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Affordable Online PhD Programs

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.


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
2 University of Mississippi University, MS 99.81 $7,102 3 61% 18:160%No Yes Yes
3 Indiana State University Terre Haute, IN 99.69 $7,040 3 75% 20:143%Yes Yes Yes
4 University of Arkansas Fayetteville, AR 99.60 $7,822 4 38% 19:160%No Yes Yes
5 Texas A & M University-College Station College Station, TX 99.51 $8,554 16 54% 20:180%No Yes Yes
6 Texas Tech University Lubbock, TX 99.45 $7,215 4 39% 22:162%No Yes Yes
7 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA 99.14 $9,710 4 78% 18:146%Yes Yes Yes
8 University of Alabama in Huntsville Huntsville, AL 99.10 $9,180 3 66% 16:147%No Yes Yes
9 University of Northern Colorado Greeley, CO 98.92 $10,426 5 79% 17:145%No Yes Yes
10 University of South Carolina-Columbia Columbia, SC 98.42 $12,424 8 47% 18:172%No Yes Yes
11 Penn State World Campus University Park, PA 98.40 $19,746 13 37% 17:186%Yes Yes Yes
12 University at Buffalo Buffalo, NY 98.35 $12,392 3 61% 13:171%No Yes Yes
13 The University of Texas Medical Branch Galveston, TX 98.26 $8,543 4 N/A 24:1N/ANo Yes Yes
14 University of Nebraska-Lincoln Lincoln, NE 98.17 N/A 3 69% 21:165%No Yes Yes
15 The University of Montana Missoula, MT 98.13 $5,765 2 67% 18:149%No Yes Yes
16 Wilmington University New Castle, DE 97.99 $7,862 2 20% 14:134%Yes Yes Yes
17 University of Minnesota-Twin Cities Minneapolis, MN 97.85 $16,853 5 54% 17:173%Yes Yes Yes
18 University of Alaska Fairbanks Fairbanks, AK 97.73 $8,967 2 43% 14:133%Yes Yes Yes
19 University of Florida Gainesville, FL 97.73 $12,682 7 29% 21:185%No Yes Yes
20 Hampton University Hampton, VA 97.67 $9,809 2 47% 9:159%Yes Yes Yes
21 The University of Texas at Tyler Tyler, TX 97.57 $6,142 2 39% 21:141%Yes Yes Yes
22 University of Michigan-Flint Flint, MI 97.54 $9,679 3 50% 15:136%No No Yes
23 University of North Carolina at Greensboro Greensboro, NC 97.52 $7,163 2 49% 17:154%No Yes Yes
24 Mississippi State University Mississippi State, MS 97.50 $7,040 2 68% 19:158%Yes Yes Yes
25 Amridge University Montgomery, AL 97.36 $13,900 3 100% 10:1N/AYes No Yes
26 University of Louisiana at Monroe Monroe, LA 97.05 $7,276 2 56% 21:137%No Yes Yes
27 Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville Edwardsville, IL 97.01 $7,524 2 47% 18:152%No Yes Yes
28 Northern Arizona University Flagstaff, AZ 96.69 $8,632 2 66% 18:149%No Yes Yes
29 Clemson University Clemson, SC 96.54 $8,866 2 59% 16:182%No Yes Yes
30 University of the Cumberlands Williamsburg, KY 96.53 $5,538 2 100% 16:145%No No Yes
31 Union Institute & University Cincinnati, OH 96.48 $18,816 3 15% 8:127%Yes No Yes
32 Texas A & M University-Commerce Commerce, TX 96.41 $5,209 2 52% 18:136%Yes No Yes
33 Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale Fort Lauderdale, FL 96.37 $22,200 2 77% 12:160%Yes Yes Yes
34 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chapel Hill, NC 96.23 $10,594 2 45% 13:189%No Yes Yes
35 University of North Dakota Grand Forks, ND 96.23 $8,225 2 30% 19:152%No Yes Yes
36 Kansas State University Manhattan, KS 95.92 $9,633 2 65% 19:158%No Yes Yes
37 Allen College Waterloo, IA 95.90 $15,469 2 100% 9:182%Yes Yes Yes
38 Temple University Philadelphia, PA 95.84 $15,180 2 76% 14:166%Yes Yes Yes
39 The University of Tennessee-Knoxville Knoxville, TN 95.70 $11,602 2 53% 17:166%No Yes Yes
40 Colorado State University-Fort Collins Fort Collins, CO 95.68 $10,925 2 48% 16:163%No Yes Yes
41 The University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, AL 95.59 $9,826 2 53% 21:167%Yes Yes Yes
42 Stony Brook University Stony Brook, NY 95.56 $11,801 2 67% 16:170%No Yes Yes
43 Harding University Searcy, AR 95.47 $12,576 2 91% 16:161%No Yes Yes
44 Virginia Commonwealth University Richmond, VA 95.45 $12,399 2 41% 17:156%No Yes Yes
45 University of Arizona Tucson, AZ 95.21 $11,723 2 77% 20:161%No Yes Yes
46 University of Massachusetts-Amherst Amherst, MA 95.18 $14,051 2 60% 17:170%Yes Yes Yes
47 University of California-Berkeley Berkeley, CA 95.12 $12,971 2 53% 17:191%No Yes Yes
48 Rutgers University-New Brunswick New Brunswick, NJ 95.04 $17,922 2 47% 16:179%No Yes Yes
49 University of Delaware Newark, DE 94.97 $30,042 2 54% 15:180%No Yes Yes
50 Oregon State University Corvallis, OR 94.83 $13,379 2 55% 19:161%No Yes Yes

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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Search by Subject

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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