Academic and professional doctoral degrees give distinction to graduates for completing the highest level of education offered in their field. An academic PhD qualifies graduates for university-level professorships, education administration careers and postgraduate research fellowships. Professional doctorates represent the highest educational attainment in a specialized career field.
For this year’s college rankings, our analysts carefully reviewed statistical data from multiple sources for more than 7,500 postsecondary institutions so that you could easily evaluate schools based on what matters most to you. For each school, we applied the eligibility criteria outlined below, then ranked schools and programs based on four ranking factors.
Eligibility Criteria for All Postsecondary Institutions:
Must be a not-for-profit institution
Must be regionally or nationally accredited
Must offer at least one online program1
Must be located in a state (schools in US territories and Washington DC were not considered)
Dozens of data points were used to calculate a weighted score for four ranking factors: quality, affordability, flexibility and program (in order of significance). To determine quality, which was the most important consideration for all AS Online rankings, the most impactful data points were acceptance and graduation rates; for affordability, tuition2 and grants; for flexibility, part-time enrollment offerings; and for program, degrees conferred in that program area.
Some of our nursing program rankings used exam pass rates from NCLEX
How to Read Our Rankings Tool:
A dash indicates IPEDS data was not available
Annual in-state tuition is displayed unless stated otherwise
1 Our Best Vocational Programs rankings included data for both online and campus programs.
2 Both annual in-state and out-of-state tuition rates were used in our methodology; however, our Rankings Tool currently only displays annual in-state rates.
Earning a doctorate in your program of choice is a convenient and achievable goal when studying in one of the country’s top online PhD programs. Online learning offers a variety of benefits for students, including flexibility in their scheduling, working at their own pace, and even saving the money that would be put towards commuting to class if they were studying on-campus. We’ve compiled data that has allowed us to put together a list of the best online PhD programs available based on factors such as graduation rates, class size and availability of student services. Check it out below, and find the school that will help you meet you complete your online doctoral degree this 2018 school year.
Students can enter PhD programs directly from a master’s degree program, or they can enroll in professional/terminal PhD degree programs to advance in careers that require a doctorate. It typically takes four years after completing a bachelor’s degree to earn a PhD.
A doctoral program is typically made up of expert-level coursework in a major field (or a niche within a major field), along with extensive research projects and a formal dissertation. Online colleges and universities offer distance degree programs leading to academic and professional doctorates for students who can’t attend campus-based courses.
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 PhD fields are extensive and diverse. Here are a few of the many doctoral degrees available:
Advanced Nursing Practice (D.N.P.)
Business Administration (D.B.A.)
Computer Science (D.C.S.)
Health Administration (D.H.A.)
Law and Policy (L.P.D., D.L.P.)
Physical Therapy (D.P.T.)
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:
Topics in finance administration for public school districts. Includes forecasting, strategic planning, resource allocation, state and federal regulations, and tax impacts.
Independent Study in Nursing Science
Renewable 1-6 credit hours in an approved research project in nursing practice. Development of a scholarly article, proposal, or similar documentation.
Accounting and Management Workshop
Evaluation of current pertinent literature/studies in financial management and accounting. Directed research and seminar paper required for completion.
Social Welfare Policy
Theoretical, political and economic aspects of the design, implementation and monitoring of social service programming using policy analysis frameworks.
Leadership in the Faith Community
An assessment of challenges in North American Church leadership, including pastoral planning, interpersonal communications, facilitation of groups and proficiency in leading services.
Earnings Boosts with PhDs
Over the course of a working lifetime, PhD holders enjoy greater earning power and career stability than counterparts who have associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that median weekly earnings across the nation are highest for graduates of academic and professional PhD programs. At the same time, doctoral degree holders have the lowest rates of unemployment among all employees. Median 2013 weekly earnings for PhD holders were $1,623, compared to weekly earnings for bachelor’s degree holders ($1,108) and those with only an associate degree ($777). Meanwhile, the 2013 unemployment of PhD earners was 2.2 percent, compared to the 6.1 percent average unemployment rate for all workers. In academia, PhD holders with college or university tenure enjoy perhaps the greatest job security of all professions.
In many cases, students will need a PhD in order to work in careers in the fields of higher education, healthcare, and medicine. Earning a doctoral degree can also benefit mid-level, mid-career professionals seeking advancement to top management roles in technology, finance, engineering, and law.
Culturally and professionally, the PhD carries with it an unmatched level of educational attainment and reverence. Economic Modeling Specialists International reports that most of the best-paying/best-performing/fastest-growing jobs in 2012 requiring a PhD went to postsecondary teachers, physicians, veterinarians, surgeons, astronomers, psychiatrists, and anesthesiologists.
How Online Doctoral Degree Programs Work
Accredited online PhD degree programs are designed for scholars who cannot compromise their obligations to family and career in order to attend a campus-based program. The programs offer the same academic curriculum as traditional degrees, but provide the added advantage of self-paced studies with flexible schedules.
Online PhD programs combine all the traditional doctoral components including lectures, seminars, comprehensive research, examinations, colloquia, fieldwork, and the creation and defense of a scholarly thesis. Candidates log into the college dashboard or interface to conduct all required and optional interactions, including registration, mentoring, exams, research, and class attendance. As with traditional PhD programs, online doctoral courses depend greatly upon student self-discipline, motivation, and systematic participation. Communication and instruction is facilitated through email, bulletin boards, multi-media presentations, group chat sessions, conference calls, instant messaging, and video conferencing.
Distance Learning Q&A
Are online PhD programs easier to complete?
Very little is easy about completing a PhD, online or otherwise. The course, research, and thesis requirements are often identical between the traditional and online programs. However, online students that are dedicated and disciplined may complete their PhDs in a shorter amount of time than those who commute to college.
How do I evaluate online PhD faculty?
All students considering a school for earning a PhD should review the academic performance (publications, advancements, awards, appointments, conference presentations) by prospective faculty members. It can prove especially advantageous to work with faculty that share similar research and scholarly interests and have memberships in professional associations.
How do I apply to an online PhD program?
Entry requirements at a doctorate-conferring institution are identical for traditional and online applicants. But each school maintains its own set of pre-requisites and application materials. The distinction is that you can submit your application, test scores, prior grades, and required essays via the internet. Academic counseling can be done by telephone or video conference software like Skype.
Do online universities offer financial aid to PhD students?
The U.S. Department of Education offers qualified students at accredited institutions federal Perkins and Ford loans. There are federal TEACH Grants for students preparing for education careers. Individual schools and departments may also offer scholarships or fellowships.
Are doctoral course credits transferable?
While left up to each institution to determine, it is general policy to require students to complete their own entire course-matrix and dissertation requirements rather than to allow substitutions. On some occasions, prior master’s or doctorate courses can be counted as electives if directly applicable to the major.
Doctoral 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 PhD 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 PhD in Education will seek special accreditation from the National Council on Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). Departments or college divisions offering advanced nursing PhDs may seek special accreditation by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).
Online schools often add to institution-wide accreditation with special accreditation from organizations such as the National Distance Learning Association. 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.