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Top Accredited Online PhD & Doctoral Degree Programs

What online doctoral degrees are available, and what do they consist of? Find out more on the top 25 schools with doctoral degree programs, how to earn a terminal degree or PhD, and what careers may apply.

Top 25 Accredited Online Doctoral Programs

There are a number of accredited online PhD and doctoral programs. When choosing a program, consider cost, time, flexibility, and career paths. Listed below are 25 of the best schools with accredited online doctoral and PhD programs.

1. University of North Dakota

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

There are several different doctoral degree programs available online at the University of North Dakota. Students can pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), an EdD in Educational Practice and Leadership, or a PhD in one of the following areas: biomedical engineering, aerospace engineering, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, energy engineering, nursing, environmental engineering, or petroleum engineering. These online programs may consist of some asynchronous and synchronous online components such as videoconferencing. Students may be required to complete practicum hours with some programs (such as the DNP). Graduate students may have around an $800 per credit cost for in-state tuition and fees. The school is accredited by 34 different agencies, and is considered one of the top 25 innovative schools by the Higher Learning Commission.

2. Regent University

Location Tuition & Fees
Virginia Beach, VA $16,179

At Regent University, students can begin their program at seven points during the year and take courses in 8-week or 15-week increments. The cost of a doctoral program at RU can range between $650 and $1200 per credit hour, depending on the specific degree. The school is accredited by various organizations including the Council for Higher Education, the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, and the Commission on Accrediting the Association of Theological Schools. While students can complete a program primarily online at Regent University, many programs include residency requirements. Some programs may require a handful of campus visits during a program while other programs may require several on-campus or fieldwork experiences.

Regent offers an online Doctor of Strategic Communication, Doctor of Strategic Leadership, Doctor of Ministry, and Doctor of Education. Regent also has the following online PhD programs: PhD in Communication, PhD in Education, PhD in Organizational Leadership, PhD in Renewal Theology, PhD in Counseling & Psychological Studies, and a PhD in Counselor Education & Supervision.

In addition, many of the online doctoral programs offer concentrations. For example, the Doctor in Education program is available with concentrations in educational technology & online learning, educational psychology, K-12 school leadership, higher education leadership & management, Christian education leadership, and advanced educational leadership.

3. George Washington University

Location Tuition & Fees
Washington, DC $30,834

George Washington University offers online doctoral programs in engineering, nursing, and occupational therapy. The school is accredited by several agencies including the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Doctoral programs may cost around $1,400 per credit hours, and entering students will lock in their tuition rate for the remainder of their program (six years maximum). GWU has the following online doctoral programs available: PhD in Systems Engineering, Doctor of Engineering in Engineering Management, PhD in Nursing, and Doctor of Nursing Practice (6 concentrations available). Programs may require students to complete some residency and/or practicum requirements.

4. University of Southern Mississippi

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

The University of Southern Mississippi offers some of the most affordable online programs with the cost of total in-state tuition and fees at $494 per credit hour. The school is accredited by numerous agencies including the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The school offers a 100% online PhD in Nursing Leadership program that requires no campus visits. Students can alternatively pursue a Doctor of Education with a focus in education administration or higher education. Both EdD programs are offered completely online with no on-campus components and consist of synchronous course structures.

5. Johns Hopkins University

Location Tuition & Fees
Baltimore, MD $55,816

Johns Hopkins University has online doctoral programs in computer science, applied health sciences informatics, civil engineering, education (PhD and EdD), history of medicine, electrical & computer engineering, mechanical engineering, nursing practice (DNP), and a dual MBA/DNP. These programs consist of mostly or completely online components but may require some campus visits and/or practicum experiences. The school also offers hybrid programs with slightly more residency requirements in the areas of biochemistry & molecular biology, public health, environmental health sciences, epidemiology, clinical investigation, health policy & management, and international health, as well as many others. The total cost of tuition for doctoral programs at John Hopkins University ranges from $32,000 to $65,000, depending on the program.

Rank School Name Location Tuition & Fees (in-state)
6 University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA $45,561
7 Texas Tech University Lubbock, TX $8,015
8 University of Florida Gainesville, FL $12,737
9 Nova Southeastern University Fort Lauderdale, FL $20,620
10 Concordia University-Chicago River Forest, IL $9,180
11 University of Iowa Iowa City, IA $11,336
12 University of South Dakota Vermillion, SD $6,835
13 Virginia Commonwealth University Richmond, VA $14,496
14 Old Dominion University Norfolk, VA $12,552
15 Kansas State University Manhattan, KS $11,069
16 University of Kansas Lawrence, KS $11,027
17 Nebraska Methodist College of Nursing & Allied Health Omaha, NE $12,877
18 Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale Fort Lauderdale, FL $28,272
19 University of Arizona Tucson, AZ $13,044
20 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA $8,333
21 East Carolina University Greenville, NC $7,485
22 Clemson University Clemson, SC $10,602
23 University of the Cumberlands Williamsburg, KY $5,970
24 Andrews University Berrien Springs, MI $27,324
25 Texas A & M University-College Station College Station, TX $9,812

All school statistics provided by the National Center for Education Statistics.
Tuition & fees are average graduate rates for the 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.

Choosing the Right Online Doctoral Degree Program

When considering online doctoral programs, there are several factors that you should keep in mind.

Programs Offered

The most important consideration in choosing a program is what type of degree you wish to pursue. Depending on your career goals, you may prefer a PhD or a doctoral in one of a variety of subjects. Also, most schools don't offer all doctoral programs online, so make sure that the programs you are interested in are offered online.

Accreditation

There are various bodies of accreditation. Schools may have school-wide accreditation and additional accreditations for specific programs. Check your program choices for applicable accreditation. Depending on your degree you may need specific accrediting organizations. For example, Doctor of Education programs are typically accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

Residency Requirements

You should consider what residency, if any, is required with your program. While some doctoral programs might involve 100% online components, many require some residency. Some programs may require students to attend campus sessions once or more during their studies, and some programs may require practicum experiences (such as a Doctor of Nursing Practice program). Make sure to note what your programs requirements are, and if you'll be able to complete them.

Cost

Online doctoral programs can vary dramatically, depending on what you're studying. For example, a school might charge $650 per credit hour for one doctoral program and $1,200 per credit hour for a different doctoral program. Also, it's important to keep in mind that costs go beyond tuition. Costs associated with a program may include tuition, various fees, and other educational expenses (like purchasing a computer for coursework).

Flexibility

Consider the flexibility of your program choices. Are they available as full-time or part-time options? Are courses synchronous or asynchronous? You should assess your time restrictions and availability for coursework before choosing how many classes you may take each semester. Academic advisors can work with you to find the best fit for your schedule. Before enrolling in a program, make sure that it offers the flexibility that meets your needs.

PhD vs Doctorate

You've narrowed down your intended field of study, but what kind of degree should you pursue? If you're interested in education, you may find programs for PhD or EdD. If you want to pursue nursing, your choices may include PhD in Nursing and Doctor of Nursing Practice. Many areas of study may offer a PhD or professional doctorate program. So, which is best?

  • PhD - PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) programs are for graduates with an interest in research. These programs prepare students for applied and original research that may improve not only their own knowledge, but even their field of study. PhD students may analyze various theories, gaps in information, and work to improve their field through research. PhD programs emphasize original research through a final dissertation before graduation. On-campus PhD programs may offer more networking opportunities and easier access to library resources, while online programs are significantly more flexible for students.
  • Doctorate - Professional doctorate programs are more practice-focused. Whether a degree is in education (EdD), nursing (DNP), strategic leadership (DSL), or another field, graduates are prepared to apply research and developed knowledge to improve practices in their field. Doctorate programs emphasize applied research and often include a capstone project prior to graduation. Campus-based doctorate programs enable students to easily consult with professors in face-to-face settings, while online programs allow students to study at their convenience.

Popular Online Doctoral Degrees

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, some of the most common doctoral degrees are in law and health service fields. These doctoral programs require significant on-site experience and practicums/internships. Some of the most popular doctoral programs that may be available online are:

  • PhD in Psychology
  • PsyD in Psychology
  • Doctor of Education
  • PhD in Education
  • Doctor of Nursing
  • PhD in Nursing
  • Doctor of Engineering
  • PhD in Engineering

Online Doctoral Program Overview

Online doctoral degree programs vary based on the specific degree and school. Many programs will require students to attend one or more on-campus sessions. Consider the on-site requirements of each program when choosing. Depending on your program, you may be required to complete clinical/practice components off and on throughout your course of study. This is most common with DNP and EdD programs.

Online degree programs usually conduct coursework through third-party learning portals. You may need to complete a tutorial or orientation prior to beginning courses. The portals may be the site used for homework, tests, messaging, lectures, and forums. While some programs may allow you to work at your convenience with weekly due dates, other programs may require some scheduled video lectures and/or conferences.

Program Length

Doctoral programs typically take at least 2 to 4 years, depending on the field of study. Some programs may offer an accelerated learning track, often in a cohort model, that enables students to complete their degree in two years. These programs are most commonly terminal degrees. PhD programs on the other hand usually take at least 3 or 4 years. Some schools may require students to take courses in a specific order and schedule while other programs may allow students to study at their own pace. You should consider your time limitations and find a program that works best for you. Doctoral degree completion times can range from 2 years to 7 years.

Program Costs

Online doctoral degree programs may range between $20,000 and $50,000, or may cost significantly more depending on the school. As you look at tuition costs, also consider any additional fees and personal costs that may be involved. While some schools may offer flat-rate tuition that includes books and various fees, many programs may itemize fees (such as technology fees and administrative fees). Ask your school about all program costs that you will be required to pay.

In addition, keep in mind what costs you may have outside of the school. You will need to be able to access your online courses. Schools often require online students to own a computer with internet access. If you don't already have one, you may need to purchase a computer that meets any technical requirements set by the school/program. Regular internet access is also required by most online programs; that will typically consist of a monthly out-of-pocket cost. When choosing your program, although cost is important, recognize the overall fit based on flexibility and program components.

Financial Aid

As you prepare to begin your program, you'll need to let the school know how it will be funded. As you search for programs, you may want to go ahead and complete a Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA). This is a free federal application that tells you what aid you may qualify for, and allows you to add your school choices so that they can be notified directly. The types of aid available are listed below.

  • Scholarships - There are countless scholarships available to students. The specific scholarships that you may qualify for vary based on program and student. Some scholarships may be available to certain students regardless of program (such as women or disabled students), while other scholarships may be available for certain programs. Ask your school about what scholarships may be available for the program you're interested in, and review the FAFSA and other sites to find scholarships that are available outside of your program.
  • Work Study - Work study programs require students to work, typically part time, while pursuing their degree. These programs may fund part or all of a degree. Additionally, some employers may offer some program funding for employees who are trying to advance within their current roles.
  • Stipends - Many schools offer partial or full financial assistance to PhD students. Students may receive monetary stipends as well as health insurance to offset their total costs and enable them to focus more on the program.
  • Student Loans - Student loans are available from private and public lenders. It's recommended that students apply for federal and state loans before considering private loans. Federal and state loans are often income based and offer long-term payment options to graduates.
  • Loan Forgiveness - After graduation, students may qualify for some loan forgiveness. Many federal loans can be forgiven after 20 or 25 years (income-based), and graduates working in qualifying positions may qualify for loan forgiveness after 10 years.

What Can You Do with an Online Doctoral Degree?

Graduates of online doctoral programs work in a variety of fields. Many doctoral graduates work in academics, engineering, research, administration, and science. The table below summarizes a few possible career paths for doctoral degree graduates.

Job Title Doctoral Degree Field Median Annual Salary (2018) Estimated Job Growth (2018-2028)
Computer Hardware Engineers Engineering $114,600 6%
Mechanical Engineers Engineering $87,370 4%
Biochemists and Biophysicists Science-Based Engineering $93,280 6%
Survey Researchers Communications
Statistics
$57,700 1%
Political Scientists Communications
Public Policy
$117,570 5%
Medical Scientists Nursing
Medical
$84,810 8%
Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, Nurse Practitioners Nursing $113,930 26%
Medical and Health Services Managers Nursing
Administration
$99,730 18%
Postsecondary Education Administrators Education $94,340 7%
Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals Education $95,310 4%
Postsecondary Teachers Any $78,470 11%

All career statistics provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.