The Best Online PhD Programs 2021

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Online Doctoral Degrees

Online PhD programs advance academics to the top of their fields with the highest educational credential available. Online PhD and doctorate 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 PhD programs prepare graduates for positions in research and academia, but doctoral degree-holders also find careers in the private sector. An advanced education distinguishes PhD 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.

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

? This represents the average net price of attendance for full-time students as gathered by the National Center for Education Statistics. Individual costs may vary. Costs per credit hour may also vary by program or degree.
Rank School Avg Net Price ? This represents the average net price of attendance for full-time students as gathered by the National Center for Education Statistics. Individual costs may vary. Costs per credit hour may also vary by program or degree.
1 California State University-Fresno $6771
2 Clemson University $19508
3 Indiana University-Bloomington $11931
4 Ohio State University-Main Campus $18694
5 Purdue University-Main Campus $11898
6 Texas A & M University-College Station $19118
7 The University of Alabama $20465
8 The University of West Florida $9091
9 University of Central Florida $13016
10 University of Florida $11313

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

What Are the Goals of PhD and Doctorate 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 PhD, joins specialized doctorates in other fields. Examples include the DNP for nursing and the Ed.D. for education.

PhD 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 Doctoral Degree?

Candidates enroll in online PhD 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. PhD 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 PhD 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 PhD or other doctoral degree.

What Are the Requirements for PhD and Doctorate Programs?

Most online PhD and doctoral programs, even accelerated programs, call for the same general application components. PhD 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.

PhD 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.

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Scholarships for PhD and Doctoral Students

Funding for online PhD 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

    Explore Here

  • 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

    Explore Here

  • Laurels Fund Postgraduate Scholarships

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

    Amount: $1,000-$5,000

    Explore Here

Questions to Ask About a Graduate Doctorate Programs


  • Q. How long does it take to earn an online PhD?

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


  • Q. Are a PhD and a doctorate the same?

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


  • Q. 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.


  • Q. Can I skip a master's and do a PhD?

    While many PhD 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 PhD and Doctoral Programs

  • California State University-Fresno
    Location

    Fresno, CA

    Tuition

    $6771

    Fresno State offers two online doctoral degrees: a doctor of nursing practice and a doctor of education in educational leadership. Students complete nearly all coursework online and participate in internships and practicums at approved locations near them.

    Students in the doctor of education program take 60 credits, including conceptual education perspectives for educational leadership, educational reform, and organizational theory in complex organizations. The program trains future leaders and administrators. Students in the doctor of nursing program take courses such as translating evidence into reflective practice, foundations of evidence-based practice, and application of evidence-based teaching in nursing. Students in both programs take part in internships and practicums to demonstrate skills mastery.

    Doctor of nursing applicants must possess current registered nurse licensure and a master's degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0 to qualify for admission. Doctor of education (Ed.D) applicants must hold a bachelor's or master's degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0 to qualify for admission. Ed.D. students must also submit GRE scores (waived through 2021).

    Fresno State is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.

  • Clemson University
    Location

    Clemson, SC

    Tuition

    $19508

    Located in Clemson, South Carolina, Clemson offers three different online doctoral programs. Students complete coursework mostly online with the full support of on-campus faculty.

    The school offers a Ph.D. in rhetoric, communication, and information design. Students can also pursue a Ph.D. in parks, recreation, and tourism management. Students explore outdoor management along with the traditional campus cohort. The school also offers an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in healthcare genetics that draws on genetics, psychology, and political science — supporting research into this cutting-edge field. Students should prepare for any required residency to defend thesis work or complete examinations.

    Applicants must follow the individual admissions requirements for each program. All programs require students to possess a minimum GPA of 3.0 in undergraduate and graduate work for eligibility.

    Clemson is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  • Indiana University-Bloomington
    Location

    Bloomington, IN

    Tuition

    $11931

    Based in Bloomington, Indiana, IU offers online doctoral programs in three fields: education, public health, and health and health sciences. Students complete coursework online with little to no residency requirements.

    Students in the education department can choose from five different doctor of education programs: curriculum instruction in either art or science; educational leadership; instructional systems technology; and literacy, culture, and education. Health and science students can choose a doctor of nursing practice or a Ph.D. in nursing science. Finally, the school offers a doctor of public health in public health and global health leadership. Participants must prepare ahead of time for any required residency visits, which vary from department to department.

    Applicants must follow their chosen department's admission criteria. Most programs require a minimum of a master's degree with a 3.0 GPA. Students must also prepare to take standardized exams, such as the GRE, if necessary.

    IU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  • Ohio State University-Main Campus
    Location

    Columbus, OH

    Tuition

    $18694

    Located in Columbus, Ohio State offers an online doctor of nursing practice. The program offers two tracks: a BSN-to-DPN and a post-master's doctor of nursing. Students can pursue coursework online with one on-campus orientation required.

    BSN-to-DNP students can specialize in one of three specialties: family nurse practitioner, neonatal nurse practitioner, or psychiatric mental health practitioner. The post-master's doctor of nursing prepares master's-level nurses hoping to pursue a career in clinical nursing or transformative leadership. Both programs include foundation courses and require internships at the student's location.

    BSN-to-DNP students must hold an active registered nurse license and possess a minimum GPA of 3.0. Post-master's students must hold a completed master's degree and an active registered nurse license and also possess a minimum GPA of 3.0.

    Ohio State is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  • Purdue University-Main Campus
    Location

    West Lafayette, IN

    Tuition

    $11898

    A research university located in West Lafayette, Indiana, Purdue offers online doctoral degrees in four different discipline areas: education, law and legal studies, nursing, and technology and computer science. Most programs offer all coursework online with minimal on-campus requirements.

    Education students can participate in a hybrid doctor of education in either education leadership and policy or higher education. The legal department offers both a traditional and an executive track juris doctor online. Nursing students can complete a doctor of nursing practice. Students can also pursue a doctor of technology, which allows computer science students to explore the highest levels of education.

    Applicants must follow the individual requirements for their chosen program, including any standardized test, licensing, and prerequisite requirements. Students must possess a master's degree to qualify for most doctoral programs.

    Purdue is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  • Texas A & M University-College Station
    Location

    College Station, TX

    Tuition

    $19118

    Located in College Station, Texas A&M offers several online doctoral degrees. Students can choose from fields such as education, agriculture, and engineering and complete the highest level of education with minimal to no residency requirements.

    Notable degree choices include a Ph.D. in plant breeding, a doctor of education in curriculum and instruction, and a Ph.D. in interdisciplinary engineering. Students can also choose an Ed.D. in agricultural education or a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences.

    Applicants must follow the individual application requirements for their chosen department. Most programs require students to submit GMAT or GRE scores.

    Texas A&M is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  • The University of Alabama
    Location

    Tuscaloosa, AL

    Tuition

    $20465

    Based in Tuscaloosa, UA offers several online doctoral degrees with minimal to no residency requirements. Students can explore programs in a variety of fields, including education, engineering, and nursing.

    Education students can choose from a doctor of education in higher education administration or education leadership. Engineering students can choose from an entirely online doctoral degree in mechanical engineering or a mostly online aerospace engineering and mechanics degree. Nursing students can earn a doctoral degree in instructional leadership in nursing education or nursing practice in healthcare nutrition. The school also offers an online doctor of social work.

    Students must follow the individual department requirements of their chosen discipline. Most programs require at least a bachelor's or a master's degree with a competitive GPA.

    UA is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  • The University of West Florida
    Location

    Pensacola, FL

    Tuition

    $9091

    Located in Pensacola, UWF offerstwo online doctoral programs: a doctor of education in instructional design and technology and a doctor of education in curriculum and instruction, with a curriculum and assessment specialization.

    Curriculum and instruction students in the curriculum and assessment specialization take courses solely online, completing 27 credits of professional core and 18 credits in concentration requirements. Students complete a dissertation or research project to complete the program. Instructional design and technology students take 36 credits of required courses plus 18 credits in dissertation work. Students complete coursework online with some residency requirements.

    Students must possess a master's degree from an accredited institution to qualify for admission. The school also requires students to submit GMAT or GRE scores. Additional admissions requirements vary by program.

    FAU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  • University of Central Florida
    Location

    Orlando, FL

    Tuition

    $13016

    Based in Orlando, UCF offers three online doctoral programs in nursing. Students complete most coursework online with some residency requirements.

    The 42-credit doctor of nursing advanced track provides a traditional pathway for current MSN students to learn leadership and administration skills to lead a healthcare facility. The executive track offers flexible scheduling options for students with mid-career experience. A 75-credit nursing Ph.D. option offers two tracks: a BSN-to-Ph.D. and an MSN-to-Ph.D. designed to teach students the research and development skills needed within the field of nursing.

    Students must speak with an admission success coach to learn more about each department's requirements. All applicants must possess current Florida (or reciprocal state) licensure and must prepare to take the GMAT or GRE in most cases.

    UCF is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  • University of Florida
    Location

    Gainesville, FL

    Tuition

    $11313

    A public research university located in Gainesville, UF offers seven online doctoral programs. Students can complete most coursework online, but several of the programs include hands-on practicum requirements.

    The school offers four doctor of education degrees designed to cover leadership, technology, and administration. Students can earn a doctor of education in educational leadership; educational technology; higher education administration; and teachers, schools, and society. Students can also pursue two Ph.D. programs online: classical civilization and Latin and Roman studies. For nursing students, the school offers a doctor of nursing practice with a BSN-to-DNP track and an MSN-to-DNP track.

    Doctoral admissions requirements vary based on the program. Most programs require students to submit standardized test scores, such as the GRE, and possess a bachelor's or master's degree.

    UF is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

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Portrait of Reese Lopez

Reese Lopez

Reese Lopez is a freelance writer with over a decade of experience in the education field. After earning his BA in English from Evergreen State College, he worked as an English language instructor and tutor before joining Affordable Colleges Online. Reese lives in Portland, Oregon, where he also writes fiction and performs in the local music scene.

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