Best Online Doctoral Degree Programs

The National Science Foundation (NSF) reports that 54,664 research doctoral degrees were awarded in 2017 alone. And these numbers are growing. From 2000 to 2018 the number of doctoral degree holders had more than doubled to 4.5 million, according to the Census Bureau. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that out of the 101 jobs that typically require a graduate degree, 63 require a doctoral degree. More than 250 colleges offer students a diverse range of doctoral degree programs online. Online education offer students a convenient way to earn the most advanced degree in their field of interest.

Doctoral programs are intensive and require a certain amount of dedication from students. Prospective students should know at the outset that these degree programs often need students to have a high degree of self-motivation and tenacity! Other qualities that may help you succeed in completing a doctoral program are flexibility, along with interpersonal, communication and organizational skills. Depending on the online doctoral degree you earn, you may qualify for positions in commercial businesses, industrial or government laboratories, academia or start your own consultancy or business.

In their “Job Outlook 2019” report, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) states doctoral degrees are in good demand in the fields of math and science, engineering, computer and information systems, followed by business and healthcare.

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  • Experience world-class education online with more than 175 programs at associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels.
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  • You have the option of trying out a Purdue Global undergraduate program for an introductory 3-week period. There’s no cost beyond the application fee.
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Read on to find out more about online doctoral degrees and how you can find a college that can fit your needs.

There are two major types of doctoral degrees: Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) and professional degrees.

  • Ph.D.: Ph.D. programs are research-based, with curriculum traditionally divided between coursework in the field of study, followed by comprehensive examinations (oral and written), and culminating with an original research project in the form of a written dissertation. Ph.D. programs are available in a variety of academic concentrations, ranging from history to neuroscience, education to chemistry
  • Professional Doctorate: Professional doctoral degrees are research-oriented, but focus on research in regards to a professional area of study. For example, common professional doctorates include the Doctor of Social Work (DSW), Doctor of Education (Ed.D.), and Doctor of Public Administration (DPA).

Here are just a few reasons why it may be worth your while to consider earning a doctorate:

Higher wages: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), individuals with professional degree or a doctorate had average weekly earnings of $1,745 and $1,664 respectively in 2017. With the the average weekly earnings of those who hold a bachelor’s degree at $1,156, those who hold a Ph.D can earn $26,000 to $30,000 more annually than those who have a bachelor’s degree.

Lower unemployment rates: Those who hold a Ph.D. are more likely to be employed and stay employed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate is at 1.5 percent for those with a Ph.D.; 2.5 percent for those who have a bachelor’s degree; and 4 percent for individuals with some college education.

High-level careers: While doctoral degrees were traditionally thought of as a pathway into academia, BLS data shows that 91 percent of the labor force with a professional degree, and 94 percent with a doctoral degree worked in the management, professional, and related occupations. A doctorate can help you enter the highest ranks of your field.

Credibility: Holding a doctorate can demonstrate your commitment to your field of study. Subject matter experts are required to hold doctoral degrees and usually find themselves in policy-making or influencing progression in their field of study.

Prospective students considering online colleges for doctoral programs are likely to look at factors such as tuition, financial aid, ratio of the number of distance education students to total enrollment, and collection of electronic library. We’ve used these factors and more as we crafted this ranking of the best colleges for online doctoral degree programs. Take a look at our methodology for deeper insights.

1
Capella University
Minneapolis, MN
https://www.capella.edu
Average in-state tuition
$14,148
No. of online programs
205
% of students in distance education
100%
Avg. amount of Aid
$5,051
Admissions Rate
N/A%
Graduation Rate
N/A%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
2
Walden University
Minneapolis, MN
https://www.waldenu.edu
Average in-state tuition
$10,786
No. of online programs
127
% of students in distance education
100%
Avg. amount of Aid
$3,885
Admissions Rate
N/A%
Graduation Rate
N/A%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
No
3
University of Utah
Salt Lake City, UT
https://www.utah.edu
Average in-state tuition
$7,997
No. of online programs
15
% of students in distance education
34%
Avg. amount of Aid
$7,505
Admissions Rate
67%
Graduation Rate
70%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
4
Liberty University
Lynchburg, VA
https://www.liberty.edu
Average in-state tuition
$15,837
No. of online programs
137
% of students in distance education
90%
Avg. amount of Aid
$7,509
Admissions Rate
56%
Graduation Rate
50%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
5
Northcentral University
San Diego, CA
https://www.ncu.edu
Average in-state tuition
$11,064
No. of online programs
52
% of students in distance education
100%
Avg. amount of Aid
$3,239
Admissions Rate
N/A%
Graduation Rate
N/A%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
No
6
East Carolina University
Greenville, NC
https://www.ecu.edu
Average in-state tuition
$4,452
No. of online programs
67
% of students in distance education
45%
Avg. amount of Aid
$7,795
Admissions Rate
82%
Graduation Rate
65%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
7
Regent University
Virginia Beach, VA
https://www.regent.edu
Average in-state tuition
$16,980
No. of online programs
81
% of students in distance education
91%
Avg. amount of Aid
$7,230
Admissions Rate
82%
Graduation Rate
59%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
8
University of South Alabama
Mobile, AL
https://www.southalabama.edu
Average in-state tuition
$7,896
No. of online programs
13
% of students in distance education
48%
Avg. amount of Aid
$6,725
Admissions Rate
79%
Graduation Rate
44%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
9
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL
https://www.ufl.edu/
Average in-state tuition
$4,477
No. of online programs
65
% of students in distance education
50%
Avg. amount of Aid
$9,169
Admissions Rate
39%
Graduation Rate
90%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
10
Texas Woman's University
Denton, TX
https://www.twu.edu
Average in-state tuition
$5,268
No. of online programs
12
% of students in distance education
59%
Avg. amount of Aid
$6,756
Admissions Rate
87%
Graduation Rate
43%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
11
American Sentinel University
Aurora, CO
Average in-state tuition
$9,840
No. of online programs
19
% of students in distance education
100%
Avg. amount of Aid
$2,644
Admissions Rate
N/A
Graduation Rate
N/A
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
No
12
Nova Southeastern University
Fort Lauderdale, FL
Average in-state tuition
$29,940
No. of online programs
109
% of students in distance education
46%
Avg. amount of Aid
$17,005
Admissions Rate
78.537894030852
Graduation Rate
50
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
13
University of Alabama at Birmingham
Birmingham, AL
Average in-state tuition
$8,568
No. of online programs
18
% of students in distance education
57%
Avg. amount of Aid
$8,292
Admissions Rate
92.109623964308
Graduation Rate
58
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
14
Texas Tech University
Lubbock, TX
Average in-state tuition
$6,576
No. of online programs
52
% of students in distance education
50%
Avg. amount of Aid
$7,182
Admissions Rate
70.669065925078
Graduation Rate
60
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
15
Old Dominion University
Norfolk, VA
Average in-state tuition
$7,029
No. of online programs
49
% of students in distance education
51%
Avg. amount of Aid
$7,488
Admissions Rate
86.989126359205
Graduation Rate
52
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
16
University of Phoenix-Arizona
Tempe, AZ
Average in-state tuition
$9,552
No. of online programs
134
% of students in distance education
99%
Avg. amount of Aid
$3,809
Admissions Rate
N/A
Graduation Rate
17
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
No
17
Wichita State University
Wichita, KS
Average in-state tuition
$6,709
No. of online programs
24
% of students in distance education
62%
Avg. amount of Aid
$4,760
Admissions Rate
96.499396447663
Graduation Rate
47
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
18
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, ND
Average in-state tuition
$7,224
No. of online programs
74
% of students in distance education
49%
Avg. amount of Aid
$5,212
Admissions Rate
82.214698267277
Graduation Rate
55
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
19
Florida International University
Miami, FL
Average in-state tuition
$4,721
No. of online programs
72
% of students in distance education
65%
Avg. amount of Aid
$5,872
Admissions Rate
58.557444616177
Graduation Rate
58
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
20
University of Central Florida
Orlando, FL
Average in-state tuition
$4,478
No. of online programs
47
% of students in distance education
57%
Avg. amount of Aid
$6,638
Admissions Rate
42.533958293476
Graduation Rate
73
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
Source: Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2018-19, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/

Completing an online doctoral degree requires a vast amount of commitment in terms of time and money so it is always good to consider the steps involved toward your journey to earning a doctorate.

Accreditation: It’s important to look for an accredited university not only because such universities meet educational standards set by the accrediting body but there is another advantage for students. One of the qualifying criteria for most federal and state financial aid and scholarships is being enrolled in an accredited university.

Eligibility: Most online doctoral degree programs require you to hold a master’s degree in the field you want to complete your doctorate in. Apart from official college transcripts, you may also need to provide a resume showing your educational and work history. Some universities may also require recommendation letters from your previous professors or employers.

Time taken to complete a doctoral degree: The time you need to complete your online doctoral degree can vary depending on the field you are specializing in and your topic of research. Doctoral degrees can take between three to seven years to finish.

Financial aid and scholarships: Depending on the type of doctoral degree program you are enrolled in, financial aid may be available in the form of research grants, stipends and scholarships. The NSF reports that research assistantships are the most popular source of financial support for doctoral students along with fellowships, grants and teaching assistantships, provided they qualify.

Learning Format: Online doctoral degree programs can either be fully online or hybrid programs. Hybrid programs are a combination of on-campus and online classes. You may be required to visit campus for short residencies, seminars or laboratory work but a majority of your work is completed online.

Most online colleges deliver asynchronous programs which may be more convenient for working adults as well as across time zones. Asynchronous programs allow you to access your coursework any time allowing you the flexibility you need to balance work, life and study.

We’ve used data from the National Center for Education Statistics and the Bureau of Labor Statistics to rank the most popular online doctoral degrees based on the number of degrees conferred, median salary and projected employment. Take a look at our methodology at the bottom of the page.

Popular Programs of Study
Median Salary
Projected Employment
Pharmacy$111,7453,120,500
Law$103,8722,856,000
Dentistry$124,610900,000
Medicine$200,995579,100
Osteopathic Medicine/Osteopathy$200,995579,100
Physical Therapy/Therapist$92,6503,562,800
Occupational Therapy/Therapist$97,3701,764,000
Public Health, General$97,3701,470,000
Pharmaceutics and Drug Design.$126,120990,300
Audiology/Audiologist.$86,6451,559,000
Source: 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.
Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2017-18, National Center for Education Statistics

These occupations are reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to be the fastest-growing for those who hold a doctoral degree. See our methodology below.

Fastest-Growing Occupations
Annual Median Wage
Job Growth
Physician Assistants$112,26031%
Statisticians$91,16031%
Nurse Practitioners$109,82028%
Speech-Language Pathologists$79,12027%
Genetic Counselors$81,88027%
Nursing Instructors and Teachers, Postsecondary$74,60020%
Orthotists and Prosthetists$68,41020%
Occupational Therapists$84,95018%
Healthcare Social Workers$56,75017%
Education Administrators, Postsecondary$95,4107%
Source: 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

Highest-Paying Doctoral Degrees

To come up with this list of top-paying online doctoral degrees we used data from the National Center for Education Statistics and the BLS. This ranking was based on factors such as annual median wages, along with number of colleges offering the doctoral degree online and more. Please see our methodology at the bottom of this page.

$111,020
$100,824
$92,360
Source:2017 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics; 2018-28 State Occupational Projections, Projections Central. Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2018-19, National Center for Education Statistics

Click on the buttons below to explore doctoral degrees in the fields that interest you. You’ll find more detailed information containing coursework, duration and eligibility.

 
 

Methodologies and Sources

See Methodology Information Here

Methodology for Best Colleges Offering Online Doctoral Degrees

Requirements:

  • Offer a degree or certificate program in that subject, either in an online or hybrid format
  • Have at least 1% of students attending some form of distance education
  • Have awarded at least one degree or certificate in that subject in 2015-16
  • Have reported data for all 19 ranking variables listed below

We ranked 301 colleges and universities in the United States on 19 criteria, using 2016-17 data from the National Center for Education Statistics:

  1. Doctoral Program prominence, based on how many of the degrees and certificates awarded in 2016-2017 were in this particular subject
  2. Ratio of undergraduate students participating fully or partially in DE to Total Enrollment
  3. Average in-state tuition for undergraduates
  4. Retention rate
  5. Percent of undergraduate students awarded federal, state, local, institutional or other sources of grant aid
  6. Average amount of federal, state, local, institutional, or other sources of grant aid awarded to undergraduate students
  7. Student-to-faculty ratio
  8. Number of programs offered via distance education at the associate degree level
  9. Total electronic library collections, including digital books, databases, and media
  10. The availability of any tuition plans: Payment
  11. The availability of any tuition plans: Guaranteed
  12. The availability of any tuition plans: Prepaid
  13. The availability of any tuition plans: Other
  14. Services: Academic/Career
  15. Services: Placement for Completers
  16. Credit offerings: Dual
  17. Credit offerings: Life
  18. Credit offerings: AP
  19. Credit offerings: Military

Methodology for Most Popular Doctoral Degrees to Earn Online

For this analysis, we ranked 466 online bachelor’s degrees. To be included in the ranking, each major had to:

  • Match to a corresponding code in the Classification of Instructional Programs
  • Be offered online at the bachelor’s level at five or more institutions

We scored each major on the following data points, using a 10-point scale:

  1. Number of conferred bachelor’s degrees in all schools nationally, IPEDS, 2016-17
  2. Total number of jobs projected in 10 years of all occupations matched to the major, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016-26
  3. Annual median wage of each occupation matched to the major, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017

Methodology for Fastest-Growing Occupations with a Doctoral Degree

For this analysis, we ranked 63 occupations using data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics associated with a doctoral degree on the following variables:

  • Annual Median Wage
  • Employment Number
  • Employment Change Percent

Methodology for Highest-Paying Doctoral Degrees to Earn Online

For this analysis, we ranked 20 online Doctoral degrees. To be included in the ranking, each major had to

  • Match to a corresponding code in the Classification of Instructional Programs
  • Be offered online at the bachelor’s level at five or more institutions

We scored each major on the following data points, using a 10-point scale and the weights specified:

  1. Annual median salary of each occupation matched to the major, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017
  2. Annual 25th percentile wage of each occupation matched to the major, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017
  3. No. of schools offering this degree online at the associate level, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
  4. Average projected growth rate of all jobs matched to each major, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016-26
  5. Total number of jobs projected in 10 years of all occupations matched to the major, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016-26

Methodology Sources

  • Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2017-18, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
  • 2017 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov
  • 2017 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov; 2016-26 State Occupational Projections, Projections Central, projectionscentral.com
  • Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/

Article Sources

  • 5 Ways a Doctoral Degree May Strengthen Your Career, Capella University, January 2018, https://www.capella.edu/blogs/cublog/how-will-doctoral-degree-program-help-career/
  • Brundage, V., Profile of the labor force by educational attainment, Spotlight on Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, August 2017, https://www.bls.gov/spotlight/2017/educational-attainment-of-the-labor-force/home.htm
  • Bryce Loo, Education in the United States of America, World Education and News (WENR), 2018, https://wenr.wes.org/2018/06/education-in-the-united-states-of-america
  • Busy technology director turns to online option to earn PhD, Success Stories, Online Degrees, 2012, /success-stories/phd-technology-dani.html
  • Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2017, National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, 2018, https://ncses.nsf.gov/pubs/nsf19301/
  • Job Outlook 2019, National Association of Colleges and Employers, November 2018, https://www.naceweb.org/store/2018/job-outlook-2019/
  • Legon, R., & Garrett, R., The Changing Landscape of Online Education (CHLOE 2): A Deeper Dive, Quality Matters, 2018, https://www.qualitymatters.org/sites/default/files/research-docs-pdfs/2018-QM-Eduventures-CHLOE-2-Report.pdf
  • OECD (2019), Hours worked (indicator), https://data.oecd.org/emp/hours-worked.htm, accessed February 2019
  • Online Doctoral Programs, Walden University, https://www.waldenu.edu/online-doctoral-programs, accessed February 2018
  • Online Doctoral Programs, Walden University, https://www.waldenu.edu/online-doctoral-programs, accessed February 2018
  • Schools.com, https://www.schools.com/schoolfinder?subject=SUBJECT°ree=QUALIFICATION&NS_PubWebSiteName=www.schools.com_content&NS_PubPageUri=/schools-database, accessed February 2019
  • So Long, and Thanks for the PhD., Department of Computer Science, University of North Carolina, February 2019, https://www.cs.unc.edu/~azuma/hitch4.html
  • Torpey, E., Measuring the value of education, Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 2018, https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2018/data-on-display/education-pays.htm
 
Methodologies and Sources