Easiest Ph.D. Degrees

Getting a Ph.D. can be hard work, but some programs are more flexible and accessible than others. Find out more about the easiest Ph.D. programs.

Updated September 20, 2023

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A doctorate can lead to careers in academia and research and development. Professionals with these degrees can take on leadership roles in nearly every industry.

But a Ph.D. is not for everyone. They can be extremely challenging, intensive, and time-consuming.

Not all Ph.D. programs are the same, however. On this page, we explore some of the easiest Ph.D. programs. We look at what makes these disciplines easier than others, and what opportunities they have to offer students.

Best Ph.D. Programs

Ph.D. vs. Professional Doctorate

A Ph.D. and a professional doctorate are both terminal degrees, but they have some key differences. A Ph.D. features substantial research requirements, whereas a professional doctorate incorporates advanced practical training.

When it comes to easy doctoral degrees, Ph.D. programs typically run longer and require more intensive study. The theoretical focus of a Ph.D. can also prove more challenging than a practical doctorate.

What Makes a Ph.D. Easy?

A Ph.D. can be difficult for many reasons. These programs typically take 5-7 years to complete and feature a large amount of research. You may have to develop an original dissertation and then defend it at the end of the program.

The process can be intense and isolating. And there are disciplines that tackle challenging material, such as STEM, medicine, and law fields. These programs tend to feature more technically difficult studies, though that really depends on your abilities as a student.

For many, an easier program features more accessible material, shorter completion times, or less intensive research requirements.

10 Easiest Ph.D. Degrees

Here, we highlight some of the easiest Ph.D. programs, including the easiest Ph.D. disciplines, the easiest online Ph.D. programs, and the easiest Ph.D. without dissertations.

1. Ph.D. in Humanities

A Ph.D. in humanities gives you a very broad area of study to explore. The discipline covers much of the human world, including investigations of cultures and societies throughout the globe and time. Many of these programs also encourage interdisciplinary studies, which makes the field even more open-ended.

This flexibility helps make humanities one of the easiest Ph.D. programs. You may even have the ability to take a comprehensive exam and complete a smaller research project instead of completing a dissertation, which could make things easier.

2. Ph.D. in Education

A Ph.D. in education examines topics like educational leadership, policy, and curriculum and instruction. While most of these programs require a dissertation, they can be completed relatively quickly compared to many other Ph.D. programs.

Unlike humanities above, an education Ph.D. tends to be more limited in scope. This can make it less daunting for some. Education can be a practical discipline as well, which allows you to put theory into action.

Featured Doctorate Degrees in Education

3. Ph.D. in Theology

A Ph.D. in theology prepares you for careers in religious leadership, teaching, and analysis. You use critical thinking skills to advance scholarship in the field. You may also engage with other disciplines, which provides educational freedom.

Many Ph.D. programs in theology feature vocational components. This, along with the subjective nature of the discipline, can make it easier for you to pass your program, but it may also be harder to excel.

Featured Doctorate Degrees in Theology

4. Ph.D. in Business Administration

In a Ph.D. in business administration, you can follow many different paths. You may specialize in disciplines like accounting, management, or finance. You may investigate theories, evaluate current systems, or look for gaps in existing business studies.

While not as practical as a doctorate in business administration (DBA), a Ph.D. in business can still prove more applicable and testable than many other disciplines. For some students, this makes the field more approachable.

Featured Doctorate Degrees in Business Administration

5. Ph.D. in Psychology

In a psychology Ph.D. program, you study the human mind and behavior. The psychology discipline offers many specialization opportunities, including health, organizational, and developmental psychology. Graduates from these programs can take on teacher roles or enter the psychology profession directly.

While Ph.D. programs in this field can be research-heavy, certain pathways offer more practical learning opportunities, such as the clinical psychology branch. You can also get the opportunity to run experiments, which can break up tedious research.

Featured Doctorate Degrees in Psychology

6. Ph.D. in Literature

A Ph.D. in English or literature allows you to advance your knowledge of a specific branch of literary scholarship. These programs often encourage you to take interdisciplinary approaches to develop new and engaging ideas. You work with theory, critical analysis, and history to approach topics from new angles and add to the discourse.

Most Ph.D. programs in literature require a dissertation, but the flexibility of topics can be freeing. Similar to many humanities fields, you may find literature an easier discipline to pass but difficult to master.

7. Ph.D. in Criminal Justice

A Ph.D. in criminal justice takes on all sectors of the criminal justice system, including law enforcement, policy, and human services. You'll investigate leading theories, contemporary issues, and criminal behavior. Since this field has such a practical foundation, you can apply your learning to real-world situations and solutions.

The discipline offers many specialization opportunities, such as justice administration, public policy, and emergency management. Several schools offer a Ph.D. in criminal justice that you can complete in less than four years.

Featured Doctorate Degrees in Criminal Justice

8. Ph.D. in Public Policy

In a Ph.D. in public policy program, you study the development, implementation, and consequences of public policies. You research policy histories and systems and evaluate their effectiveness.

While these programs can prove rigorous, the real-world applications of the discipline may help you latch on to the studies more easily. After graduation from this program, you can take on leadership positions in governments and organizations.

9. Ph.D. in History

History offers you an array of study opportunities, including social, cultural, or intellectual history. You might look at a specific time or place. You may aim to work in academia, public institutions, or other investigative fields.

History Ph.D. programs often require intensive research. You must find a new way of looking at a historical topic, possibly through interdisciplinary approaches or an unexplored subfield.

10. Ph.D. in Sociology

A Ph.D. in sociology explores the relationships between humans and society. You research policies, inequalities, family, and education. You conduct sociological studies to better understand social dynamics and demographics. You may also use your findings to analyze and provide solutions to ineffective policies and structures.

While some sociology programs feature complex theoretical investigations, project-based programs take a practical approach. If you're more hands-on, you'll appreciate the focus on testing, experimentation, and measuring.

Featured Doctorate Degrees in Sociology

Cost of Doctoral Degrees

When choosing a Ph.D. program, many people first look at program cost and length. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the average annual cost of tuition and fees at graduate school was $19,749 in 2020-21. Public schools cost less than private colleges and universities, with average annual tuition prices at $12,394 and $28,445, respectively.

Rather than comparing cost, however, you might consider affordability. Factor in what kind of financial aid options you qualify for, such as federal financial aid, grants, and scholarships. Many schools offer tuition discounts and creative payment options as well.

Online vs. On-Campus Ph.D.

Online Ph.D. programs typically feature scheduled synchronous classes, anytime asynchronous classes, or a combination of both. Synchronous sessions usually offer evening or weekend options.

Along with schedule flexibility, online Ph.D. programs require little or no on-campus requirements and travel. This makes even the most distant programs accessible, giving you more options to choose from.

While convenient, online Ph.D. programs may not suit everyone. Online learning may have a less interactive environment and require more independence than on-campus programs. Finally, not all Ph.D. disciplines translate to online studies, particularly those with heavy practical requirements.

Even the easiest online Ph.D. program can prove challenging. Before settling on one, make sure your learning style and requirements align with the delivery method and resources provided.

3 Considerations When Choosing a Ph.D. Degree

Every student wants and needs different things from their Ph.D. program. Regardless of how easy a Ph.D. program looks, they all require a significant commitment. To make sure you make the best decision, consider other factors, like:

  • Faculty: Your school's faculty could play a major role in what and how you learn. Try picking a school and program that has experts in your field.
  • Research Environment: You also want to examine the research environment, including the libraries, centers, and labs. Ask what type of support Ph.D. students receive and what tools and resources they have at their disposal.
  • Past Graduate Performance: Look at the school and program's previous graduates. Pull statistics on their performance in the program and careers afterward. High retention, graduation, and employment numbers can be effective quality assurance measures.

Frequently Asked Questions About Easiest Ph.D. Degree Programs

Can you get a Ph.D. without a dissertation?

Yes. While most doctorates without dissertations belong to professional programs, you can earn a Ph.D. without completing a traditional dissertation at some schools. Some programs have a practical project, and others have a research project without the depth of a dissertation.

Are there any 1-year Ph.D. programs?

No. You can earn certain professional doctorates in about one year, but you cannot complete a Ph.D. program in that time. While Ph.D. programs typically take 5-7 years to complete, some of the easiest Ph.D. programs allow you to graduate in less than four years.

What are the best Ph.D. programs for working professionals?

An asynchronous online program may be the easiest Ph.D. to get for working professionals. This delivery method allows you to complete your studies during the hours that suit you best. An asynchronous schedule can even accommodate a nontraditional work schedule.

What is the most difficult Ph.D. program?

The most difficult Ph.D. program depends on how you learn best, but certain disciplines tend to be more difficult. Highly technical programs, such as mathematics and science disciplines, challenge many students. Very involved and intensive programs like engineering may also prove to be difficult.

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