Online vs. In-Person: Which Doctorate in Education Program Is Right for You?

Should you earn a doctorate in education online or in-person? Learn about the pros and cons, plus what to look for in online and in-person programs.

portrait of Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
by Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.

Published September 26, 2022

Reviewed by Dr. Samantha Fecich

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Online vs. In-Person: Which Doctorate in Education Program Is Right for You?
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A doctorate in education leads to opportunities in education leadership, policymaking, and research. But should you enroll in an in-person or online doctoral program?

Choosing the right doctoral program will shape your experience in grad school and your options after graduation. And there are benefits to both formats. You can make an informed decision by considering the pros and cons of each option and weighing your priorities as a learner.

www.bestcolleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Ready to start your journey?

In-Person vs. Online Doctoral Programs in Education

What's the difference between earning your doctorate in education online or in-person? In many respects, the two options look similar.

Online and on-campus programs often have similar lengths and graduation requirements. Sometimes, the same faculty members teach online and in-person classes.

The main difference is the delivery method. Online doctoral students complete coursework virtually, while in-person students take classes face-to-face.

Doctoral students may also notice a cost difference between online and in-person programs. An online format can help doctoral students save money on their degrees.

Pros and Cons of an Online Doctorate in Education

Should you enroll in an online doctorate in education? Before choosing a program, consider the benefits and drawbacks of an online learning format.

Pro: Flexibility

Online doctoral programs in education prioritize flexibility. Designed for working educators, these programs often let students complete coursework at any time, from any place.

Pro: Affordability

Grad school is expensive. An online format lets applicants compare graduate programs across the country to choose the most affordable option. Students also save on commuting and room and board.

Con: Virtual Networking

Networking is a key component of grad school. Online learners may find it harder to network. That means distance learners must invest extra time and energy into networking and use online platforms like LinkedIn.

Con: Less Structure

An online doctoral program requires strong discipline and motivation. While some doctoral students thrive in a self-directed environment, others benefit from a more structured program.

Pros and Cons of an In-Person Doctorate in Education

On-campus programs offer several benefits — but there are also downsides. Before applying to in-person doctoral programs, decide whether the pros outweigh the cons.

Pro: Face-to-Face Learning

On-campus programs encourage interactions between doctoral students and faculty members. If you learn best in a face-to-face environment, an in-person program might be a better fit.

Pro: Networking Opportunities

Many doctoral students find it easier to network face-to-face. In-person learners also benefit from networking events hosted on campus.

Con: Fewer Options

Many working educators prefer not to relocate for their doctoral program. For these applicants, an in-person format can mean fewer options. Similarly, in-person students may have fewer specialization options.

Con: Restrictive Schedule

Learning in person means a more restrictive schedule. Required class meetings might conflict with the schedule of working educators, for example.

What to Look for in an Online Doctorate of Education

If you're considering an online doctorate in education, it's important to find a program that meets your needs. Research the following factors to find a strong program.

  • Cost: Most students rank cost at the top of their considerations. In addition to tuition, research any distance learning or technology fees. And look for financial aid opportunities for online learners.
  • Specializations: An online format means more specialization options. Find a program that offers courses and concentrations in your focus area.
  • Enrollment Options: Can you enroll part-time? Is there an accelerated option? Online doctorate of education programs offer many tracks, so make sure to learn more about your options.
  • Fieldwork Policies: Does the program require in-person practicums or fieldwork? What policies does the program have for distance learners who need to complete in-person training? Contact the program to learn about their fieldwork policies.
  • Placement Record: Online programs meet high standards for academic quality. But it's also important to check the program's placement record and its reputation in your local area. Reputable programs will share information about recent graduate placements.

What to Look for in an In-Person Doctorate of Education

When researching in-person doctorate of education programs, ask about schedule flexibility, specializations, and networking opportunities. Consider the following factors to find a good fit.

  • Cost: On-campus programs can cost more than their online counterparts. When comparing costs, make sure to factor in fees, transportation costs, and added living expenses.
  • Schedule Options: Does the program only offer courses during traditional hours, or will you take night and weekend classes? An in-person program means classes at a set time, so explore the schedule options.
  • Specializations: At the doctoral level, your specialization shapes your career path. Educators interested in unique focus areas may need to relocate to attend an in-person program.
  • Online Options: Many doctoral students, particularly working educators, appreciate the option to take some classes online. Does the program allow online courses or hybrid options?
  • Networking Opportunities: On-campus programs have an edge when it comes to networking. But does the program host networking events? What kinds of career services does the university offer? Are there online networking opportunities?

Which Doctorate in Education Format Is Right for You?

There's no single answer that fits every learner. Many working professionals prefer an online format because virtual classes make it easier to schedule graduate studies around work. Busy adults and parents may also prefer a more flexible format.

In contrast, some learners prefer a face-to-face classroom experience. Or your local university might offer a hybrid option that offers the best of both worlds.

Before choosing a format, consider your learning style, schedule flexibility, and professional goals. Clarity about your needs as a doctoral student will help you identify good fits.

Understanding the pros and cons of both formats — along with your unique needs — will help you make the right choice.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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