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Best Online PhD Degrees in Business Advanced Career & Salary Opportunities with a Doctorate in Business

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Students enroll in online business PhD programs for many reasons, including a flexible learning environment as they follow the steps necessary to take their career to the next level. The advanced degree can also mean the potential to earn a higher salary and enter more specialized positions. Find out which programs are at the top of the list by reviewing our Best Online PhD in Business Degrees for 2017.

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Rank School Name Location Tuition Financial Aid Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate # of Online Programs Credit for Experience Placement Services Counseling Services University Information
1 Saint Leo University Saint Leo, Florida$9,630100%70%43%1Yes Yes Yes School website
2 University of Charleston Charleston, West Virginia$16,94794%52%37%1Yes Yes Yes School website
3 Bellevue University Bellevue, Nebraska$9,81062%-32%1Yes No Yes School website
4 Capitol Technology University Laurel, Maryland$10,53089%88%44%1No Yes Yes School website
5 Wilmington University New Castle, Delaware$8,1903%-31%1Yes Yes Yes School website
6 Wright State University-Main Campus Dayton, Ohio$13,47462%95%41%1No Yes Yes School website
7 The Chicago School of Professional Psychology at Los Angeles Los Angeles, California$24,300-44%-1No No Yes School website

Timeline of an Online PhD in Business Degree

For small business owners to top executives alike, an online PhD in business brings even more opportunities to the table. No matter what career an individual aspires to, it’s possible to choose a PhD specialization that enhances it; pursuing a degree online also can allow students to apply their skills while continuing to work. Before beginning this path, students should explore the curriculum and graduation requirements of various online PhD in business programs, as well as the potential career paths open to graduates.

Applying to Doctorate Programs

While application to an online business PhD program can be an involved process, it’s also a chance for prospective students to shine, so it’s worthwhile to review all the admissions requirements well in advance of applying. Following is a checklist of some of the most common requirements:

  • Transcripts (paper/electronic).

    An official transcript from each institution is required, with proof of applicable coursework. Some schools require official transcripts for PhD programs, while self-reported transcripts are acceptable for DBA programs. All conferred degrees should be included and visible on the transcripts.

  • GRE or GMAT scores.

    Applicants are usually required to submit one or the other, and scores must be from within the past five years.

  • Resume or CV.

    This full description of the student’s accomplishments should include each college the applicant attended full-time for at least one academic year; relevant work experience; and a list of honors, fellowships, and non-academic distinctions that reflect the applicant’s potential to succeed in a doctoral business program.

  • Letters of Recommendation.

    Applicants should request letters of recommendation from individuals who can provide an overall evaluation of their performance in academic or work environments, as well as their readiness for doctoral studies. While they may be academic or non-academic in nature, it’s smart to use those who are very familiar with both your previous work in and motivation for continuing on your path toward a doctorate degree in business.

  • Statement of purpose.

    This brief essay should include past academic work on relevant issues; details of what excites applicants about business and the particular program being applied to; and possible areas for research. In addition to the statement of purpose, certain schools will require a personal statement, which may not be as academically focused but should still center on the field of business when possible.

Year 1 and Year 2

During the first two years of an online PhD in business, students take the required core courses in business basics, such as leadership, organizational psychology and global business. Some programs offer an introductory course that outlines the program’s overall requirements, which include searching for a mentor, choosing a thesis topic, and beginning preliminary research. Students also begin the dissertation process, one of the most important aspects of any doctoral degree program.

Year 3 and Year 4

By the time students enter the third year, they should have a strong foundation in business and be ready to take the final courses in their chosen concentrations. A benefit to the comprehensive courses taken during these years is the opportunity to focus on research projects and assignments that mimic real-world work; in fact, some programs also require work experience, either in the student’s current job or in a new area as a research assistant. Students will also prepare for comprehensive examinations that focus on particular courses or points of study. At this point, the student’s dissertation should be progressing steadily, and students should be preparing for its defense in front of a panel.

Year 5+

Most students finish their dissertations by the time they begin the fifth year, but part-time students may need more time. This time may also be used to perform an internship or fulfill any work experience requirements. In order to graduate, students usually need to submit a formal application to a committee. This process entails a thorough review of the courses taken toward graduation, a successful dissertation defense, and any other accomplishments during the pursuit of the degree. After the review, students are awarded their degrees.

Testing and Graduation Requirements

Although the specific testing and graduation requirements vary among online business PhD programs, the following components are some of the most common:

  • Comprehensive examination.

    By the end of the second year, students must pass an examination that measures the depth of their knowledge and comprehension of how to apply theories, methodologies and empirical evidence in business environments.

  • Research and teaching apprenticeship.

    By participating in doctoral seminars and research colloquia with peers and faculty, students develop skills necessary for research and teaching careers.

  • Advancement to candidacy.

    This process must be completed for a student to become an official doctoral candidate. Completion signifies the faculty’s recognition that the student has completed certain degree requirements, as well as its confidence that the student is prepared to complete the dissertation.

  • Dissertation.

    The dissertation should be a significant contribution to the field of business and must be of publishable quality. Students will orally present and defend their dissertation when it is one-half to two-thirds complete.

Routes to an Online Business Doctorate

The business world is a vast one, and consequently there are several educational paths students can take to further their knowledge about business operations. Several of the most common doctoral degrees include the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA); Doctor of Management (DM); PhD in Business; or one of several specialty degrees focused on a specific area of the field, such as the DM in information systems or a PhD in organizational management. Although each degree has a particular set of requirements, overall there are more similarities than differences between them. Here is an in-depth look at these options and what they have to offer students.

PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy in Business

A PhD degree tends to focus on the research side of business, targeting those who wish to enter a career that requires in-depth research, analysis, and interpretation of results. In most cases, students must hold a master’s degree to apply, and should be prepared to spend four to five years in the program. An integral part of a PhD program is the dissertation, for which students must focus on a business issue that warrants comprehensive analysis. The skills learned in an online PhD business program are applicable in a variety of settings; graduates might go on to research and teach in academia, work in government, or enter the private sector.

Doctor of Business Administration or DBA

The DBA degree program differs from a PhD in that instead of focusing on research, it prepares students to solve workplace problems by applying high-level business theories. The practical knowledge learned in a DBA program can be directly applied to the practice of business and business management. Students often have the option to specialize in areas such as economics, management science, management technology and finance. Because most students are working professionals, DBA programs are usually offered with the option for part-time study, but full-time students may complete the program in three to four years.

Doctor of Management or DM

Although a DM is academically equivalent to a PhD, with a strong emphasis on applied and theoretical research, a DM program is more focused on the operations of organizations, preparing students to think and act strategically while making management decisions. Once equipped with the advanced research skills and tools from a DM program, graduates can confront complex problems within the industry. Like graduates of a PhD program, graduates of a DM program are also qualified to pursue careers in higher education as faculty members or administrators. It takes three to four years to complete a DM program with full-time study, although part-time formats are also available.

Specialty Online Doctoral Degrees in Business

For those who prefer targeted study in a particular field, there are a variety of options for doctoral degrees that don’t fall under the PhD, DBA, or DM designations. For instance, the Doctor of Applied Management, PhD in Information Systems, and PhD in Organizational Management are three examples of degree programs that prepare students for very specific jobs. The length of these degree programs varies, but most can be completed within four to five years.

The Impact of a PhD in Business on Salary & Career Potential

Choosing an area of specialization is a big decision when pursuing an online PhD in business. As students take courses specific to their concentration, they gain the skills that can make them more marketable during the job search after graduation. The following business specializations are some of the most popular options among doctoral students:

Business Administration

Designed for those who want to assume a leadership role as a business professional, the business administration concentration trains students to teach, consult or lead in government or the private sector. Studies include research and observation of business systems, financial management, business analysis, business strategy, and decision making.

Health Administrator
Health Administrators

Plan, coordinate, and direct medical services for healthcare facilities such as hospitals, clinics, and medical practices. These professionals must be well-versed in healthcare laws and regulations and have a solid grasp of technology issues.

Top Executive
Top Executives

Manage and oversee large organizations with the goal of growth. They are responsible for developing strategies and policies to compete in the corporate world.

Real Estate Manager
Real Estate Managers

Manage and maintain real estate interests. Duties include advising clients on the financial and practical aspects involved with buying, selling or leasing commercial, industrial or residential properties.


By combining economic analysis with the practical aspects of business, this specialty prepares students for careers in the private sector, as well as research and teaching. To provide a solid understanding of how corporate finances work, courses focus on corporate finance, organizations and markets, international business, and labor and international economics.

Budget Analyst
Budget Analysts

Create plans for companies to track their finances. Responsibilities include analyzing budgets, creating reports, and monitoring spending.

Financial Analyst
Financial Analysts

Guide individuals and businesses in the process of making investment decisions. Other duties include assessing the performance of stocks, bonds and other investments.

Human Resource Management

This specialization prepares students to work in human resources departments to handle staff hiring, scheduling and benefits. Students learn how new technologies influence the workplace, as well as the impact of the dynamic external work environment on human resource management practices. Courses may include conflict resolution, human capital development, hiring strategies, benefits analysis, organizational effectiveness, and advanced communication and management skills.

Benefits Specialist
Benefits Specialists

Planning, executing and closing projects are the duties of these upper-level project managers; they typically work in leadership capacities to inspire and motivate team members.

Training and Development Specialist
Training and Development Specialists

Work directly with employees or human resources to create training and educational programs within various areas of the company. They also plan, direct and evaluate programs to ensure that proper training is completed.

Organizational Leadership

A leader inspires employees to fulfill a company’s vision, a talent required in today’s global workplace. This specialization allows managers to further their careers by creating leadership models in businesses of all sizes. Coursework includes human diversity and ethics, team building, organizational interventions, and interpersonal dynamics.

Training and Development Specialist
Training and Development Specialists

Work directly with employees or human resources to create training and educational programs within various areas of the company. They also plan, direct and evaluate programs to ensure that proper training is completed.

Fundraising Manager
Fundraising Managers

Organize campaigns and events to meet fundraising goals for specific causes. They may work to promote the needs of nonprofit organizations, private firms, or political candidates.

Project Management

Students who specialize in this area learn solid research skills and develop the expertise to lead and manage projects in the business world. Graduates will be comfortable handling all aspects of a project, from finances to supply chain logistics. Courses include communication styles, goal and objective planning, budgeting, and time management.


Analyze and coordinate the processes for delivering materials to consumers. As masters of the supply chain, these professionals oversee a product’s entire cycle, from acquisition to delivery.

Cost Estimator
Cost Estimators

Determine the cost of designing, creating and manufacturing a product or service. These professionals typically specialize in a particular product or industry.

Emergency Management

A specialization in emergency management combines expertise in healthcare, medicine and management to oversee complex emergency situations. Courses look at case studies from national incidents to examine response and rescue logistics; they also cover organizational behavior and psychology, operational budgeting, and finances. The underlying focus of the specialization is applying strong communication and leadership skills in disaster and emergency situations.

Health Administrator
Health Administrators

Plan, coordinate, and direct medical services for healthcare facilities such as hospitals, clinics, and medical practices. These professionals must be well-versed in healthcare laws and regulations and have a solid grasp of technology issues.

Emergency Management Director
Emergency Management Directors

Prepare and plan for effective responses to both natural and man-made disasters. During the critical time following a disaster, these professionals coordinate rescue and recovery efforts.

Potential Salary Increases with a Doctoral Degree

Potential salaries for graduates from online PhD in business programs vary. Here are some of the possible salaries to be earned in various business professions:

Career Lower 10% Median Salary Upper 10%
Training and Development Managers $57,920 $101,930 $178,360
Emergency Management Directors $33,370 $64,360 $116,900
Budget Analysts $46,230 $71,220 $107,230
Logisticians $45,880 $73,870 $113,940
Chief Executives $72,750 $173,320 $187,199+

Additional Resources & Links

For help in navigating and gaining insight into the world of business, prospective and current students may find the following resources helpful:

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