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.
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|
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:
*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 Ratio||Grad Rate||Credit for Experience||Placement Services||Counseling Services||University Information|
|1||University of Colorado Denver||Denver, CO||99.82||N/A||4||48%||16:1||45%||No||Yes||Yes|
|2||University of Mississippi||University, MS||99.81||N/A||3||61%||18:1||60%||No||Yes||Yes|
|3||Indiana State University||Terre Haute, IN||99.69||N/A||3||75%||20:1||43%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|4||University of Arkansas||Fayetteville, AR||99.60||N/A||4||38%||19:1||60%||No||Yes||Yes|
|5||Texas A & M University-College Station||College Station, TX||99.51||N/A||16||54%||20:1||80%||No||Yes||Yes|
|6||Texas Tech University||Lubbock, TX||99.45||N/A||4||39%||22:1||62%||No||Yes||Yes|
|7||Liberty University||Lynchburg, VA||99.14||N/A||4||78%||18:1||46%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|8||University of Alabama in Huntsville||Huntsville, AL||99.10||N/A||3||66%||16:1||47%||No||Yes||Yes|
|9||University of Northern Colorado||Greeley, CO||98.92||N/A||5||79%||17:1||45%||No||Yes||Yes|
|10||University of South Carolina-Columbia||Columbia, SC||98.42||N/A||8||47%||18:1||72%||No||Yes||Yes|
|11||Penn State World Campus||University Park, PA||98.40||N/A||13||37%||17:1||86%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|12||University at Buffalo||Buffalo, NY||98.35||N/A||3||61%||13:1||71%||No||Yes||Yes|
|13||The University of Texas Medical Branch||Galveston, TX||98.26||N/A||4||N/A||24:1||N/A||No||Yes||Yes|
|14||University of Nebraska-Lincoln||Lincoln, NE||98.17||N/A||3||69%||21:1||65%||No||Yes||Yes|
|15||The University of Montana||Missoula, MT||98.13||N/A||2||67%||18:1||49%||No||Yes||Yes|
|16||Wilmington University||New Castle, DE||97.99||N/A||2||20%||14:1||34%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|17||University of Minnesota-Twin Cities||Minneapolis, MN||97.85||N/A||5||54%||17:1||73%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|18||University of Alaska Fairbanks||Fairbanks, AK||97.73||N/A||2||43%||14:1||33%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|19||University of Florida||Gainesville, FL||97.73||N/A||7||29%||21:1||85%||No||Yes||Yes|
|20||Hampton University||Hampton, VA||97.67||N/A||2||47%||9:1||59%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|21||The University of Texas at Tyler||Tyler, TX||97.57||N/A||2||39%||21:1||41%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|22||University of Michigan-Flint||Flint, MI||97.54||N/A||3||50%||15:1||36%||No||No||Yes|
|23||University of North Carolina at Greensboro||Greensboro, NC||97.52||N/A||2||49%||17:1||54%||No||Yes||Yes|
|24||Mississippi State University||Mississippi State, MS||97.50||N/A||2||68%||19:1||58%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|25||Amridge University||Montgomery, AL||97.36||N/A||3||100%||10:1||N/A||Yes||No||Yes|
|26||University of Louisiana at Monroe||Monroe, LA||97.05||N/A||2||56%||21:1||37%||No||Yes||Yes|
|27||Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville||Edwardsville, IL||97.01||N/A||2||47%||18:1||52%||No||Yes||Yes|
|28||Northern Arizona University||Flagstaff, AZ||96.69||N/A||2||66%||18:1||49%||No||Yes||Yes|
|29||Clemson University||Clemson, SC||96.54||N/A||2||59%||16:1||82%||No||Yes||Yes|
|30||University of the Cumberlands||Williamsburg, KY||96.53||N/A||2||100%||16:1||45%||No||No||Yes|
|31||Union Institute & University||Cincinnati, OH||96.48||N/A||3||15%||8:1||27%||Yes||No||Yes|
|32||Texas A & M University-Commerce||Commerce, TX||96.41||N/A||2||52%||18:1||36%||Yes||No||Yes|
|33||Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale||Fort Lauderdale, FL||96.37||N/A||2||77%||12:1||60%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|34||University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill||Chapel Hill, NC||96.23||N/A||2||45%||13:1||89%||No||Yes||Yes|
|35||University of North Dakota||Grand Forks, ND||96.23||N/A||2||30%||19:1||52%||No||Yes||Yes|
|36||Kansas State University||Manhattan, KS||95.92||N/A||2||65%||19:1||58%||No||Yes||Yes|
|37||Allen College||Waterloo, IA||95.90||N/A||2||100%||9:1||82%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|38||Temple University||Philadelphia, PA||95.84||N/A||2||76%||14:1||66%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|39||The University of Tennessee-Knoxville||Knoxville, TN||95.70||N/A||2||53%||17:1||66%||No||Yes||Yes|
|40||Colorado State University-Fort Collins||Fort Collins, CO||95.68||N/A||2||48%||16:1||63%||No||Yes||Yes|
|41||The University of Alabama||Tuscaloosa, AL||95.59||N/A||2||53%||21:1||67%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|42||Stony Brook University||Stony Brook, NY||95.56||N/A||2||67%||16:1||70%||No||Yes||Yes|
|43||Harding University||Searcy, AR||95.47||N/A||2||91%||16:1||61%||No||Yes||Yes|
|44||Virginia Commonwealth University||Richmond, VA||95.45||N/A||2||41%||17:1||56%||No||Yes||Yes|
|45||University of Arizona||Tucson, AZ||95.21||N/A||2||77%||20:1||61%||No||Yes||Yes|
|46||University of Massachusetts-Amherst||Amherst, MA||95.18||N/A||2||60%||17:1||70%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|47||University of California-Berkeley||Berkeley, CA||95.12||N/A||2||53%||17:1||91%||No||Yes||Yes|
|48||Rutgers University-New Brunswick||New Brunswick, NJ||95.04||N/A||2||47%||16:1||79%||No||Yes||Yes|
|49||University of Delaware||Newark, DE||94.97||N/A||2||54%||15:1||80%||No||Yes||Yes|
|50||Oregon State University||Corvallis, OR||94.83||N/A||2||55%||19:1||61%||No||Yes||Yes|
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.
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.
Each school will have its own requirements for incoming doctoral students to gain admission, but 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.
The first year of study will consist mainly of two things: classes and exams. The courses will consist of required curriculum, plus any specialized areas chosen by the student. The first year will often conclude with the student taking comprehensive exams to demonstrate mastery of the knowledge.
Year two will be very similar to year one in that the student will continue to take courses and finish their second year with exams. However, during this second year, students may begin fulfilling their teaching requirements as a teaching assistant.
During the third year, students complete required coursework and take the last of the necessary exams. Additionally, they may continue teaching requirements. Toward the end of the third year, students must request admittance to degree candidacy. This is where the real work for the PhD begins—when the student starts working on the dissertation.
The dissertation should be in full swing by the fourth year. By now the student has chosen a topic that represents an original and new idea or theory. The student will also prepare a dissertation prospectus, outlining the dissertation by providing a thesis, research plan and methodology.
Once the prospectus is done, students may have to complete the prospectus colloquium. This is where the student presents the thesis to a department advisory committee and possibly other students or professors. It’s during this colloquium where the student will defend the thesis to the committee. Assuming the student is successful, they can begin the dissertation itself.
The student will conduct the necessary research, and then write the dissertation. The whole process will be supervised by a faculty advisor. Once the advisor is satisfied that the dissertation meets the necessary requirements, the student will have to defend the dissertation to an advisory board. If the defense is successful, the student will receive the PhD.
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.
Each school treats its online tuition rates differently. Some doctoral students can expect to pay the in-state rate. Others may pay a special rate that all online students pay, which is lower than the out-of-state rate but higher than the in-state rate. And finally, at some schools, online students will pay exactly the same tuition rate as all other doctoral students pay. So, the cost of tuition is really dependent on a specific school’s tuition policy.
One of the unique requirements of a doctoral degree is the preparation and defense of a dissertation. At many schools, doctoral students should expect to have to travel to campus at least once or twice to complete the dissertation requirements. Depending on how far away the student is from the school, these travel costs can be minimal or fairly significant.
On the savings side, there’s the ability to avoid commuting to campus each day for class. Avoiding the gas or public transportation costs can add up over the course of the several years it takes to get a doctorate degree.
As an online student, access to a personal computer and broadband internet access is essential. After all, the computer and internet are the only way a student can learn the material and complete the curriculum requirements. Many doctoral students will already have a personal computer and internet access, but for those who don’t, they need to budget for these costs.
At certain universities, students taking online courses are charged a specific “technology” fee. The amount of this fee and how it’s charged will depend on the school. In some instances, it’s a nominal fee every semester. In other cases, these fees can exceed $100 per course.
By attending classes through the computer, there’s no need to move to the new school. Not having to pay for moving costs or pay for additional housing expenses can save a bundle for students working toward their doctorate. This also means that if the student already has a full-time job before enrolling, they are more likely to be able to keep it.
Speaking of work, being able to attend classes remotely makes it much easier to maintain a full-time job while in school. Most graduate programs recognize that many doctoral students intend to continue working while enrolled. This ability to work and study at the same time can provide the means for financial support and largely offset the cost of attending an online program. There’s also the added advantage of being able to continue gaining valuable professional experience between classes.
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.
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.Start your School Search