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Capella University

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Most Affordable Online PhD & Doctoral Degree Programs

Earning an online doctoral degree from a well-known graduate school doesn't have to break the bank. Let's look at some of the most affordable online doctoral degree programs and learn more about the entire process of earning the degree.

Top Affordable Ph.D. and Doctoral Degree Online Programs

To compile our list, we looked at tuition, fees and other costs, as well as factors like faculty experience, program flexibility and curriculum. Let's take a look at some of those schools and the programs they offer.

1. University of North Dakota

LocationTuition & Fees (in-state)
Grand Forks, ND$9,697

The University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, founded in 1883, offers nine Ph.D. programs -- energy engineering, nursing, environmental engineering, indigenous health, aerospace sciences, electrical engineering, biomedical engineering, chemical engineering, and petroleum engineering; one Ed.D. program in educational practice and leadership; and one D.N.P. program in post-master's nursing practice online. Most of these doctoral programs require a total of 90 semester hours in graduate coursework, including up to 30 hours of transferable credits from earned master's degrees. Programs like aerospace engineering may take from four to seven years to complete, whereas the post-master's nursing practice program may take only two to three years to complete. The University of North Dakota has a graduate enrollment of over 2,900 students with an average class size of 24 students.

2. George Washington University

LocationTuition & Fees (in-state)
Washington, DC$30,834

Created by an act of Congress in 1821, George Washington University is the home of 10 schools of study, over 2,300 faculty members, and more than 26,000 students from all 50 states and U.S. territories and 132 countries. There are 10 online doctoral programs in the areas of medicine and health services, nursing, and engineering with the nursing program offering the most online doctoral degree options. Research opportunities exist in all areas of study through the more than 70 research institutions and centers at George Washington University.

3. Regent University

LocationTuition & Fees (in-state)
Virginia Beach, VA$16,179

Since its founding in 1977, more than 27,000 students have graduated from Regent University. In its nine schools of study, there are a variety of doctoral programs available online. Some programs are offered fully online, such as the Ph.D. degree in advanced educational leadership, while others have residency requirements, such as the Ph.D. program in organizational leadership. There are numerous resources for students at Regent University, including the military resource center and the office of career and talent management.

4. University of Southern Mississippi

LocationTuition & Fees (in-state)
Hattiesburg, MS$8,624

The University of Southern Mississippi offers three fully online doctoral programs. Two of these are Ed.D. programs in educational administration P-12 and higher education administration, and the other is a Ph.D. program in nursing leadership. The school has 24 Goldwater scholars and 30 study abroad programs. The University of Southern Mississippi is a Carnegie R1 institution, which means that the school conducts a high level of research activity.

5. Texas Tech University

LocationTuition & Fees (in-state)
Lubbock, TX$8,015

There are six Ph.D. programs offered online by Texas Tech University, five in the college of education and one in the college of human sciences. Like the University of Southern Mississippi, this school is a Carnegie R1 research institution. It enrolls over 6,600 graduate students and has more than 1,600 faculty members. In the nearly 100 years since its founding, approximately 225,000 students from all over the U.S. and 119 countries have become alumni of Texas Tech University.

RankSchool NameLocationTuition & Fees (in-state)
6Concordia University-ChicagoRiver Forest, IL$9,180
7Nova Southeastern UniversityFt. Lauderdale, FL$20,620
8University of Southern CaliforniaLos Angeles, CA$45,561
9Liberty UniversityLynchburg, VA$8,333
10Johns Hopkins UniversityBaltimore, MD$55,816
11University of FloridaGainesville, FL$12,737
12University of the CumberlandsWilliamsburg, KY$5,970
13University of South DakotaVermillion, SD$6,835
14Keiser University-Ft. Lauderdale, FLFt. Lauderdale, FL$28,272
15University of IowaIowa City, IA$11,336
16Nebraska Methodist College of Nursing & Allied HealthOmaha, NE$12,877
17Virginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmond, VA$14,496
18Old Dominion UniversityNorfolk, VA$12,552
19Clemson UniversityClemson, SC$10,602
20University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical CampusDenver, CO$8,017
21East Carolina UniversityGreenville, NC$7,485
22University of KansasLawrence, KS$11,027
23Kansas State UniversityManhattan, KS$11,069
24Brandman UniversityIrvine, CA$12,080
25University of ArkansasFayetteville, AR$8,612
26Gwynedd Mercy UniversityGwynedd Valley, PA$11,286
27Indiana State UniversityTerre Haute, IN$7,616
28Winona State UniversityWinona, MN$7,998
29University of ArizonaTucson, AZ$13,044
30Andrews UniversityBerrien Springs, MI$27,324
31New Mexico State University-Main CampusLas Cruces, NM$5,427
32East Tennessee State UniversityJohnson City, TN$10,315
33Purdue University GlobalCedar Rapids, IA$11,414
34University of MississippiUniversity, MS$8,660
35Texas A & M University-College StationCollege Station, TX$9,812
36Endicott CollegeBeverly, MA$12,191
37Colorado State University-Fort CollinsFort Collins, CO$12,495
38West Virginia UniversityMorgantown, WV$9,990
39Grambling State UniversityGrambling, LA$7,168
40Otterbein UniversityWesterville, OH$941
41The University of Tennessee-KnoxvilleKnoxville, TN$13,120
42Union UniversityJackson, TN$8,220
43Hampton UniversityHampton, VA$11,916
44Eastern Kentucky UniversityRichmond, KY$10,570
45Saint Louis UniversitySt. Louis, MO$20,994
46University of Northern ColoradoGreeley, CO$12,444
47Wayne State UniversityDetroit, MI$17,661
48Iowa State UniversityAmes, IA$10,504
49Mississippi State UniversityMississippi State, MS$8,650
50Illinois State UniversityNormal, IL$9,509

All statistics provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, tuition based on 2018-2019 school year.

Learn.org's school ranking methodology categorizes and assesses data from schools and other reliable sources, such as the U.S. Department of Education, and weighs the information based on quality, cost, value and other factors critical to students' academic decisions.

Popular Ph.D., Ed.D, and Other Doctoral Degrees

Generally, the most popular online doctoral programs are in the areas of education, healthcare, and business. Let's take a look at a few of the online degrees available in those programs.

Online Doctoral Degrees in Education

Doctoral degrees in education tend to be either a Ph.D. or an Ed.D. A Ph.D., or Doctor of Philosophy, is a degree that focuses on research and teaching. An Ed.D., or Doctor of Education, is more of a professional degree that focuses on educational administration and leadership. Some of the more common specializations for doctoral degrees in education are curriculum and instruction, educational administration/leadership P-12, and higher education administration/leadership.

Online Doctoral Degrees in Healthcare

There are a few degree designations for doctoral degrees in healthcare. They include Doctor of Nursing Science (D.N.S.), Doctor of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.), Doctor of Health Administration (D.H.A.), Doctor of Health Sciences (D.H.Sc.), and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.). Often, the Ph.D. in nursing allows the student to pursue a specialization, such as nursing education. Health administration degrees prepare students to develop strategies and do the research necessary to improve healthcare administration, whereas health sciences degrees concentrate on developing research and leadership skills to improve healthcare services.

Online Doctoral Degrees in Business

The most common online doctoral degree in business is the Doctor of Business Administration (D.B.A.). This degree often allows students to focus on areas such as organizational leadership, healthcare, project management, business management, or accounting. Some schools do offer a Ph.D. in Business, which are more research-focused but still allow students to select specifications.

Doctoral Degree Program Overview

Most online doctoral programs include coursework, comprehensive examination, and dissertation.

  • Coursework - This includes both required and elective courses, which allows students to focus on their particular areas of interest. Required courses are usually program-specific, such as in D.B.A. programs where courses in finance, marketing, and accounting are common. Also, during the coursework phase of the program, many online programs require that students attend a few face-to-face seminars or colloquia to learn more about what to expect during the comprehensive examination and dissertation phases of the program.
  • Comprehensive Examination - When coursework has been completed, doctoral students usually must pass a comprehensive examination. The format of this exam is determined by the school of study. It can be a portfolio, an oral examination, a written examination, a combination of both written and oral examinations, or some other type of evaluation. The goal is to establish that the student is ready to start the dissertation process.
  • Dissertation - The dissertation process typically begins by identifying an issue to research. With the help of a mentor, the student narrows down the topic so that it is more specifically focused. Many times, it is at this point that the student begins writing the dissertation proposal, which is usually the first few chapters of the dissertation. These chapters describe the research question, how the research will be conducted, any inherent biases or problems that could be encountered during the life of the project, as well as other information to provide context to the proposal.

When the dissertation is completed, it is presented to a committee of faculty members with expertise in the research area. It is their job to ask the student questions about their research to determine whether it meets the standards set by the school. This question and answer session is sometimes referred to as an oral defense of the dissertation. If the committee members are satisfied with the dissertation and oral defense, the student has successfully completed the dissertation process and is awarded a doctoral degree.

Length of Doctoral Programs

The length of an online doctoral program depends on how many courses are taken each term and the number of credits required to earn the degree. The credits required vary widely, from 60 to 120, but many are around 90; most colleges have a maximum length of time they will allow students to complete their degrees. Some online programs can be completed in as little as three years, while others may take as long as seven years.

Cost of Doctoral Programs

Most doctoral programs charge students by the credit hour; however, some colleges charge per term regardless of the number of credit hours being taken by the student. In many cases, the tuition for traditional and online doctoral programs is the same. The overall cost of the program usually depends more on the number of credits required to complete it than whether the program is offered online.

Practical Requirements for Online Doctoral Programs

Completing an online doctorate requires some special considerations.

  • Is it 100% Online? - Many doctoral programs require that students attend a specific number of face-to-face meetings or conferences, either on-campus or at another location. This is to help students exchange ideas with others and learn more about what to expect as they proceed through the program. Check with your school to see if you'll need to come to campus.
  • Do I Have the Necessary Technology? - Students who complete degrees online need to have up-to-date word processing software and fast, reliable internet access. In addition, doctoral students who are doing research may need statistical software to help them analyze the data they collect.
  • Do I Have the Time to Go to School? - This depends on the number of courses being taken per term. In general, online students should expect to spend about nine to twelve hours a week in reading, studying, discussing, and writing for each course they are taking.

Admission Requirements for Doctoral Programs

Applying to a doctoral program involves submitting several documents that provide an overview of the applicant's previous academic record and plans for future studies. Keep in mind that there may be additional admission requirements depending upon the field of study.

  • Application - The application for admission is necessary to provide basic information and academic history. Many schools have applications that can be completed online. Aan application fee is typical.
  • Official Transcripts - You may need to request official transcripts from every post-secondary school you've attended and have them mailed to the new school. These are needed to confirm the award of previous degrees and grade point average. Most doctoral programs require a master's degree or doctorate from an accredited college or university.
  • Statement of Purpose - This document provides a writing sample as well as insight into why the student wants to pursue a doctoral degree.
  • Curriculum Vitae or Résumé - A curriculum vitae is usually used by educators in the same way a resume is used by other professionals. They include an individual's accomplishments, employment history, professional memberships, publications, and other details.
  • Letters of Recommendation - It's common for schools to ask for two or three letters of recommendation from a student's academic and professional contacts. These provide a broader view of the applicant's skills, knowledge, and personality.
  • Test Scores - Some online doctoral programs require that a student submit Graduate Records Examinations, or GRE, scores that meet or exceed a minimum standard. For students whose native language is not English, TOEFL, or Test of English as a Foreign Language, scores may be required.

Grants, Fellowships and Financial Aid for Doctoral Students

There are many ways for doctoral students to pay for college including loans and grants.

  • Loans - The most common federal loans are the Direct Unsubsidized loan and the Direct PLUS loan. There is a maximum amount of money students can receive each year, and these loans must be repaid beginning six months after the student leaves school. There are also private loans from banks and other lending institutions.
  • Grants - Graduate students are eligible for several types of federal grants. The Pell Grant and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant are just two. Other grants, such as the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education grant, are career-focused and require recipients to meet certain criteria after graduation in order to keep from having to pay back the money that was awarded. In general, grants do not have to be repaid unless the student does not fulfill the criteria.

Two other types of financial aid are assistantships and fellowships. Typically, these are offered only to graduate students.

  • Assistantships - Assistantships allow graduate students to earn money by working part-time in their areas of study, usually on campus. Sometimes, they even include living expenses. This allows graduate students to support their department's faculty and staff. For example, graduate assistants might be seen teaching some freshman-level courses.
  • Fellowships - Organizations create fellowships to allow graduate students to develop professionally and hone their leadership skills in their fields of study. Typically, fellowships last for relatively brief periods of time, although they can last for years. Many provide payment in the form of a grant, stipend, or salary, and some may provide funding for research.

There may be an application process, an essay, an interview and other screening of the application before a scholarship is awarded.

Some states and other federal agencies offer financial aid to prospective students. The best way to find out about those states and agencies is to go through the U.S. Department of Education.

Why Accreditation Is Important

Accreditation is important because it is an indication that a school has been evaluated by an outside agency and meets high standards. It's also important because unaccredited schools are not eligible for federal financial aid.

Most non-profit public and private colleges and universities are accredited by one of six regional agencies. For-profit and degree- or program-specific colleges are usually accredited by a national agency, of which there are several. Individual programs may have specialized accreditation from agencies or professional organizations. For example, it's common for nursing programs to have one or more specialized accreditations. For some professions (like education or nursing), getting certifications and licenses may be dependent on attending an accredited program.