What Is an Accelerated Doctorate Degree Online?

One-year online doctoral programs can help you advance your career. Learn more about earning a terminal degree as fast as possible.

Updated June 1, 2023 · 4 Min Read

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The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the number of American adults with a doctorate doubled between 2000 and 2018. Reasons people earned this terminal degree included increased salary potential, new career opportunities, and a sense of accomplishment. However, traditional programs require many years to complete.

Fortunately, advances in online learning mean many universities can offer accelerated Ph.D. programs. Graduating sooner than on-campus students has many potential advantages, such as paying less tuition and entering the workforce as quickly as possible. Some of the fastest doctorate degrees take three years or fewer.

Consider one-year online Ph.D. programs if you hold a master's degree or significant graduate transfer credit. This credit can help you skip introductory courses and move directly to advanced coursework or the dissertation. Two-year Ph.D. programs may appeal to you if you plan to work or raise children while in school.

Featured Online Ph.D. Programs

Find a program that meets your affordability, flexibility, and education needs through an accredited, online school.

What to Expect From the Shortest Ph.D. Programs

Before Enrollment: Research

Consider the different types of doctoral degrees you can pursue. Some take less time to complete than others. One of the key differences between programs lies in the research phase of the degree.

A doctor of philosophy program, more commonly known as a Ph.D., requires a research component called a dissertation. Non-accelerated versions of these degrees may take more than eight years to complete. Accelerated versions may take three years or less.

Instead of a research-focused Ph.D. program, students can pursue a practice-oriented doctorate that requires less time. Some options include a doctor of business administration (DBA), a doctor of psychology (Psy.D.), a doctor of education (Ed.D.), and a doctor of public health (DrPH).

Enrollment: Apply

Attendance: One Year

Most schools offer courses on a semester system. However, some institutions follow a quarter-based or trimester-based system. In many online accelerated doctoral programs, courses do not follow the campus schedule. Instead, they occur in shorter blocks that last between 5-8 weeks.

At the beginning of a doctoral program, students take introductory courses that explain the basics of the field. As they move through coursework, classes become more advanced. Students also take specialized electives. In accelerated doctoral programs, learners take classes all year, including over the summer.

Graduation: End of Year One

Credit requirements vary by program. After students complete all required coursework, they must often submit a dissertation to graduate. Once they finish their research, doctoral candidates submit it for review and defend their conclusions.

Examples of Fastest Doctoral Degree Programs for High-Salary Careers

Accelerated Online Doctorate in Business Administration

Completion Time

Typical doctoral programs in business administration may take six years or more to complete. Students in accelerated programs can graduate in three years or less. Accelerated programs feature shorter classes and a faster dissertation process.

Program Requirements

DBA programs typically accept students with many years of management experience. Additionally, many schools require a master's degree in business administration or another business-related field. Applicants may also need to hold at least a 3.0 GPA.

Example Courses

  • Organizational Leadership: Students explore leadership concepts and theories, assess their strengths and shortcomings, and build leadership skills.
  • Organizational Performance Analysis: Students learn to assess overall workplace performance using data points, including shareholder value and organizational learning.
  • Ethics and Social Responsibility: Business students learn to apply ethical decision-making theories to the workplace. They also examine social responsibility in modern organizations.

Accelerated Online Ph.D. in Higher Education Leadership

Completion Time

Accelerated Ph.D. in education leadership programs might feature shorter courses and a faster dissertation process. This format allows students to graduate in three years or less.

Program Requirements

Applicants typically need to submit a statement of purpose, recommendation letters, GRE or MAT scores, and transcripts. Prospective students may not need professional experience or a master's degree in the field.

Example Courses

  • College and University Administration: This course studies administrative and organizational structure in higher education institutions.
  • Educational Law: Students explore education law and the ways that society and culture impact legal precedents.
  • Teaching the College Student: Learners examine college students from a sociological, psychological, and cultural standpoint.

Accelerated Online Doctorate in Education

Completion Time

Students who pursue an accelerated online doctorate in education can earn their degree in three years or less. Programs may feature accelerated courses and on-campus intensives that speed up completion time.

Program Requirements

Doctoral programs in education typically require a minimum 3.0 GPA, GRE scores, and recommendation letters. Applicants often need relevant professional education experience, a master's in the field, and/or a current teaching position. Education doctoral programs may include on-campus residencies.

Example Courses

  • Theories of Educational Leadership: This course covers educational and organizational leadership theories. Students learn to lead academic organizations effectively.
  • Advanced Learning Theory and Research: Learners study the latest literature on learning theory, classroom management, and motivation.
  • Curriculum Theory: Students explore the basic concepts behind K-12 curricula. They also learn about the curriculum development process.

Examples of Accelerated Doctoral Degree Programs for Healthcare and Medicine

Accelerated Online Doctorate in Nursing Practice

Completion Time

An accelerated online doctorate in nursing may let students complete their degree in two years or less. Some programs shorten degree completion times through flexible online classes. Some schools let students with a master's degree in the field take fewer courses.

Program Requirements

Doctoral programs in nursing prepare current nurse practitioners, registered nurses, and other nursing professionals for advanced clinical work. These programs include supervised clinical internships that build high-level skills. Applicants need an active RN license, a satisfactory GPA, and clinical experience.

Example Courses

  • Epidemiology: Students explore basic epidemiology principles and examine its relationship to public health.
  • Healthcare Policy: Students learn to develop policies that influence healthcare delivery at the local, state, and federal levels.
  • Clinical Information Systems: This course covers the selection and use of information systems that healthcare professionals use.

Accelerated Online Ph.D. in Psychology

Completion Time

An accelerated Ph.D. in psychology may allow students to begin their dissertation earlier than they can in traditional programs. Additionally, students may take extra courses each term to finish faster. Accelerated Ph.D. programs may take three years or less.

Program Requirements

Applicants to online Ph.D. in psychology programs sometimes need a master's degree, but many institutions accept bachelor's degrees. Prospective students may need a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants also need to submit GRE scores, recommendation letters, and an essay. These programs sometimes include a practicum requirement.

Example Courses

  • Social Psychology: Students explore social psychology theories to understand relationships, motivation, and prejudice. They also study group behavior and aggression.
  • Research Theory, Design, and Methods: This course prepares students to analyze current psychological literature and design their own studies.
  • Lifespan Development: Students examine psychological development throughout a person's lifespan, including childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.

Accelerated Online Doctorate in Behavioral Health

Completion Time

Students earning a fast-track doctoral degree in behavioral health online graduate quickly. They may take classes that last only 7.5 weeks each.

Program Requirements

These programs often require a master's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Some clinically focused behavioral health doctoral programs require a master's in a health-related field and licensure in an approved healthcare profession. Some programs also require in-person clinical components.

Example Courses

  • Psychopharmacology: This class covers medications that psychologists and other professionals use to treat behavioral and mental conditions.
  • Healthcare Systems and Delivery: In this course, students explore the U.S. healthcare system. They may study other healthcare systems.
  • Legal, Ethical, and Professional Issues: This course prepares students to approach the legal or moral problems they may encounter during their careers.

Other Popular Accelerated Degree Subjects

Frequently Asked Questions About Accelerated Ph.D. Programs

Can I do a Ph.D. in one year?

Yes, but only if you're returning to a doctoral program after an absence. The fastest doctorate degrees take at least three years if you lack transfer credit. Even if a counselor tells you you can complete a one-year online Ph.D. program, you may need more time to finish your capstone project or dissertation.

What is the quickest Ph.D. to get?

Universities with doctoral fast-track options may offer you accelerated Ph.D. programs in criminal justice, forensic psychology, psychology, and more. Contact schools' admissions departments to learn more about their three-, two-, and one-year online Ph.D. programs.

Can I get a Ph.D. without a master's?

Yes, some top universities offer combined master's-Ph.D. programs. These programs take five years or more, as you complete master's and doctoral coursework before the dissertation or capstone. You may receive some transfer credit through work experience or examination.

Benefits of a combined program include earning at least a master's if you do not complete the Ph.D. A master's can help you advance your career and salary potential.

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