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Explore the Highest Level of Education with a Doctorate Degree

A doctoral degree is the highest level of education students can complete. The degree demonstrates deep commitment and mastery of an academic discipline. Online doctoral programs are more advanced than master’s programs. Candidates build comprehensive, highly specialized knowledge in one academic area. Learners may study fields such as law, psychology, or education.

Doctoral programs prepare students to pursue high-level careers in academia, research, and the private sector. Online Ph.D. programs offer greater flexibility than campus programs. Students can get an advanced education without relocating. Online doctoral programs also allow enrollees to continue their careers.

This guide offers an overview of online doctoral programs. Read on to learn about coursework, costs, and career prospects.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Doctoral Degrees

true Q. What is the most common doctoral degree?

The most common doctoral degrees in the United States include law, medicine, and pharmacy. Other popular programs include dentistry, physical therapy, and educational administration.

true Q. How many years does it take to complete a doctoral degree?

Most doctoral degrees take 4-8 years to complete. Students with a master’s degree in their field can sometimes earn a doctorate sooner.

true Q. What’s the difference between a doctoral degree and a Ph.D.?

A Ph.D. is just one type of doctoral degree. Other common doctoral degrees include doctor of psychology, doctor of education, and doctor of pharmacy.

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Top Online Ph.D. Programs

Why Get a Doctoral Degree?

Online doctoral programs train learners to become experts in their fields. Students develop comprehensive skills and knowledge. Earning a Ph.D. prepares graduates to pursue their industry’s most advanced careers. These careers often pay the highest salaries.

Ph.D. graduates can work as college professors, psychologists, or top executives. These professionals can earn $80,00 to over $100,00 annually. Pursuing an online Ph.D. can help students continue their current career while completing coursework. This allows them to earn an advanced degree without losing their salary.

How Much Does a Doctoral Degree Cost?

Tuition rates for online doctoral programs vary. Many factors can affect costs, including program length, available financial aid, and whether the school is private or public. Doctoral programs usually offer more financial assistance than master’s programs. EducationData.org reports that the average cost of a doctoral degree is $114,300 as of July 2021.

Most students enrolled in online doctoral programs use some kind of financial aid. Learners should always consider the amount of funding an online Ph.D. offers.

Additional Online Student Fees

Students spend the most on tuition, but they should budget for other fees. Many online programs charge technology fees. Online students may need to pay graduation fees and other administrative expenses. Textbooks and class supplies can also add to expenses.

Some online programs include required campus visits. Students should plan for travel and lodging costs. Some graduates must pay professional licensure or certification fees to practice in their field.

Guide to College Student Finances

Available Online Degrees

Learners who enroll in online Ph.D. programs develop specialized knowledge in one area of study. Students complete high-level courses that build a comprehensive understanding of their academic or professional discipline.

Most doctoral programs require heavy research. Learners complete courses dedicated to research design and methodologies. Doctoral programs expect students to complete their own research and contribute new knowledge to their field of study. Candidates typically complete a comprehensive, book-length dissertation that details their research into a specialized topic.

See below for three common online doctoral programs.

  • Ph.D. in English

    A doctorate in English trains students as experts in the study and interpretation of literature. Ph.D. candidates study the history of literature and various approaches to its analysis and criticism. English graduates often teach at colleges. They may also pursue careers in writing, advertising, or communications.
  • Ph.D. in Psychology

    A Ph.D. in psychology builds advanced knowledge of human behavior and the mind. Candidates explore specialized psychological approaches and research methods. Students typically specialize in one area of psychology, such as counseling or clinical psychology. With a Ph.D., psychologists can move into clinical practice, teaching, and scientific research.
  • Juris Doctor

    Also known as a Doctor of Law, a Juris Doctor (JD) prepares candidates to practice law in the United States. JD programs cover major areas of the law and case history. Students specialize in one area, such as environmental law or constitutional law.

Career and Salary Outlook for Doctoral Degrees

Online Ph.D. programs prepare graduates for advanced positions in many career fields. Graduates can pursue academic or research careers. A doctorate can also lead to private sector careers. A Ph.D. can lead to high-paying careers with strong advancement potential.

See below for three common careers for graduates of online doctoral programs.

  • Postsecondary Teacher

    These professionals instruct students at colleges, universities, and community colleges. They may instruct both undergraduate and graduate students. College professors design lesson plans, teach classes, and evaluate student work. They also conduct research in their field.
  • Psychologist

    Psychologists study human behavior and cognitive processes. These professionals perform many different types of work. Clinical psychologists treat patients’ mental health issues. They work with doctors, social workers, and other professionals. Research psychologists explore new methods and approaches to psychology that inform clinical practice.
  • Top Executive

    Executives direct businesses of all types and help organizations meet their goals. They often determine a company’s overall direction. Executives take responsibility for organizational, strategic, and managerial practices. These professionals work with other executive staff members to oversee different departments.
Career and Salary Outlook
Career Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate (2019-2029)
Postsecondary Teacher $80,560 12%
Psychologist $82,180 8%
Top Executive $107,680 8%

Source: BLS

Top Online Doctoral Programs

true University of Louisiana at Monroe

ULM enrolls about 8,500 students. The school offers 35 online programs, including two online doctoral programs. Students can earn a Ph.D. in marriage and family therapy or an Ed.D. in curriculum and instruction. Applicants need a master’s degree.

ULM charges a flat tuition rate. As of October 2021, online doctoral students spend $30,000 on their degree. An accelerated format allows learners to complete the degree in two years.

Students pursuing the Ed.D. study research-based theories and explore education through theoretical lenses. This program is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. ULM’s Ph.D. program emphasizes systemic family therapy. The nonclinical program uses a seminar format to educate learners.

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

true University of Central Florida

Founded in 1963, UCF offers over 230 degree-granting programs. The school enrolls nearly 72,000 students. People of color make up nearly half of the student body.

UCF offers three doctoral programs online. These nursing-focused programs help professionals advance their careers and move into leadership roles. The advanced-track doctor of nursing practice (DNP) program emphasizes clinical leadership roles. The executive DNP program trains nursing executives on administrative leadership.

UCF’s online Ph.D. in nursing trains doctoral students for work as research scientists. The program offers a BSN-to-Ph.D. track or an MSN-to-Ph.D. track. Both options blend theory and nursing research methods.

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

true New Mexico State University

NMSU sits on 900 acres in Las Cruces. Home to the state’s first honors college and a Hispanic Serving Institution, the school enrolls more than 25,000 students. NMSU also offers several online programs, including a doctor of nursing practice (DNP).

The online DNP program offers tracks for family nurse practitioners and psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioners. Enrollees complete coursework online. They complete more than 1,000 clinical practicum hours locally. NMSU invites online students to campus one week each year. Students must enroll in the DNP program full time.

Nursing students choose between a BSN-to-DNP or MSN-to-DNP option. Active-duty military service members receive discounted tuition.

NMSU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

true Georgia Southern University

Statesboro-based Georgia Southern enrolls over 27,000 students. The public institution offers on-campus and online programs.

Through its School of Nursing, Georgia Southern offers a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) online. Enrollees customize their degree with a concentration. Options include family nurse practitioner and adult-gerontology nurse practitioner. Within the adult-gerontology track, learners can further specialize in primary care or acute care.

Georgia Southern offers a BSN-to-DNP or MSN-to-DNP option. Applicants need a BSN degree and a Georgia RN license. Out-of-state students can enroll in one of the school’s DNP online doctoral programs. They must first apply for a Georgia RN license.

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

true University of Florida

UF sits on 2,000 acres in Gainesville. The public school enrolls nearly 58,000 students, including 13,000 graduate students. UF offers several options for students who want to earn a doctoral degree online.

Learners can pursue a doctorate in diverse topics, including classical civilization and computer science education. UF’s doctoral programs train learners for doctoral-level careers.

UF’s doctor of nursing program (DNP) prepares nurses for advanced roles. Learners can enroll in a BSN-to-DNP program or an MSN-to-DNP program. The BSN-to-DNP program runs mostly online but requires some campus visits.

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

Morehead State University

MSU is a public university in Rowan County, Kentucky. The school serves more than 10,000 students. Learners can enroll in on-campus and online programs. Online options include a doctor of education.

The online Ed.D. program includes three concentration options, including educational technology leadership. A flexible format allows current educators and administrators to complete a doctorate while continuing their careers. MSU’s online doctoral programs incorporate leadership training. Programs also emphasize research and education practice.

Applicants need a master’s degree from an accredited institution. MSU also requires GRE, MAT, or GMAT scores. Applicants without GRE writing scores submit a writing sample. Faculty members interview select applicants.

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

Arkansas State University

A-State enrolls over 14,000 students and offers 150 areas of study. Learners can enroll in A-State’s online graduate programs. The doctorate in educational leadership program prepares enrollees to work as school principals or university professors.

The 60-credit online Ed.D. program blends classroom and field preparation. The writing-intensive program covers ethical leadership. Learners also explore best practices in education and education research.

Doctoral students complete a research project and dissertation. Students can earn the doctorate in 40 months. As of October 2021, this online doctoral program costs $26,400. Applicants need a master’s degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA.

A-State is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

University of West Florida

Pensacola-based UWF runs several regional campuses. The school also offers many online programs. Learners can choose from over 110 undergraduate and graduate programs. Through the University of West Florida Online, students can enroll in doctoral programs online.

UWF offers two online doctoral programs in education. Students pursuing the curriculum and instruction doctorate explore research on student assessment. They also study data-driven decisions in education. Enrollees complete 27 credits of core courses and 18 credits of curriculum and assessment courses. Students complete a dissertation.

UWF also offers an online Ed.D. in instructional design and technology. This program trains leaders in technology integration. Enrollees study organizational development and workplace learning. The practice-focused program prepares students to conduct research and implement instructional design plans. Learners can earn a doctorate in three years.

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

Georgia College and State University

Milledgeville-based Georgia College was founded in 1889. This public liberal arts college offers many online programs, including online doctoral programs. Georgia College’s graduate degrees offer a professional focus.

The School of Nursing offers a 37-credit online doctor of nursing (DNP) practice. Coursework covers nursing leadership and evidence-based practice. The post-master’s program includes a week-long immersion experience. The program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

The DNP program culminates in a practice-focused capstone. Applicants submit three recommendation letters and proof of an MSN degree. Other submission materials include a resume and a statement of professional goals. Prospective students need a nursing license.

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

University of South Florida

Tampa-based USF educates over 11,000 graduate students. USF offers online graduate programs. Enrollees complete coursework online. They also gain hands-on experience through local internships and clinical hours.

USF offers an online Ph.D. in career and workforce education. Coursework covers the relationship between education and work. This online doctoral program emphasizes workforce development and training in an online environment. Learners complete orientation meetings. They also participate in information-processing sessions. These events allow students to engage with faculty and other enrollees.

The 59-credit post-master’s doctoral program includes coursework in research methods. Learners complete core courses, concentration courses, and a dissertation. Applicants submit a resume and GRE scores. Other submission materials include three academic references and a personal statement. The program conducts interviews with select applicants.

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

Regent University

Regent is a private Christian university in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The school blends faith into its educational programs. Regent offers in-person and online degrees in more than 150 areas of study.

The school offers doctoral programs online in diverse fields, including counseling and education. One option includes an online doctor of ministry. This program includes focus areas in chaplain ministry and Christian leadership. Students can also earn a doctorate in strategic communication or strategic leadership. These online programs include short residency periods.

Regent’s online doctor of education in Christian education leadership prepares graduates for decision-making roles in Christian educational organizations. Graduates may work as principals or curriculum developers.

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

Sam Houston State University

SHSU in Huntsville, Texas, enrolls more than 21,000 students. The public school offers over 90 undergraduate programs and 60 graduate programs. SHSU’s online doctoral programs prepare graduates for leadership roles in education.

SHSU offers an online Ed.D. in developmental education administration. This 60-credit program trains educators to lead programs for underprepared college students. Enrollees can also earn a doctorate in instructional systems design and technology. Coursework covers learning technologies and instructional technology.

Applicants need a master’s degree. Prospective students submit a resume and three recommendation letters. They also show proof of their preparation for doctoral-level work.

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

Jacksonville State University

JSU sits in Alabama’s Appalachian foothills. Founded in 1883, JSU offers undergraduate and graduate degrees through six academic schools. Through Online@JSU, learners can earn a graduate degree online.

JSU offers two online doctoral programs: a doctor of science in emergency management and a doctor of nursing practice (DNP). The 42-credit emergency management program requires a week of on-campus seminars. Students complete a dissertation.

The DNP program provides advanced clinical practice training. The program emphasizes nursing leadership. Enrollees also learn how to improve patient outcomes. JSU offers a BSN-to-DNP track for aspiring nurse practitioners. Online learners can access 24/7 technical assistance and support services.

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

Florida International University

FIU is a Miami-based public research university. FIU Online offers several online programs, including an online doctor of nursing practice (DNP).

The program builds clinical leaders. Learners study patient safety and develop advanced practice skills. This 36-credit degree is designed for working nurses. Learners integrate research into clinical practice. Nurses strengthen their scholarship, research, and clinical skills.

Enrollees complete most coursework online. However, FIU welcomes nursing students to campus for up to three in-person sessions each semester. Applicants need a master’s degree or postgraduate certificate in their nursing specialty. Prospective students submit three professional recommendations and an essay. FIU also conducts interviews. Florida residents pay the most affordable tuition.

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

University of South Florida

Appalachian is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Boone, North Carolina. The public school enrolls more than 20,000 in-person and online students. Appalachian offers online doctoral programs focused on education leadership.

The part-time, 60-credit online Ed.D. program offers many concentrations. Learners study educational administration and higher education. They also explore instructional technology leadership. Leadership and research courses train educators to improve educational systems.

The program waives up to 30 credits of the Ed.D. requirements for applicants with an educational specialist degree from Appalachian. Applicants need a master’s degree. Appalachian waives its GRE requirement for candidates with a minimum 3.0 GPA on their graduate degree and at least five years of work experience in education.

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

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