Is a PhD worth it? There’s no doubt that completing a doctorate involves a huge amount of time, effort, and dedication. Even more so than a demanding master’s like an MBA. However, with competition in the job market only increasing, many ambitious professionals will find this qualification invaluable for advancing their careers. For certain positions in various sectors like research and academia, a PhD is essential.
There are countless options for California students looking to pursue a doctorate, even with PhD distance learning. Here are the best PhD programs in California, both on-campus and online!
Below is a list of the best Ph.D programs in California. The list includes both on-campus and online program options.
Best On-Campus Doctorate Programs in California
The University of Southern California, Rossier School of Education
Doctor of Philosophy in Urban Education Policy
Acceptance rate: 16%
The University of Southern California is a private research university in Los Angeles founded in 1880. Its doctorate in urban education policy centers on research that promotes excellence in education. Students are fully funded for four years of study through teaching and research assistantships.
University of California Los Angeles
Molecular Biology Interdepartmental Doctoral Program (MBIDP)
Acceptance rate: 14.3%
UCLA is a public land-grant research university that was established in 1919 and has an acceptance rate of 14.3%. UCLA’s MBIDP program is designed to transform students into scientific leaders in molecular biology. Tuition is fully supported for all five years of the program through various financial aid options.
California State University Long Beach, Kaiser Permanente School of Anesthesia
Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) – Nurse Anesthesia
Acceptance rate: 42.1%
CSULB is the second-largest of the California State University (CSU) system of 23 colleges. Its DNP equips students with advanced knowledge that is relevant to clinical settings. The program runs for at least two years, with the post-baccalaureate option taking three years. The tuition is $7,635 per semester with financial aid available as grants, scholarships, and loans. This is one of the best doctoral programs in California for nursing students.
San Diego State University
Joint Doctoral Program (JDP) in Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE)
Acceptance rate: 37%
San Diego State University was established in 1897, making it the third-oldest institution in the California State University system. This joint doctoral program is offered in collaboration with the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). Students are awarded a joint degree from both universities and study subjects from the electrical, electronics, and computer engineering fields at both institutions. The tuition is $2,082 per credit hour and financial support is available for eligible students.
University of California Irvine
Acceptance rate: 30%
UCI is a public land-grant university located in Irvine, California, and has an overall acceptance rate of 30%. Its PhD in Public Health program aims to prepare students to research and identify vulnerable populations and formulate strategies for disease prevention. Most coursework can be completed in two years and students can progress to doctoral candidacy in the third year. Various financial support options are available.
University of California Berkeley, College of Environmental Design
Ph.D. – City and Regional Planning
Acceptance rate: 17.5%
The University of California Berkeley, founded in 1868, is a public land-grant research university. This PhD aims to make you an expert in urban planning through rigorous training and advanced research. The tuition for the five-year program is $5,721 per semester, with financial aid available in various forms for each year.
University of California Santa Barbara
Doctor of Philosophy in Computer Science
Acceptance rate: 37%
University of California Santa Barbara is a part of the University of California system and has been teaching since 1891. This doctorate aims to equip students with computer science expertise that they can apply to research, teaching, and leadership positions in academia, government, and business. The program can be completed in four to six years and you can find tuition details on the university’s cost of attendance page. Scholarships and other financial aid options are also available.
Stanford University, School of Humanities and Sciences
Acceptance rate: 5%
Founded in 1885, Stanford University is a private research university with one of the largest campuses in the country. The Ivy League university’s doctoral program in political science is known for creating exceptional scholars in the field. The program runs for five years and there are multiple funding options to cover full tuition throughout.
San Jose State University, Department of Audiology
Acceptance rate: 67%
San Jose State University is a public university that the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education (WSJ/THE) ranking put at number 8 in the country for diversity. Its four-year Doctor of Audiology program makes students experts in the diagnosis and treatment of auditory ailments, like mixed hearing loss and auditory neuropathy spectrum disorder. The program covers various scientific aspects of audiology through coursework, clinical rotations, and research. You can find tuition and fee information on the Bursar’s Office page and financial aid through the school’s Financial Aid and Scholarship Office.
Southern California Seminary
Acceptance rate: 100%
Southern California Seminary is located in El Cajon, California, with its main campus in San Diego. It accepts 100% of student applications, though the graduation rate is 33%. The school’s DMin program allows professionals already in the ministry to take their careers to the next level through one of the three streams: Christian Leadership, Biblical Exposition, and Christian Education. It can be completed in three years on-campus, with online options also available. Tuition details are listed on the Student Accounts page and loans, grants, and work-study options are available through the SCS Financial Aid office.
Best Online PhD Programs in California
Looking to save time and money in transportation? Need a more flexible schedule? Then check out some of these top online PhD programs in California.
University of Southern California
Ed. D. Organizational Change and Leadership
Acceptance rate: 16%
USC is the oldest private research university in California, founded in 1880 and based in Los Angeles, California. The university’s Ed.D. in Organizational Change and Leadership is one of the best online PhD programs in Southern California. The program aims to equip students to transform organizations in the fields of education, industry, and government into competent, effective, and adaptable entities. Tuition details can be found in the USC catalog and financial aid is also available.
Trident University International, The College of Health and Human Services
Doctor of Philosophy in Health Sciences (Ph.D. HS)
Acceptance rate: 49%
Trident University International is a fully online university that has been teaching since 1998. It is a relatively small university headquartered in Cypress, California. Its online PhD program in California in Health Sciences helps students to become competent leaders, scholars, researchers, consultants, and teachers in the healthcare sector. Tuition is $990 per credit, but the university strives to make the program affordable to all through various financing options.
California Southern University
Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)
Acceptance rate: 13%
CSU, located in Costa Mesa and founded in 1978, offers online programs in a range of disciplines. CSU’s DBA program is designed to turn students into leaders with high-level decision-making skills and can be completed fully online in four years. While trying to keep the tuition affordable at $545 per credit, the university doesn’t provide any significant forms of financial aid. However, there are discounts for alumni, veterans, and their family members.
California State University Fresno, Kremen School of Education and Human Development
Doctor of Education (Ed. D) in Educational Leadership
Acceptance rate: 90%
CSUF is a public university located in Fresno, California that follows the CSU system. CSUF’s online EdD program is designed to prepare working professionals for leadership positions in P12 schools and district or community colleges and can be completed in three years. Tuition is $5,919 per term, with fee waivers and scholarships available for students.
San Jose State University (with Manchester Metropolitan University)
Gateway Ph.D. in Library and Information Management
Acceptance rate: 67%
San Jose State University is the oldest public university on the West Coast, founded in 1857. It offers a Gateway PhD in Library and Information Management in collaboration with Manchester Metropolitan University. a public university in Manchester, England. This online program prepares students to become leaders, faculty, and researchers in the field of library and information science. It is one of the few PhD programs in California that will give you a UK degree without being a UK resident and allows you up to seven years for completion. Tuition is set by Manchester Metropolitan University.
The University of Southern California, Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work
Online Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)
Acceptance rate: 16%
The University of Southern California is a world-renowned private research university with nearly 50,000 enrolled students. Its online PhD in Social Work allows experienced professionals to develop the necessary skills to come up with solutions to the challenges faced by disadvantaged and marginalized populations. The program is typically completed in nine semesters, or seven semesters on the accelerated track. You can find tuition details in the program catalog and financial aid options are available.
DHA (Doctor of Health Administration) in Health Care Leadership
Acceptance rate: 100%
Capella University is a predominantly online university headquartered in Minneapolis, MN, but accepts online students nationwide. Its fully online DHA program prepares leaders to face challenges in the complex and constantly changing healthcare field. Tuition will depend on how long you take to complete the program as well as a few other factors, and students can access federal financial aid.
Grand Canyon University, College of Doctoral Studies
Education Specialist (Ed. S.) in K-12 Leadership
Acceptance rate: 81%
Grand Canyon University was the largest Christian university in the world in 2018 with 70,000 online students as well as on-campus students. It is a private, for-profit university based in Phoenix, Arizona. However, Californian students will find its Education Specialist doctorate accessible, as an online program in a nearby state. This Ed.S. helps working education professionals to advance their careers through leadership courses with a focus on instruction. Tuition for the 30-credit program is $702 per credit, and there are various scholarship opportunities.
Concordia University Irvine, Townsend Institute
Ph.D. Counselor Education & Supervision
Acceptance rate: 78.2%
Concordia University is a Lutheran private university with both online and on-campus students and offers a range of fully online programs across various disciplines. Its online PhD degree in Counselor Education & Supervision equips professionals with advanced skills in counseling, teaching, serving, and advocating based on biblical principles. You can complete the 60-unit program in three to four years at a cost per unit of $995. The university offers federal funding options for students.
Acceptance rate: 50%
Liberty University is a non-profit private Christian university spread over a 7,000-acre campus in Lynchburg, Virginia. However, Californian students have the option to study their PhD in History fully online within an average of four years and the university is accredited in all 50 states. This program equips students to take their careers to the next level in the education, archeology, politics, research, and government sectors. The university strives to keep tuition affordable and around 80% of students receive financial assistance or scholarships.
A PhD will make you an expert in your field with a specific set of advanced skills that will set you apart from other professionals. This will not only be beneficial to your career but can also be helpful in other parts of your life. A doctorate sharpens your critical thinking skills and gives you deep insight into virtually everything.
If studying a full-time, in-person PhD programs in California aren’t viable for you, you can find an online PhD in California with flexible scheduling.
If you’re still not sure which PhD program is right for you, take a look at our guides to the top 20 online PhD programs, the cheapest online PhD programs, and the top 10 highest paying PhD degrees.
Lisa is a full-time writer specializing in career advice, further education, and personal development. She works from all over the world, and when not writing you'll find her hiking, practicing yoga, or enjoying a glass of Malbec.
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