Online Ph.D. Programs and Doctorates

Learn about the variety of online Ph.D. programs and doctorates available and find one that suits your interests and career goals.
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An award-winning historian and writer, Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D., has published multiple scholarly articles and a book with the University of Chicago Press. She currently works as a writer and consultant. She holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern...
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Online Ph.D. programs and doctorates can be challenging — but they're often worth the cost and effort, especially if you have a clear passion and career path in mind. With a doctorate, you can become an expert in your field and qualify for leadership roles in academia, research, professional settings, and the government sector.

Whether you're considering a doctorate in nursing, computer science, education, or business, an online program can help you maintain flexibility while achieving your goals.

Keep reading to learn about the different types of doctorates and Ph.D. programs available online. We'll cover popular subjects you can study and what jobs you can get after earning your degree.

Doctorate vs. Ph.D.: How Do They Differ?

Many people use the terms "Ph.D." and "doctorate" interchangeably, but they don't necessarily mean the same thing.

A doctorate, or doctoral degree, is the highest educational credential you can achieve. Typically, a doctorate takes 4-7 years to earn, though this length can vary depending on your field and program.

Doctorates come in many forms. Professional doctorates are geared toward specific roles and industries. For example, an aspiring business professional might earn a doctor of business administration (DBA), while a budding physician would need to enroll in a doctor of medicine (MD) program.

A doctor of philosophy, or Ph.D., is a specific type of doctorate focused primarily on academic research. Ph.D. students are expected to conduct original research and add to their field's discourse. Most Ph.D. programs also require you to write and defend a dissertation.

All Ph.D.s are doctorates, but not all doctorates are Ph.D.s.

Online Doctorate Programs That Might Interest You

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Explore Online Ph.D. Programs and Doctorates by Subject

Select the jump links below to learn more about the different subjects you can study in an online doctoral program.

Business

Earning an online doctor of business administration (DBA), Ph.D. in business, or Ph.D. in accounting can give you the credibility and expertise needed to expand into managerial roles at companies and organizations.

Criminal Justice & Legal

In an online Ph.D. in criminal justice program, you can choose from concentrations in areas such as forensic science, homeland security, criminal justice policy, criminology, and juvenile justice.

Education & Teaching

Interested in education administration or other education leadership roles? Then you might want to consider getting an online doctor of education (Ed.D.) or Ph.D. in education.

Healthcare

Healthcare plays a large role in the economy, and the number of jobs in this sector continues to increase. Earning an online doctorate in healthcare can put you on the path to becoming a medical provider or securing leadership roles at hospitals, clinics, and more.

Humanities & Social Sciences

The humanities and social sciences cover a wide array of subjects, including English literature, anthropology, political science, communication, public administration, and economics.

Nursing

Looking to advance your nursing career? With a doctorate in nursing, you can move into advanced practice, leadership, and academic roles.

Psychology & Counseling

If you have a passion for mental health, an online doctorate in psychology or counseling could be right for you. Earning a Ph.D. in one of these subjects qualifies you to work with clients of various ages, identities, and backgrounds.

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

Prepare for cutting-edge STEM careers with a doctorate in a science, technology, engineering, or math field.

Social Work

A doctorate prepares you for top careers in social work. While you need a master's degree to become a licensed social worker, a doctorate can advance your policymaking, research, and leadership abilities.

How Much Do Online Ph.D. Programs and Doctorates Cost?

The cost of an online doctorate can add up, especially when you're typically spending at least three years in your doctoral program.

On average, graduate tuition and fees cost around $20,510 in 2021-2022, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

But tuition costs vary widely, with public schools averaging $12,600 per year in tuition and fees and private nonprofit institutions averaging $29,930. When factoring in other expenses, the total cost for a doctorate can increase to over $40,000 per year.

Several factors can affect costs, including the program length and school; however, you'll likely have many funding options in an accredited doctoral program. In fact, according to numbers shared by the Urban Institute, over 70% of doctoral students receive grant aid.

You might also qualify for scholarships, fellowships, and assistantships to cover costs. And don't forget: You can take out federal loans as a doctoral student.

What Can You Do With an Online Ph.D. or Doctorate?

Earning an online Ph.D. or doctorate signals to employers your industry expertise and commitment to developing your skills and knowledge. It can also lead to rewarding leadership roles, many of which boast above-average salaries.

Here are some popular roles you can get with an online doctorate.

10 Jobs You Can Get With an Online Doctorate
Position Median Annual Salary (May 2023) Job Growth Rate (2022-2032) Recommended or Required Degree
Lawyer $145,760 8% JD
Nurse Practitioner $126,260 45% DNP or Ph.D. in nursing
Economist $115,730 6% Ph.D. in economics
Data Scientist $108,020 35% Ph.D. in data science
Top Executive $103,460 3% DBA or Ph.D. in business
Postsecondary Education Administrator $102,610 4% Ed.D. or Ph.D. in education
Physical Therapist $99,710 15% Doctor of physical therapy (DPT)
Psychologist $92,740 6% Psy.D. or Ph.D. in psychology
Postsecondary Teacher $82,270 8% Ph.D. in desired subject area
Anthropologist $63,800 4% Ph.D. in anthropology
Source: BLS

Is an Online Doctoral Degree Worth It?

For many students, earning an online doctorate is worth it for several reasons.

In addition to opening the door to professional leadership opportunities, these degrees routinely provide a pathway to higher salaries. Online programs can also offer increased flexibility for students with full-time jobs, children, or other commitments.

According to the BLS, people with a bachelor's degree as their highest credential earned a median salary of around $74,000 in 2022, while those with a master's degree earned a median salary of around $86,000.

However, people with a doctoral degree earned much more, with a median annual salary of around $108,000. This means doctorate-holders earn about $22,000 more each year than those with master's degrees — and a whopping $34,000 more than those with bachelor's degrees.

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Ph.D. Programs and Doctorates

Can you do a Ph.D. completely online?

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Yes, you can earn a Ph.D. in a fully online format. Many doctoral programs in business, education, healthcare, and STEM use an online learning format. In these programs, you'll complete coursework in a virtual learning environment while meeting any hands-on or clinical requirements in your local area.

Online doctorates from accredited programs meet the same high academic standards and licensure requirements as in-person doctoral programs.

Are online Ph.D. programs and doctorates respected?

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Yes, online doctorates are respected. These degrees feature the same curricula and content as on-campus programs. However, since online degrees can't always provide the same type of instruction and interaction as on-campus programs, some fields — particularly medical ones — do not provide 100% online options.

How long do online Ph.D. programs take?

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The typical online Ph.D. program takes 4-7 years to complete. Depending on your course load and schedule, the program may extend beyond that timeline. You may take longer to complete your research and dissertation, for example.

What is the easiest Ph.D. to get?

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All Ph.D. and doctoral programs require dedication and stamina to make it through advanced academic courses. That said, Ed.D. programs tend to take less time than other doctorates, meaning you can put your degree to work more quickly.

The difficulty of a doctoral degree ultimately depends on your skills, interests, and career goals, as well as on the specific requirements of each program.

Which Ph.D. is most in demand?

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According to BLS data, many positions in healthcare, business, and technology are projected to rank among the fastest-growing jobs in the coming decade. Professionals with advanced degrees in these areas will be needed to fill a large number of open roles.

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