typically, the first step of enrollment is to submit an application form and the required fee to your prospective university. In addition to the application, several other documents may be required for review by the school, including:

  • Statement of Purpose: Most schools require a written statement discussing why you are interested in enrolling in the doctorate degree program.
  • Resume: Because most doctorate-level students are professionals within their fields, this can help the committee to see your dedication and experience.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Typically, schools like to see at least three letters of recommendation written by your previous academic instructors or employers.
  • Official Transcripts: You will be required to submit all college and university transcripts to your prospective college with your application.

The next steps will be to look into financial aid and work with an academic advisor if you have any existing credits you hope to transfer.

Can I Transfer Credits I Already Have to Use Toward an Online Doctoral Degree?

Woman reviewing credits that can transfer toward Online PhD Degree

If you have taken graduate-level courses at an accredited institution—recently or years ago—you will of course want to transfer those credits if possible so you can get a head start on your new program. Ultimately, the credits that are accepted and how they apply to your degree will be up to your school’s discretion.

Every college sets its own policies for transferring credits, and some have very specific rules and limitations. There are some universities that do not allow credit transfers at the graduate level. If they do allow transfer credits, there are typically several requirements that must be met.

You will need to have passed your courses, likely with a “C” or better. Additionally, the course description for your completed credits will need to match up to the existing courses in your new program. There are generally certain classes that cannot be transferred between schools, and these often include practicums, internships, or orientation-type classes.

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If you have credits you wish to transfer, it is very important that you review the school’s policy and work closely with an academic advisor to ensure you get the most out of your completed work.

What Is the Difference between an Online Doctorate Degree and a Traditional Degree?

Class discussion in a Traditional Doctorate Degree

The primary difference between online learning and traditional, in-the-classroom learning is the format, or how the material is delivered to the student. Your personal preferences and learning style will determine which learning format is best for you.

These are some of the differences you may want to consider.

Online Doctorate Degrees:

  • Allow you the flexibility to study anywhere with an internet connection, and often at any time
  • Often allow you to work at your own pace so you can fly through your degree program or scale back when life gets hectic
  • Make it possible to enroll without having to move
  • May cost less than traditional programs
  • Don’t subject you to long commutes or parking hassles
  • Can connect you with students around the world

Online doctorate courses do require self-motivation and discipline. You will have to stay on top of things and keep yourself organized so you don’t fall behind!

Traditional Master’s Degrees:

  • Provide a structured schedule
  • Allow you to interact face-to-face with professors and classmates
  • Have more safeguards to help keep you on track, such as reminders for assignments and exams

These factors are important for some students, but traditional, in-the-classroom learning lacks the flexibility of online learning. You are limited to schools in your proximity and must deal with obstacles such as childcare, work schedules, commute times, illness, and other things that may make it difficult to attend class in person.

As you can see, there are pros and cons to both traditional and online learning. You will have to figure out which format works best for you, fits within your lifestyle, and will help you achieve your goals.

How Do I Know if an Online Doctorate Degree Is Right for Me?

Man deciding on taking Online Doctorate Degree

Committing to an online doctorate program is a major decision. Doctorate-level study is rigorous and requires a great deal of commitment and dedication, and online doctoral programs are no exception. To be successful in this type of program, you must be tremendously self-motivated, organized, and independent.

Earning a doctorate degree is a major academic accomplishment that only a small percentage of college students achieve. Those that succeed in doing so typically go far in their careers!

Ready to start your journey?
Elizabeth Abner
WRITTEN BY Elizabeth Abner

Elizabeth is pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in Foreign Policy and earned her master's degree in business administration. For her undergraduate studies, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration with a concentration in international business. Elizabeth's research is focused on universities offering online degree programs.