Accredited Online Ph.D. Programs

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Ph.D. degrees are the highest possible level of educational attainment. If you aspire to become a recognized expert in a specialized field or want to develop encyclopedic knowledge in a niche subject, online Ph.D. programs offer a convenient, flexible means of meeting your career and learning objectives. In recognition of their elite credentials, doctorate holders also enjoy some of the highest average earnings of any educational attainment level.

More Ph.D. candidates choose to study online as the virtual classroom facilitates custom study schedules. You can continue to work while you study and strike the right balance among school, life, and outside commitments.

Best Online Ph.D. Programs for 2020

Methodology
2-Year Colleges

While online doctoral programs provide a path to the pinnacle of academic achievement, they come with a hefty time investment. In many disciplines, completing a Ph.D. requires about four years, or eight semesters, of full-time study. Traditional learning offers little flexibility and demands more sacrifice. An online Ph.D. holds strong appeal as an alternative path since students can accelerate and decelerate their learning as needed.

These rankings list the top online doctorate programs for the 2020-2021 academic year. Use them as a guide to jump-start your research and explore the top programs currently offered at the nation’s leading institutions.

Rank University Title Tuition # of Online Programs Expand University Description
1 University of the Cumberlands $10,215 6

Located in Williamsburg, Kentucky, the University of the Cumberlands encourages personal and intellectual growth in a learner-focused community. A private Christian school founded by Baptist ministers in 1888, the nonprofit institution operates four schools and colleges that administer rigorous programs to over 13,000 degree-seekers annually. Cumberlands offers online doctoral programs in educational leadership, counselor education and supervision, information technology, executive business, and leadership studies. Expert faculty facilitate all online learning experiences in an interactive, self-paced environment. Admission requirements vary by field of study. At minimum, applicants must hold relevant academic credentials with a competitive GPA. They must also provide official transcripts, a current resume, letters of recommendation, and recent test scores when applicable.

2 Concordia University-Chicago $9,180 8

A private liberal arts institution, Concordia University Chicago emphasizes creativity, integrity, and compassion. Established in 1864 as a member of the Concordia University System, CUC maintains affiliation with the Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod. The school hosts students on a suburban campus in River Forest, Illinois, and online. CUC offers a variety of online degrees, including online doctoral programs in business administration, special education, gerontology, and organizational leadership. Most degree-seekers graduate in around three years, although time frames vary by program. Applicants to CUC's online Ph.D. programs must hold an accredited master's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA and at least two years of professional experience in their field. They must also submit transcripts, letters of recommendation, an academic writing sample, and a statement of intent.

3 Regent University $16,952 10

Located in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Regent University is a private Christian institution founded in 1977. Regent provides graduate and undergraduate programs through eight schools and colleges that focus on arts and communication, business, psychology, and science. Regent offers online doctoral programs in communication, education, theology, law, and counseling. The programs deliver course material through flexible formats that allow students to balance their studies with professional and personal obligations. Some programs may require short residencies. Applicants to Regent's online doctoral programs must possess a relevant, accredited master's degree and complete an admissions questionnaire. They must also submit transcripts and any additional items specified by the prospective program.

4 Saybrook University $27,439 5

Founded as a psychology institute in 1971, Saybrook University helps learners achieve their full potential through rigorous education programs firmly rooted in the humanistic tradition. A private, nonprofit school located in Oakland, California, Saybrook focuses on education and professional training in the social sciences, medicine, and health services. Students can choose from online doctoral programs in psychology, clinical psychology, organizational systems management, mind-body medicine, and transformative social change. Saybrook's online Ph.D. in mind-body medicine offers additional specializations in mindful leadership, wellness coaching, and mental health. Each program combines self-paced study with interactive learning experiences led by expert faculty. Applicants to the online Ph.D. programs must possess a master's degree with a competitive GPA and submit official transcripts, a resume, recommendation letters, a personal statement, and an academic writing sample. Saybrook also requires an admission interview.

5 Gratz College $12,722 3

Gratz College is a private, nonprofit school located in Melrose Park, Pennsylvania. Established in 1895 by Jewish leaders, the school is the oldest pluralistic school in Jewish studies in North America. Gratz College strives to actively engage learners in professional growth and personal enrichment. The school offers online doctoral programs in education and holocaust and genocide studies. The programs emphasize innovation, academic rigor, and flexibility, and it delivers all course content in convenient, accelerated sessions. Applicants must hold a relevant, accredited graduate credential and submit two letters of recommendation, a brief personal statement, a current resume, and an academic writing sample. Qualified applicants must also complete an admission interview.

6 Gwynedd Mercy University $14,055 4

A private, nonprofit institution located in eastern Pennsylvania, Gwynedd Mercy University provides academic instruction and career preparation. Chartered in 1948 by the Sisters of Mercy, GMercyU maintains Roman Catholic affiliation and offers over 40 liberal arts and humanities programs. GMercyU confers online doctorates in nursing practice and educational leadership, each requiring 2-3 years of full-time study. Online degree-seekers enjoy the same small class sizes and personalized attention as on-campus students. Applicants must hold an accredited master's degree and submit transcripts, a resume, recent test scores, reference letters, and a statement of purpose. Additional requirements may include an academic writing sample and an admission interview.

7 Johns Hopkins University $59,350 12

Established in 1876, Johns Hopkins University is a private, nonprofit research institution. Headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland, the school serves over 25,000 learners each year. Johns Hopkins offers online doctoral programs in science, engineering, public health, business, medicine, and nursing practice. Learners access program material through a convenient and accessible learning management system that combines self-paced study with peer interaction. Admission requirements include a relevant, accredited master's degree, transcripts, a resume, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement. Applicants may also need to submit test scores and a writing sample.

8 Clarkson College $11,658 2

Located in Omaha, Nebraska, Clarkson College is a private, nonprofit institution affiliated with the Episcopal Church. The college opened in 1888 as a nursing school and continues to focus on healthcare education with an emphasis on quality, ethics, and compassion. Clarkson Colleges offers online doctoral programs in nursing practice and healthcare education and leadership. Both programs prepare learners for work as administrators and evidence-based practitioners. The fully online programs accept part-time and full-time degree-seekers. The doctor of nursing practice requires a residency that incorporates scientific research and client care. Prospective learners must hold a graduate degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. International applicants must submit TOEFL scores. Clarkson College maintains many articulation agreements with other institutions and accepts qualifying transfer credits.

9 Wilmington University $8,834 4

Established in 1968 by local educators, Wilmington University maintains a commitment to learner-centered teaching. A private, nonprofit research institution located in New Castle, Delaware, WilmU offers a variety of graduate and undergraduate programs. WilmU grants online doctorates in education, business administration, nursing practice, organizational leadership, and prevention science. Courses feature an asynchronous format, giving students the flexibility to balance their studies with personal and professional obligations. In-person requirements vary by discipline. Applicants must hold an accredited master's degree and submit transcripts, a resume, letters of reference, immunization records, and a personal essay. Additional requirements vary by program.

10 Nova Southeastern University $21,809 9

Nova Southeastern University is a private, nonprofit school based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Chartered as a technology institute in 1964, NSU now consists of 18 schools and colleges that offer over 150 programs to more than 20,000 learners each year. Students can choose from online doctorates in disciplines like criminal justice, computer science, cybersecurity management, and conflict resolution. The fully online programs feature a combination of synchronous and asynchronous modules that blend self-directed study with structured engagement. Applicants must hold an accredited master's degree and submit transcripts, reference letters, a statement of purpose, and an academic writing sample. Some programs may feature additional requirements.

11 University of North Dakota $22,027 13

The University of North Dakota is a private research institution located in Grand Forks that offers a liberal arts education. The school hosts undergraduate and graduate students on a 550-acre urban campus and online. UND confers online doctorates in 11 areas of study, including engineering, aerospace science, educational leadership, nursing, and indigenous health. Learners can complete all courses entirely online, although some disciplines, like nursing, may feature in-person requirements. Classes feature asynchronous formats for maximum flexibility and convenience. Admission requirements vary by program. General requirements include an accredited master's degree, copies of all academic transcripts, and completion of a graduate admission test. Additional requirements may include a resume, a statement of purpose, and reference letters.

12 Franklin University $16,080 3

Located in Columbus, Ohio, and founded in 1902, Franklin University is one of the largest private universities in the Buckeye State. The school promotes integrity, respect, diversity, and opportunity through a variety of undergraduate and graduate programs. Franklin offers online Ph.D. programs in instructional design leadership, business administration, organizational leadership, and healthcare administration. Most learners complete these programs within three years, taking advantage of the school's innovative and flexible delivery formats. Applicants to Franklin's online doctoral programs must hold an accredited graduate degree and submit transcripts, a current resume, and a brief personal essay. Applicants in instruction design also need at least three years of professional experience.

13 Endicott College $12,555 3

Located in Beverley, Massachusetts, Endicott College administers career-focused academic programs in a supportive community. Founded as a junior college in 1939, the school now operates eight colleges that offer diverse undergraduate and graduate programs. The private, nonprofit institution engages in sustainable research and experiential learning. Learners at Endicott can choose from online doctoral programs in applied behavior analysis, educational leadership in higher education, primary and secondary educational leadership, and nursing. Each program delivers material through flexible and interactive learning tools. Some disciplines may require in-person components. Admission requirements vary by program, but all applicants must possess an accredited master's degree and submit official academic transcripts, a current resume, and three letters of recommendation.

14 George Washington University $31,824 12

Established in 1921, George Washington University is a private research university located near the heart of the nation's capital. GW boasts a world-class faculty that engages in innovative research and high-quality instruction. Established in 1821, the school serves nearly 30,000 learners each year through a variety of graduate and undergraduate programs. GW confers online doctorates in nursing, engineering and applied science, medicine, and health sciences. Each program prepares degree-seekers for advanced work and research in their field. The programs deliver all course material through convenient and accommodating learning management tools. Applicants must hold a relevant graduate degree and submit a statement of purpose, letters of recommendation, GMAT or GRE scores, and any additional materials specified by their program.

15 Capitol Technology University $11,466 2

Capitol Technology University is a private, nonprofit institution located in South Laurel, Maryland. Founded in 1927 by former U.S. Navy officials, Capitol prepares learners for successful careers in engineering, business, and computer and information sciences. Capitol offers 14 online doctoral programs in disciplines like artificial intelligence, technology, occupational health, business analytics, and cybersecurity. The programs feature small cohorts that encourage connected learning. Admission requirements for Capitol's online doctoral programs include a relevant, accredited graduate degree. Applicants must also provide recommendation letters and a current resume indicating at least five years of professional work experience directly related to their field.

16 City University of Seattle $15,450 2

A private, nonprofit institution established in 1973, City University of Seattle values flexibility, accessibility, and innovation. The school operates six different colleges in management, technology, and the arts and sciences. CityU offers online doctorate programs in business administration, education in leadership, and information technology. Most degree-seekers graduate in 3-4 years, going on to obtain advanced positions in their field. CityU offers each online doctorate through flexible and convenient learning tools with options for on-campus experiences. Applicants must hold a relevant, accredited master's degree with a competitive GPA and submit official transcripts, recommendation letters, a resume, and a statement of purpose. Learners can transfer up to 25% of the program's required credits toward the degree.

17 Touro University Worldwide $9,000 1

One of several campuses in the larger Touro College and University System, Touro University Worldwide maintains a strong commitment to social justice, philanthropic duty, and intellectual inquiry. Established in 1971 and located in Los Alamitos, California, TUW administers programs with a strong liberal arts focus. Degree-seekers can earn an online Ph.D. in management or human and organizational psychology. These programs combine advanced theory and practical applications, emphasizing core competencies and real-world implications. Online students learn from the same expert faculty who teach on campus. Applicants must possess relevant graduate credentials with a minimum 3.4 GPA and submit official transcripts, two letters of recommendation, and an essay.

18 University of Southern California $47,107 12

The oldest private research institution in the Golden State, the University of Southern California offers interdisciplinary programs in technology, international business, and the arts. Established in 1880, USC enrolls over 45,000 learners through 17 schools and colleges that administer over 100 programs of study. USC offers online doctoral programs in education and teaching, health and medicine, and social work. USC delivers the programs in a real-time, virtual classroom environment, allowing degree-seekers to engage with faculty and peers through collaborative discussion. Prospective learners must submit official transcripts indicating a relevant, accredited master's degree. They must also provide a resume, standardized test scores, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement. Additional materials may include a video essay and a timed writing assessment.

19 University of St Francis $13,839 2

Founded in 1920 by local nuns, the University of St. Francis promotes the lifelong pursuit of knowledge, wisdom, and justice. A private, Catholic institution located in Joliet, Illinois, USF offers graduate, undergraduate, and professional certificate programs in business and health administration, education, nursing, and the arts and sciences. USF offers online doctorates in educational leadership and nursing practice. Degree-seekers can complete the educational leadership program entirely online. The nursing practice program requires a clinical placement. USF delivers course material through innovative and flexible learning tools that encourage self-paced study and peer interaction. Admission requirements include a relevant graduate degree with a minimum 3.0 cumulative GPA. Applicants must also submit a letter of recommendation from a former supervisor and complete an admission interview.

20 Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale $26,164 9

Keiser University is a private, nonprofit institution based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Founded in 1977 as a career college, Keiser has since expanded to include comprehensive undergraduate and graduate programs in diverse disciplines. The school offers online doctorates in nine disciplines, including business administration, criminal justice and criminology, curriculum and instruction, educational leadership, and instructional design and technology. Each program delivers material in a flexible format designed for busy learners and working professionals. Applicants to Keiser's online doctoral programs must hold a relevant master's degree and submit a current resume, a personal statement, and letters of recommendation. Some applicants may need to complete an admission interview.

21 University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus $23,873 5

Founded in 1912, the University of Colorado Denver is the largest public research institution in the state, operating 13 schools and colleges that administer over 140 programs of study. Each program promotes the school's core values of discovery, innovation, citizenship, and leadership. CU Denver offers online doctorates in pharmacy, education, nursing, and nursing practice. The online doctoral programs feature flexible formats that allow students to balance their studies with personal and professional obligations. Students complete coursework using cutting-edge, interactive, and user-friendly platforms. Applicants must possess an accredited master's degree and submit transcripts, a current resume, a statement of purpose, and letters of recommendation.

22 Union University $9,022 3

A private, evangelical Christian institution located in Jackson, Tennessee, Union University emphasizes academic excellence and personal development of character. Established in 1823, Union University retains affiliation with the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Union University offers fully online doctorates in education and education specialist. Both programs prepare degree-seekers for leadership roles in schools, nonprofits, and other educational institutions. The education program focuses on school administration and higher education leadership, while the education specialist program emphasizes advocacy and school improvement. Applicants must hold a relevant, accredited graduate degree and submit transcripts, a statement of purpose, a resume, and letters of recommendation.

23 University of South Dakota $12,637 5

Located in Vermillion and founded in 1862, the University of South Dakota is the state's flagship university and offers a variety graduate, undergraduate, and professional programs through seven schools and colleges. Students can pursue online Ph.D.s in health sciences and occupational therapy. Each program features the same courses and faculty as the school's on-campus programs. The fully online programs require 30-31 credits and feature flexible schedules that allow students to balance their studies with personal and professional obligations. Applicants to the online Ph.D. programs must hold relevant graduate credentials with a competitive GPA and submit transcripts, recommendation letters, a current resume, and a brief statement of purpose that outlines their personal and professional goals.

24 University of Southern Mississippi $10,896 8

The University of Southern Mississippi is a public research institution based in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Established as a teacher school in 1910, USM now administers nearly 200 undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs. USM confers online doctorates in educational administration, nursing leadership, and higher education administration. Each program develops the theoretical knowledge and practical skills necessary for learners to assume leadership positions in their field. Degree-seekers complete 30-54 credits, depending on their program. Applicants must hold an accredited master's degree with a competitive GPA and submit recent GRE scores, a current resume, a cover letter, a personal statement, and three letters of recommendation. Some applicants may need to complete an admission interview.

25 A.T. Still University of Health Sciences $26,503 7

Established in 1892 as the founding institution of osteopathic healthcare, A.T. Sill University of Health Sciences is a private, nonprofit school headquartered in Kirksville, Missouri. ATSU offers 30 graduate and professional programs that emphasize academic excellence and technological innovation. ATSU administers online doctoral programs in medical science, occupational therapy, health sciences, audiology, physical therapy, and health administration. The programs feature flexible learning formats to accommodate busy learners and working professionals. Each program trains degree-seekers in an integrated learning environment that includes instruction on the principles of evidence-based medicine. Applicants must hold an accredited graduate degree with a minimum 2.5 GPA and submit transcripts, reference letters, a resume, and a statement of intent.

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Ph.D. Programs: The Basics

Conventional wisdom suggests that most people who enroll in online Ph.D. programs aspire to careers in academia. While doctoral degrees certainly offer a proven path to professorships, growing numbers of working professionals choose to earn them. Ph.D. holders differentiate themselves in a job market filled with master’s degrees.

Ph.D. candidates certainly work hard to earn these advantages. Coursework is rigorous, intensive, and demanding. Self-directed readings complement focused research projects typically completed under the tutelage of a tenured supervisor and culminating in a dissertation -- an extended academic paper on a highly specific subject. After submitting the dissertation, the Ph.D. candidate will generally appear before an academic committee to defend their paper.

There are a wide variety of professional doctoral degrees with the majority of major studies undertaken in business and management, education, law, engineering, dental science, healthcare, medicine and counseling/psychology. Academic Ph.D. fields are extensive and diverse.

Here are a few of the many doctoral degrees available:

  • Acupuncture (D.Ac.)
  • Advanced Nursing Practice (D.N.P.)
  • Architecture (D.Arch.)
  • Business Administration (D.B.A.)
  • Chiropractic (D.C.)
  • Computer Science (D.C.S.)
  • Education (Ed.D.)
  • Engineering (D.Eng.)
  • Health Administration (D.H.A.)
  • Law and Policy (L.P.D., D.L.P.)
  • Medicine (M.D.)
  • Physical Therapy (D.P.T.)
  • Psychology (Psy.D)
  • Science (D.Sc., Sc. D.)
  • Theology (D.Th., Th.D)
  • Social Work (D.S.W.)
  • Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.)

Below, this guide lists a selection of courses that demonstrate the advanced nature of doctoral studies:

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Course Description
Education District Budget, Finance and Resources Topics focus on finance administration for public school districts, including forecasting, strategic planning, resource allocation, state and federal regulations, and tax impacts.
Independent Study in Nursing Science Renewable for 1-6 credit hours in an approved research project in nursing practice, this course focuses on the development of a scholarly article, proposal, or similar documentation.
Accounting and Management Workshop This course evaluates current pertinent topics in financial management and accounting. Directed research and a seminar paper are required for completion.
Social Welfare Policy This class focuses on the political and economic aspects of the design, implementation, and monitoring of social service programming using policy analysis frameworks.
Leadership in the Faith Community This classes assesses the challenges facing North American Church leadership, including pastoral planning, interpersonal communications, facilitation of groups, and proficiency in leading services.

Ph.D. Program Earning Potential

Online doctoral programs reward successful students with outstanding earning potential and low unemployment rates. Excluding the specialized degrees held by professionals like lawyers, Ph.D. graduates make more money and suffer less unemployment than people at any other level of educational attainment.

According to a 2019 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, labor force members with doctoral degrees earn median incomes of $1,825 per week. This represents 27.2% more than the typical master’s degree-holder and 52.3% more than the average bachelor’s graduate. Their employment rates also compare favorably: just 1.6% of doctoral degree-holders were unemployed at the time of the report’s publication, compared to 2.1% of master’s holders and 3.7% of those who attended college but never earned a degree.

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Why Get a Ph.D.?

Students will need a Ph.D. in order to work in certain careers in academics and research, often within the fields of higher education, healthcare, and medicine. Earning a professional doctoral degree can also benefit mid-level professionals seeking advancement to top management roles in technology, finance, engineering, and law.

Culturally and professionally, the Ph.D. carries with it an unmatched level of educational attainment and reverence.

How Online Ph.D. Programs Work

Because Ph.D. degrees offer more self-direction than master’s or bachelor’s programs, they make an ideal complement to the inherent scheduling and self-pacing advantages of online learning. One major advantage of doing an online Ph.D. derives from your ability to study from anywhere: you can work with leading authorities and recognized experts in your field without having to relocate, helping you derive more enjoyment and value from the undertaking.

Ph.D. degrees typically involve thorough literature reviews of current research trends in your chosen field, proposing and conducting an original research study, carrying out your project, and presenting your findings in a dissertation and defending your work. Taking Ph.D. programs online allows you to perform this rigorous work in a comfortable, casual setting, all while demonstrating your ambition to prospective future employers. The most successful online doctoral students tend to share qualities including high levels of self-motivation, insatiable curiosity, and a total commitment to reaching the zenith of scholastic achievement.

Online Learning Q & A

Are online doctoral programs easier to complete?

Students who complete their Ph.D. online tend to benefit from higher levels of scheduling flexibility, which reduces the stress associated with these demanding study paths. So, in this regard, one could argue that Ph.D. online programs offer a major advantage over their traditional counterparts.

How do I evaluate online doctorate or Ph.D. program faculty?

Start by reviewing the publishing and research records of the program’s faculty members to determine the degree to which they have earned wider recognition in the academic world. Also, compare their research interests to yours. The closer they match, the better the fit.

How do I apply to an online doctorate or Ph.D. program?

Each school maintains its own application procedures and policies. The online program page or portal will provide detailed instructions on how to apply and what credentials candidates will need.

Do online universities offer financial aid specific to Ph.D. or doctoral students?

Yes. Online Ph.D. students should begin their aid searches by exploring federal government aid resources. Schools also usually offer their own internal student aid and scholarship programs, so inquire with the financial aid office of each institution under your consideration.

Are doctoral course credits transferable?

Most online Ph.D. programs that allow students to transfer previously earned credits only recognize coursework specifically completed at the doctorate level. In rare instances, schools may accept master’s level courses if they relate directly to the candidate’s approved research interests.

Ph.D. Program Accreditation

College accreditation is a voluntary process by which institutions measure the quality of their degree programs against nationally recognized academic standards. In many cases, traditional and online Ph.D. schools may be accredited at the institutional level by regional accreditation agencies. Six regional accreditation agencies approved by the Department of Education confer institutional accreditation to schools in New England, the mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Southern, Western, and Northwest states.

Colleges and Universities with institution-wide accreditation commonly seek special accreditation for departments that offer doctoral degree programs. For example, a department offering a Ph.D. in Education will seek special accreditation from the National Council on Accreditation of Teacher Education. Departments or college divisions offering advanced nursing Ph.D.s may seek special accreditation by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

Online schools often add to institution-wide accreditation with special accreditation from organizations such as the United States Distance Learning Association or Distance Learning Council. The accreditation process begins when the institution performs an internal assessment based on standards held by accreditation agencies. The agency follows up with an on-campus visit and evaluation. In some cases, the institution may be required to upgrade its programs in order to receive accreditation.

Accreditation renewals are subject to monitoring and approval by the agency. The value of attending an accredited school, college, or university is multifold. Many employers will not recognize a degree earned at a non-accredited institution. For students seeking financial aid, accreditation is required by the U.S. Department of Education for school participation in federal grants, loans, and fellowship programs.

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