The Best Online Ph.D. and Doctoral Programs 2021

Advertisement AffordableCollegesOnline.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Search for online colleges by subject.

Best Online Doctorate Programs Badge

An online Ph.D. program advances academics and other professionals to the top of their fields with the highest educational credential available. Online Ph.D. and doctoral programs emphasize subject mastery, cutting-edge research, and high-level clinical or professional practice. While common in fields such as math, sciences, and the humanities, doctoral programs also serve professional fields such as nursing, education, and business.

Most online Ph.D. programs prepare graduates for positions in research and academia, but doctoral degree-holders also find careers in the private sector. An advanced education distinguishes Ph.D. graduates in high-paying, rapidly growing fields. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects college professor positions to grow 9% between 2019-2029, a rate far above the national average.

Advertisement AffordableCollegesOnline.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Featured Online Programs

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

This page offers an overview of online Ph.D. programs, including typical admission requirements, professional benefits, and scholarships for doctoral candidates.

See Our Rankings Methodology

Most Affordable Online PhD Programs

FAQ


  • How long does it take to earn a Ph.D.?

    Most Ph.D. programs take 4-6 years to complete, with some variation. The average Ph.D. candidate takes 5.8 years to complete their degree, according to The National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics.


  • Are a Ph.D. and a doctorate the same?

    A Ph.D. is the most common type of doctorate, but other doctorates serve specific fields. The DNP serves nursing and the Ed.D. serves education.


  • How many years is a doctoral program?

    Most doctoral programs take 4-6 years to complete. Some candidates graduate faster by applying master’s credits toward their doctorate.


  • Can I skip a master's and do a Ph.D.?

    While many Ph.D. programs only accept master’s degree-holders, some programs admit candidates with just a bachelor’s. Students should consult individual programs’ admission requirements.


The Best Online Ph.D. and Doctoral Programs 2021



  • Clarkson College
    Location

    Omaha, NE

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Clarkson College's online doctoral programs include healthcare education leadership and nursing practice. The healthcare education program emphasizes coursework in healthcare policy and law, interprofessional education, and outcomes of healthcare in a global society. Students earning a nursing practice degree analyze biostatistics and complete three scholarly projects as part of a 300-hour practicum experience. As many doctoral students work while earning a degree, they can plan for career advancement by consulting Career Services' job board. The college also provides other vital career resources, including a resume writing guide, an interviewing skills primer, and videos that discuss workplace professionalism. Applicants to either program should possess a bachelor's degree that reflects a minimum 3.0 GPA. Other application requirements vary. Both programs charge the same per-credit tuition rate. Clarkson does not award merit-based financial aid to online graduate degree-seekers. Clarkson College is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

  • Clemson University
    Location

    Clemson, SC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Clemson's online doctoral programs feature three degree options. Learners can pursue a degree in healthcare genetics; parks, recreation, and tourism management; or rhetorics, communication, and information design. Within the healthcare genetics curriculum, students select a concentration. Additionally, the parks, recreation, and tourism management program features a hybrid curriculum wherein degree-seekers spend five days per year performing work on Clemson's South Carolina campus. Online degree-seekers' academic success starts with Clemson's in-depth teaching and learning tools, including videos and guides that cover cloud storage, Canvas, and web conferencing fundamentals. Additionally, the Center for Career and Professional Development boasts a career blog, online workshops, and specialized resources for new students, including a free career development course. Depending on the program, application requirements may include a GPA cutoff, GRE scores, and 2-3 recommendation letters. Although Clemson's online doctoral degrees do not charge out-of-state tuition, each online doctorate maintains a different per-credit tuition rate. Finally, the university's multiple fellowship opportunities help graduate students avoid debt. Clemson University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

  • Concordia University-Chicago
    Location

    River Forest, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    CUC's online Ph.D. programs include business administration and leadership. The business administration program features a three-year, 60-credit curriculum with four specialization options: innovation in healthcare management, innovation in human resources, strategic leadership and innovation, and marketing innovation. The leadership doctorate offers 12 specializations, including sports leadership. While earning a Ph.D. online, students can start preparing for a career by using Career Services' (CC) cover letter and resume reviews, workshops, and informational quick tips. The CC website also features links to top networking and job sites. Prospective business administration students need a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA and must submit two recommendation letters. CUC prefers applicants with at least five years' relevant experience. Application requirements for the leadership degree vary by concentration. All students pay the same per-credit tuition rate. Finally, incoming learners may qualify for a federal grant or loan. Concordia University Chicago is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

  • East Carolina University
    Location

    Greenville, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Education and public health professionals should consider ECU's online doctoral programs. The Ed.D. in educational leadership features concentrations in higher education administration and pre-K-12. This degree also uses a cohort learning model. Students can graduate in three years. Additionally, public health degree-seekers can concentrate in either environmental and occupational health or health policy, administration, and leadership. Online doctoral students should consult the Career Resource Guide to learn about Career Services' virtual workshops and job hunting tips. Specialized resources for alumni include ECU Connect -- an online networking platform -- and Interview Stream software. ECU accepts new doctoral students at 2-5 points throughout the year, depending on the program. For prospective education degree-seekers, application materials include a master's degree and three recommendation letters. Additional requirements for public health applicants include GRE or MCAT scores. Finally, in-state learners save approximately 70% on tuition compared to out-of-state students. East Carolina University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

  • Endicott College
    Location

    Beverly, MA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Endicott boasts online Ph.D. programs in nursing and applied behavior analysis. The school also offers online Ed.D. programs in educational leadership in higher education and educational leadership in pre-K-12. These programs use a cohort learning model wherein no more than 20 learners take courses together. Endicott's Internship and Career Center offers a host of resources for online doctoral students, including Handshake software, the Gull2Gull Mentoring program, and a college job board. Degree-seekers can also review alumni networking tips and plan for upcoming career fairs. Admission requirements to either the educational leadership program or the applied behavior analysis program include three recommendation letters and a 5-8-page academic writing sample. Nursing applicants must possess a master's degree and a valid nursing license. Ph.D. and Ed.D. programs use a different per-credit tuition rate. Finally, degree-seekers who need financial aid should submit FAFSA results and the college's scholarship application. Endicott College is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE).

  • Indiana State University
    Location

    Terre Haute, IN

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    ISU's seven online doctoral programs appeal to experienced nurses and educators, including health sciences and technology management professionals. Future education leaders can select from two educational administration tracks: higher education leadership and school administration. Although many full-time students can earn a degree in just three years, some doctoral programs give degree-seekers up to eight years to graduate. ISU boasts a 95% graduate placement rate, which indicates the percentage of alumni who either found a job or entered another academic program. The university achieves this impressive result by providing online students and alumni with virtual counseling sessions that cover job search guidance, resume and cover letter development, and networking skills. Admission requirements vary by program but may include professional experience, a minimum 3.0 undergraduate or graduate GPA, and recommendation letters. Fortunately for out-of-state degree-seekers, all online students pay the same per-credit tuition rate. Finally, ISU boasts multiple institutional financial aid opportunities for graduate learners. Indiana State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

  • Liberty University
    Location

    Lynchburg, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Liberty boasts multiple online Ph.D.s, including doctoral degrees in ministry, education, and strategic leadership. In the ministry degree, students can select from 13 specializations. Other degrees offer specialization options, as well. Many doctoral programs possess accreditation from top programmatic accreditation agencies. Nearly 75% of online learners find a job wherein they can use the knowledge and skills they obtained at Liberty. Students can start preparing for the workforce long before graduation day by using Career Services' (CS) Handshake software, interview preparation guides, and career fairs. CS professionals can also help doctoral students develop an academic portfolio, which is vital for learners planning to work in academia. Prospective doctoral students can apply for one of eight annual start dates. Although admission requirements vary, all prospective students should possess a master's degree. All Liberty online students benefit from the university's tuition freeze. Finally, degree-seekers can sign up for a 1-5-month tuition payment plan. Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

  • Maryville University
    Location

    Saint Louis, MO

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Maryville's online doctoral programs include an Ed.D. in education and a DNP. The DNP program features eight unique tracks, including pediatric NP. Education degree-seekers do not have concentration options and learn as part of a cohort. Additionally, no program has an on-campus component. Most degree-seekers graduate in three years or fewer. More than 90% of Maryville alumni report finding a job or entering another educational program soon after graduation. Career Success and Professional Development guides students' job search by posting the latest job opportunities throughout Missouri and offering mock interviews. Maryville does not require standardized test scores. All applicants use the same application regardless of program. An admission counselor then contacts the applicant to discuss additional application materials. Maryville charges all online graduate students the same tuition rate. Finally, financial aid options include federal grants and loans and employer assistance programs. Maryville University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

  • Nova Southeastern University
    Location

    Fort Lauderdale, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    NSU's online Ph.D. programs include computer science, conflict analysis, and criminal justice. The latter two options feature multiple concentration options. The university also boasts other online doctorates in the medical field, such as occupational therapy. Additionally, NSU features one hybrid program in physical therapy that requires some coursework on the university's Ft. Lauderdale or Clearwater campus. On the Career Development website, degree-seekers can explore NSU's professional development courses. These workshops introduce learners to interviewing and networking best practices. Other resources include drop-in advising for learners who live near an NSU campus. These and other services help more than 70% of doctoral students find a job that aligns with their education. Each degree uses varied application requirements. Most programs require a master's degree, and some programs interview top applicants on campus. Each degree charges a different per-credit tuition rate. Finally, NSU boasts numerous scholarship opportunities for online doctoral degree-seekers. Nova Southeastern University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

  • Otterbein University
    Location

    Westerville, OH

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Otterbein offers a variety of online doctoral programs for aspiring nursing leaders. The university awards degrees in four areas: family NP, psychiatric and mental health NP, nurse anesthesia, and doctor of nursing practice (DNP). Graduation requirements include attending courses on Otterbein's Westerville, Ohio, campus 2-3 times per semester. Most students can graduate in just three years. More than 95% of Otterbein graduates find a job within six months of earning a degree. Nursing students can turn a doctorate into a lucrative career by using the Center for Career and Professional Development's job search strategies, career advising appointments, and mock interview sessions. Otterbein accepts new students in the spring, summer, and fall semesters. All prospective graduate degree-seekers submit the same application. Other admission materials include a valid nursing license and recommendation letters. A private university, Otterbein charges the same tuition rate to all learners. Otterbein University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

What Are the Goals of Ph.D. and Doctoral Programs?

Online doctoral programs build highly advanced skills and knowledge in a specific study area. They serve as the highest education level attainable in most fields. The most commonly conferred doctoral degree, the Ph.D., joins specialized doctorates in other fields. Examples include the DNP for nursing and the Ed.D. for education.

Ph.D. programs exist in many fields, but they primarily serve academic and research-based disciplines. Programs typically build high-level knowledge while focusing on students’ own research. Coursework culminates in a dissertation during the program’s final years.

Why Get a Ph.D.?



Candidates enroll in online Ph.D. programs for many reasons, including research opportunities and increased career options. This list highlights five common benefits of an online doctoral program.

Advanced Education
A doctorate serves as the highest education level available in most academic and professional fields. Ph.D. recipients become experts in their chosen discipline.
Research Opportunities
Most doctoral programs focus heavily on research. Candidates receive many opportunities to perform research with leaders in their field.
Networking Opportunities
A Ph.D. program surrounds students with peers, faculty, and other professionals in their field. Students enjoy many opportunities to build a professional network.
Expanded Career Options
A doctorate prepares graduates for a wider selection of careers in their discipline, especially research and leadership positions.
Opportunity to Teach
Tenure-track professor positions often require a Ph.D. or other doctoral degree.

What Are the Requirements for Ph.D. and Doctoral Programs?



Most online Ph.D. and doctoral programs call for the same general application components. Ph.D. applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree minimally, and many programs require a relevant master’s. Most programs require standardized test score submission, typically the GRE or GMAT.

Ph.D. programs require applicants to demonstrate a strong background in their chosen field. Selection committees seek CVs highlighting professional experience, significant research, publications, and other relevant achievements. Programs typically call for at least three recommendation letters from faculty or research supervisors familiar with an applicant’s work. Applicants submit a statement of purpose outlining their motivation and goals for pursuing doctoral study.

Online Guide to Accredited Colleges and Universities

Scholarships for Ph.D. and Doctoral Students

Funding for online Ph.D. programs often functions differently than bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Students may receive institutional funding to finance some or all of their studies. However, many organizations offer scholarships for doctoral candidates of specific backgrounds or in specific fields.

Gertrude M. Cox Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The American Statistical Association offers the scholarship to female students pursuing graduate statistics degrees. Applicants must submit a CV, a personal essay, all academic transcripts, and three recommendation letters.
Amount: $1,000

National Black Nurses Association Scholarship Program

Who Can Apply: The NBNA offers various scholarships for Black students pursuing nursing programs at any academic level. Applicants must hold NBNA membership and submit transcripts, two essays, two recommendation letters, and proof of community involvement.
Amount: $1,000-$5,000

Laurels Fund Postgraduate Scholarships

Who Can Apply: The Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting offers several scholarships for female students pursuing a Ph.D. in accounting. Applicants must submit transcripts, a CV, two recommendation letters, and any academic publications or conference presentations.
Amount: $1,000-$5,000

Latest Posts

See All Posts
Common Student Financial Misconceptions

Common Student Financial Misconceptions

April 6, 2021   |   Genevieve Carlton

Student loans, budgeting, and paying off debt can leave students, recent graduates, and their parents feeling lost. Can you appeal for more financial aid? Should you open a credit card?...

Financial Terms Glossary for College Students

Financial Terms Glossary for College Students

April 1, 2021   |   Genevieve Carlton

College students make financial decisions that can shape their future. This financial glossary includes terms related to financial aid, credit, and taxes. By learning financial vocabulary and studying financial literacy...

Advertisement AffordableCollegesOnline.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Search for Online Colleges by Subject

Discover schools with the programs and courses you’re interested in, and start learning today.