Best Online PhDs in Engineering

ASO Staff Writers
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Updated September 18, 2023
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Timelines, Programs and Resources for Engineering Students

Students can earn an online PhD in engineering in specializations that range from the philosophy of systems and engineering management to aeronautics engineering. The term “engineering” applies to mathematical, scientific, social and practical knowledge as it is used to innovate and improve upon existing machines, tools, computers, systems and processes, resulting in many specializations that PhD candidates can pursue in online programs. Discover some of the academic and career opportunities that await engineering students pursuing online doctoral degrees below.

Best Online PhD’s in Engineering

To help refine the search for an engineering doctoral program, prospective students can compare current online PhD degree programs by sorting factors like tuition cost, graduation rates and student-to-teacher ratios using this ranking data chart.

#1 Best Online PhDs in Engineering

Colorado State University-Fort Collins

  • Location-markerFort Collins, CO
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$9,426
  • Out-of-state$28,147
  • Retention Rate84%
  • Acceptance Rate81%
  • Students Enrolled33,426
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment26%
  • AccreditationYes
#2 Best Online PhDs in Engineering

Columbia University in the City of New York

  • Location-markerNew York, NY
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$57,763
  • Out-of-state$57,763
  • Retention Rate99%
  • Acceptance Rate5%
  • Students Enrolled31,456
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment6%
  • AccreditationYes
#3 Best Online PhDs in Engineering

Michigan Technological University

  • Location-markerHoughton, MI
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$16,834
  • Out-of-state$36,688
  • Retention Rate84%
  • Acceptance Rate74%
  • Students Enrolled7,027
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment9%
  • AccreditationYes
#4 Best Online PhDs in Engineering

Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus

  • Location-markerUniversity Park, PA
  • 4 year
  • Campus
Average Tuition
  • In-State$17,416
  • Out-of-state$34,480
  • Retention Rate88%
  • Acceptance Rate76%
  • Students Enrolled91,427
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment50%
  • AccreditationYes
#5 Best Online PhDs in Engineering

Texas A&M University-College Station

  • Location-markerCollege Station, TX
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$7,941
  • Out-of-state$34,190
  • Retention Rate93%
  • Acceptance Rate58%
  • Students Enrolled68,726
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment14%
  • AccreditationYes
#6 Best Online PhDs in Engineering

Texas Tech University

  • Location-markerLubbock, TX
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$6,744
  • Out-of-state$16,704
  • Retention Rate87%
  • Acceptance Rate69%
  • Students Enrolled38,742
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment52%
  • AccreditationYes
#7 Best Online PhDs in Engineering

The University of Tennessee-Knoxville

  • Location-markerKnoxville, TN
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$11,332
  • Out-of-state$28,522
  • Retention Rate87%
  • Acceptance Rate79%
  • Students Enrolled29,460
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment36%
  • AccreditationYes
#8 Best Online PhDs in Engineering

University of Alabama at Birmingham

  • Location-markerBirmingham, AL
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$8,568
  • Out-of-state$20,400
  • Retention Rate83%
  • Acceptance Rate74%
  • Students Enrolled22,080
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment59%
  • AccreditationYes
#9 Best Online PhDs in Engineering

University of Alabama in Huntsville

  • Location-markerHuntsville, AL
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$9,730
  • Out-of-state$22,126
  • Retention Rate83%
  • Acceptance Rate83%
  • Students Enrolled9,988
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment33%
  • AccreditationYes
#10 Best Online PhDs in Engineering

University of South Carolina-Columbia

  • Location-markerColumbia, SC
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$12,288
  • Out-of-state$33,528
  • Retention Rate89%
  • Acceptance Rate69%
  • Students Enrolled35,364
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment32%
  • AccreditationYes

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The Online PhD in Engineering Timeline

Online PhD programs in engineering often offer a variety of specializations, and while some programs can be completed in three years, others can take up to six. Regardless of the timeline, the work students put into these PhD programs is usually intensely focused and in-depth. It can be important for students to consider how much time they want to commit to earning an online PhD when choosing an engineering program. See an example of what to expect during the application process and a sample four-year track timeline below.

Application Process

Because online engineering PhD programs typically cover a wide range of course material, students should investigate particular areas of interest and faculty members they want to work with when deciding where to apply. They may need to demonstrate both their interest and their previous knowledge to be admitted into an online PhD in engineering program.

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    Bachelor’s Degree and Official Transcripts

    Applicants are often required to have a bachelor’s degree, preferably in engineering or a related area, through an accredited institution. Programs may ask to see official transcripts from all higher learning institutions that an applicant attended and may have minimum GPA requirements.

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    Previous Experience and Demonstrated Competence in Chosen Area

    Applicants interested in pursuing a PhD in a hands-on engineering field like mechanical or hardware engineering may need to provide proof that they have experience in their field. Previous experience is usually submitted in a résumé, but may be required in a larger essay or in a program’s application.

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    Statement of Purpose

    Online engineering programs may ask an applicant to write a statement of purpose that addresses why a student chose a particular program and elaborates on their ability to do advanced research; demonstrates their knowledge, passion, experience and skill; and notes an intended area of study.

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    Personal Statement

    In addition to a résumé and a statement of purpose, programs may ask for a personal statement which may explore an applicant’s history and life experience and address what an applicant would like to get out of pursing an online PhD in engineering.

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    GRE Scores

    Individual programs may require applicants to demonstrate minimum scores in the math and verbal areas of the GRE from exams taken within a certain number of years.

Year 1 Milestones

Students may enter online PhD programs with a clear idea of which engineering department they will work in. However, the first year in an online PhD in engineering program is generally spent learning about each possible area of study and often serves to deepen research skills and technical experience.

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    Core Requirement Courses

    Online engineering doctoral degree programs typically have a core series of classes that introduce students to basic engineering concepts like modeling technologies, common systems management principles and the economics of engineering.

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    Exploring Facility Possibilities

    Though students in online PhD programs often do not learn in on-site labs, some programs offer facilities via satellite for distance learning students. Students interested in practical aspects of engineering, such as mechanical or computer engineering, may need to find places to gain tangible experience.

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    Selecting an Area of Specialization

    Students generally will need to decide to pursue a narrowed course of engineering study by the end of their first year. Common specializations may include the theories and ethics of engineering; management and engineering; or civil, mechanical or computer engineering.

Years 2 and 3 Milestones

Students may spend a lot of time investigating their chosen field before finding an area that suits them. Some online PhD in engineering programs allow as many as six years before a student must propose a dissertation topic, and students can often spend that time building up their experiences and knowledge before completing their degree.

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    Specializing Further

    Students who may not have begun their engineering program knowing exactly what they wanted to study will usually narrow their focus in their second year, choosing specific aspects of their chosen engineering specialization to explore more in-depth.

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    Refinement of Research Practices

    Throughout an online engineering PhD program, students will typically design projects and conduct research within their fields, refine their approaches and execution techniques, and accept feedback from advanced faculty.

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    Approach Faculty Advisors

    Students may choose online engineering doctoral programs based on possible areas of specialization and the faculty who work in these areas. As they work toward an original project for their dissertation, students may need to select an engineering faculty advisor in their field and begin discussions about this final academic work.

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    Qualifying Exam

    A qualifying examination is usually delivered by engineering faculty members familiar with a student’s chosen field of study. It may include an oral component in addition to a written test. The exam is meant to determine each student’s ability to apply general concepts and methods in their chosen field. Students may also have to complete a research proposal exam before beginning work on their engineering dissertation.

Year 4 Milestones

The final year of an online PhD in engineering student’s degree is often spent working on their dissertation. All core class requirements and electives are usually completed by this time, allowing students time to focus on this final project.

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    Dissertation Preparation

    Dissertations will likely address an aspect of engineering that could be improved upon or altered in some way. This project is generally an example of how a student will contribute to their engineering field.

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    Scheduling Final Exam and Dissertation Defense

    Online PhD in engineering programs may ask for certain scheduling applications or dissertation draft submissions before a student attempts to earn their engineering degree. These application and submission deadlines may be as many as three months out.

Graduation Requirements

Online engineering PhD students who have completed all of their coursework to their instructors’ satisfaction will often be well-prepared to deliver their final dissertation and defend their expertise to a panel of fellow experts. Tests throughout online doctoral engineering programs may help to ensure that any student who makes it to this stage is academically committed to expanding knowledge in their chosen field.

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    Dissertation

    An engineering dissertation often needs to follow professional formatting guidelines. Students should be sure if they are working with sensitive or confidential information not to include those aspects in their dissertation as these documents are often considered public.

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    Oral Exam

    An oral exam often requires a student to justify the methods and conclusions of their dissertation and to explain how their work relates and contributes to the existing body of knowledge in their engineering specialty.

Core Principles and Skills Learned in an Online Engineering PhD Program

PhD in Engineering

  1. 1

    Refined Research Techniques

    Students generally enter online engineering PhD programs with basic knowledge in their area of specialty. These advanced academic programs often teach students how to research and explore current knowledge on an even deeper level.

  2. 2

    Application of Principles

    Online engineering PhD program graduates typically teach students general concepts and methods, and while students learn how to practice these techniques, they may also develop the ability to apply these principles to their own specialized areas and any other areas of their field they may encounter.

  3. 3

    Continuing Education

    Engineering is a field that is often adapting and changing with new technologies. As this field advances, PhD program graduates typically have the research abilities and connections within both professional and academic fields to keep up with these changes.

Learn More About Engineering Degrees

After Your Degree: What to do with a PhD in Engineering

Online engineering doctoral graduates may seek out the highly specialized jobs that fall within their refined scope of learning. They may also choose to use the broader researching and knowledge-application skills they usually learn in PhD programs to find work in other elite fields.

plusEngineering Professor

A PhD student may head back into the classroom as an Engineering Professor after graduation, teaching general and specialization coursework on everything from basic engineering principles to physical laws, mechanical development, instrumentation, process and services. Specializations may include chemical, civil, electrical, mechanical, mineral or petroleum engineering. Educators will typically have the time and resources to double as researchers in their selected field.

Job Growth (2014-2024): 13%
Median Annual Salary (May 2015): $95,060


plusComputer Hardware Engineer

Technology professionals typically need to be prepared to continually evolve, adapt and improve existing tech. Computer hardware engineers often keep themselves current on computer engineering trends and new technology as they design, develop and test computer components. They also may ensure that computer pieces like processors and routers work together as systems and may work to advance computer technology.

Job Growth (2014-2024): 3%
Median Annual Salary (May 2015): $111,7300


plusComputer and Information Research Scientist

The federal government employs the highest amount of computer and information research scientists, but professionals in this field may work for businesses, in medicine, in science, or in other fields. They are often in charge of coming up with creative uses for current computing technology and inventing, designing and creating new approaches to computing as well.

Job Growth (2014-2024): 11 percent
Median Annual Salary (May 2015): $110,620


plusComputer and Information Systems Manager

Computer and information systems managers are often also called IT managers or IT project managers. They typically plan, coordinate and direct all computer-related activities in an organization or business. Professionals in this field may help individual companies achieve their information technology goals by implementing the appropriate computer systems. They may also be required to manage their resources as well as their employees.

Job Growth (2014-2024): 15%
Median Annual Salary (May 2015): $131,600

Additional Resources

Below is a list of free online resources for current and post-graduate online engineering PhD students that offer educational, career and networking opportunities

This membership organization promotes engineering and technology education and works to improve existing programs.
This international organization seeks to increase women’s impact in all aspects of technology, improve the impact of technology on people’s lives, and help communities, industries, education programs and governments.
These combined associations have established IT standards for the industry and provide members with benefits ranging from legal aid to advertising.
This international scientific and educational organization works to advance the information technology industry and provides publications and career resources to its members.
Several current engineering professionals employed in various areas of engineering and business give their insights in this semi-formal podcast that offers insight into the many aspects of engineering.
This professional organization of technology professionals provides publications, technology standards, and conferences to its members.

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