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The doctoral degree is the “terminal” degree, or the end of the academic journey – at this point, a student has gone as far as they can go with higher education for that particular field. As one might imagine, a doctoral degree requires a lot of time, patience and discipline to complete, and only a few select professions actually require it; for example, those who want to teach at the post-secondary level or engage in high-level research will usually need their doctoral degree to do so. Whatever the ultimate goal of the student, searching for the right doctoral program opens up a world of confusing and complex options. This guide cuts through the noise and provides a basic yet solid overview of what future online doctoral students can expect.

The 50 Best Online PhD Programs in 2018

The following is a list of universities that offer online doctoral degrees. Schools are ranked by examining multiple characteristics, all of which are disclosed here. Seeing what led to the rankings can help a student figure out what criteria matters most to them, and thus gives them the opportunity to view the rankings with their own goals in mind.

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Methodology

To find the best colleges of 2016-17 for earning an online doctoral degree, our researchers and higher education experts collected and analyzed data from every accredited postsecondary institution in the United States. The goal? To see which colleges offered the most notable balances of academic rigor, program availability, student support and affordability for online learning. The specific criteria and scoring metrics for the ranking are as follows:

  • Accredited, 4-year public or private not-for-profit institution
  • Must offer at least 1 online doctoral degree program
  • Annual in-state tuition & fees below $25,000
  • In-state tuition & fees for graduate students
  • Count of online doctoral degree programs available
  • Student-to-faculty ratio
  • Availability of academic/career counseling services
  • Availability of job placement services
  • 3-year loan default rate
  • AC Online Peer-Based Value (PBV)*

*PBV: is a proprietary metric that compares the cost of a program to the cost of other programs with the same (or a similar) qualitative score. It also compares the qualitative score of the program to the score of other programs with the same (or similar) cost. In short, the PBV calculation denotes the overall value – or “bang for your buck” – of an online degree.

Rank University Location Score Annual Tuition # of Online Programs Financial Aid % Student-Teacher RatioGrad RateCredit for Experience Placement Services Counseling Services University Information
1 University of Colorado Denver Denver, CO 99.82 $7,816 4 48% 16:145%No Yes Yes

With more than 450 courses offered online, the University of Colorado Denver gives graduate students the chance to participate in distance learning either full- or part-time. Through CU Online students can access more than 30 online degree and certificate programs, including four doctorate programs. CU Denver’s doctorate programs in nursing, pharmacy and nursing practice are offered 100 percent online, while the doctor of education program is provided as a hybrid program and recommended for Colorado residents. In 2005, CU Denver began its DNP program and became the first university in the region to offer this level of nursing degree. The PhD in nursing program was initiated soon after and both programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. Online nursing students residing in one of the western states that comprise the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) are eligible for in-state tuition. The online doctorate of pharmacy program, known as iPharmD, is available to both North American and internationally trained pharmacists, with separate study tracks based on these distinctions.

2 University of Mississippi University, MS 99.81 $7,102 3 61% 18:160%No Yes Yes

In addition to single online courses and master’s degree programs, the University of Mississippi has fully online education specialist programs with three different concentrations to choose from. Students with a master’s degree in education can go farther in their career with an EdS program in play therapy, K-12 leadership or counselor education. The online curriculum for the EdS in play therapy and counselor education programs fills most requirements for advanced licensing within each field in Mississippi, while the K-12 leadership coursework fully meets state criteria for a AAA education certification. These programs can be completed within 18 to 24 months and require experiential learning. For EdS in K-12 Leadership students, the necessary internship portion can be completed at the student’s current school work site. Ole Miss is a member of the NC-SARA authorization agreement to provide online education in other states and specific information regarding programs offered in your state can be found here.

3 Indiana State University Terre Haute, IN 99.69 $7,040 3 75% 20:143%Yes Yes Yes

Students searching for online graduate programs at Indiana State University have more than 40 certificate and degree programs available through Indiana State Online, the university’s portal for distance learning. ISU has six online doctorate programs in nursing, educational administration, technology management, athletic training and health sciences, plus an education specialist program in school administration. The doctorate of nursing practice and doctorate of health sciences are offered 100 percent online, while the other programs require some on-campus participation for seminars or other coursework. ISU’s DNP program is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing. It also follows the American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s guidelines of incorporating 1,000 practicum hours into the curriculum framework. All of ISU’s online programs are accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Tuition rates for online doctorate programs vary, and there is differentiation between in-state and out-of-state costs. Indiana State’s online programs are available in many locations, however some states have not approved certain ISU programs. Before applying to an online program at ISU, carefully read through the following state information.

4 University of Arkansas Fayetteville, AR 99.60 $7,822 4 38% 19:160%No Yes Yes

Aspiring doctorate students unable to travel to the University of Arkansas for class every week can earn an online degree in education, nursing or human resources. The university has two doctor of education programs offered in adult and lifelong education or educational leadership and both are accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. The EdD in adult and lifelong education is organized as a cohort, with 75 percent of coursework completed online and requires 30 months for completion. The EdD in educational leadership is 100 percent online, however students are expected to attend campus once each semester for a seminar. The EdD in human resource and workforce development education and doctor of nursing practice programs are entirely online programs and require sufficient GRE scores to enroll. Tuition rates for UA’s online doctorate programs are competitive and there is no additional out-of-state charge to non-Arkansas residents.

5 Texas A&M University-College Station College Station, TX 99.51 $8,554 16 54% 20:180%No Yes Yes

Texas A&M University-College Station has educated international students as well as domestic students from around the country through the university’s distance education department. TAMU provides online degree programs at the undergraduate and graduate level, including three online doctoral programs. The school’s EdD in curriculum and instruction is offered 100 percent online, allowing experienced educators to earn a higher degree without having to drastically compromise their life and work schedules. Students take two classes each semester at a traditional pace and finish the program in four years. Before applying, candidates must have a master’s degree and at least five years’ work experience in education. Thanks to fully online courses, this program is ideal for both in-state and out-of-state applicants. TAMU also has two online programs in agriculture: a PhD in plant breeding program and an EdD in agriculture education (requires occasional on-campus learning). Texas residents enrolled in these programs receive a lower tuition rate than out-of-state students.

6 Texas Tech University Lubbock, TX 99.45 $7,215 4 39% 22:162%No Yes Yes

In addition to more than 30 certificate, undergraduate and master’s degree programs, Texas Tech has seven entirely online doctorate programs and two partially online programs. Students can earn a quality doctor of education in higher education, agricultural education or educational leadership without the burden of relocation or commuting to classes. Online doctorate students can also earn a PhD in special education, family and consumer science education, technical communication and rhetoric, or systems and engineering management. Two PhD degrees in curriculum and instruction are formatted as hybrid programs that require face-to-face learning during summer sessions with online courses being completed the rest of the year. Students enrolled in fully online courses at Texas Tech receive in-state tuition rates, which can vary based on the program. Students transferring to Texas Tech to complete an online degree program are eligible for scholarship opportunities based on merit.

7 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA 99.14 $9,710 4 78% 18:146%Yes Yes Yes

Understanding the busy lifestyles of professional adult learners, Liberty University has more than 50 doctorate degree programs available for online study. With such a large quantity of programs, students can earn their doctorate in fields such as business administration, education specialist, theology, ministry, nursing, curriculum and instruction. A majority of Liberty’s online programs and be completed 100 percent online, however some degrees may require elements of face-to-face instruction. As a Christian college, Liberty is a non-profit school that seeks to improve students’ spiritual well-being in addition to their professional education. Online students at Liberty can apply for financial aid opportunities, and more than 80 percent of students receive assistance. Special tuition discounts are available to military members and their families as well as emergency responders.

8 University of Alabama in Huntsville Huntsville, AL 99.10 $9,180 3 66% 16:147%No Yes Yes

The University of Alabama in Huntsville offers doctorate students online programs in engineering and nursing. Through UAH Online, engineers can increase their mastery in the field with a doctorate program in civil, systems or industrial engineering as well as engineering management. These programs are provided in a hybrid format, which UAH defines as having at least 51 percent of coursework completed online. The PhD in systems and industrial engineering and engineering management programs require 78 credits for completion, while the civil engineering program requires 72 credits, 24 of which are earned through dissertation completion. UAH’s doctor of nursing practice is a fully online program, with just one required two-day campus workshop. With variable start dates offered throughout the academic year, full-time DNP students can finish the program within 28 months, while part-time students can earn their degree in 52 months. All of UAH’s online programs are accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

9 University of Northern Colorado Greeley, CO 98.92 $10,426 5 79% 17:145%No Yes Yes

Through the University of Northern Colorado’s extended campus, students can begin an undergraduate or graduate degree fully online, in a blended format or at one of three distance learning centers. Doctorate programs are available in nursing and education, and most require some face-to-face coursework either at UNC’s main campus, or at a branch center. Nursing professionals can earn their doctor of nursing practice primarily online, with concentrations available in gerontological care and family nursing. Students with a bachelor’s or master’s degree can apply for a DNP program. In addition, nursing professionals holding a master’s degree are eligible for the PhD in nursing education program, a four-year course of study. In education, UNC provides blended doctor of education programs in educational leadership and educational studies, as well as a PhD in higher education and student affairs leadership. The university’s PhD in special education is offered entirely online and takes three to five years for completion.

10 University of South Carolina-Columbia Columbia, SC 98.42 $12,424 8 47% 18:172%No Yes Yes

At the University of South Carolina-Columbia, graduate students can achieve the highest level of education online in the fields of education and engineering. The university has an online doctor of education in curriculum and instruction available in two concentrations, educational technology and curriculum studies. The programs are designed for certified educators looking for advanced employment in public and private institutions. Students start their studies in a cohort which first meets on campus before starting web-based classes. South Carolinian teachers receive a tuition discount when enrolling in one of USC’s online EdD programs. For engineers, USC has three online PhD programs: electrical, mechanical and nuclear engineering. The electrical engineering program can be completed within four years of earning a bachelor degree in the field, and applicants must have earned a minimum 3.0 GPA average in their undergraduate studies. USC’s engineering programs are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc.

11 Penn State World Campus University Park, PA 98.40 $19,746 13 37% 17:186%Yes Yes Yes

Online education at Penn State University is big. Within the university’s 25-campus school system, Penn State World Campus is second behind the University Park main campus for student enrollment. Each year, approximately 18,000 students choose to earn their degree online from one of 150 programs offered by Penn State World Campus. For those ready to begin their doctorate education, PSU World Campus provides an online doctor of nursing practice degree, with curriculum options for bachelor degree or master’s degree holders. Courses throughout the program are provided online, however to ensure students’ success in the program, there are three intensives that require students attend either PSU’s main or Hershey campus. The intensives last three to four days and allow students to meet with advisers who examine students’ progress. The online DNP program offered through Penn State World Campus is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and is also approved by the Pennsylvania State Board of Nursing.

12 University at Buffalo Buffalo, NY 98.35 $12,392 3 61% 13:171%No Yes Yes

At the University of Buffalo, professionals in education and healthcare can complete a doctorate program completely online. The university has expansive online learning opportunities at all levels of academia, with six doctorates in nursing and a PhD in curriculum, instruction and the science of learning. Students can earn a doctor of nursing practice in nurse anesthesia, family nurse practitioner, child nursing, gerontology, mental health or women’s health. These programs allow nurses with a master’s degree to complete their DNP within one to three years, either as full or part-time students. Some programs, such as the gerontology and mental health tracks, are offered in a hybrid format with more intensive study for students who do not hold any graduate degree. Some courses in the online programs may also require face-to-face instruction. Doctoral students may be eligible for a scholarship or grant opportunity offered through the university.

13 The University of Texas Medical Branch Galveston, TX 98.26 $8,543 4 N/A 24:1N/ANo Yes Yes

Training future leaders in healthcare since 1891, the University of Texas Medical Branch graduates students from bachelor to doctoral programs in nursing, medicine, health professions and biomedical sciences. Registered nurses and nurse practitioners who are prepared to take the next step in their career can apply to one of UTMB’s online doctoral programs in nursing. The doctor of nursing practice degree is mostly an online program, yet students must travel to campus once each semester for only a few days. This program narrows in on the treatment and care of underprivileged people--those with disadvantages in receiving healthcare such as uninsured individuals, minorities, older citizens and impoverished persons. The DNP program only accepts students holding a master’s degree and is a part-time program. UTMB also offers an online PhD in nursing program with a BSN to PhD track and MSN to PhD track. This program is offered as either full or part-time and students make one trip to campus each year for about a week. Texan residents enrolled in these programs receive an affordable tuition, while out-of-state applicants pay double the in-state rate.

14 University of Nebraska-Lincoln Lincoln, NE 98.17 N/A 3 69% 21:165%No Yes Yes

Online education from the University of Nebraska is available to residents of of all states, with some restrictions for Kentucky natives. The university’s online and distance education department houses all undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs provided in an online or hybrid format. For students ready to take on a doctorate program, the University of Nebraska provides three programs in education online. Two doctor of education degrees can be earned in educational studies or educational administration. In addition, a PhD can be completed in educational studies with concentrations in special education, teacher education or educational administration. While the primary coursework for these programs is offered online, there are mandatory on-campus seminars during the summer for EdD students and research seminars required for Phd students. The University of Nebraska is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.  

15 The University of Montana Missoula, MT 98.13 $5,765 2 67% 18:149%No Yes Yes

Post-bachelor and master’s degree students ready for the next academic challenge can start their doctoral program at the University of Montana. The university has more than 50 doctoral programs available in subjects such as business, chemistry, education, law, psychology, biology and anthropology, with many concentrations offered. While the university has a series online master and bachelor degree options, UM’s doctoral programs are not provided online and require residency at the school’s Missoula campus. Doctoral students who are Montana residents receive a competitive per credit hour tuition rate, and out-of-state students can expect double to triple that of in-state. A number of scholarship and fellowship opportunities are available through UM’s graduate school. The University of Montana is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

16 Wilmington University New Castle, DE 97.99 $7,862 2 20% 14:134%Yes Yes Yes

With more than 100 fully online programs and certificates, Wilmington University's distance learning offerings span diverse subjects and levels of study, giving graduate and undergraduate students the chance to raise the education bar. Graduate nursing students at WilmU can earn a doctor of nurse practitioning degree straight from their home location and through an accelerated learning pace. Nursing students currently earning their MSN can begin their doctorate studies at the same time, saving students’ money and time. Those students who have already completed their MSN can start an accelerated DNP with the option to add a certificate program and specialize in family nurse practicing, gerontology or mental health. The online DNP program is also offered in a traditional study pace. WilmU also gives business savvy students the chance to earn their doctor of business administration online or through hybrid classes, and the program prepares graduates for university teaching positions or high-level leadership careers. Education professionals can additionally complete their doctor of education through hybrid classes with three concentrations offered in higher education leadership, organizational learning, and educational leadership.

17 University of Minnesota-Twin Cities Minneapolis, MN 97.85 $16,853 5 54% 17:173%Yes Yes Yes

Nursing students at the University of Minnesota can earn a doctor of nursing practice degree through online learning with 11 concentration areas to specialize in. The DNP can be earned in realms such as health leadership, nurse anesthesia, nurse-midwifery, pediatrics, gerontology and women’s health. These programs are designed for bachelor degree holders and require between 69 and 102 credit hours, depending on the selected track. Studying full-time, students earn their doctorate degree in three years and course curriculum falls into UM’s “primarily” online category. This designation means that a brief period of on-campus workshops are required at some point in order to complete the degree program. Nursing students who have earned a master’s degree can also complete their DNP online in one full year and must have a minimum 3.0 GPA to apply. All of UM’s nursing degree programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

18 University of Alaska Fairbanks Fairbanks, AK 97.73 $8,967 2 43% 14:133%Yes Yes Yes

The University of Alaska Fairbanks has distance learning opportunities available at the associate, bachelor and master’s degree levels, and campus-based doctorate programs. The university currently has 18 available terminal degrees, mostly offered in versatile scientific domains such as oceanography, atmospheric sciences, biology, anthropology, and geoscience. Most programs require at least a passing GRE test score as part of admittance, in addition to previously earned undergraduate and/or graduate degrees. Graduate students are able to freely transfer the equivalent of half the total credits in their degree program between UA campuses and one third of credit hours can be transferred from an outside college. The University of Alaska Fairbanks is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities and has 15 additional subject-based accreditations.

19 University of Florida Gainesville, FL 97.73 $12,682 7 29% 21:185%No Yes Yes

Through distance learning initiatives, students at the University of Florida can earn their degree right from their living room with more than 200 certificates and degree programs to enroll in. Currently nine online doctorate degrees are available in education, audiology, nursing, pharmacy, latin and roman studies and classical civilization. A doctor of education degree can be earned within four years mostly through distance learning, with four majors offered in educational leadership, curriculum and teaching, educational technology or higher education administration. The EdD starts as cohort with 16-week semesters and an on-campus seminar during the summer. Similarly, the latin and roman studies and classical civilizations programs require some face-to-face interaction and prepare students for careers in research and teaching. For nursing students, two tracks are offered to complete a doctor of nursing practice degree, either the BSN-to-DNP or MSN-to-DNP for those who qualify. Both programs have been accredited by the Commission of Collegiate Nursing Education.

20 Hampton University Hampton, VA 97.67 $9,809 2 47% 9:159%Yes Yes Yes

Hampton University provides four online doctorate programs accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools as wells as program-specific accreditation. Students can earn a PhD in business administration, counselor education and supervision, nursing or educational management through distance learning practices. While courses are predominately offered in an online format, some programs may require campus attendance for short seminars and workshops. During the first years of their program, business students are required to spend four weeks on campus during the summer for instruction. Depending on the program, students can expect to devote two to four years earning their doctorate degree. For students residing outside of Virginia, Hampton is permitted to provide online education in 27 states. Financial aid is available to eligible students, with military discounts and special scholarships available for adult learners returning to finish a degree program.  

21 The University of Texas at Tyler Tyler, TX 97.57 $6,142 2 39% 21:141%Yes Yes Yes

The University of Texas at Tyler has online doctorate programs available in nursing, giving access to the highest levels of education to those unable to traditionally attend a university. After a five-day orientation at the start of the program, UT Tyler’s PhD in nursing program can be completed entirely through online coursework. The program can be undertaken by both bachelor and master’s degree holders, either as full-time or part-time students. For full-time students with a bachelor degree, the PhD degree can be earned in four years, skipping the master’s degree step. UT Tyler also offers a doctor of nursing practice degree with concentrations available in clinical practice and leadership. The DNP program is primarily provided online, however this degree requires more face-to-face instruction than the PhD option. Through a partnership with other regional colleges and nursing programs, students are able to take courses from participating schools that might not be offered directly through UT Tyler.

22 University of Michigan-Flint Flint, MI 97.54 $9,679 3 50% 15:136%No No Yes

In addition to eight traditional doctorate programs, the University of Michigan Flint has two online programs with flexible learning options available in each. The online doctor of nursing practice can be reached through several pathways. Post-bachelor degree registered nurses can enroll full-time and finish the DNP program within four years, or choose to work and study simultaneously and finish in six years. Students may choose to concentrate in one of four areas, which requires extra clinical practice. Licensed nurse practitioners and others with a master’s degree can complete their DNP as part-time students over a three year period. Courses are completed online and UM-Flint tries to secure clinical placements near a student’s home or work life; however, select campus visits are required periodically throughout the program. UM-Flint also provides a transitional doctor of physical therapy program entirely online and as a part-time student. This program can be completed by both bachelor and master’s degree graduates and gives students the tools to develop a personalized curriculum plan.

23 University of North Carolina at Greensboro Greensboro, NC 97.52 $7,163 2 49% 17:154%No Yes Yes

With online degrees and certificates offered at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, the University of North Carolina Greensboro gives non-traditional students a versatile group of programs to choose from. Students ready to step up from a master’s degree can complete two certificate programs, an education specialist or a doctorate program in kinesiology, all online. The EdS in educational leadership program is an online post-master’s degree program requiring 33 credit hours for completion that satisfies North Carolina state standards for level II advanced principal and superintendent licensure. UNCG’s doctor of education in kinesiology degree is a four-year program that requires three multi-day campus-based instruction sessions. These programs are taught by the same professors at UNCG as traditional programs and the university is approved to provide online degree programs to residents in all states. Out-of-state residents, however, are subjected to a higher tuition rate.

24 Mississippi State University Mississippi State, MS 97.50 $7,040 2 68% 19:158%Yes Yes Yes

With in-state tuition offered to all students, online learning at Mississippi State University is an affordable option for out-of-state learning. As a member of the NC-SARA agreements to provide online education across the nation, MSU is eligible to do so in most states, yet additional requirements may be necessary to meet outside state standards. Doctorate students at MSU can complete their degree online in engineering and educational leadership. Engineering students have six majors leading to a PhD degree in civil, computational, aerospace, electrical, mechanical and industrial and systems engineering. Since the 1980s, MSU has been providing distance learning opportunities to engineering students and today classes are recorded and uploaded to an internal system for students to watch on their time. The university also provides a PhD in community college leadership program that is primarily online. Some courses are mandatorily taken at MSU’s main campus.

25 Amridge University Montgomery, AL 97.36 $13,900 3 100% 10:1N/AYes No Yes

At Amridge University, distance learning has been the primary mode for curriculum delivery since the school’s conception in 1967. Since 1993, the university has offered online courses, keeping up with technology innovations throughout the years. Today students can earn a number of degrees online, including doctorates in ministry, bible studies, family and marriage counseling, and interdisciplinary studies. Eight doctorate programs can be completed online, most requiring four years of full-time study for completion. Three doctor of ministry programs are offered with concentrations in family therapy, designed for church-focused professionals. Family therapy and professional counseling can also be studied as part of a PhD program. As post-secondary education costs increase, students at Amridge have a number of scholarship and financial aid opportunities to help with their education. Roughly 90 percent of Amridge students are eligible for and receive financial aid.

26 University of Louisiana at Monroe Monroe, LA 97.05 $7,276 2 56% 21:137%No Yes Yes

The University of Louisiana at Monroe has two online programs available for students reaching the end of the road in their academic careers. The PhD in marriage and family studies with an emphasis in systemic studies is a program that examines creativity’s impact and influence on change. The program was developed for individuals with diverse backgrounds and is structured as a conjunctural program. As such, students do not complete any clinical hours necessary for professional therapist licensing through the program. ULM also offers a completely online doctor of education degree in curriculum and instruction. This program is provided in accelerated eight-week semesters and can be completed within two years. The EdD in curriculum and instruction readies graduates for careers as professors, superintendents and other positions in educational leadership. Both of ULM’s doctoral programs require 60 credit hours for completion.

27 Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville Edwardsville, IL 97.01 $7,524 2 47% 18:152%No Yes Yes

In addition to more than 10 traditional doctoral programs, Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville provides a doctor of nursing practice online. Accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, the online DNP program at SIUE prepares nurses for advanced healthcare. The program is only open to applicants who have completed a master’s degree with at least a 3.0 cumulative GPA. Classes are taken online with two short campus visits in August. The online DNP program follows the same time frame as SIUE’s traditional programs and is designed to be completed in two years. To successfully complete the program, graduates must have accrued 1,000 hours of clinical experience after finishing their bachelor degree, with hours earned at the master’s degree level contributing to the total. One tuition rate is offered to all students and SIUE is authorized to provide online education in most states.

28 Northern Arizona University Flagstaff, AZ 96.69 $8,632 2 66% 18:149%No Yes Yes

In addition to Northern Arizona University's 14 residential doctoral degrees, the university offers one distance learning program for nurses. The doctor of nursing practice degree is a rigorous program, offered mostly online with intermittent campus visits. The program is only for students who have earned their MSN and are ready to take higher leadership roles in healthcare. Students should have at least a 3.0 cumulative GPA score and be able to commit to completing between 74 and 79 credit hours for degree completion. Considering the high benchmarks set by the American Association of Colleges on Nursing and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, NAU’s DNP program was drafted to compete with the best in the business. By the end of the program, students will have accumulated 1,000 of clinical experience to graduate.  

29 Clemson University Clemson, SC 96.54 $8,866 2 59% 16:182%No Yes Yes

Clemson University has online graduate programs available in blended and fully online formats and has been part of NC-SARA since 2016. This membership allows Clemson to offer online education to residents in 48 other partnered states and has special agreements with California and Massachusetts (non-SARA partners). Clemson provides three online doctoral degrees in healthcare genetics, recreational therapy, and rhetorics, communication and information design. All three programs follow Clemson’s blended program guidelines, which includes teleconferencing, online and in-person classes, as well as individualized study. After culminating their studies with an 18-credit dissertation, these programs award graduates with a doctor of philosophy degree. The per credit tuition rate is the same for all online doctoral students at Clemson. Graduate students can also apply for scholarships and fellowships through the university’s graduate school to save money on education. Clemson is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.   

30 University of the Cumberlands Williamsburg, KY 96.53 $5,538 2 100% 16:145%No No Yes

Distance learning doctoral students at the University of the Cumberlands have five programs available to them, including two 100 percent online degrees. The PhD in leadership program prepares students for supervisory roles in higher education and additional credits can be completed to procure a Kentucky certification in the field. The school’s EdD in educational leadership degree can also be earned entirely online within three years of study and offers voluntary campus classes over the weekend. Students can choose to concentrate their EdD or PhD in leadership program in counselor education and supervision (CES), which requires a period of residency to earn. The CES concentration is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. Students can also complete two hybrid programs in clinical psychology, earning either a PhD or PsyD degree in the field. These programs require more face-to-face instruction than distance learning.

31 Union Institute & University Cincinnati, OH 96.48 $18,816 3 15% 8:127%Yes No Yes

Union Institute & University provides a primarily online PhD in interdisciplinary studies with four concentrations to choose from. The program is ideal for candidates who are looking to achieve the highest degree, but are restricted by their work or geographic location. Union’s PhD program allows students to focus on areas that interest them and requires 66 credit hours to complete. Two start dates are offered each year in January and July, during which students spend time on campus for face-to-face instruction. By taking courses online, students are able to keep their jobs and finish their degree in three years. Students can choose to focus their studies in ethical and creative leadership, educational studies, humanities and culture, or public policy and social change. Union Institute and University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and is authorized to provide online degree programs in most states.  

32 Texas A & M University-Commerce Commerce, TX 96.41 $5,209 2 52% 18:136%Yes No Yes

Four doctoral programs are offered in online and hybrid contexts from Texas A&M University-Commerce. The PhD programs in educational psychology and in English require face-to-face learning, and between 50 and 85 percent of coursework is completed through online classes. The university’s doctor of education in higher education is conducted in the same format, and coursework includes an internship and a completed dissertation. TAMU-Commerce has an entirely online doctoral degree available in educational administration. Students in the EdD in educational administration never have to step foot on campus to earn their degree. The program is competitive and offers two cohort starts dates each year. TAMU-Commerce is authorized to provide online education to residents outside of Texas as a member of NC-SARA.  

33 Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale Fort Lauderdale, FL 96.37 $22,200 2 77% 12:160%Yes Yes Yes

With 18 campuses located in Florida plus online programs, Keiser University Ft. Lauderdale gives students plenty of routes to achieve the degree they dream of. Through the school’s online division, Spanish-speaking students can earn their doctor of business administration right from their home. The degree is offered online, however two periods of residency are required and the program is wholly instructed in Spanish. The online DBA program also requires 60 credit hours for completion, six of which are accepted as transfer credits. For non-Spanish speaking students, Keiser offers nine traditional doctoral programs in subjects such as health science, educational leadership, psychology, nursing practice and curriculum and instruction. The school also offers two campus-based education specialist programs in educational leadership and instructional design and technology. Keiser University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

34 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chapel Hill, NC 96.23 $10,594 2 45% 13:189%No Yes Yes

More than 20 online programs are offered at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, including one doctorate degree. While the university houses a number of doctoral programs on campus, only the transitional doctor of physical therapy (t-DPT) is provided as a distance learning program. The t-DPT degree is a 30-credit hour program rooted in online coursework, giving students the freedom to continue working full-time. Only licensed physical therapists are able to apply to the program, as it builds upon previously learned practices and prepares graduates for positions as educators and leaders in the field. Students can opt to concentrate their program in one of four areas: neurology, pediatrics, geriatrics or orthopedics. The program is designed as a part-time commitment and takes two years to finish.

35 University of North Dakota Grand Forks, ND 96.23 $8,225 2 30% 19:152%No Yes Yes

The University of North Dakota offers doctoral students 11 online degree programs in the fields of nursing, education and engineering. To avoid uprooting an adult student’s entire life by relocating or traveling to campus, UND’s doctoral science programs are offered entirely online. Students can earn a PhD in environmental engineering, aerospace sciences, energy engineering or electrical engineering through web classrooms, and are only required to visit the Bismarck campus three times throughout the duration of the program. In the field of healthcare, nurses who have earned their master’s degree can complete a doctor of nursing practice online with the option to specialize in gerontological or family nursing. The university also offers a PhD in nursing program that requires completion of on-campus intensives in addition to online courses. Three hybrid doctoral degrees are provided in education, awarding PhDs in teaching and learning, higher education, and educational leadership. These programs incorporate web classes with regular courses at UND’s main campus.

36 Kansas State University Manhattan, KS 95.92 $9,633 2 65% 19:158%No Yes Yes

Since the 1960s, Kansas State University has been providing unconventional methods to earning a degree in higher education through distance education and continuing education programs. Known as K-State Global Campus today, this university division offers over 70 online degrees to students in all 50 states and international students hailing from 41 different countries. Doctoral students interested in pursuing the highest degree at K-State have three online options available in education and human ecology. Career educators can earn a doctor of education in curriculum and instruction or adult learning and leadership. Both programs require a dissertation for successful completion and the adult learning and leadership major requires two campus visits for face-to-face learning. The university’s PhD in personal financial planning program prepares graduates for careers as high-level financial advisors and counselors. This program includes online classes during the spring and fall semesters, and residential summer courses. Kansas State University is accredited to award doctoral degrees by the Higher Learning Commission.

37 Allen College Waterloo, IA 95.90 $15,469 2 100% 9:182%Yes Yes Yes

With a student enrollment of 620, Allen College has a small-town vibe and prepares students for careers in healthcare. For more than 90 years, Allen College has provided higher education to a small student body of healthcare professionals in the Waterloo area. Students at Allen today have seven degree programs to choose from, including two doctoral programs. Students can pursue a doctor of nursing practice or doctor of education in health professions education on campus. Both programs require that applicants have a master’s degree and a minimum 3.25 GPA. Out-of-state residents are able to apply to Allen’s doctoral programs and receive the same tuition as in-state students. To help students with tuition prices, financial aid may be awarded to students who are eligible and Allen also provides a long list of scholarship opportunities. Degree programs at Allen are accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and nursing programs, such as the DNP degree, are further accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.  

38 Temple University Philadelphia, PA 95.84 $15,180 2 76% 14:166%Yes Yes Yes

Professionals in the fields of athletic training and occupational therapy and can take advantage of Temple University's fully online doctoral programs in the areas. Both programs are only open to students who are already certified or licensed as either an athletic trainer or occupational therapist. The doctor of athletic training program is offered 100 percent online--students truly never have to come to campus. The program operates in cohorts that follow six or 15-week semester models and requires 36 credits for completion. Temple’s clinical doctorate in occupational therapy degree is conducted through web courses, however there are two mandatory campus visits each year. Campus visits are used as orientations and as meet-and-greets with established professors and professionals in the field. This program requires two years for completion with a four-week clinical experience and a capstone project as the grand finale.

39 The University of Tennessee-Knoxville Knoxville, TN 95.70 $11,602 2 53% 17:166%No Yes Yes

The University of Tennessee-Knoxville prepares nurses and social workers for advanced degrees without the inconvenience of commuting to the classroom every week. UT-Knoxville has blended doctorate nursing programs, awarding either a PhD or DNP degree. Both degree options utilize a mixture of face-to-face learning with online classes, and so are best suited to applicants residing in the area. There are five tracks offered in the DNP program, with concentrations in pediatrics, mental health, family nurse or nurse executive. These concentrations are offered to BSN students who are diving straight into their doctoral program. The fifth track is designed for nurses with a master’s degree. UT-Knoxville’s doctor of social work degree is an innovative, accelerated degree offered primarily online. Taking two online courses each semester, students are able to finish the program in three years. During the summer sessions, students must attend the UT-Knoxville campus for one week of in-person learning.

40 Colorado State University-Fort Collins Fort Collins, CO 95.68 $10,925 2 48% 16:163%No Yes Yes

At the Colorado State University-Ft. Collins, nearly 95 percent of students begin and finish their PhD in higher education. According to the university, that is nearly double the average doctorate retention rate across the country. Students at CSU are able to earn their degree thanks to a flexible hybrid schedule that enables them to make a living by simultaneously working a full-time job. The PhD in higher education program is conducted mostly online with on-campus learning required for short periods in July and January. Accepted students join a cohort and complete all coursework with the same group of classmates. The program takes around five years for completion. CSU also provides a highly competitive PhD in systems engineering. Also structured into a hybrid format, this program accepts a select number of students during each start date and the length of time necessary to complete the degree varies greatly. Graduates of this rigorous program work in industries such as aerospace, government and military enterprises, renewable energy, and automotive.

41 The University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, AL 95.59 $9,826 2 53% 21:167%Yes Yes Yes

The University of Alabama opened its doors in Tuscaloosa on April 12, 1831. Today, more than 500 National Merit Scholars are enrolled in the University. In 2017, 15 Alabama graduates received prestigious Fulbright Scholarships to study abroad. At the graduate level, the university offers 125 master’s, educational specialist and doctoral degree programs. Some of the current doctoral degree programs available include aerospace engineering business, civil engineering, and social work. Bama by Distance administers online graduate degree programs. Ed.S. degrees in Secondary Education, Educational Psychology, and Higher Education Administration can be completed online through a blended format including some campus meetings. The PhD in Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics is also offered online. In nursing, the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and Ed.D. for Nurse Educators is offered online or in a blended format. Online courses are considered “face-to-face” for financial aid purposes.

42 Stony Brook University Stony Brook, NY 95.56 $11,801 2 67% 16:170%No Yes Yes

Located 60 miles from New York City, Stony Brook University was founded in 1957. There are 8,625 graduate students currently enrolled in the university. The current student/faculty ratio is 17:1. Stoney Brook is home to more than 100 research centers and institutes in the arts and sciences. Three major requirements for the PhD degrees at the university are determined at the candidate’s defense of dissertation: significant original work, findings suitable for publication, and candidate’s breadth and depth of subject knowledge. Time limits for earning the doctoral degree is seven years for students earning 24 credits of graduate studies at the university or other graduate program. There are more than 40 doctoral fields, including programs in anatomical sciences, applied mathematics/statistics, and women’s and gender studies. The university offers an online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program with some on-site requirements. Financial aid is awarded to 67% of enrolled students and U.S. News and World Report includes Stony Brook University on its list of the top 50 public universities.

43 Harding University Searcy, AR 95.47 $12,576 2 91% 16:161%No Yes Yes

Harding University, a Christian institution, was founded in Morrilton, AR in 1924 and moved to its current location in Searcy in 1934. The university offers 21 graduate and professional degrees through its colleges of Arts and Humanities, Allied Health, Bible and Ministry, Education, Nursing, Business Administration, Pharmacy and Sciences. Harding’s Physical Therapy Program culminates with a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree in three years. Other doctoral programs include the Ed.D. in Educational Leadership (39-credit hours), Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree (four years), and Harding’s Doctor of Ministry degree (two years, 34-hours). The student/faculty ratio at the university is 16:1. The Harding School of Theology offers distance learning opportunities in the form of online classes, hybrid courses (online classes and HST LIVE meetings), one-week and monthly intensive courses.

44 Virginia Commonwealth University Richmond, VA 95.45 $12,399 2 41% 17:156%No Yes Yes

Established in 1838 at Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth University today offers doctoral degrees accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. VCU offers more than 40 distinct doctoral degrees through the School of Social Work, School of the Arts, School of Medicine, College of Engineering, the Office of Research and Innovation, and the College of Humanities and Sciences. VCU’s 5,283 graduate students attend notable and award-winning programs in Fine Arts (Graphic Design, Painting, Sculpture), Nursing (Anesthesia and Doctor of Nursing Practice), Health Care Management, and Occupational Therapy. Online doctoral degree students may need to meet some campus-based or research institutional residency requirements. Online graduate degree programs lead to a Doctor of Nursing Practice, Nursing Doctor of Philosophy, Nursing Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice, Occupational Therapy Doctorate, School of Allied Health Professions PhD, and Post-professional Occupational Therapy Doctorate.

45 University of Arizona Tucson, AZ 95.21 $11,723 2 77% 20:161%No Yes Yes

The University of Arizona was founded in Tucson as a land-grant university in 1885, 30 years before Arizona achieved statehood. Some 8,500 students today pursue graduate and first-professional degree programs. The university offers 94 research/doctoral degrees, four specialist graduate degrees, and three first-professional degree programs. University research gifts and grants exceed $548,600,000. In 2017, the university awarded 524 doctoral degrees in programs including Agriculture & Life Sciences, Education, Management, and Engineering. The Department of Nursing offers online doctorate degrees in Nursing (PhD), and Nursing (DNP) degrees with specializations including Nurse Practitioner, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, and Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner. The DNP program is 100% online, offering flexibility and a work-life balance. Online coursework in the nursing doctoral program combines online classes with a guided teaching practicum at the student’s medical site.

46 University of Massachusetts-Amherst Amherst, MA 95.18 $14,051 2 60% 17:170%Yes Yes Yes

New England’s largest public university, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst was founded in 1863 as a public research, land-grant university. It currently offers 47 doctoral programs through its nine schools and colleges. The university’s online education consortium was founded in 2001 with the goal of delivering degree and certificate programs to distance students via UMassOnline. Online degrees are delivered via the Moodle and Blackboard Learn course management systems. The College of Nursing has received particular distinction for its baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral programs. Online doctoral degrees through the college include the Doctor of Nursing Practice (Amherst), 36-88 credits; and Doctor of Nursing Practice (Boston), 39 credits. The university also offers a Doctor of Education in Leadership in Schooling, Ed.D. and Doctor of Education in Leadership in Schooling: STEM Option, Ed.D. Both online education doctoral programs require 42 units for graduation.

47 University of California-Berkeley Berkeley, CA 95.12 $12,971 2 53% 17:191%No Yes Yes

Established more than 150 years ago, the University of California-Berkeley has been a hallmark of excellence through its 14 colleges and schools and its 184 departments and programs. Berkeley alumni have received 30 Nobel Prizes. The university’s 289 degree programs are backed by a research library containing 12 million physical and digital volumes. Graduate students can opt to complete one of more than 85 doctoral degree programs. The university’s most-celebrated doctoral degree programs include Biological Sciences, Computer Science, Economics, English, Psychology, and Sociology. Doctoral admission requirements include submission of GRE test scores, letters of recommendation, and prior educational transcripts. Foreign students also must submit scores from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Students seeking a professional certificate may take online courses in year-round continuous enrollment or fixed-date enrollment formats through the U.C. Berkeley Extension.

48 Rutgers University-New Brunswick New Brunswick, NJ 95.04 $17,922 2 47% 16:179%No Yes Yes

Founded as Queen’s College in 1766, Rutgers University-New Brunswick presently enrolls 13,978 graduate students. The university is host to 17 libraries, and more than 200 graduate programs and degrees. The largest sector of students is currently pursuing degree programs at the Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences division. Course sizes in doctoral programs are intentionally limited to offer students more faculty access. More than 90 doctoral programs are offered at the New Brunswick campus, including Anthropology, Biomedical Engineering, and Civil and Environmental Engineering. Rutgers School of Health Professions is the biggest Health Professions school in the United States, touting expert faculty and rigorous hands-on training. Six doctoral programs are offered online through the School of Health Professions, including Biomedical Informatics (PhD), Clinical Laboratory Science (DCLS), and Health Leadership (PhD). The university receives $608.7 million per year in research grants.

49 University of Delaware Newark, DE 94.97 $30,042 2 54% 15:180%No Yes Yes

The University of Delaware was founded as a private academy in 1743. UD has its main campus in Newark, with campuses in Wilmington, Dover, Georgetown and Lewes, DE. The university anticipates receiving more than $17 million in financial aid funding in 2019 to help serve its 23,774 students. Some 3,500 UD graduate students can choose among 67 doctoral programs through the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, College of Arts and Sciences, and several others. Key UD doctoral programs are offered in science, engineering, and education. Delaware’s doctoral programs through the highly ranked College of Education lead to the Ed.D. in Educational Leadership. Ph.D students in the School of Education work alongside faculty to develop research projects that pursue questions that are meaningful to them. The program is designed to help students apply the latest methodological and statistical tools to research and analyze problems and share findings. The University of Delaware was voted a “Best Value” school in Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine

50 Oregon State University Corvallis, OR 94.83 $13,379 2 55% 19:161%No Yes Yes

Oregon State University was established in Corvallis in 1868. The university is one of only two land, sea, sun and space grant institutions in the United States. Some 17% of today’s 31,904 students are enrolled in more than 100 graduate degree programs across two campuses, 11 colleges, and 15 experiment stations. Distance students can complete their doctorates through the Oregon State University eCampus, including a PhD in Counseling (150 credits) and a Doctorate of Education (Ed.D.) degree in Adult and Higher Education (108-120 credits). Online students in the Ed.D. in Education program attend two weekend sessions near Portland, with a week-long summer course on the Corvallis campus. A wide range of on-campus doctoral programs include major fields in Applied Economics, Bioengineering, Business Administration and many others.  The Crop Science PhD is focused on developing better ways to feed the world now and in the future. The Animal Sciences PhD allows students to focus their work on either Animal Science or Poultry Science. Over 170 graduate fellowships and scholarships are available to students at Oregon State University.

What Are the Highest Paying Online Doctoral Degrees?

A doctorate is the highest academic degree an individual can obtain. And because more advanced degrees lead to higher pay, a doctoral student can expect to receive some of the highest possible income in a given area. To get a better idea of what a particular doctoral degree may pay upon graduation, check out the following table.

Subjects 2014 Median Pay
Clinical Psychologist $73,270
Postsecondary Teacher $75,430
Medical Scientist $80,530
Biochemist 82,180
Physical Therapist $85,400
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What Are the Most Popular Doctoral Degrees to Earn Online?

A doctoral degree is fairly specialized, so students may not always be able to find the exact program they desire. However, much of the curriculum will be up to the student to decide, so there is tremendous possibility for self-directed study. When it comes to the dissertation requirements, there is the opportunity for students to unofficially create their own degree subject area. However, to learn more about what’s officially offered by most schools at the doctoral level, click on any of the below links.

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How Long Does It Take to Earn a Doctoral Degree Online?

Most students should expect to take a minimum of two years getting their doctorate, although depending on the degree, it’s really easy to stretch the program to seven years or more. In fact, it can take over eight years to get a PhD.

To prevent students from taking close to a decade to complete their doctoral degrees, especially given the self-paced nature of online learning, most online programs have time limits for completion. The exact limit varies based on the area of study and specific school, but students can expect to have a seven to nine-year deadline from the first class to dissertation completion. In fact, it’s the dissertation that often slows students down, since the speed in which the research is completed and the dissertation is written is totally up to the student.

Given these points, it’s difficult to predict how long it takes to get a doctoral degree. Therefore, the following timeline will focus on a typical schedule for students working toward a PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy.

Are Online Doctoral Degrees Cheaper?

Online doctoral programs are usually comparable in price to traditional, on-campus programs. But there are some unique differences between online and on-campus programs that can often make the online route cheaper.

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Can You Get Financial Aid for Online Doctoral Programs?

Online programs have reached widespread acceptance within the context of financial aid. This means that attending school online will make no difference with respect to a doctoral student’s ability to receive financial aid. Therefore, any doctoral student interested in applying for financial aid awards should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

The FAFSA is the application students must complete to receive federal financial aid awards. More information about federal offerings, such as subsidized loans and grants, can be found at Federal Student Aid. In addition, the FAFSA is also necessary for the vast majority of state-based and school-specific financial aid awards. So even if the student only plans on receiving financial aid from their chosen schools, they will probably still need to complete the FAFSA. Some private scholarships sponsored by charitable organizations and companies may also require the FAFSA.

There are two things doctoral students should keep in mind when it comes to financial aid. First, students must attend an accredited school. Not only is this important from a professional perspective, as most employers won’t hire graduates from non-accredited schools, but accreditation is necessary to receive financial aid. Most financial aid, including private scholarships and grants, are only available to students who attend accredited schools and programs.

Second, doctoral students should focus on different types of financial aid than undergraduate students do. For example, many state and federal-based aid is only available to undergraduate students. But the fewer opportunities for certain publicly-funded aid can be offset by the increase in many assistantships and fellowships, which are much more common for graduate students at the doctoral level.

How Can I Find the Best Online Doctoral Programs?

Finding the best doctoral program is not as easy as it sounds. That’s because the concept of “best” differs among students, depending on what they want in a program and what their ultimate goals are. For instance, students who want extra attention from their professors may prefer a private school with smaller student-to-faculty ratios. But this added attention often comes at a higher cost. So, what’s best for the student who wants extra attention is not going to be best for the student who needs the most affordable degree. We’ve taken this into account and ranked the schools by considering a variety of factors students use to compare and choose universities.

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