Online PhD Programs

Regardless of academic field or discipline, doctoral degrees are considered terminal; they demand the highest standards of rigorous academic study and research.

Students who earn an online Ph.D. or professional doctorate fall into an elite category of highly educated professionals. Doctoral students acquire broad understanding of their discipline, specialized expertise in their field, and advanced research and writing skills. Many students opt to complete Ph.D. programs online instead of on campus.

Doctoral programs demand several years of challenging academic work, but they prove valuable for many aspiring academics, researchers, and working professionals seeking career and salary advancement. Doctoral degrees help many professionals become professors or administrators in sectors such as healthcare or education. Many doctoral programs only accept students with related master's degrees or related professional experience.

This page surveys some of the doctoral degree types and career paths available. See below for information on Ph.D. online program quality, pricing, and length. This information, plus our ranked list of top online Ph.D. programs, helps readers determine whether an online doctoral program aligns with their career goals, qualifications, and strengths.

What is a Doctoral Degree?

Certain prestigious and specialized career paths require doctoral-level degrees, the most advanced degrees available in most fields. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the number of doctoral students has increased steadily in recent years, making doctoral degrees necessary for competition in certain career paths.

Qualified candidates for many positions in higher education, research, or law hold a Ph.D. or another doctoral-level professional degree such as a doctor of education (Ed.D.), juris doctor (JD), or various medical doctoral degrees.

Doctoral-level medical careers include veterinarians, who need doctor of veterinary medicine (D.V.M.) degrees; physical therapists, who earn doctor of physical therapy (DPT) degrees; and medical doctors, who hold doctor of medicine (MD) or doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) degrees.

Doctoral degrees often take 3-8 years to finish. Practicum or professional experience requirements influence doctoral program length in many health and education fields. Exam-based professional programs such as the JD often require just 3-4 years to complete. Ph.D. programs involving independent research projects often take 6-9 years to finish.

Depending on industry, career path, and level of success, graduates often see a valuable return on their time investment. The College Payoff, a report produced by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, indicates that doctoral degree-holders' lifetime earnings average $3.3-$3.6 million. This figure puts doctoral graduates' lifetime earnings 61% above bachelor's degree-holders' earnings. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data indicates that doctoral graduates enjoy median weekly earnings of $1,883 — nearly double the $969 median weekly wage for all workers.

Best Online Ph.D. and Doctoral Programs

Rank School Student to
Aid Rate
Description Cost Address School Logo Websites  

Johns Hopkins University

9 to 1 92% 97% 16.08% 37.18% 39% 1.83%

Johns Hopkins University was established in 1876 as the nation's first research college. More than 24,000 students complete programs across nine academic divisions on campus in Baltimore and at other locations. The distinguished nursing school offers most of the university's online doctorate programs. Registered nurses train for one of four 23- to 25-credit adult-gerontological doctor of nursing practice (DNP) specializations, including acute care nurse practitioner and critical care clinical nurse specialist.

Nurses interested in governance choose the 40-credit DNP executive track, which enrolls clinical nurse specialists, nurse practitioners, and other senior nurses. Other online DNP programs prepare nurses for senior roles such as pediatric critical care clinical nurse specialist and family primary care nurse practitioner.

The school of education offers both an Ed.D. to cultivate a cadre of practitioner-scholars, and a hybrid Ph.D. in education for aspiring research scholars. A Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and Ph.D. in molecular microbiology and immunology round out e-learning at Johns Hopkins. Clinical and other in-person requirements vary by program.

3400 N Charles St
Baltimore, Maryland 21218-2688

Nova Southeastern University

16 to 1 42% 74% 48.81% 28.26% 58% 3.70%

Headquartered in Ft. Lauderdale, Nova Southeastern University maintains a significant footprint in Florida with seven regional campuses. NSU extends its reach with comprehensive distance learning, including fully online and hybrid programs. Online doctorate programs span several disciplines, including criminal justice, education, nursing, and health sciences. The 76-credit Ph.D. in conflict analysis and resolution offers a unique curriculum that trains practitioners well-versed in the theory, practice, research, and teaching of conflict resolution from a variety of theoretical perspectives.

Aspiring clinical psychologists choose the practice-oriented 119-credit Psy.D., which trains practitioner-scientists able to provide evidence-based assessments and interventions to their clients. An alternative, the 118-credit Ph.D. in clinical psychology, focuses on cultivating scientist-practitioners able to both provide assessments and evidence-based interventions and actively engage in scholarship and research. Other doctoral programs include the Ph.D. in cybersecurity management and Ph.D. in information systems.

Some programs may require in-person requirements such as a practicum or clinical. Students pay the same per-credit tuition regardless of residency.

3301 College Ave
Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33314-7796

Capitol Technology University


Capitol Technology University is the premier STEM college in Washington, D.C. Located in Laurel, Maryland, Capitol enables skilled tech professionals to work in governmental agencies and private sector supply chains in the D.C. metro area. Capitol's 15 online Ph.D.s cover the school's specialities, including artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, critical infrastructure, and business analytics and data science.

The 60-credit Ph.D. in human factors develops researchers and practitioners adept in the design of products, equipment, and systems that provide humans with a safe and enjoyable user experience. The online 60-credit Ph.D. in aviation enrolls industry professionals equipped to play a central role in major technological innovation. A related program, the 60-credit Ph.D. in unmanned systems applications, trains researchers, leaders, and educators to contribute original research to the field.

Most online programs require a commitment of 2-3 years, research, and a dissertation. Capitol's location gives learners access to one of the nation's top 20 strongest job markets.

Laurel, Maryland

University of North Dakota


Founded in 1883, the University of North Dakota is a pioneer in innovative programming. Distance learning began at UND in 1911, and it continues today with an extensive catalog of online degrees. About 7,000 students, almost half the school's enrollment, study online. Doctoral students earn degrees from the school's most distinguished programs, including engineering and aviation. Engineers choose from five options, including the 90-credit Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and 90-credit Ph.D. in electrical engineering.

UND manages a renowned center for aerospace learning, through which students can earn the 90-credit Ph.D. in aerospace sciences in 4-7 years. UND's 60-credit Ph.D. in indigenous health is the first of its kind in North America. The program prepares experts skilled in addressing the unique healthcare needs of indigenous populations. Other doctoral programs include a Ph.D. in nursing and Ed.D. in educational practice and leadership. UND students pay among the region's lowest tuition and fees.

Grand Forks, North Dakota

George Washington University

12 to 1 80% 93% 43.79% 28.93% 40% 1.47%

Situated in the heart of the nation's capital, George Washington University enrolls 26,000 students who study on three campuses, including one located blocks from the White House. Besides world-class academics, the school's ties to federal agencies and several international organizations draw an international student body. Those interested in learning from afar can pursue online doctoral programs in healthcare and engineering.

GW's highly ranked school of nursing offers more online doctoral degrees than any other GW unit. Registered nurses receive the training they need to assume roles as advanced practice leaders with several programs such as the 72-credit DNP in adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner. Another option, the 43-credit DNP in executive leadership, trains nurse executives with expertise in business, finance, and entrepreneurship. Nursing programs may require clinicals that students complete in northern Virginia, Maryland, or Washington, D.C. Online programs in engineering and occupational therapy round out the portfolio of doctoral-level e-learning options.

2121 I Street, NW
Washington, District of Columbia 20052

Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale

12 to 1 60% 75% 48.68% 68.08% 69% 17.83%

Keiser University operates campuses across Florida, providing learners with career-focused education that employers value. Keiser's fully online and hybrid programs emphasize flexibility for working professionals. The school's doctoral online programs cover several disciplines, including nursing, criminal justice and criminology, and curriculum and instruction.

Business professionals enroll in the doctor of business administration (DBA) to hone leadership skills and learn practical approaches to address contemporary business challenges. Faculty combine theory, applied research, and hands-on problem-solving. Students choose one of three DBA specializations: management, marketing, or global business. Another business option, the Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology, provides a research-based curriculum that trains business psychologists who understand how to use advanced psychology to enhance business outcomes.

Other e-learning options include the Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction and Ph.D. in educational leadership. Online students can expect affordability and personalized attention from faculty with industry expertise.

1500 NW 49th St.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33309

Regent University


One of the nation's top Christian colleges, Regent University offers a comprehensive catalog that emphasizes both rigor and a Christian worldview. The Virginia Beach college offers online doctoral programs in areas such as divinity and theology, psychology, and nursing.

The 36-credit doctor of ministry unlocks participants' leadership potential while empowering them with effective theological and discipleship tools needed for ministerial work. The 56- to 64-credit Ph.D. in communication and 49-credit doctor of strategic communication both prepare specialists for high-level positions in the private and public sectors. Each requires a residency, which faculty may conduct online.

Regent also offers a portfolio of doctoral degrees just for educators seeking to assume leadership roles. These include the Ed.S. in educational leadership-curriculum and instruction and Ph.D. in education - Christian education leadership. Other degree options for doctoral students include the Juris Doctor and Psy.D. in clinical psychology. Students pay the same per-credit tuition regardless of residency.

Virginia Beach, Virginia

Liberty University

18 to 1 46% 69% 22.32% 46.81% 66% 7.47%

Located in Lynchburg, Virginia, Liberty University is one of the world's largest Christian colleges. For more than 30 years the school has offered distance learning, addressing the needs of modern learners with a robust portfolio of degrees. Liberty's online doctoral programs include fields such as history, education, divinity, and business.

The 60-credit DBA, accredited by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs, offers 15 specializations, including Six Sigma and international business. The education unit offers several options, including the Ph.D. in special education and Ed.D. in curriculum and instruction with various tracks. Other notable options include the Ed.D. in traumatology, which students may use to acquire counseling licensure.

Faculty use eight-week sessions to deliver online programs. Students can access tutoring, live webinars, an online library, and assistance from Liberty's academic advisors. In addition to competitive tuition, students pay the same per-credit rate regardless of in-state or out-of-state residency. Qualified military personnel enjoy generous tuition discounts.

1971 University Blvd
Lynchburg, Virginia 24515

Texas Tech University


Texas Tech's foray into distance learning began in 1966 when four "flying professors" brought an engineering program to 78 students. Today, faculty deliver about a dozen doctoral programs using a fully online format or a hybrid option with some classes on campus in Lubbock. Five fully online doctoral programs focus exclusively on education. The 63-credit Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction offers tracks in STEM; curriculum studies and teacher education; and language, diversity, and literacy studies.

The hybrid 96-credit Ed.D. in educational leadership prepares school executives who can deploy research-based solutions to effect instructional change at the preK-12 level. Other education degrees include the Ed.D. in agricultural education and Ed.D. in higher education administration. A 72-credit Ph.D. in systems and engineering management uses a hybrid format to cultivate experts ready to lead in industry, academia, and consulting. Nonresidents enrolling solely as online learners get a big break with comparable in-state tuition rates.

Lubbock, Texas

The University of Alabama


The University of Alabama's location in Tuscaloosa belies the storied institution's international appeal. One of the nation's top public colleges, UA offers online doctoral degrees through Bama By Distance in fields such as education and healthcare. The hybrid 72-credit Ed.D. in educational leadership emphasizes the application of research-based administrative best practices in K-12 school environments. The 66-credit Ed.D. in higher education administration uses a hybrid cohort format to train administrators who specialize in leading postsecondary institutions.

Senior engineers enroll in the Ph.D. in aerospace engineering and mechanics, which is delivered primarily online. This 72-credit option requires that engineers contribute to the field's existing body of knowledge through their research dissertation. The hybrid Ed.D. in instructional leadership educates a new generation of nurse educators. Social workers enroll in the cohort-based doctor of social work program in preparation for roles in academia or agency management. Online learners pay the same per credit tuition regardless of residency, making this an affordable school for e-learners.

Tuscaloosa, Alabama

University of Florida

21 to 1 85% 96% 45.61% 49.82% 32% 3.47%

One of the nation's leaders in online education, the University of Florida offers seven online doctoral degrees focused mostly on education and nursing. The Ed.D. in higher education administration blends online learning with immersions held 2-3 weekends per semester at UF and at other colleges in the state. This option requires part-time enrollment. Students graduate in about five years.

The cohort-based Ed.D. in curriculum and instruction diverges from the administrative role to focus on educational technology. Faculty train a cadre of scholars who, through their unique research, identify ways to optimize the use of educational technology in classrooms. Students in this 54-credit program benefit from a tight-knit online community of practice that offers small group mentoring to ensure participants' success.

The 35-credit MSN-to-DNP cultivates nurses equipped to apply evidence-based practices in their profession. The Ph.D. in classical civilization; Ph.D. in Latin and Roman studies; Ed.D. in educational leadership; and Ed.D. in teachers, schools, and society complete the portfolio.

Gainesville, Florida 32611

Mississippi State University


Established as an agricultural and mechanical school, Mississippi State University has grown into a comprehensive world-class institution. Online students join the Bulldog family through a suite of online doctoral programs in engineering and education. The college, located in Starkville, offers Ph.D. programs in chemical engineering and industrial and systems engineering.

Students interested in a customizable curriculum enroll in the Ph.D. in instructional systems and workforce development. This program builds on participants' work and educational experience as it prepares them for roles as faculty, researchers, evaluators, or consultants. The Ph.D. in community college leadership provides a more specialized curriculum as faculty prepare educators who can innovate two-year colleges. Participants learn how to incorporate best practices, pursue continuous improvement, and improve and implement programs at rural community colleges.

Online students pay in-state tuition regardless of their residency. Student services include online tutoring and career services to help learners successfully chart their careers.

Mississippi State, Mississippi

Shenandoah University


Shenandoah University operates campuses across Northern Shenandoah Valley and Northern Virginia. Shenandoah, affiliated with the United Methodist Church, offers a select number of online doctoral degrees that focus exclusively on healthcare.

RNs keen on advancing their careers choose one of two points of entry into a doctor of nursing program: the 71-78 semester-hour BSN-to-DNP or the MSN-to-DNP. Both offer family nurse practitioner and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner concentrations. Students complete core BSN-to-DNP classes at Shenandoah's Winchester campus or at the Inova Center For Personalized Health in Fairfax. Faculty offer DNP classes online.

The 30-credit doctorate in occupational therapy enrolls registered occupational therapists who want advancement to roles as leaders and evidence-based scholars. Shenandoah manages a strong pharmacy program with three doctoral degrees, including a dual pharmacy/public health option. The 16-credit doctor of physical therapy enrolls practicing clinicians with a master's in physical therapy or another healthcare program. Shenandoah's close proximity to the Washington, D.C., metro area gives healthcare professionals access to one of the nation's most prosperous regions.

Winchester, Virginia

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

19 to 1 84% 93% 59.04% 32.8% 39% 3.13%

A pioneer in distance learning, Illinois gives domestic and international students access to more than 90 online programs taught by renowned faculty. Faculty design doctoral degrees to accommodate the needs of busy educators. Illinois' online doctoral degrees include the 64-credit Ed.D. in diversity and equity in education, an option that focuses on methods to champion social justice in P-16 learning environments.

The innovative Ed.D. in education policy, organization, and leadership offers a concentration in learning design and leadership. The 64-credit curriculum suits instructional designers and others who want to advance their proficiency in the design, evaluation, and management of e-learning programming in educational environments. This Ed.D. also offers a concentration in global studies in education for educators who want expertise in the globalization of pedagogy and policy in different contexts.

Unlike other online doctoral programs at Illinois, the 64-credit Ed.D. in human resource development focuses on adult learning, developing experts in training and development, workplace learning, and performance improvement within organizations.

601 E John Street
Champaign, Illinois 61820-5711

University of South Carolina-Columbia


The University of South Carolina celebrates almost 220 years of academic excellence and leadership as the state's flagship college. UofSC builds on a tradition of innovation with online doctoral programs in education and engineering. The 60-credit Ed.D. in educational practice and innovation offers four specializations: curriculum studies, STEM education, learning design and technologies, and education systems improvement. Faculty deliver the program using eight-week sessions. Nonresident Ed.D. students pay nominally more per-credit tuition than their in-state peers. The department requires neither the MAT nor GRE for admission to the Ed.D.

Computer engineering students immerse in applied learning to complete the 60-credit Ph.D. in computer engineering. Participants design, develop, and test new computer hardware, and engage in research initiatives and projects sponsored by government agencies and other entities. Engineering faculty offer two other online Ph.D. programs: mechanical and nuclear engineering. Admission to the engineering programs requires GRE scores.

Columbia, South Carolina

Andrews University

9 to 1 59% 79% 36.88% 31.63% 49% 7.43%

Andrews University is an Adventist college located in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Students at all levels receive instruction that blends scholarship and practical Christianity. Andrews' e-learning platform enables learners to earn an online doctorate in healthcare, leadership, or education. The 64-credit doctor of science in physical therapy prepares learners for Certified Manual Physical Therapist credentials, and offers two specializations: women's health or orthopaedic manual therapy.

Alternatively, the online doctor of physical therapy's 35- to 38-credit curriculum provides advanced training to practicing physical therapists. Mid-career leaders can optimize their skills and advance credentials with either the 54-credit doctor of leadership, which culminates in a project, or 60-credit Ph.D. in leadership, which requires a dissertation. Educators seeking to advance into leadership roles acquire the necessary training when they complete either the Ed.D. or Ph.D. in higher education administration. Students who want to maintain a focus on classroom instruction enroll in either the Ed.D. or Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

4150 Administration Drive, Room 136
Berrien Springs, Michigan 49104

Creighton University


Omaha, Nebraska-based Creighton University consistently ranks among the nation's best schools for online learning. The Jesuit school offers online doctoral programs that cover business, healthcare, and education. The 54-credit DBA offers a hybrid curriculum accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. It blends classroom instruction and applied research to optimize students' managerial and leadership skills.

Creighton manages a strong nursing program that culminates in the DNP. Faculty provide a practical curriculum that develops highly skilled and compassionate nurses. The hybrid curriculum offers multiple DNP tracks and the flexibility for working nurses to proceed at their own pace. The 143-credit doctor of pharmacy, also hybrid, prepares experts in patient data collection, pharmacy care planning, patient counseling, and medication therapy management and delivery.

The 60-credit Ed.D. in interdisciplinary leadership offers an adaptable curriculum suitable for participants with eyes on senior positions in education, business, or other fields. All online students pay the same per-credit tuition regardless of residency.

Omaha, Nebraska

Purdue University-Main Campus


Purdue University is a tier-one public research college well-known for producing innovators and inventors, including 25 astronauts and many scientists. Doctoral students join the Boilermakers when they pursue e-learning options in education, nursing, technology/computer science, and law and legal studies. The Ph.D. in higher education and Ph.D. in education leadership and policy studies each require 90 credits that students complete using a hybrid delivery format.

RNs acquire the credentials needed to perform at the height of their profession when they complete a fully online 48-60-credit DNP. The four-year Juris Doctor program requires participants complete 92 credits on a part-time basis. Successful students qualify to sit for the State Bar of California exam.

The 90-credit doctor of technology offers a fully online curriculum infused with STEM education and opportunities for world-changing research. Online students enjoy free software they can access from anywhere. Purdue students pay the same per-credit tuition regardless of whether they live.

West Lafayette, Indiana

University of Alabama in Huntsville


A top research college, The University of Alabama in Huntsville enrolls about 10,000 students on campus in Huntsville and through e-learning. Online doctoral programs focus on nursing and engineering. RNs choose between the DNP or Ph.D. in nursing. Working nurses complete the 40-credit DNP in as few as 28 months of full-time online enrollment, developing a repertoire of administrative and systems leadership competencies highly prized by employers.

Alternatively, the 69-credit Ph.D. in nursing prepares nurse scholars who can advance the field through their research focused on rural and medically underserved populations. The engineering department offers four 69-75-credit Ph.D. options: industrial, systems, civil, and engineering management. Though students complete the engineering degrees primarily online, faculty require some in-person sessions. Doctoral students may transfer up to 24 credits of relevant coursework into the engineering degrees. All eligible UAH students may use scholarships and fellowships to help fund their education.

Huntsville, AL

University of Missouri-Columbia


Founded in 1839, the University of Missouri is an e-learning powerhouse with more than 150 online degrees and certificates. The school offers online doctoral programs in architectural studies and nursing. The Ph.D. in architectural studies graduates professionals with expertise in designing environments for today's world. The 72-credit program offers emphasis areas such as design education, sustainable design, facility management and design, and housing and neighborhood design. Students complete the degree completely online with an optional on-campus workshop held in June.

The nursing school's 72-credit DNP offers three emphasis areas: family nurse practitioner, pediatric clinical nurse specialist, and adult-gerontology clinical nurse specialist. While faculty deliver the DNP online, enrollees must attend on-campus sessions throughout the program. The length of the DNP depends on whether RNs enter the part-time program with a bachelor's or master's degree. Known as a military-friendly institution, Mizzou offers personnel, veterans, and families a tuition reduction to make doctoral degrees more affordable.

Columbia, MO

University of the Cumberlands


The University of the Cumberlands' two campuses serve students residing in the Appalachian Mountain regions in several states. Online learners earn degrees through the growing virtual campus. Faculty design all graduate programs for at-your-pace learning to accommodate busy schedules. The virtual campus offers fully online doctoral degrees in several fields, including IT, business, and counseling.

The 60-credit Ph.D. in information technology focuses on predictive analytics to develop experts in big data, cybercrime security, and smart technology. Business faculty offer the 66-credit DBA, an applied degree for working professionals seeking to lead and innovate in business environments. Students interested in a more research-focused option enroll in the 66-credit Ph.D. in business, which prepares scholars and researchers for academia and the business arena.

The 66-credit Ph.D. in counselor education and supervision trains scholars to teach counseling programs and senior administrators of behavioral health agencies. Other programs include the Ph.D. in leadership and executive Ph.D. in business. Cumberlands offers one of Kentucky's lowest tuitions.

Williamsburg, KY

University of Wisconsin-Madison


World-renowned for strong academics, the University of Wisconsin Madison lauds many accomplishments, including 19 Nobel Prize winners. Students who cannot attend classes in person can use the UW e-campus to earn one of 60 online graduate degrees. Online doctoral degrees cover education and nursing.

Students interested in either secondary or postsecondary education leadership enroll in the three-year Ed.D. in career and technical education. Faculty use a hybrid cohort format to deliver a 60-credit program that focuses on leadership, the effective use of data, partnerships with business and industry, and faculty and staff development. Another option, the 54-credit Ed.D. in sustainability development, offers a fully online curriculum that allows learners to explore sustainability in one or more contexts, including transformative learning and systems thinking.

RNs can earn a practice-focused DNP or research-to-practice-focused Ph.D. in nursing from one of the nation's top nursing schools. RNs can enter either program with a BSN or MSN for even more flexibility.

Madison, WI

A T Still University of Health Sciences


A.T. Still University opened the world's first osteopathic medical school in 1892. The college trains physicians and healthcare administrators who specialize in a whole-person approach to medicine. ATSU enrolls about 3,000 students annually and operates campuses in Missouri and Arizona. Through a virtual campus, online learners earn one of several doctoral programs in health education, health science, and administration.

The doctor of health administration prepares students for effective industry leadership. The three-year degree focuses on topics such as healthcare law, health policy, medical care economics, and health information systems. The Ed.D. in health professions immerses students in experience-based learning designed for practicing clinicians, healthcare leaders, educators, and similar professionals. Ed.D. coursework covers topics such as educational program evaluation, students assessment, and transformative leadership and ethics.

A third program, the doctor of health sciences, develops effective managers who excel in organizational leadership, evidence-based standards, and applying research to professional practice.

Kirksville, MO

Duquesne University


One of the nation's top Catholic colleges, Pittsburgh-based Duquesne University blends academic rigor and the school's Spiritan values. Duquesne's online doctoral programs focus on education and healthcare. The 54-credit Ed.D. in instructional technology ideally suits professionals who want to specialize in infusing technology into teaching and learning in academic and corporate settings.

The nursing school offers the most online doctoral programs at Duquesne. RNs choose a 35-credit DNP in clinical leadership or 35- to 62-credit DNP in executive nurse leadership and healthcare management. RNs who prefer a research-focused degree choose the 56-credit Ph.D. in nursing, which develops nurse-scientists primed for careers in research, nursing education, or organizational leadership.

A one-of-a-kind program, the 47-credit Ph.D. in nurse ethics blends nursing courses and healthcare ethics and includes a study abroad component. All professional nurses receive up to a 55% tuition discount. Duquesne does not require GRE scores for admission to any of its online doctoral programs.

Pittsburgh, PA

Hampton University


A historically black institution, Hampton University is a liberal arts college with a strong emphasis on science and the professions. HU, located in Virginia, offers online doctoral programs in business, education, and nursing. The 61-credit Ph.D. in business administration equally benefits MBAs and those from non-business fields who want to advance into leadership roles. While faculty deliver courses online, all students complete two summer residencies on campus.

The Ph.D. in education management uses an accelerated 66-credit curriculum to cultivate skilled innovators who can lead higher education or preK-12 education institutions. The 64-credit Ph.D. in counselor education and supervision enrolls licensed counselors who want to build on their practice while building clinical and supervisory skills.

The 48-credit curriculum of the Ph.D. in nursing focuses on family and family related research. Nursing students can supplement required courses with elective and cognate courses of interest. Online students pay the same tuition regardless of where they live, making these affordable options for nonresidents.

Hampton, VA

What's the Difference Between a Ph.D. and a Professional Doctoral Degree?

Both Ph.D. and professional doctoral degrees typically require advanced skills in research, writing, and oral defense. Many disciplines offer both Ph.D. and professional degree options. Note key differences between these degree types and choose wisely based on personal preferences, talents, and career goals.

The Ph.D. constitutes a more academic study path focused on theory, data analysis, and original research. Ph.D. programs typically prepare students for academic teaching or research careers by teaching enrollees to evaluate, analyze, and present academic theory and research literature.

Professional doctoral programs such as doctor of business administration (DBA) and doctor of public health (Dr.PH.) focus on research applications for professional practice and usually serve working professionals seeking career advancement.

Ph.D. students usually write dissertations, while professional doctoral students usually complete practical projects such as research studies or problem-solving initiatives at real-world sites.

The Most Popular Types of Doctoral Degrees

NCES data shows that healthcare professionals earn 43.63% of all doctoral degrees — more than twice the number found in law, which boasts the second-highest rate of doctoral degrees at 18.77%. Data from the same source indicates that only 4.47%-6.94% of professionals in the remaining disciplines of education, engineering, and biological sciences hold doctoral degrees. See below for descriptions of some of the most common doctoral degrees, including the Ed.D., Ph.D., and MD.

  • Health professions and related programs–43.63%
  • Legal professions and studies — 18.77%
  • Education — 6.94%
  • Engineering and engineering technologies — 5.99%
  • Biological and biomedical sciences — 4.47%

Source: NCES

Continue reading for a list of some of the most common doctoral degrees:

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)

Many aspiring education administrators, curriculum designers, and other educators interested in developing practical solutions for modern education concerns choose to earn an Ed.D. Common concentrations include higher education leadership, early childhood education, or elementary STEM education.

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Ph.D. programs offer an opportunity for research that students often tailor to their individual interests and career goals. Though different than the Ed.D. degree, Ph.D. concentrations often include a variety of education options, as well as specializations in business, marketing, and public health, among other research fields.

Doctor of Theology (ThD)

The Doctor of Theology offers a research degree comparable to the Ph.D. Optional concentrations often include history of Christianity, world church and world religions, and liturgical studies.

Medicinae Doctorate (MD)

Medical doctors and primary physicians hold an MD in order to practice general medicine in the U.S. Common concentrations include women's reproductive health, integrative medicine, and medical education.

Is an Online Doctorate Degree as Good as an On-Campus Degree?

An increasingly popular education choice, online programs offer academic rigor and reputations similar to on-campus equivalents. Most schools offering both online and on-campus versions of their degree programs award diplomas that do not differentiate between these degree types.

Recent research suggests that online and on-campus learning elicit similar student satisfaction levels. According to a 2016 report generated by The Learning House, Inc. and Aslanian Market ResearchData, nearly 65% of today's online students evidence prior online learning experience.

The same source reports that 90% of college students rate their online education experience as equivalent or better than their on-campus course experiences. The report also indicates that around 70% of students deem their online programs worth the time and financial investment.

The sections below discuss the benefits of online Ph.D. programs, including lower cost and greater attendance flexibility.

Is It Cheaper to Get a Doctoral Degree Online?

Pursuing an online Ph.D. often results in less student debt than on-campus options. Online programs often allow out-of-state students to pay cheaper in-state or online tuition rates, and many schools also waive various university service fees. Online students also save money by avoiding the residency and commuting costs of full-time, on-campus programs. Many homeowners and residents of rural areas who enjoy low living expenses attend online programs without relocating to more expensive urban or suburban areas.

Online doctoral degrees also frequently feature flexible attendance options that enable working professionals to maintain their current income while pursuing an advanced degree. Many online programs permit students to participate during evenings, weekends, or whenever proves convenient. Online students also enjoy equal access to financial aid, including federal grants and loans and university scholarships. The College Board's 2019 report on higher education trends indicates that full-time graduate students receive financial aid averaging $28,140.

How Much Does an Online Ph.D. Program Cost?

The College Board's 2019 report on college pricing indicates that public universities charge a fraction of the tuition and fees found at private nonprofit schools. The following comparative table below highlights the $34,000 difference in average doctoral program pricing between public and private higher education institutions.

Type of School Average Published Tuition and Fees
Public Institutions $11,380
Private Nonprofit Institutions $45,380

Source: College Board

How Long does it Take to Get a Doctorate Degree Online?

Doctoral program length varies widely based on factors including degree type, discipline and field, and student pacing. NCES data from 2018 indicates that doctoral students' median finish time as 7.3 years since starting graduate school and 5.8 years since starting their doctoral programs. This discrepancy suggests that students with transferable graduate work, such as from a master's degree, finish their doctoral programs about 1.5 years faster.

NCES statistics also suggest that time-to-degree varies substantially by discipline of study. Doctoral degrees in physical science, mathematics, computer science, and engineering boast median completion times at least one year faster than social science degrees. Humanities, arts, and education doctoral programs take the longest.

How to Choose an Online Doctoral Degree

After deciding to earn a doctorate online, prospective students select a program. Though online programs generally share many of the same benefits, they often vary in their ability to meet your needs. First, make sure the program you choose fits your career needs, and that it offers preparation for any certification or licensing exams required in your particular area of study.

Some programs require campus visits in combination with online study. In this case, consider your proximity to campus. You may even enjoy certain campus perks, like gym access or tutoring centers, if your program requires you to complete some coursework there. Though all online programs offer flexibility, consider your learning style and what you need from the learning environment. If you are looking to study at your own pace, consider programs that offer asynchronous classes. The price of earning your doctorate online varies depending on whether your program is offered by a nonprofit or for-profit, private or public school.

Is it Better to Attend an Online Doctoral Degree Program in My State?

Your location plays a role in the cost of your online degree. Many schools charge different amounts for in- and out-of-state tuition, for both online and on-campus programs. Even if your online program does not require campus visits, many schools request proof of residence for cheaper in-state rates.

Students should check their own school's residency policies and look for state authorization or a school's State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA), which implements interstate, regional standards of postsecondary courses and programs. Many students prefer to enroll in an online program within their home state to pursue career counseling or other on-campus services.

Many doctoral-level career paths in fields like law or psychology require state licensure as well as a doctoral degree. Licensure requirements include professional experience hours, education credit requirements, and licensure examinations. Doctoral programs for these careers usually include coursework and internship or practicum experiences tailored to fulfill licensure requirements. Many professionals looking to practice in a new state transfer their license by taking advantage of reciprocity agreements maintained between state boards.

Why Accreditation is Key

When researching online doctoral programs, consider institutional and programmatic accreditation standards. The Council of Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes various regional and national accrediting organizations that evaluate schools' academic quality. Many online schools receive their accreditation from the Distance Education Accrediting Commission.

Institutions and programs undergo the accreditation process voluntarily to ensure academic rigor. Accreditation matters because the federal government only grants federal financial aid to students at accredited schools. Schools also usually only recognize credits and degrees from schools with equivalent or superior accreditation standards.

Consider institutions accredited by CHEA-approved regional accreditors. Degrees from regionally accredited schools garner more respect from peers, other schools, and prospective employers.

High-quality professional programs also hold programmatic accreditation from field-based accrediting agencies recognized by CHEA. Prospective students can consult program websites or the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs to determine accreditation status.

Careers that Require a Doctorate

Most careers requiring a doctoral degree fall into three general arenas: education, research, and healthcare. Aspiring professors and researchers in most nonmedical disciplines usually earn Ph.D. degrees. Ph.D. students often begin teaching and conducting research during graduate school, but candidates typically need their degree in hand to acquire full-time professorships or research positions.

Healthcare professions requiring doctoral degrees include veterinarians, physical therapists, medical doctors, and pharmacy directors. Psychiatrists and psychologists usually need doctoral degrees also. Most doctoral-level healthcare professions also require state licensure.

Professor, Postsecondary/Higher Education: Higher education professors teach undergraduate or graduate courses in their discipline or related disciplines. Aspiring professors typically need to earn terminal degrees in their field to obtain secure, full-time teaching jobs at universities and colleges. According to the BLS, postsecondary teachers made a median annual salary of $79,540 in 2019. The BLS projects job growth at a rate of 11% for 2018-2028.

Senior Research Scientist: Often working in laboratory and/or university environments, senior research scientists focus primarily on conducting research or experiments and gathering, analyzing, and presenting results or findings. PayScale salary data indicates that senior research scientists average $101,244 annually, although salaries depend on employer, field, and industry.

Psychiatrist: These professionals provide consultation and medication to patients struggling with mental health issues and disorders. Psychiatrists hold MD or DO degrees and earn a substantial mean annual wage of $220,380, according to the BLS.

Physical Therapist: Physical therapists assist elderly, injured, and disabled people to manage pain, increase mobility, and improve quality of life. The BLS projects 22% job growth for physical therapists during 2018-2028, and earnings data indicates that these professionals made a median annual salary of $89,440 in 2019. These professionals hold DPT degrees.

Hospital Pharmacy Director: These directors oversee all pharmacy operations. Major responsibilities include staff supervision, compliance assurance, customer service, and decision-making. Hospital pharmacy directors require doctor of pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degrees from accredited schools, plus licenses from their states of practice. PayScale indicates that hospital pharmacy directors average $146,293 annually.

Veterinarian: Often working in private clinics or animal hospitals, veterinarians provide preventative medical care and treatment for animals. Duties include examining, assessing, and testing animals; advising owners and prescribing treatments; and performing surgeries and euthanizations. BLS salary data shows that these professionals earned a median annual salary of $95,460 in 2019.

Applying to a Doctoral Degree Program

The application process for doctoral degree programs typically entails researching potential programs, studying for and taking standardized tests, and submitting application materials. Graduate applications typically require official transcripts, standardized test scores, recommendation letters, and a personal statement or essay. Many graduate programs also require a resume or portfolio, as well as an interview.

Graduate admissions typically prove far more competitive than undergraduate admissions. Invest time to produce high-quality application materials. This helpful guide provides a general overview of the application process and timeline for U.S. graduate schools.

1. Testing: Many doctoral program admissions committees expect applicants to submit graduate-level standardized tests. The graduate record examination (GRE), a commonly required standardized test in the United States and Canada, tests verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing. Many programs require students to take the general GRE and a GRE subject test.

Other possible standardized tests include the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), and the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). Try a few practice tests several months in advance of application deadlines, to see whether their scores approach the score minimums stipulated by their prospective doctoral programs.

2. Letters of Recommendation: Doctoral program admissions usually require 2-4 recommendation letters from relevant professors and mentors. Applicants typically approach their recommenders 1-2 months prior to their deadline and make sure that the recommender can write a positive recommendation.

Many applications allow online submission of recommendations. Check in with recommenders regularly to encourage and verify timely submission of the letter.

3. Resume/Portfolio: To assess an applicant's professional accomplishments, most doctoral programs require submission of a resume or curriculum vita and/or a writing sample or portfolio. Ph.D. admissions teams look favorably upon applicants who produce compelling and original master's theses, projects, or similarly competitive achievements.

Meanwhile, demonstrated success and experience in relevant professional roles often improves the prospects of doctoral candidates in disciplines such as business, education, or law.

4. Purpose Statement/Essay: Doctoral programs typically require some kind of purpose statement or essay. At the doctoral application level, a purpose statement outlines the applicant's specific research and professional goals during and after their doctoral program. A clear, focused purpose statement evidences an applicant's ability to direct their own research.

5. Official Transcripts: Most programs require applicants to submit official transcripts from all prior undergraduate and graduate schools attended. Several weeks before your application deadlines, contact each prior institution's registrar's office to fill out and submit a transcript request form (which usually involves a small fee).

Previous schools send official, signed, and sealed copies of your transcripts to whichever prospective programs you specify on your transcript request form. Students submitting applications at the last minute or while still in school often ask prospective schools to accept unofficial transcript copies while waiting for official transcripts to arrive.