Best Online Ph.D. and Doctoral Programs

Oct 19, 2021

Online Doctoral Degree Overview

Doctoral degree programs are available in a wide range of areas and tend to be very specific and focused in nature. These programs typically offer the terminal degree for many fields. Doctoral programs tend to be more research-based and prepare students for work in academia, research, and/or advanced leadership and/or administrative positions. Due to the research- and hands-on nature of the field, most of these programs may be offered on-campus or in a hybrid format, but there are still many online doctoral degree programs available. These flexible programs are generally intended to allow students to keep working while pursuing their degree. Here, we will discuss some different types of doctoral programs, how these programs work, and why students may want to earn one.

The Best Online Ph.D. and Doctoral Programs

1. Capitol Technology University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$11466 83% 52% 86% Yes Yes AP Credits

2. International Baptist College and Seminary

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$7110 No Available Data (2019-2020) 90% 100% Yes Yes N/A

3. Allen College

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$18382 No Available Data (2019-2020) 100% % Yes Yes AP Credits

4. Bethesda University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$7851 No Available Data (2019-2020) 26% 61% No Yes AP Credits

5. Faith International University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$8450 No Available Data (2019-2020) 40% 39% No Yes AP Credits

6. South Florida Bible College and Theological Seminary

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$5430 No Available Data (2019-2020) 53% 0% Yes Yes AP Credits

To get a more in-depth look at our school ranking methodology, please visit's ranking methodology page.

Tuition information is based on published tuition and required fees, per data by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Popular Types of Doctoral Degrees

There are many different doctoral degrees available, including different formats like online doctoral degrees or on-campus doctoral degrees, as well as ceremonial degrees, such as honorary doctorate degrees. There are also different types of doctoral degree programs, such as a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) versus a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. Popular types of Ph.D. programs may be available in fields that are currently growing and/or have a need for professionals with this advanced level of education, such as healthcare. While on-campus doctoral degree programs may be some of the most common due to the hands-on nature of the field, here we discuss some of the different doctoral programs that may be available to students with some online options.

Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) Degrees

Students interested in studying medicine can usually only find online master's degree programs in the field, as most M.D. degrees are only available on-campus. This is due to the extreme hands-on and technical nature of the field. However, there is at least one M.D. program that allows students to participate in distance learning for elective clinical rotations or international rotations. These distance sites must be approved clinical sites and does not mean online, but rather takes place at a location other than the university's local area.

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) Degrees

There are many online Ed.D. degrees available that offer various areas of concentration to help students focus their degrees and specialize in a particular area of expertise within the field of education. Students in these programs typically have to take preliminary and final exams and complete a final dissertation or doctoral project. These programs may require between 48 and 64 credits of coursework. Graduates with their Ed.D. may work as post-secondary educators, education administrators, training specialists, and more. Some examples of available concentrations for online Ed.D. programs include:

  • Special education
  • Reading and literacy
  • Educational leadership
  • Curriculum and instruction
  • Adult education
  • Educational technology
  • Higher Education
  • Early childhood education
  • Diversity and equity in education
  • Global studies in education

Juris Doctor (J.D.) Degrees

Intended for aspiring lawyers, online and hybrid J.D. degree programs are fairly common, especially in the state of California, but are usually state-specific and help prepare students to pass the bar exam. For students who still want to study law at an advanced level, but do not want to become a lawyer, there are even online Executive Juris Doctorate (E.J.D.) programs available. These programs usually require applicants to take the LSAT exam for admission and may require as much as 92 credits of coursework. Graduates of J.D. programs who go on to take and pass their state's bar exam can work as a lawyer in various areas of the law, such as:

  • Business law
  • Education law
  • Immigration law
  • Estates and family law
  • Veterans affairs

Ph.D. Degrees

Ph.D. programs are more commonly available online than some other types of doctoral degrees, but these programs may require some on-campus residencies or other in-person requirements. Students may need to complete between 60 and 72 credits of coursework, as well as a capstone project and/or dissertation. These programs are usually research-heavy and likely require comprehensive exams. Online Ph.D. degree programs are available in a wide range of fields, including subjects like:

  • Computer science
  • Psychology
  • Business administration
  • Health sciences
  • Interdisciplinary engineering
  • Educational leadership
  • Human resource management
  • Organizational leadership

How Do Online Doctorate Degree Programs Work?

Online doctoral degree programs may differ in format based on school and program, but in general, these programs give students the flexibility to work on their degree from home around a full-time job, family life, and/or other time commitments. Many programs may include synchronous courses where students meet once a week online at a designated time, typically in the evening. Other programs may include live sessions every other week to keep students on the same page with their work and the subject material. All other work is usually completed independently on a student's personal schedule. Some programs may allow remote participation for preliminary and/or final exams. There are some programs that may require one or more short-term residencies on-campus to allow students to interact with their peers and faculty members and/or attend events, such as conferences.

Why Should I Get an Online Doctorate Degree?

One of the biggest reasons to earn a doctorate is for career advancement. Students may choose to earn this degree online for the flexibility of the degree to allow them to continue working a full-time job or taking care of other responsibilities. Graduates who have earned a doctorate are usually able to move into advanced positions within their field, whether that be as consultants, administrators, leaders, or researchers.

With this terminal degree also usually comes an increase in income. Graduates who have earned their Ph.D. made a median annual salary of $98,500, as of 2020, according to ''''. Those who have their Ed.D. made a median salary of $78,658, as of 2020, and those with a J.D. made a median salary of $91,367, per While these salaries may vary by position, location, employer, and a range of other factors, in general, graduates with an advanced degree are likely to make more than those with an undergraduate degree.

How to Choose an Online Doctorate Program

Choosing an online doctoral degree program can be challenging and students should begin by thinking about their career goals and finding a degree in the right field and/or specialization area. After selecting the type of doctoral program, students should consider the format of the online program and ensure that it fits with their schedule, such as a hybrid program that has in-person requirements or synchronous courses with required meeting times. Students may also want to consider additional requirements for the program, like a dissertation vs. a doctoral capstone, to choose a program that aligns with their personal preference. Some other factors to consider, including school accreditation and the cost of a program, are discussed in more detail below.

Online Doctoral School Accreditation

Students should always look to attend an accredited institution. Employers may prefer students who have an accredited degree and accreditation also helps students ensure they are receiving a quality education. Institution-level accreditation is awarded by regional accrediting bodies, such as the Higher Learning Commission, for a school's various degree programs at different levels and in different fields. This accreditation demonstrates that schools have made sure their programs meet academic guidelines for educational quality.

Some programs may have an additional level of accreditation. This program-level accreditation is typically subject-specific and may only be offered at different degree levels. For instance, the American Psychological Association (APA) only offers accreditation for doctoral-level programs. Some online or hybrid J.D. programs may be accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). This more specific level of accreditation helps students and employers know that graduates are likely to be prepared to enter their particular career field.

Applying to Online Doctorate Programs

The admissions process for online doctoral programs vary by school and program. In general, students to these programs need to have at least a bachelor's or master's degree, depending on the program, and must fill out the appropriate applications. Some programs may require students to take various kinds of entrance exams, such as the GRE or LSAT. Students also commonly need to meet a minimum GPA requirement and submit all of their official transcripts. Other application materials may include letters of recommendation, a resume, and/or a personal statement/statement of purpose. Some programs may require an interview process.

How Long Does it Take to Get an Online Doctorate Degree?

The time to degree completion for an online doctorate depends on several different factors, including the school, program, format, and more. Traditionally, doctoral programs are designed to be completed in around 4 years and many online doctoral programs are designed to be completed in 4 to 6 years. However, some online doctoral programs may allow students to finish in as little as 3 years. Some subject areas may also be more likely to allow students to finish more quickly due to less hands-on or technical training. For example, students wondering how long it takes to get a doctorate in education or business may find some that can be finished in 3 years. Earning a J.D. degree typically takes 3 to 4 years, but some online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degrees allow students up to 8 years to finish.

Online Doctoral Degree Coursework

Coursework varies for doctoral degree programs by school and program. In general, these programs require students to complete some core coursework that may be determined by a student's dissertation committee and/or electives. Students may need to complete preliminary exams after completing their coursework and then move on to complete a final culminating experience of some kind, like a doctoral project or dissertation.

Depending on the program, coursework for doctoral programs may fall under a few main themes. For instance, it is fairly common for doctoral programs to use coursework to prepare students for teaching, advanced practice, leadership, and scholarship (research). Depending on the program, students may need to complete a teaching practicum or other hands-on experiences in these areas. Students typically have a lot of flexibility in which courses they take to help them focus their studies and prepare for a future career and/or their research.

Cost of Online Ph.D. Programs

Students trying to determine how much a doctorate degree costs need to consider a wide range of factors. The tuition rates of an online doctoral degree program varies greatly by school and program. Some schools may even charge different rates based on different criteria, such as full-time or part-time status. While online programs may help students save money in some areas, like housing, there are additional fees and charges that students need to consider. For example, depending on the school, students may need to research additional costs for:

  • Residencies
  • Prior learning assessments
  • Application fees
  • Books and supplies
  • New student fees
  • Graduate student programming fees

Outside of financial aid, some schools may offer additional ways to save students time and money. For example, some schools may offer prior learning assessments or military benefits to award students credits for life experiences. Students may also be able to participate in work study programs and/or take advantage of employer benefits to help pay for school.

What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate Degree?

What you can do with a doctorate degree varies greatly by field and industry. However, in general, these terminal degrees help prepare and advance students to high-level research-, leadership-, administrative-, and/or other technical-based positions. Graduates are usually qualified to educate others in their field of expertise and/or conduct their job duties completely independently. Typically, employers do not view an online degree any differently than an on-campus program if students have attended an accredited and reputable institution. Below, we explore some of the possible career outcomes with a doctoral degree in more detail.

Job Outlook for Online Ph.D. Graduates

The job outlook for graduates with their online Ph.D. varies greatly by industry and position. In general, earning a Ph.D. should help qualify students for more positions as they can continue working where they are and/or advance their careers. Some types of doctoral programs may also qualify students for a variety of positions, such as an Ed.D or Ph.D. in Educational Leadership that could prepare students for positions as educators, administrators, and specialists. However, some researchers have suggested that as of 2015, there may be too many doctoral students for available academic positions. Read on to explore the job outlook for some specific doctoral positions.

Careers that Require a Doctorate Degree

The top, most advanced positions within a field may require a doctoral degree. There are also some fields that may prefer candidates to hold a doctorate, such as a school superintendent or a historian. These experts in their field help oversee the work of others, lead their organizations, conduct independent research, and more. Compare the salaries and job outlooks for a small sample of careers that typically require a doctorate.

Job Title Median Annual Salary (2019)* Job Outlook (2019-2029)*
Biochemists and Biophysicists $94,490 4%
Medical Scientists $88,790 6%
Physicists and Astronomers $122,220 7%
Postsecondary Teachers $79,540 9%
Physicians and Surgeons Equal to or greater than $208,000 4%
Veterinarians $95,460 16%
Psychologists $80,370 3%

*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Financial Aid and Scholarship Information for Online Doctoral Programs

Some students may need assistance paying for their online doctoral degree program. Students may wish to begin by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see if they qualify for state or federal aid in the form of loans or grants. Since they are graduate students, students can fill out the FAFSA as independents and do not have to include their parents' financial information.

Scholarships may be an additional way for students to make up the difference in program costs. While there may not be as many graduate scholarships as undergraduate scholarships available, there are still many schools that offer awards to students based on factors like major, family heritage, clubs, military status, interests, and more. There are even some online schools that may offer full-tuition scholarships for new graduate students. Depending on the award, students typically need to meet various criteria and/or submit the appropriate forms, such as an essay.

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