Best Accredited Online Ph.D. Programs 2021

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A Ph.D. is the highest degree in most fields. The degree builds comprehensive, wide-ranging knowledge in one area of study. Students enrolled in online Ph.D. programs study fields such as psychology, business, or education. Most students pursue a Ph.D. after earning a master's degree. However, some programs accept candidates with a bachelor's degree.

Graduates can teach at the college level or pursue research positions. They can also pursue advanced positions outside of academia. Students who earn a Ph.D. can work in the public or private sector.

This guide highlights the best online Ph.D. programs. Read on to learn about popular degrees and common expenses.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Ph.D. Programs

true Q. How long does it take to get a Ph.D.?

Students can complete a Ph.D. program in 4-8 years, according to EducationData.org. Learners who enroll in accelerated programs can earn their degree sooner.

true Q. Can you work full time while earning a Ph.D.?

Some programs provide the flexibility for students to continue their careers. However, earning a doctorate requires time and effort. Many on-campus and online Ph.D. programs do not allow students to work full time.

true Q. What is the difference between a Ph.D. and a doctorate?

A Ph.D. is a type of doctorate. Other common doctoral degrees include doctor of education and doctor of psychology.

Why Get a Ph.D.?

Online Ph.D. programs train students as experts in their field. Earning a Ph.D. prepares graduates to teach at the college level or pursue other advanced careers. Professionals with a Ph.D. often earn much higher salaries than their peers. For example, postsecondary teachers earn an annual median salary of $80,560, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median annual wage for all occupations is $41,950.

Many colleges offer at least some of their Ph.D. programs online. This allows students to earn their degree without relocating or commuting to campus.

How Much Does a Ph.D. Cost?

As of October 2021, the average Ph.D. costs $114,300, according to EducationData.org. To help cover costs, 71% of Ph.D. students use some type of financial aid. Doctoral candidates receive an average of about $12,800 in annual grant aid.

Even Ph.D. candidates who receive financial aid may need to pay off large student loans. Prospective enrollees should consider their potential future earnings.

Additional Online Student Fees

Online students save on certain academic fees since they use fewer campus resources. However, most schools charge extra technology fees. These can include tech support and other online resources. Learners also need to buy the same textbooks and other materials as campus students.

Many online programs include residency requirements. Students should budget for travel and lodging for these experiences. Online students may also need to pay graduation fees and other administrative expenses.

Available Online Ph.D. Degrees

Online Ph.D. programs build knowledge in one academic or professional discipline. Learners often specialize in a particular field within their discipline. Some options include counseling psychology and social psychology.

Students complete high-level graduate courses. They also research an approved dissertation topic. The dissertation typically results in a book-length work of research that contributes new ideas to the field.

Read below for three common types of online Ph.D. programs. Keep in mind that specific degrees vary by school.

  • Ph.D. in English

    Learners develop advanced skills in literary analysis and interpretation. They study literary movements and periods along with varied critical approaches to literary texts. Some graduates work as college professors. Others work in advertising, communications, or journalism.
  • Ph.D. in Psychology

    The degree covers psychological theories and practices. Learners typically specialize in one area of the field, such as clinical psychology. Graduates can pursue careers in clinical practice, academia, or research.
  • Ph.D. in Education

    The degree trains educators in the most advanced educational theories and research approaches. Students typically focus on education research. They explore how to develop new education methods. Many graduates pursue academic or research positions. Graduates may also pursue jobs in education administration.

Best Accredited Online Ph.D. Programs 2021

Amridge University View School Profile Montgomery, Alabama

Amridge offers six online Ph.D. programs in disciplines such as organizational leadership and management, marriage and family therapy, biblical studies, and interdisciplinary studies. A private university affiliated with the Churches of Christ, the school's programs emphasize Christian values with coursework in ministry and theology.

Most of the school's doctoral degrees require 50-60 credits and take four years of full-time study to complete. To graduate, students need a minimum 3.0 GPA and must pass a comprehensive exam, complete a dissertation, and successfully defend their dissertation. Amridge University participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program, supporting both veteran and active-duty military students.

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

Andrews University View School Profile Berrien Springs, Michigan

Andrews offers online Ph.D. programs in areas like higher education administration, curriculum and instruction, and educational leadership. A private Seventh-day Adventist university, Andrews offers a Christ-centered learning experience.

The school's Ph.D. programs require at least 60 credits and take 5-7 years to complete. The programs culminate in a dissertation and dissertation defense. Like many of the best Ph.D. online programs, some programs feature internship or practicum requirements. For instance, Ph.D. students studying curriculum and instruction must complete an original research project and an internship.

Doctoral applicants need a master's degree from a regionally accredited institution with a minimum 3.3 GPA. Additional requirements vary by program. Some programs require five years of professional work experience and an academic writing sample.

Andrews University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Barry University View School Profile Miami, Florida

Barry offers an online Ph.D. program in nursing designed for working professionals. Students can choose between the traditional part-time study plan or the summer residence program. The interdisciplinary program incorporates courses from both the School of Education and the College of Health Sciences.

The Ph.D. in nursing degree requires 45 credits beyond a master's degree. Students take courses such as alternative paradigmatic inquiry, structure of nursing knowledge, nursing research, and bioethical imperative in nursing. Enrollees must also complete a dissertation and dissertation defense.

Prospective students with a bachelor of science in nursing need a minimum 3.3 GPA and adequate GRE/MAT scores. Candidates with a master of science in nursing need a minimum 3.3 GPA. They must also show completion of a graduate-level research project or thesis.

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

Baylor University View School Profile Waco, Texas

Baylor offers an online Ph.D. in social work. The program delivers courses through synchronous, high-quality video-conferencing technology. All students must attend an on-campus session (4-5 days) in Waco, Texas, at the beginning of the program.

The Ph.D. in social work takes 10 semesters to complete. Coursework covers topics such as quantitative research, qualitative research, social policy and the religious sector, and theory and model development in social work. Students must also complete a research practicum, teaching practicum, comprehensive exam, and a dissertation.

The selective program only accepts 5-7 students each year. Applicants must submit a personal statement, a scholarly writing sample, a resume or CV, recommendation letters, and transcripts.

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

Capitol Technology University View School Profile Laurel, Maryland

A premier STEM-focused university located in Washington, D.C., Capitol offers several online Ph.D. programs in disciplines such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity leadership, human factors, and occupational health and safety. These programs encourage students to engage in research and publish their work.

Many of the school's Ph.D. programs require around 60 credits and take 2-3 years to complete. Students can often choose from two degree-completion options: a dissertation option or a publication option.

Doctoral applicants need a master's degree in a relevant field and at least five years of related work experience. The combination Ph.D. in technology with a master of science in research methods program allows students to enroll with only an undergraduate degree.

Capitol Technology University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Duquesne University View School Profile Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Duquesne offers online Ph.D. programs in nursing and nursing ethics. These degrees prepare graduates for careers in nursing education, research, and organizational leadership. The programs offer fully online courses, but they also include several in-person requirements, including a summer orientation, a summer study-abroad program, committee meetings, and a final dissertation defense.

The Ph.D. in nursing requires 56 credits, while the Ph.D. in nursing ethics requires 47 credits. These programs typically take 3-4 years to complete. In addition to coursework, students complete an applied qualitative practicum. They also write and defend a dissertation on a topic of their choosing.

Admission criteria include a valid registered nurse license, a bachelor of science in nursing, and prerequisite courses. Students can transfer up to nine graduate credits toward the program.

Duquesne University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

East Tennessee State University View School Profile Johnson City, Tennessee

ETSU offers five Ph.D. programs, including an entirely online Ph.D. in nursing. The program offers full-time Ph.D. students graduate assistantship opportunities to help offset the cost of tuition. Some assistantships require in-person attendance, while others offer fully online formats.

The degree requires 60 credits and takes 2.5-3.5 years to complete. Students take courses such as philosophy of nursing science, theoretical foundations of nursing science, and health policy leadership. Enrollees must also write and defend a dissertation.

Applicants need a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) and a non-nursing master's degree or a master of science in nursing (MSN). ETSU occasionally admits exceptional BSN graduates to the Ph.D. program, but they must earn an MSN in the process of obtaining their doctorate. Prospective students also need a registered nurse license and at least two years of work experience.

East Tennessee State University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

George Washington University View School Profile Washington, District of Columbia

GW offers online Ph.D. programs in systems engineering and nursing. The Ph.D. in nursing combines several intensive weekends on campus with online courses. The program provides graduate assistantships for qualified students. The Ph.D. in systems engineering accommodates working students through online Saturday classes.

The Ph.D. in nursing requires 57 credits, while the Ph.D. in systems engineering requires 54 credits. Both programs take three years to complete. Nursing students must complete a research practicum, take a comprehensive exam, and write and defend a dissertation. Systems engineering student milestones include passing a qualifying oral exam, publishing an original article in an approved journal, and defending a dissertation.

Applicants need a master's degree in a related discipline. The systems engineering program requires a minimum 3.5 GPA. The nursing program requires GRE scores, a preferred GPA of 3.0 or higher, and a current registered nurse license.

The George Washington University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Idaho State University View School Profile Pocatello, Idaho

ISU offers two online Ph.D. programs: a Ph.D. in nursing and a Ph.D. in rehabilitation and communication science. These advanced programs prepare students to work as independent scholars, educators, and administrators.

The Ph.D. in rehabilitation and communication sciences requires 60 credits, while the Ph.D. in nursing requires 59 credits. Both programs take three years to complete and culminate in a dissertation defense. Additional program requirements may include research seminars, a thesis equivalent, comprehensive exams, and a grant submission. Rehabilitation and communication sciences students who did not complete a thesis must complete a mentored research project.

Applicants to the nursing program need a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) with a minimum 3.5 GPA or a master of science in nursing and a valid registered nurse license. Applicants to the rehabilitation and communication sciences degree need a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.5 GPA and sufficient GRE scores.

Idaho State University is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

Indiana State University View School Profile Terre Haute, Indiana

ISU offers online Ph.D. programs in educational administration and technology management. The online Ph.D. in educational administration requires 63 credits and takes two years to complete. Students matriculate in cohorts and attend three weeks of residency during the summer. The curriculum also includes an internship experience and a dissertation.

The online Ph.D. in technology management requires 66 credits and takes 3-4.5 years to complete. The program offers five specializations: construction management, digital communication systems, human resource development and industrial training, manufacturing systems, and quality systems.

Applicants need a master's degree from an accredited institution with a minimum 3.5 GPA (technology management program) or a B or higher in all graduate coursework (educational administration program). Prospective students must also submit GRE scores.

Indiana State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Indiana University-Bloomington View School Profile Bloomington, Indiana

IU offers an online Ph.D. in nursing science for students pursuing a career in nursing education, research, or clinical science. This degree is a hybrid program that blends synchronous video conferences, online learning, and on-campus intensives.

This online degree requires 90 credits. Students may enter the program with a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) or a master of science in nursing (MSN) with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Students who already hold an MSN can transfer 30 credits into the program from their master's degree. The curriculum culminates in a dissertation defense.

Applicants need confirmation of support from an IU School of Nursing faculty advisor. They must also submit a personal statement, a resume, and samples of scholarly writing.

Indiana University Bloomington is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Johns Hopkins University View School Profile Baltimore, Maryland

Johns Hopkins offers several online doctoral degrees, including a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. Students develop a study plan in conjunction with their faculty advisor rather than following a formal set of course requirements.

To qualify for candidacy, Ph.D. students must pass a departmental exam typically taken during the third semester of graduate study. This exam is based on core courses. Learners must also pass a Graduate Board oral exam, which tests overall field proficiency.

All doctoral candidates must work as teaching assistants for two semesters. The degree culminates in an original research project, a dissertation, and a dissertation defense.

John Hopkins University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Liberty University View School Profile Lynchburg, Virginia

Liberty offers multiple online Ph.D. programs in fields such as history, psychology, advanced educational studies, and theology and apologetics. These online Ph.D. programs require 57-72 credits and take 3-4 years to complete. The programs feature fully online, eight-week courses. Students can transfer up to 50% of the course requirements into these programs.

Many programs offer specializations. For example, education Ph.D. students can choose from concentrations in areas like curriculum and instruction, educational law, and special education. Students must maintain a B or higher in all courses for them to count toward the degree.

Applicants need a master's degree in a related field from a regionally accredited institution with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Liberty does not require GRE scores.

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

Michigan Technological University View School Profile Houghton, Michigan

MTU offers 27 Ph.D. programs, including an online Ph.D. in mechanical engineering - engineering mechanics. Online Ph.D. students receive the same quality education, access to faculty, and preparation for independent research as on-campus students.

Enrollees can choose from eight concentrations in areas such as autonomous systems, molecular dynamics modeling, alternative fuels and renewable energy, and mechanics of multiscale materials.

Applicants need a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering or a related field with a minimum 3.25 GPA. Students with a bachelor's degree in another field may still qualify but they must complete prerequisite courses. Prospective students must also submit GRE scores, two recommendation letters, and a resume or CV. Recommended minimum GRE scores include a 162 quantitative score and 153 verbal score.

Michigan Technological University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Mississippi State University View School Profile Mississippi State, Mississippi

MSU provides a variety of online Ph.D. programs in areas such as community college leadership, computational engineering, industrial and systems engineering, and instructional systems and workforce development. These degrees prepare students for leadership and research roles in their respective fields.

Online Ph.D. programs at MSU typically require around 60 credits beyond the master's degree. The Ph.D. in engineering program allows students to choose from concentrations in areas such as aerospace engineering, chemical engineering, and civil engineering. All Ph.D. students must complete and defend a dissertation.

Applicants need a master's degree from an accredited institution with a minimum 3.4 GPA. Prospective students must also submit GRE scores, three references, a statement of purpose, a writing sample, and a CV. Some programs may require an on-campus interview or a certain amount of work experience in the field.

Mississippi State University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Nova Southeastern University View School Profile Fort Lauderdale, Florida

NSU offers online Ph.D. degrees in disciplines including computer science, cybersecurity management, information systems, and nursing. Some programs contain on-campus components, such as in-person residencies.

Online Ph.D. programs at NSU require 60-67 credits and take 2-4 years to complete. Students take core and doctoral research courses and produce a final dissertation. The Ph.D. in criminal justice allows students to select from concentrations in organizational leadership, behavioral science, and juvenile justice.

Applicants need a master's degree in a relevant major from a regionally accredited institution with a minimum 3.25 GPA. Candidates must also submit a resume or CV, an essay, and three recommendation letters.

Nova Southeastern University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Old Dominion University View School Profile Norfolk, Virginia

ODU offers online Ph.D. programs in fields including instructional design and technology, community college leadership, public administration and policy, and engineering management and systems engineering.

These Ph.D. programs require 48-60 credits and take 2-4 years to complete. Students take core and specialized courses and complete a dissertation. Some programs, such as the Ph.D. in community college leadership, require students to participate in a two-week, on-campus intensive.

Applicants need a master's degree from an accredited institution with a minimum 3.25 GPA. Candidates must also submit a resume, three recommendation letters, an essay, and GRE/GMAT scores. GRE waivers are available to qualified applicants.

Old Dominion University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Texas A & M University-College Station View School Profile College Station, Texas

Texas A&M offers two online Ph.D. programs: a Ph.D. in plant breeding and a Ph.D. in interdisciplinary engineering. Plant breeding students must work with an educator or supervisor who qualifies as an adjunct faculty member at Texas A&M. Engineering students must work in an industry or laboratory setting that can support a Ph.D. project.

Both degrees require 64 credits beyond the master's degree. Interdisciplinary engineering students must complete and pass a qualifying exam within two years of matriculating into the program. All Ph.D. students must write and defend a dissertation.

Texas A&M considers various factors in the admissions process, including research interests and goals, experience and education, GPA, recommendation letters, and test scores.

Texas A&M University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Texas Tech University View School Profile Lubbock, Texas

Texas Tech offers online Ph.D. programs in curriculum and instruction, family and consumer science education, systems and engineering management, and technical communication and rhetoric. Systems and engineering management students must participate in two residencies, consisting of two weeks each summer. The program delivers all other coursework entirely online.

Texas Tech's online Ph.D. programs require 90 credits beyond the bachelor's degree or 60-72 beyond the master's degree. Students typically complete core courses, elective or specialization courses, research seminars, and dissertation credits. All Ph.D. students must write and defend a dissertation.

Texas Tech bases admissions decisions on GPA, recommendation letters, work experience, and test scores.

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

The University of Tennessee-Knoxville View School Profile Knoxville, Tennessee

UT Knoxville offers several online doctoral programs, including a Ph.D. in nursing and a Ph.D. in industrial and systems engineering. The Ph.D. in nursing is a blended program combining two required face-to-face sessions per term, synchronous online activities, structured asynchronous work, and individual mentorship and guidance. The Ph.D. in industrial and systems engineering delivers courses entirely online.

These online Ph.D. programs require 72-83 credits beyond a bachelor's degree. Students progress to doctoral candidacy when they pass a comprehensive exam and defend their dissertation proposal. All of the school's Ph.D. programs culminate in a dissertation defense.

Applicants need a bachelor's degree in a relevant discipline from an accredited school. The engineering management concentration also requires two years of work experience as an engineer or scientist.

University of Tennessee, Knoxville is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of Florida View School Profile Gainesville, Florida

UF provides two online Ph.D. programs: a Ph.D. in classical civilization and a Ph.D. in Latin and Roman studies. These programs prepare high school and community college teachers for leadership roles.

These online Ph.D. degrees require 60 credits beyond the master's degree. Students take classics courses; electives; and language courses in German, French, or Italian. They also complete supervised teaching experiences. In addition, Ph.D. students must pass written exams and a comprehensive oral exam. They must also complete and defend a dissertation.

Applicants need a master's in a related discipline with a minimum 3.25 GPA. Candidates must also demonstrate reading knowledge of German, French, Italian, or Modern Greek.

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

University of Memphis View School Profile Memphis, Tennessee

UofM Global offers several online programs, including an online Ph.D. in nursing. This Ph.D. takes 3.5 years of full-time study to complete. Doctoral students work with an advisor and faculty committee to conduct a research project and produce a dissertation.

Applicants need a master's degree in nursing with a minimum 3.0 GPA. UofM does not require GRE scores, but applicants can submit them to compensate for a lower GPA. Applicants must also submit a personal statement, three reference letters, a writing sample, and a CV.

The University of Memphis Global is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of Nevada-Las Vegas View School Profile Las Vegas, Nevada

UNLV offers an online Ph.D. in nursing. The program requires students to participate in an on-campus orientation prior to beginning the first semester. Students must also return to campus throughout the degree for oral comprehensive exams, proposal defense, and dissertation defense.

The online Ph.D. in nursing requires 62 credits beyond a master's degree. Learners who hold a master of science in nursing may opt for an accelerated track. All students must complete and defend a dissertation.

Applicants need a master's in nursing or another health-related discipline with a minimum 3.5 GPA, an active registered nurse license, and adequate GRE scores. Candidates must also submit three recommendation letters, two samples of scholarly work, a personal statement, and a CV.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

University of North Dakota View School Profile Grand Forks, North Dakota

UND offers online Ph.D. programs in engineering and health disciplines, including degrees in aerospace sciences, biomedical engineering, indigenous health, and nursing. The Ph.D in indigenous health is the nation's first degree of its kind.

Most of these online Ph.D. programs require 90 credits and take 4-7 years to complete. UND delivers courses synchronously so students can participate in real-time interaction with faculty and peers.

Applicants need a master's or graduate degree in a related discipline from an accredited institution with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Candidates must also submit a personal statement, a CV, and recommendation letters. Some programs also require GRE scores, an additional research statement, or work experience.

University of North Dakota is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

University of Northern Colorado View School Profile Greeley, Colorado

UNC offers several online Ph.D. programs, including nursing degrees focused on education and special education.

The online Ph.D. programs require 66-81 credits and take 3-5 years to complete. The nursing: education degree requires short campus visits, including a five-day initial orientation. Ph.D. students in the special education program complete courses and requirements entirely online. They must also complete a comprehensive performance assessment and an externship.

Applicants need a master's degree in a relevant discipline from an accredited institution with a minimum GPA. Nursing education candidates need a current registered nurse license in Colorado and two years of teaching experience. Candidates for the special education degree must complete a prerequisite graduate research course.

University of Northern Colorado is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Written by:

Reese Lopez is a freelance writer with over a decade of experience in the education field. After earning his BA in English from Evergreen State College, he worked as an English language instructor and tutor before joining Affordable Colleges Online. Reese lives in Portland, Oregon, where he also writes fiction and performs in the local music scene.

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