The Best Online Ph.D. and Doctoral Programs of 2020

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Most Affordable

As the highest degree in higher education, a Ph.D. prepares graduates for leadership roles with high levels of responsibility and strong earning potential. Online doctoral programs help professionals advance their careers through an accessible, flexible format that allows them to balance their studies with personal and professional obligations.

During an online Ph.D. program, doctoral students typically must complete course requirements, pass comprehensive examinations, and write an original dissertation. By choosing an online format, students can attend the best programs in the country without relocating or quitting their jobs.

Our list ranks the most affordable online Ph.D. programs to help prospective doctoral students find the right fit for their career goals and budget. This page also explores the typical cost of online Ph.D. programs, the benefits of an online learning format, and scholarship opportunities for doctoral students.

Top 10 PhD Programs Online 2020

Rank University Annual Tuition
1 Concordia University-Chicago $9,180
2 University of the Cumberlands $5,970
3 Winona State University $11,286
4 Otterbein University $8,900
5 Union University $
6 University of South Dakota $8,220
7 Texas Tech University $8,576
8 Clemson University $13,000
9 University of Florida $14,581
10 Endicott College $19,053

Affordable Online Ph.D Program Overview

A doctoral degree prepares graduates for positions with the highest levels of responsibility in their field. During an online Ph.D. program, doctoral students typically complete coursework and qualifying exams to demonstrate mastery of the material before beginning dissertation research. Students conduct research and write a dissertation under the supervision of a faculty advisor.

Universities offer online doctoral programs in many fields, including business, engineering, nursing, healthcare administration, information technology, and education. As the highest academic degree, a doctorate provides focused, advanced training for leadership roles in the field.

For example, a doctorate in business administration prepares graduates for top executive positions, like CEO. Graduates with a doctorate in nursing can work as advanced practice registered nurses, such as nurse practitioner or nurse anesthetist. In education, a doctorate can lead to roles like superintendent, dean, or provost. A Ph.D. also meets the requirements for academic and research positions, including professor.

Some doctoral programs incorporate experiential learning components into the degree. For instance, nurse practitioner students complete clinical hours at a local site, while education doctoral students may complete practicum hours at a local school. Online doctoral programs typically work with students to arrange local sites to meet these requirements.

An online format offers several benefits, including flexibility and affordability. The flexibility of online learning allows students to balance their studies with personal and professional obligations. Additionally, online students often save on many of the expenses that on-campus students incur, such as housing and commuting costs. Plus, many programs allow all online students to pay in-state tuition rates regardless of residency.

Why Get an Online Degree?

Ph.D. online programs offer many professional and personal benefits, including those shown below.

    Flexibility: Online programs prioritize flexibility, letting students arrange coursework around other responsibilities.

    Convenience: Busy students benefit from an online format, which allows them to continue working and manage other obligations while pursuing a doctoral degree.

    Affordability: Compared to on-campus students, online students often save on tuition, transportation, housing, and other expenses.

    Online Resources: Universities typically support online doctoral students with many resources, including academic advising, online career services, and online writing centers. These resources help students succeed in an online format.

    Affordability: Students can attend the best online Ph.D. programs in the country without relocating or quitting their job, making an online format more accessible than an on-campus format.

Cost of an Online Ph.D Degree

Online doctoral programs offer a relatively affordable route to the degree. This section reviews common costs and the savings that students gain from earning a Ph.D. online.

What to Expect from Tuition and Fees

The cost of an online Ph.D. program varies widely depending on the field and school. While some schools charge tuition rates under $300 per credit, others may charge over $1,000 per credit. In addition to tuition, prospective doctoral students should consider other education expenses, such as distance learning fees, book costs, technology fees, and graduation fees. By researching tuition and fees, students can determine the total cost of earning a Ph.D. online.

Online students often save money on their education compared to on-campus students. For example, the flexibility of online learning helps working professionals maintain a stable income while earning a degree. Some schools also offer tuition discounts for fully online students, including in-state tuition rates for out-of-state students. These savings can make online doctoral programs more affordable than on-campus programs.

Common Online Ph.D. Courses


Most doctoral programs incorporate seminars that build knowledge on a specific topic through reading assignments, research papers, and projects. Depending on the program, students may build their doctoral exam reading list based on their seminar work.

Research Methods

Learners study the methodologies in their field. For example, nursing students may explore applied research in patient care, while business students analyze quantitative research methods. The course prepares doctoral students to write a dissertation.


Learners examine the most influential theories in their field, including the evolution of theoretical approaches. Many theory courses incorporate analytical papers and assignments to demonstrate mastery over important theoretical approaches.

Doctoral Exam Preparation

Many doctoral programs include a course preparing students for doctoral exams. During the course, students read works in their field and study for their exams under the supervision of a faculty advisor. At the conclusion of the course, students take qualifying exams and move into the candidacy phase of their program.


Doctoral students typically complete dissertation coursework after meeting the program's other requirements. During the dissertation phase, students conduct research and write an original dissertation that contributes to their field. Graduate students must defend their dissertation before a faculty committee to earn their doctorate.

Accreditation for an Online College

Prospective doctoral students should always check a school's accreditation status before applying. Accredited universities meet the highest standards for academic excellence. Schools must undergo a rigorous evaluation process to earn accreditation, during which an independent accrediting agency reviews the school's student learning outcomes, faculty qualifications, and academic mission. Accredited universities must undergo regular reviews to maintain their status.

Accreditation benefits students in several ways. For example, only students at accredited institutions qualify for federal financial aid, and many schools only accept degrees and transfer credits from accredited institutions. Additionally, professional certifications and licenses often require accredited degrees. When evaluating doctoral programs, students should look for regional accreditation, which remains the gold standard in higher education.

Programs within a school may also receive accreditation, such as business, education, and nursing programs. Students can verify a school's accreditation status through the Department of Education database.

Scholarships for an Online Ph.D. Degree

Online doctoral students may qualify for many financial aid opportunities, such as fellowships, grants, assistantships, and scholarships. The following list outlines several popular scholarships for doctoral students.

The Beinecke Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Students pursuing a graduate degree in the arts, humanities, or social sciences qualify for the scholarship. Applicants must attend an accredited graduate school as a full-time student and demonstrate financial need and academic achievement.
Amount: $34,000

Apply for Scholarship
Get Educated Online College Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Eligible students must attend an accredited online program with a minimum 3.0 GPA to receive the scholarship. Applicants must submit transcripts, an essay, and a copy of the FAFSA to show financial need.
Amount: $1,000

Apply for Scholarship
APF Graduate Student Scholarships

Who Can Apply: Psychology graduate students must submit a research proposal to receive the scholarship. The committee evaluates applicants based on their research question, research design, and a letter of recommendation from the student's advisor.
Amount: $2,000-$5,000

Apply for Scholarship $1,000 Online College Scholarships

Who Can Apply: Students attending an accredited online university qualify for the award, including students at online doctoral programs. Applicants must hold a minimum 3.0 GPA and take at least 80% online courses.
Amount: $1,000

Apply for Scholarship
'Inspire Our Future' Scholarships

Who Can Apply: Educators earning a graduate degree qualify for this scholarship offered by Applicants must hold a minimum 3.5 GPA and submit an essay on how they inspire students and teachers.
Amount: $500

Apply for Scholarship


Questions Answers
Can I do a Ph.D. degree online? Yes. Many universities offer online Ph.D. programs in fields like counseling, business, information technology, and education.
How long does it take to earn a Ph.D. degree online? The length of an online doctoral program varies depending on the degree. However, most Ph.D. programs take 3-5 years to complete.
How much is the average cost of online college? The cost of online college varies depending on the school and program. However, online learning formats can save students money on their degree compared to on-campus formats.
Is there a free online college? Some schools offer tuition-free programs. Students can also lower the cost of an online doctorate through financial aid opportunities, like scholarships, grants, fellowships, and assistantships.

25 Best Online PhD Degrees 2020

The ranking below includes 25 of the best online Ph.D. programs. Prospective doctoral students can use this ranking as they assess prospective schools. The rankings are based on factors including program offerings, school reputation, tuition rates, and availability of financial aid.


To find the best colleges of 2020 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 Logo School Tuition # of Online Programs Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid Credit For Experience Placement Service Counseling Services Description & Additional Information Toggle
1 Concordia University-Chicago River Forest, IL
$9,180 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).

2 University of the Cumberlands Williamsburg, KY
$5,970 Tuition

Cumberlands' nine online doctoral programs feature degrees in the business, counseling, information technology, and executive/international fields. Most programs require 3-5 years for completion, and students learn in an asynchronous format. Additionally, some online doctorates -- counselor education and supervision and educational leadership -- allow students to personalize the curriculum by selecting a concentration. As students approach graduation, they can visit Cumberlands' Career Services (CS) website to access Handshake and Big Interview software. The latter instills valuable skills through mock interviews. Learners can also take a career assessment and review CS' many articles that cover job-hunting best practices. Although admission requirements vary slightly among programs, applicants should prepare official transcripts and recommendation letters. Other typical application materials include a written interview or writing sample. Although tuition differs by program, Cumberlands does not charge out-of-state students a higher per-credit tuition rate. Finally, financial aid programs for graduate degree-seekers include a 2-4-month tuition payment plan. University of the Cumberlands is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

3 Winona State University Winona, MN
$11,286 Tuition

WSU offers online doctoral programs that allow learners to choose from five hybrid degrees, including adult/gerontology acute care nurse practitioner (NP), family NP, and psychiatric/mental health NP. Also, each program features two curriculum tracks: a two-year track for students who possess a master's in nursing and a four-year track for degree-seekers with a bachelor's in nursing. Nursing students can turn an online doctorate into a fulfilling career by using Career Services' (CS) resume guides, interview preparation tips, and job-hunting software. CS also hosts on-campus career fairs and interviews. All nursing programs at WSU use the same admission requirements. These include three recommendation letters, a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA, and a valid nursing license. WSU prefers applicants with professional experience. All students pay the same per-credit tuition rate at this public university. Finally, incoming degree-seekers should consult the WSU Foundation Scholarships website to research and apply for institutional financial aid. Winona State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

4 Otterbein University Westerville, OH
$8,900 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).

5 Union University Jackson, TN
$941 Tuition

Union University's online doctoral programs feature two entirely online degrees: education specialist and doctor of education. Students in either program can specialize in instructional leadership, teacher leadership, or leadership in school reform. Additionally, Union University offers one hybrid doctoral program in nursing practice wherein some courses take place on the university's Jackson, Tennessee, campus. Professionals at Union University's Vocatio Center for Life Calling and Career provide students with personality and occupational interest surveys, resume development guides, and interview preparation tips. Other resources available to degree-seekers include UUConnect, a networking service for Union University learners and alumni. Application requirements for the education specialist and doctor of education programs include a bachelor's degree and recommendation letters. Applicants to the nursing practice program need a valid nursing license. Finally, incoming learners who need financial aid can apply for federal grant and loan programs through Union University. Union University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

6 University of South Dakota Vermillion, SD
$8,220 Tuition

USD's online Ph.D. program trains the next generation of health and education leaders. Health options include health sciences and a post-professional doctorate in occupational therapy. Additionally, USD's School of Education boasts an education specialist in educational administration degree with specializations in school district superintendent and preK-12 principal. Students enrolled in an online doctoral program benefit from many virtual student services, including a writing center and library databases. Additionally, the Academic and Career Planning Center (ACPC) provides degree-seekers with career planning guides and multiple on-campus job fairs throughout the year. Learners approaching graduation should review the ACPC's expert advice on how to ace an interview and follow up with a potential employer. Each program uses different application requirements. USD does not charge an out-of-state tuition rate for online doctoral programs, and some degree-seekers may qualify for a Perkins Loan. University of South Dakota is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

7 Texas Tech University Lubbock, TX
$8,576 Tuition

TTU's online Ph.D. programs include five hybrid programs and six entirely online options. Hybrid programs -- those that require some coursework on the university's Lubbock campus -- include systems engineering and technical communication. The fully online programs emphasize educational leadership as well as curriculum and instruction. TTU alumni who earned a doctoral degree report a median $65,000 per year starting salary. The University Career Center provides ample resources that help students attain a high-paying job. Learners can take advantage of salary negotiation guidance, resume and cover letter critiques, and mock interviews. Prospective students should contact a Graduate Student Services coordinator to determine which application materials they must submit. Education programs require a master's degree in education or a related subject. Finally, learners who enter a hybrid program can apply for a doctoral fellowship wherein degree-seekers receive a tuition reduction for working as a teaching assistant. Texas Tech University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

8 Clemson University Clemson, SC
$13,000 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).

9 University of Florida Gainesville, FL
$14,581 Tuition

Education and medical professionals can select from UF's two online Ph.D.s, one doctor of pharmacy, one DNP, and four doctor of education (Ed.D.) degrees. Unique programs include Latin and Roman studies and classical civilization. Other degrees train experienced educators in the latest leadership best practices. Additionally, degrees within the Colleges of Education and Liberal Arts require independent research that leads to a dissertation. A plurality of students who earn a doctorate at UF enter the research field. More than 20% start a postdoctoral program to gain professional experience. Degree-seekers can use the Career Connections Center's one-on-one counseling appointments, resume reviews, and blog posts to hone essential skills. Admission requirements vary by program. However, prospective students should possess a bachelor's or master's degree preferably in the same subject as the doctoral degree. A program may use a GPA cutoff and have prerequisite requirements, as well. In-state degree-seekers save more than 40% on tuition compared to out-of-state learners. Finally, full-time students do not receive a tuition discount at the graduate level. University of Florida is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

10 Endicott College Beverly, MA
$19,053 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).

11 Clarkson College Omaha, NE
$12,191 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).

12 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA
$11,178 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).

13 Nova Southeastern University Fort Lauderdale, FL
$8,333 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).

14 Wilmington University New Castle, DE
$20,620 Tuition

WilmU offers online doctoral programs in business education, education, social science in prevention science, and nursing practice. Nursing students can concentrate in either advanced practice or leadership. All programs use a cohort learning model. New cohorts start 1-3 times per year, depending on the degree. Most degree-seekers can graduate in just three years. In addition to providing students with Handshake software, WilmU's Career Services (CS) professionals curate vital resources for degree-seekers, including professional organizations and career assessments. Students and alumni can also sign up for a virtual appointment, and learn about the latest on-campus events by checking the CS calendar. Besides the nursing program, doctoral programs ask for three recommendation letters. Other typical application materials include an essay and resume. All students who reside in the U.S. pay the same tuition rate, while international learners spend approximately 10% more per credit. Finally, like many schools in this ranking, WilmU offers graduate degree-seekers an optional tuition payment plan. Wilmington University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

15 East Carolina University Greenville, NC
$8,636 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).

16 University of North Dakota Grand Forks, ND
$11,324 Tuition

UND's unique online Ph.D. programs include electrical engineering, biomedical engineering, and aerospace sciences. Programs last 2-7 years and require 36-124 credits. Additionally, many programs boast a hybrid learning option wherein students who live near the university's Grand Forks campus take some courses in a classroom setting. At Career Services, graduate degree-seekers can start a job hunt by signing up for Interview Stream and Focus2Career. These industry-leading tools help students prepare for interviews and explore career opportunities. Other resources include guides on how to write a resume and develop a personal statement. Admission requirements for all programs include a bachelor's degree, three recommendation letters, and standardized test scores. Also, each program does not use the same application deadline. All students pay the same per-credit tuition rate at this public university. Finally, incoming degree-seekers can research and apply for institutional scholarships on the UND Scholarship Opportunities website. University of North Dakota is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

17 University of Louisiana at Monroe Monroe, LA
$15,095 Tuition

ULM's two online doctoral programs include curriculum and instruction and marriage and family therapy. The curriculum and instruction program uses an accelerated format with eight-week terms. Courses include decision making for school improvement. The marriage and family therapy program lasts three years, and degree-seekers write a dissertation in the final year. The Career Center (CC) boasts multiple employer partners who hire ULM alumni. Unique CC resources include Career Academies, a free program that allows students with similar career goals to network and prepare for life after graduation. Additionally, active-duty service members and veterans can access specialized how-to videos and job boards. Both doctoral programs require GRE scores. Prospective curriculum and instruction degree-seekers should possess a minimum 3.25 graduate GPA. Additionally, marriage and family therapy applicants submit three recommendation letters and a scholarly writing sample. Finally, ULM does not charge an out-of-state tuition rate. Doctoral students can apply for federal grants and loans. University of Louisiana Monroe is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

18 University of West Georgia Carrollton, GA
$12,540 Tuition

UWG's online doctoral programs boast three degrees for future education leaders. Students can pursue degrees in higher education administration, professional counseling and supervision, or school improvement. These programs feature a fully online curriculum. However, students complete a two-day on-campus orientation before enrolling in courses. The final doctoral program, nursing education, trains practicing nurses for a leadership position in a healthcare setting. In addition to traditional resources for students and alumni, the UWG Career Services offers in-depth guides that cover how to create an effective social media presence and network online. Degree-seekers can also access the Vault Online Library, an extensive collection of articles that take the guesswork out of job hunting. Application requirements for education programs include a minimum 3.5 graduate GPA, GRE scores, and professional experience. Prospective nursing education students should possess a minimum 3.0 graduate GPA and a valid nursing license. Finally, all degree-seekers pay the same low per-credit tuition rate. University of West Georgia is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

19 University of Southern Mississippi Hattiesburg, MS
$9,981 Tuition

USM offers a single online Ph.D. program in nursing leadership. The school also offers an Ed.D. and education specialist program in education. Aspiring education leaders can also earn an Ed.D. in higher education. Each program boasts a 100% online curriculum. Most full-time degree-seekers can graduate in 2-3 years, depending on the degree. Online Career Services resources include the university Career Guide, Handshake software, and College Diversity Network, a job-hunting resource for degree-seekers part of a minority group. Learners who live near USM's Hattiesburg campus can attend the annual Career and Internship Expo, as well. Prospective education students submit three recommendation letters, a resume, and GRE scores. Unique requirements for nursing applicants include a minimum 3.0 undergraduate or graduate GPA, a valid nursing license, and a phone interview. Out-of-state learners do not pay a higher tuition rate. Degree-seekers who need financial aid may qualify for federal grants and loans. The University of Southern Mississippi is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

20 Valdosta State University Valdosta, GA
$9,514 Tuition

VSU features three entirely online doctoral programs. Learners can pursue degrees in curriculum and instruction: learning and development; leadership; and public administration. The curriculum and instruction Ed.D. boasts three optional certificates, including healthcare administration and online teaching. Typical full-time students can earn a degree in just three years. VSU's Blazer Ready program prepares degree-seekers for a future career by offering five courses that cover workplace professionalism, goal setting, and resume development. Other resources that help students make the most of a Ph.D. online program include highly trained career counselors and career development handouts. Application requirements for all degrees include a master's degree and a minimum 3.5 graduate GPA. Other admission materials include GRE scores, a resume, and three recommendation letters. Although a public university, VSU charges the same per-credit tuition rate to all online doctoral students. The university awards multiple merit-based scholarships and need-based grants. However, only Georgia residents may apply for some types of financial aid. Valdosta State University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

21 University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus Denver, CO
$10,205 Tuition

CU Denver offers one online Ph.D. in nursing and three other doctoral degrees in nursing practice, education, and pharmacy. These programs all boast concentration options, allowing degree-seekers to customize their educational experience. The school's nursing program features five academic tracks that cater to students from different educational and professional backgrounds. Online learners can work with an enrollment navigator to create an academic success plan and research potential careers. Also, students enrolled in the school's Ed.D. program receive free executive coaching resources for up to one year after graduation. Prospective students may need a bachelor's or master's degree, depending on which program they select. Other typical admission requirements include a statement of purpose, resume, three recommendation letters, and an academic portfolio. Tuition varies by course. Out-of-state students pay a higher per-credit tuition rate. Finally, new degree-seekers can search for institutional financial aid on CU Denver's scholarship portal. University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

22 Maryville University Saint Louis, MO
$14,688 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).

23 Indiana State University Terre Haute, IN
$9,291 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).

24 University of North Florida Jacksonville, FL
$10,989 Tuition

UNF's online doctoral programs include a DNP with two tracks, including a post-MSN and psych-mental health. The latter uses a hybrid learning model. Both offer an accelerated track wherein students can earn a degree in just two years. The university's third doctoral program, clinical nutrition, maintains an on-campus residency requirement and emphasizes applying the latest clinical research in a community or clinical setting. UNF doctoral students benefit from the Career Success Center's career counselors and coaches. Counselors help degree-seekers create a career path, while coaches instill interviewing and resume writing skills. Additionally, learners can access resume and cover letter guides at any time. Applicants to the clinical nutrition program should submit GRE scores and three recommendation letters. Other requirements include five years' work experience. Both nursing programs use a graduate GPA cutoff. Although the per-credit tuition rate varies for each online doctoral program, UNF does not charge an out-of-state tuition rate. Finally, the university boasts four scholarships exclusive to graduate degree-seekers. University of North Florida is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

25 Regent University Virginia Beach, VA
$19,256 Tuition

Regent's online Ph.D. programs include education - educational technology and online learning; counseling and psychology studies; and renewal theology. The university also boasts other doctoral programs, such as Ed.S. degrees in educational specialist and leadership in mathematics. Although most students can earn a doctorate entirely online, some programs require one or more residencies on Regent's Virginia Beach campus. Regent reports that nearly 80% of graduates find a job or enter another academic program within 12 months of earning a degree. Professionals at the Office of Career and Talent Management help doctoral students find jobs by offering resume reviews, interviewing guides, and Handshake software. Application requirements vary by program and may include a master's degree, a graduate GPA cutoff, and an interview. Each program also charges a different per-credit tuition rate. All students in the same program pay an identical rate regardless of residency. Finally, some programs award merit-based scholarships. Regent University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

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Why Should I Earn a Doctoral Degree Online?

Median Weekly Earnings by Education

Bachelor's Degree Master's Degree Doctoral Degree
$1,173 $1,401 $1,743

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Many online Ph.D. programs allow students to complete their coursework according to their schedule, which can be ideal for working professionals and learners with personal responsibilities. Online learning also reduces constraints related to geographic location, expanding program options for prospective students.


Online doctoral programs are often more accessible than on-campus programs. Online learning can be more affordable and typically does not require relocation, allowing students to choose less expensive housing in areas with lower costs of living. Many online programs involve no in-person requirements, eliminating travel costs.


Online doctoral programs typically feature flexible scheduling options. Many working professionals pursue their Ph.D. online so that they can continue working while earning their degree. Many distance programs deliver all course content online, allowing learners to study from anywhere. By working full time, degree-seekers can hone their professional skills while progressing toward their doctorate.


The flexibility and accessibility of online programs result in diversity among participants. Online students often include learners of various nationalities, ages, and backgrounds. This diversity helps students develop professional competencies and prepare to interact effectively in the workforce.

What Are the Most Popular Doctoral Degrees to Earn?

Major Description
Health Professions and Related Programs Healthcare experts oversee, research, and administer preventative care and medical assistance. Earning an online Ph.D. in a healthcare-related field can qualify graduates for positions such as dentist, physician, surgeon, clinician, and lab researcher.
Legal Professions and Studies Doctorate-holders in the legal field often analyze legal issues, adjudicate disputes, and provide educational services. Graduates of doctoral programs often become attorneys, judges, professors, legal scholars, and independent consultants.
Education Professionals with an online Ph.D. in education often teach courses at the undergraduate or graduate level. Doctorate-holders can also become university administrators, independent researchers, and government consultants. These professionals often craft education policies, disseminate knowledge, and conduct research.
Engineering Engineers use complex scientific data to plan and build structures such as machines and buildings. Graduates of doctoral programs in the field often work as high-level researchers, professors, and general contractors. Many graduates find employment in the aerospace, civil construction, and chemical and petroleum industries.
Biological and Biomedical Sciences Earning an online Ph.D. in biological and biomedical sciences qualifies graduates for roles as professors, lab researchers, consultants, and policy makers. Experts in this field apply knowledge of the natural sciences to solve healthcare problems and public health issues. They often work closely with healthcare professionals and governmental agencies.
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How Long Does It Take to Earn a Doctoral Degree Online?

Exact time frames for degree completion vary by learner, program, and field of study. Most online Ph.D. programs require at least two years of study, and many set a completion deadline of 7-9 years. During their doctoral program, learners typically need to complete coursework, pass qualifying examinations, and write and defend an original dissertation.

This section outlines the process of earning a doctoral degree. The information below explores the typical application procedure and discusses common requirements for each year of a doctoral program.

Application Process

Each school determines distinct admission requirements for doctorates, but most students should expect to provide prior academic transcripts, a resume or curriculum vitae, a portfolio of work or research, letters of recommendation, and proof of a degree in the same (or related) field as the doctorate program.

Year One

The first year of doctoral studies generally consists of classes and exams. First-year courses include required classes and explore the learner's specialization area. Courses often conclude with a comprehensive exam.

Year Two

During their second year, doctoral students typically complete coursework similar to first-year classes. Second-year students may also become teaching assistants to begin fulfilling teaching requirements.

Year Three

Third-year doctoral students complete required coursework and take the last of the necessary exams. They may also finish their teaching requirements. Near the end of the third year, students typically request admittance to degree candidacy and begin work on their dissertation.

Year Four

By their fourth year, doctoral candidates should have chosen a dissertation topic. Candidates prepare a dissertation prospectus, which details their thesis, research plan, and methodology.

Upon submitting their prospectus, learners may have to complete a prospectus colloquium, which involves presenting and defending their thesis to a department advisory committee, along with peers or professors. After successfully defending their thesis, candidates begin preparing their dissertation.

Years Five, Six and Seven

During the final years of a Ph.D. program, doctoral candidates conduct research and write their dissertation. A faculty advisor supervises the process. After meeting the project requirements, candidates defend their dissertation.

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Are Online Doctoral Degrees Cheaper?

Most online doctoral programs are more affordable than on-campus options. This section details some of the major factors that distinguish online programs from residential courses of study. These elements vary based on school and field of study, so learners should contact their prospective institution for details.

Tuition Rate

Tuition rates vary significantly by school, and in-state students at public schools often receive discounted tuition rates. Learners must prove their residency status to qualify for in-state tuition rates. However, some online Ph.D. programs charge all distance learners the same flat tuition rate, regardless of residency status.

Travel Costs

Online doctoral programs often include few, if any, in-person requirements. Some programs allow learners to earn their degree entirely remotely, while others require students to attend on-campus orientation sessions or intensive sessions. Since in-person components vary by school, prospective students should consult individual programs for specific requirements.

Personal Computing

To pursue an online doctorate, students must meet the technical requirements associated with their program's online learning platform. Students often need to pay for a new computer and high-speed internet access. Up-to-date technology enables degree-seekers to access course materials, complete assignments, and interact with faculty and peers.

School Technology Fee

Many schools charge online learners per-course or per-semester technology fees. These fees often go toward campus email and internet services. Institutions may also charge additional distance learning fees, which typically cover costs associated with providing technical assistance and online learning management systems.

Housing and Moving Costs

Online Ph.D. programs rarely require relocation and allow learners to choose housing options that are more affordable than on-campus dorms. Additionally, online students can live in an area with a lower cost of living.

Work While in School

Students earning their Ph.D. online often work full time while studying. The flexibility of online learning can be ideal for working professionals who want to continue advancing their career while earning their doctorate.

Can You Get Financial Aid for Online Doctoral Programs?

Students in online Ph.D. programs can apply for the same financial aid opportunities as on-campus learners. Students should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form to determine their eligibility for federal aid, including grants and student loans.

Below are several prominent types of financial aid, including scholarships and grants, work-study opportunities, student loans, and fellowships. Most learners pursuing an online Ph.D. apply for fellowships and assistantships, since many other forms of aid are reserved for undergraduate students.

Types of Financial Aid Available for Online Students


While many schools offer scholarships for learners in online Ph.D. programs, institutional scholarships are often reserved for undergraduate students. Learners can also obtain scholarships from organizations and professional associations. Degree-seekers can search for national and regional scholarship opportunities.


Grants are typically awarded based on financial need. Commonly offered by the federal government and state governments, this type of funding does not require repayment. Corporations and nonprofit organizations may also offer grants for doctoral students pursuing a course of study that furthers the organization's goals.


Work-study opportunities provide learners with income or tuition discounts in exchange for work on behalf of the school or department. These opportunities typically involve clerical or administrative tasks. The availability of work-study programs varies by institution.


Government agencies and private banks provide student loans to qualifying learners. Unlike grants and scholarships, learners must repay loans. The federal government typically offers lower interest rates than private entities. Some institutions also offer loan options.


Fellowships and assistantships are the most common forms of financial aid for learners pursuing an online Ph.D. Fellows receive a stipend, typically in exchange for service. Generally, fellows complete teaching or research for their institution.

How Can I Find the Best Online Doctoral Programs?

To choose the best doctoral program, learners should consider their personal goals and preferences. For example, students who want to receive more individualized attention can look for programs with lower student-to-faculty ratios. Other students may prioritize affordability. The list below ranks institutions based on several factors, including tuition rates and program availability.

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