A doctorate carries great prestige, helps you secure a high-paying job, and opens career advancement opportunities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 1.5% of PhD holders are unemployed, the lowest proportion of any group of qualified professionals.
However, a PhD is a huge commitment – these programs usually last 3-4 years and can even stretch up to seven years. Delaying your career and juggling family commitments for this amount of time is a big ask. Online doctoral programs, especially the best online PhD programs, give you a high degree of flexibility, helping you to overcome these obstacles.
Here are the top 20 best online PhD programs. We’ve ranked the universities based on their reputation, faculty, and the quality of their teaching, as well as the flexibility of their online programs.
Application requirements: GRE score, minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.4 or graduate GPA of 3.5, letters of recommendation, application portfolio,
Founded in 1853 and located in Gainesville, the University of Florida is one of the best public research schools in the USA. It offers online degrees for PhD study in diverse fields, such as classical civilization, education, audiology, educational technology, and educational leadership.
The institution is known for its celebrated Doctorate of Education degree and Doctorate of Nursing Practice certification, which allow professionals to upgrade their skills and knowledge in their fields. The university carries accreditations from prestigious bodies like the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Application requirements: Academic records, personal statement, letters of recommendation, GRE scores
George Washington University was established in 1821. Located in Washington, D.C., it is one of the most renowned universities in the region and offers a range of PhD programs online without any in-class attendance requirements, mainly in the engineering and nursing disciplines. One of the university’s most prominent doctoral degrees is in Systems Engineering, which covers a comprehensive approach to designing and managing large engineering systems.
Application requirements: Academic transcripts, program materials
Founded in 1923, Texas Tech University offers online doctoral programs in a range of fields, such as education, engineering, agriculture, and communication. Some prominent remote PhD online programs are its Doctorate of Education (Agricultural Education), Doctorate of Education (Higher Education), PhD in Technical Communication and Rhetoric, and PhD in Systems and Engineering Management.
The school’s agricultural education degree notably follows a cohort model involving mainly virtual interaction but also on-campus sessions. The university delivers other courses fully online.
Application requirements: Minimum GPA of 3.0, entry exam
This public university, located in Statesboro, Georgia, was founded in 1906 and is considered one of the best business management schools in the country. Its primary online doctoral program is the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) PhD degree. While a major part of this course can be done online, campus sessions every fall are a compulsory part of the program.
Application requirements: Academic transcript, master’s GPA of 3.5, TOEFL or IELTS scores for international students
Founded in 1889, The University of the Cumberlands is located in Kentucky. Though the university is best known for its Information Technology courses, its online PhD program is in the field of education. Their Doctor of Education is aimed to help students enhance their leadership and management skills in the education sector. Students can complete this affordable program entirely online without any attendance on campus.
Application requirements: Program of study, oral examination
This public research university was founded in 1856 and is located in Ames, Iowa. With 33,000 students, it’s one of the region’s largest universities. Iowa State offers two PhD online programs: a PhD in Hospitality Management, and a PhD in Apparel, Merchandising, and Design.
None of Iowa State Univesity’s online doctoral programs are entirely online. Each course requires students to attend up to three weeks of classes on-campus for two consecutive summers.
Application requirements: Academic transcripts, GRE scores
The University of Alabama was established in 1820 and is one of the most prestigious institutions in the state. It offers online doctoral programs in the fields of aerospace engineering, nursing, and education. Its online PhD programs involve some on-campus sessions to complete the course of study.
The University of Alabama’s PhD program in Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics is designed for engineering professionals with at least five years of experience. It allows professionals to enhance their knowledge and become leaders in the field of aerospace engineering.
Application requirements: Minimum GPA of 2.75, TOEFL/IELTS scores for international students
The University of North Dakota was founded in 1883 and is known as one of the most affordable institutions for online PhD programs. It offers top online PhD programs in various engineering disciplines, including Energy Engineering, Environment Engineering, Aerospace Sciences, and Electrical Engineering, as well as nursing.
Its courses have the flexibility to be completed entirely online, or as a hybrid course with some in-person sessions. The university also allows you to transfer up to 30 credits from your master’s degree for certain courses.
Regent University was named the best faith-based institution by Intelligent.com. It is a Christian University located in Virginia, and its programs have a strong religious foundation. Though it offers courses across 150 diverse disciplines, its online PhD programs are mainly in the fields of education and counseling. Its Doctor of Ministry online program helps chaplains develop leadership skills, while its Doctor of Education in Christian Education helps students develop knowledge and skills to manage Christian educational institutions.
Application requirements: Academic transcripts, application form
Appalachian State University, located in Boone, North Carolina, is one of the best-known institutions in the country for online doctoral programs.
Its flagship online doctoral degree is the Doctor of Educational Leadership, a specialized course that aims to give students a practical sense of leadership, administration, and research in education. The course is primarily online but also requires some campus visits to Boone.
Application requirements: Master’s degree certificate, minimum GPA of 3.0
Johns Hopkins University is a celebrated institution and leader in online education. It offers an online doctoral program in education, which allows students to to specialize in areas like technology in education, counseling, and studies of the brain.
Application requirements: Academic transcripts, personal statement, writing sample
Duquesne University in Pittsburgh is a Catholic institution that offers online degrees for PhD students in education and nursing. These include a Doctorate in Counselor Education & Supervision and SchoolPsychology, Ed.D. in Educational Technology and Educational Leadership, and Psy. D. in School Psychology.
In the nursing field, the institution offers a DNP-to-PhD program that allows professionals to continue research on their DNP project while earning a PhD.
Application requirements: Master’s degree, minimum GPA of 2.75, GRE score of at least 292
The University of Louisiana in Monroe offers a range of online programs, including two doctorates: a PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy and an Ed. D. in Curriculum and Instruction. The institution was named the best for PhDs in therapy by Intelligent.com.
Application requirements: Academic transcripts, research proposal
The University of Missouri offers online doctorate programs in various education specialties. Their most prominent online programs are a PhD in Art Education, PhD in Architectural Studies, and Ed. D. in Education Leadership. These programs are highly beneficial for museum directors, art-house managers, professors, and university leaders. The institution also has an online doctorate program in Nursing Practice.
Application requirements: Master’s GPA of at least 3.0, TOEFL assessment for international applicants
Liberty University is one of the largest Christian universities in the world. Besides religious studies, it also offers online doctoral programs in a range of fields like education and business. Their DBA programs offer many specializations, including international business and the Six Sigma concepts, while their Ed. D. online programs are mainly based on traumatology, special education, and curriculum & instruction.
Indiana State University is one of the USA’s premier state schools and offers online doctorates in various fields such as nursing, athletics, and education. These include a Doctorate of Athletic Training, Doctorate of Nursing Practice, and an online PhD program in Education Administration with three different specializations.
Application requirements: Academic achievements, statement of purpose, letters of recommendation
Mississippi State University is one of the few universities that provide a range of online doctoral programs in engineering. Their PhD programs are mainly in the fields of Industrial Systems & Engineering, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Mechanical Engineering,Civil Engineering, and Computational Engineering. It also offers an online doctoral program in Community College Leadership.
Application requirements: Baccalaureate or master’s degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0
The University of Colorado in Denver offers online doctoral programs in nursing, pharmacy, and education. Its courses are designed to help professionals develop strong leadership skills, especially in nursing.
Application requirements: Undergraduate or master’s degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0, GRE scores
One of the best universities in New Mexico, this institution offers online PhD programs in education and nursing. Students can complete PhDs in Nursing, Educational Leadership, and Curriculum & Instruction entirely online.
Application requirements: Academic transcripts, letters of recommendation, GRE scores, statement of purpose
The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill offers a unique online doctorate program in Physical Therapy. This program allows therapists to continue their work while simultaneously upgrading their knowledge and gaining an advanced degree.
The Most Popular Types of Doctoral Degrees
Some of the most popular doctoral degrees in 2022 include:
Every program has processes and requirements, so check with the admissions office before preparing your application. They’ll also tell you how to submit your application and any special things to consider.
Some universities might even require an in-person interview. Always do your research and get organized early to give you plenty of time to create a strong application.
What to Consider When Choosing an Online PhD Program
Here are the key points to consider when choosing the best doctorate programs online.
Online doctoral programs typically cost less overall than their on-campus alternatives. Even if the tuition is the same, you won’t need to cover other expenses like transportation and accommodations.
Consider everything you’ll need to spend to complete the course, including extra fees. Compare the extra cost of more expensive courses from prestigious institutions with future earning potential and also keep financial aid options in mind, including fully funded doctorate programs.
Most online PhD courses take 4-7 years to complete, though you may be able to extend this to up to 10 years part-time. You may also be allowed to transfer credits from your master’s course, helping you to complete the program faster.
Even when you choose from the best online doctorate programs, make sure the structure suits your lifestyle and commitments. For example, if you want to learn at your own pace, opt for a program with asynchronous classes.
Not all online doctoral programs are conducted entirely online. Some courses require some amount of in-person attendance. Keep this in mind — and if you’ll need to be on campus, look for somewhere close to where you live.
When considering different online PhD programs, think about the best fit for you academically, professionally, and personally.
Some factors to keep in mind are the level of flexibility, location, duration, and cost, as well as the graduation and acceptance rate.
The best online PhDs are valuable, well-regarded qualifications, just like their on-campus counterparts. As long as you study at an accredited university, future employers will respect your online PhD.
How Long are Online PhD Programs?
Most online PhD programs take between 3-7 years to complete. However, you can complete some accelerated online doctoral programs in as little as a year.
How Much Does an Online PhD Program Cost?
Although tuition varies widely depending on the institution, the best online PhD programs can cost around $20,000, including tuition and fees.
How Demanding is a PhD?
A PhD is an advanced degree that is often seen as the highest qualification in any discipline. They are relatively-demanding courses that require you to demonstrate an expert level of knowledge on a certain subject, as well as other advanced skills such as critical analysis, innovative thinking, and excellent communication skills. In the same way, doctoral programs online require the same level of dedication, and you could say they need even more discipline as you’ll be studying remotely.
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.