Best Accredited Online Ph.D. Programs 2021

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Short for doctor of philosophy, a Ph.D. is the highest degree a university confers in any subject. In most countries, a Ph.D. qualifies holders to teach at the university level, conduct original research in their field, and work in a specialized position requiring in-depth expertise. Ph.D. programs train students to become independent scholars and researchers so they must work independently and methodically, and communicate their ideas effectively.

A Ph.D. program typically requires 3-4 years of full-time coursework followed by independent research and a dissertation. Candidates present their findings in a written document and then participate in an oral defense of their work. Many programs require a comprehensive exam before students begin their research projects.

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Top 10 Accredited Online Ph.D. Programs 2021

Rank School Location
1 Amridge University Montgomery, Alabama
2 Andrews University Berrien Springs, Michigan
3 Barry University Miami, Florida
4 Baylor University Waco, Texas
5 Capitol Technology University Laurel, Maryland
6 Duquesne University Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
7 East Tennessee State University Johnson City, Tennessee
8 George Washington University Washington, District of Columbia
9 Idaho State University Pocatello, Idaho
10 Indiana State University Terre Haute, Indiana


  • Are Ph.D. programs funded?

    It depends on the program and the school. Most, but not all, on-campus Ph.D. programs offer funding through tuition waivers and stipends.

  • How long does it take to earn a Ph.D.?

    A Ph.D. generally takes 4-7 years to complete, depending on the specific discipline and program requirements. Students typically spend the first three years on coursework and the latter years on research and completing a dissertation.

  • Can I earn a Ph.D. online?

    Yes. Many schools offer accredited online Ph.D. programs, but not in all disciplines. The management and education fields notably feature online Ph.D. programs.

  • What kind of degree do I need to start a Ph.D. program?

    Ph.D. programs typically follow a master’s degree but many also admit students directly from a bachelor’s degree and bestow a master’s along the way.

Career and Salary Outlook for Ph.D. Graduates

A Ph.D. qualifies graduates for positions as university and college professors, researchers at public and private institutions, and other roles involving specialized expertise. Academic positions offer stability and a competitive salary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, postsecondary teachers earned a median annual salary of $79,540 in 2019.

An individual’s area of expertise influences the types of jobs and career pathways available to them, including those outside of academia. A candidate with a Ph.D. in epidemiology may work as a researcher at a hospital or medical center or as an epidemiologist for local, state, or federal governments. A professional with a Ph.D. in art history might work in curation or collection development roles in museums or libraries.

Accreditation for Doctoral Programs

Accreditation assures students of their program’s quality. In the United States, schools receive either regional or national accreditation. Six regional accreditation agencies monitor different geographic regions. Regional accreditation adheres to more rigorous and standardized requirements. Students can easily transfer credits from one regionally accredited school to another.

Financial Aid for Ph.D. Programs

Graduate students enrolled in even the most affordable Ph.D. online programs can benefit from financial aid. Federal aid options for graduate students include direct unsubsidized loans, direct PLUS loans, and TEACH grants. Students can also apply for federal work-study programs and Pell Grants. Students should complete the FAFSA to determine their federal aid eligibility.

Universities and graduate programs often offer financial aid in the form of research or teaching assistantships. The school or department hires students to assist professors with their teaching or research responsibilities in exchange for a tuition waiver and stipend.

Online programs also provide students the flexibility to continue working while they obtain their degree, allowing them to manage or balance tuition costs.

Why Study for a Doctorate Online?

Students looking for the best Ph.D. online will find flexibility in scheduling and the ability to balance studying with other obligations. Online Ph.D. programs often appeal to students with families or full-time jobs. Many programs deliver courses asynchronously so students can listen to lectures and complete assignments at their own pace. Programs with synchronous components generally occur on weekday evenings to accommodate working professionals.

An online Ph.D. program gives students access to top faculty advisors and professors at schools across the nation. Especially at the Ph.D. level, an expert in your field of interest may not teach at a school near you. Pursuing an online degree expands the scope of courses and faculty members available to you.

Scholarships for Ph.D. Students

Graduate students qualify for a variety of scholarships. Universities, nonprofits, businesses, and government agencies offer scholarships. Some scholarships encourage students to enter specific disciplines. Others support minority students in their higher education goals. Some fund specific research projects or focus on students who demonstrate financial need.

NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program

Who Can Apply: This program awards graduate students pursuing research-based master’s or doctoral degrees in STEM fields. The fellowship provides students with an annual stipend, tuition coverage, and professional development opportunities.
Amount: $34,000 per year

M. Hildred Blewett Fellowship

Who Can Apply: This fellowship enables women to return to research careers in physics after an interruption. The fellowship covers dependent care, salary, travel, equipment, and tuition and fees.
Amount: Up to $45,000

The Point Foundation Scholarship

Who Can Apply: This scholarship supports LGBTQ Black, indigenous, and people of color in pursuing undergraduate or graduate degrees. All recipients must give back through a service project upon graduation.
Amount: Varies

Accredited Online Ph.D. Programs 2021

The following section lists the nation’s top accredited online Ph.D. programs. We provide an overview of available Ph.D. programs, their requirements, admission criteria, and any additional noteworthy information.

  • Amridge University

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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.

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