Online PhD Programs and Doctoral Degrees

What are Online PhD Programs?

Online PhD Programs encompass both PhD programs and Doctoral online programs. Each could provide a flexible and convenient way to earn the highest level degree in a given field.

While the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) and the Professional Doctorate Degree differ, one thing that online programs have in common is that they make use of online learning to provide a convenient option for working professionals.

Top Online PhD Programs on Gradschools

Online PhD programs and professional doctorate degrees may be available in many academic categories. The most popular on are in:

  1. Psychology: e.g.
  2. Organizational Leadership: e.g.
  3. Business Administration: e.g.
  4. Education Leadership and Administration: e.g.
  5. Counseling Psychology: e.g.
  6. Social Work: e.g. 
  7. Continued Teacher Education: e.g.
  8. ESL/TESOL: e.g.
  9. Early Childhood Education: e.g.
  10. Healthcare Administration and Management: e.g. Doctor of Health Administration

Phd and Doctoral degree programs Online

Online PhD Programs vs. Online Doctorate Programs

Online PhD programs and online Doctorate programs are both terminal degrees in their disciplines, meaning that academically, this is the highest award. Some students do continue their education in post-doctoral programs. However, in most fields this is not a requirement, but is a further specialization - one you might see with medical doctors.

As you embark on your search for the ‘right’ advanced degree, you might notice that both PhD programs online and online doctorate programs are offered. Navigating the terminology is important, especially since these two types of doctoral degrees may share the ‘Doctor’ but are actually different in important ways. In our next sections we discuss the difference between an online PhD program and an online doctorate program.

PhD Online Programs

Online PhD degrees, also called ‘research doctorates’, are awarded in all fields as recognition for academic research that is publishable. This usually takes the form of a dissertation or single thesis that a committee of peers will examine and which the candidate then defends.

These programs tend to be focused on the PhD candidate’s original knowledge contribution to his or her field. If you enjoy teaching, consulting, and research, you are likely a good candidate for online PhD Programs.

Online Doctorate Programs

Online Doctorate programs are practice doctorates. If your career requires licensure, as do many fields in law, medicine, psychology and education, often times your fit is with a professional doctorate degree. These are offered in many fields as well, and may be referred to as first professional degrees or vocational degrees.

While online doctorate programs also entail research, it is of a practical nature. Students are expected to understand theory and use available knowledge to address a topic they are passionate about. These students are also more interested in practicing their profession than in continuing to research, publish or teach. Now this isn’t to say there is no overlap, but in general, your choice is going to be between a clinical, practical, professional doctorate or a scholarly, research degree.

Popular Online PhD Degrees

ProgramInstitutionDegree Awarded
Doctor of Education (EdD) in Distance EducationAthabasca UniversityEdD
Graduate Program in Organizational TransformationAdizes Graduate SchoolPhD
Messianic JudaismMessianic Bible Institute-YeshivaPhD
Educational Leadership, Policy & FoundationsUniversity of Missouri - Kansas CityPhD
Education LeadershipMontana State University - BozemanEdD
Civil and Environmental EngineeringStanford UniversityPhD
Master of Science in Information Technology and Management (MSITM)University of North Carolina at GreensboroN/A
Ph.D. Distance Education Program with a Focus in Cancer ResearchUniversity of UtahPhD
Education Specialist - Early Childhood EducationNational UniversityPhD
D.B.A. with an Emphasis in Management (Quantitative Research)Grand Canyon UniversityDBA
D.Min. - MinistrySouth UniversityN/A
Doctor of Health Administration (DHA)Capella UniversityDHA
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Why Earn Your PhD Online?

Online PhD Programs and online Doctorate programs might make achieving academic goals possible to those who:

  • Live too far to commute
  • Want to minimize disruption to a current career
  • Need the convenience and self pacing
  • Are seeking work-life balance
  • Have other time restrictions

How Do Online Doctoral Programs Work?

PhD programs online typically make courses available anywhere with an internet connection. Assignments, lectures, readings and class message boards may be accessed through a digital platform. Students might participate in classes 24/7, giving a larger degree of flexibility, as long as deadlines are met. Some online doctorate programs may also integrate a "live" component to their classes, requiring students to log in at set times for streaming lectures or discussions.

Online doctoral students typically interact with professors and classmates through email, messaging systems and chat rooms to simulate a traditional classroom experience. Most PhD online programs also provide students with additional resources to bring the full grad school experience to your home.

While there is no 'one' standard formula in distance-learning, potential features of accredited online PhD programs might include the following.

  • Some on-campus visits in the form of short meetings or intensives, especially in human-centered academic fields
  • Access to your university’s digital libraries and publications
  • Software that enable student-teacher and student-student interaction
  • Online discussion forums
  • Residency, professional business conferences or supervised practicum requirements
  • Student services, such as tutoring, tech support and career services.

Contact your preferred Online Phd Programs to learn what specific resources they may make available.


Online PhD Programs are also known as "Research Doctorates" whereas Online Doctorate Programs are known as "Practice Doctorates".

5 Careers That Require a PhD (and Average Salary)

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), roughly 3% of all jobs in the United States typically require a doctoral degree.

Computer and Information Research Scientists




Physicians and Surgeons – General Surgery




Postsecondary Teachers


Sources: [i] | [ii] | [iii] | [iv] | [v] | [vi]

Should I Look For an Accredited Online Phd Program?

Online PhD programs may be as respected as their traditional on-campus counterparts but you still want to look into appropriate accreditation.

Choose a university that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, or by their recognized regional affiliates. Also look into program-specific accreditation. This is going to vary depending on whether your online PhD is from a business, nursing or psychology graduate school. Each use very different accrediting boards.

On top of that, if you are looking for online PhD programs for fields that require licensure (such as psychologists), make sure that the university and the program itself are accredited as this may be a requirement for state licensure exams or certification.

How Long Are Online PhD Programs?

Earning an online PhD in your field might take anywhere from 3 to 6 years, although you may find part-time online PhD programs that have a different time to completion.

Some students apply after their Bachelor’s degree, while others use the Master’s degree as a platform for entry. The education level you have going into a PhD program online might impact how long it takes you to degree. Additionally, requirements and program lengths vary between schools.

How To Choose an Online PhD Program

There may be a lot of details to factor into choosing an accredited Online PhD program, but taking the time to research these details is worth the effort. All online doctoral programs are fairly rigorous, so you want to make sure it is the right fit for you.

Online PhD programs are commonly offered as 'mirrors' of a university's residential program, although the learning delivery is different and some of the courses may not be available for distance-learners.

Before you select an online PhD program, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Online PhD or PsyD? Be sure that the type of degree and the institution that awards it aligns with the career goals you have set for yourself.
  • University Review: Make sure that you know about their faculty, and the professors are people you look forward to learning from.
  • Read and Ask Questions: Read descriptions. Pose a question to their admissions office to test their response time. You need a good tech support as a distance-learner. And, not all online PhD programs have the same formats. You can request more information from the graduate schools directly through the on page form available by clicking the link on any listing.
  • Prerequisites: Make sure you find out what completed classes are needed in order to apply.
  • Transferring Credits: You definitely want to make sure that your previous degree credits can be transferred to your online doctoral degree program.
  • Program Length: If you have specific time constraints, prefer to take things slow or accelerate the process, determine how to make this work with the online format.
  • Tuition: Is this program in your budget? Do they offer financial aid?

Top 569 Online Graduate Schools with PhD and Doctoral Programs

  • Accredited online university.
  • Capella University offers doctoral programs designed to take you to the forefront of your profession.
  • Competency-based curriculum delivers both foundation knowledge and real-world skills, so that what you’re learning in your courses is immediately applicable to your career goals.
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