The online, no-GRE PhD – fully online doctorate programs that do not require GRE test scores to apply – are a newer trend that is gaining ground in higher education. The GRE has been instigating anxiety since 1936, when the Carnegie Foundation first used it experimentally to test students' undergrad learning at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Columbia. That means that for more than eight decades now generations of graduate students have been worrying about the GRE exam, warning the next generation, and, of course, looking for ways to get around taking it. And today, it's easy to earn the highest degree in your field without having to take the GRE exam, with more no-GRE PhD programs appearing every year.
Top 9 No GRE PhD Universities
No-GRE PhD programs are a recent phenomenon, as universities have decided to break out of their long fixation on standardized testing. Online educators have been quickest to do away with the GRE requirement, instead admitting students on the merits of their experience, motivation, and other factors. The 9 universities offering the most no-GRE PhD degree programs – ranked in order of the number of degrees offered – are:
1. Northcentral University
2. Grand Canyon University
3. Liberty University
4. Capella University
5. Concordia University Portland
6. Walden University
7. Argosy University
8. Colorado Technical University
9. Georgia State University
What is the GRE, and Who Needs to Take It?
While the original GRE test scores were used to determine how much graduates had learned from their bachelor's program, eventually the exam became part of the admissions process for most graduate schools. The Carnegie Foundation kept using the original GRE on an experimental basis, gradually expanding, until in 1948 the Educational Testing Service spun off into an independent non-profit, taking the GRE and the more than 500 colleges that had adopted it with them. The GRE is designed to test knowledge of mathematics and literacy that would indicate that a person has enough education and reasoning ability to thrive in graduate school. For prospective grad students, the GRE often looks like a make-or-break proposition – and it's broken more than a few.
So exactly what is the GRE? GRE stands for the Graduate Record Examinations (yes, it's plural), and in its eight decades the exam has taken many different forms. Since 2011, the GRE has been in six sections: analytical writing (replacing an older logical analysis section), two verbal reasoning sections, two quantitative reasoning (math) sections, and either a research or experimental section. The experimental section is the wild card – if you get the experimental section, you'll be testing out new verbal or quantitative questions for the next edition of the test. They won't count toward your score, but you don't know that – nothing indicates that you're the guinea pig. Because what is the GRE good for, if not to mess with grad students' heads a little?
The old version, before 2011, had a wide range of scores, from 200 to 800, but the revised version is much clearer, from 130 to 170. 170 is the highest, 130 is the lowest; GRE scores average around 150-152, which shouldn't be surprising if you can pass the quantitative section of the GRE. Of course, the computerized version of the exam is adaptive, so the difficulty increases or decreases from section to section, depending on your performance along the way. That means GRE scores average out in a smarter way, really reflecting your knowledge.
In reality, though, there's a lot of variation in how important the GRE really is. Who needs to take the GRE? Certainly, if you're going to apply to many different graduate schools, you're going to need the GRE, because most graduate programs still require it. So if the GRE isn't really that crucial, what is the GRE still used for? Mainly because it's a clear baseline – an obvious, straightforward, hard number that says if you're going to cut it in grad school. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that a top score is essential – in fact, in many grad schools, the GRE is practically just a formality, much less important that other factors like the reputation of your undergraduate school, your work and internship experience, publications, recommendations, and other non-quantitative factors. Any of those can easily offset a low GRE scores average.
Reasons to Choose a No-GRE PhD
In recent years, the GRE has lost some of its dominance, in the same way that other standardized tests have come under scrutiny (for example, many of the most elite Ivy Leagues and liberal arts colleges have dropped SAT requirements for undergraduate admissions). Some schools have begun dropping the GRE requirement altogether, especially for PhD programs, and finding a no-GRE PhD program can be well worth the search for a lot of students.
GRE test scores have a fairly short life span, for one thing. The GRE expiration date is 5 years from taking the test, so if you took the GRE to get into a master's program, by the time you apply for a PhD, your GRE test scores may well be out of date. How many times can you take the GRE before it's not worth it anymore? Besides the anxiety and stress of studying and taking the exam again, the GRE cost may make it not seem worthwhile – there's no special GRE retake price or two-for-one coupons. Sure, GRE cost is only $205, but that's the GRE cost and the GRE retake price – every shot is $205. Add that on top of application fees for programs (which can be anywhere from $50 to $175), and all of these extra expenses start to seem like a waste.
For another thing, by the time you get to the point of wanting a PhD, schools may trust that you've proven yourself in other ways than 4 hours of high-stress testing. The average PhD student is in their early 30s, and by that time has ample work experience, has probably published work, and has usually already earned a master's degree, if not more than one. They should have a strong support network for excellent recommendation letters, too. A PhD applicant, in other words, should have all of the qualifications that make GRE test scores nothing but a formality – if you get in before the GRE expiration. So, why not throw out the formality altogether?
Finding Test Optional Colleges
That's exactly what a lot of universities have done – forgo the GRE requirement and focus on more substantial signs of success. The GRE cost isn't just monetary after all; it's time, energy, and effort that can be put to better use elsewhere. Graduate schools know that, and that's why test optional colleges and no-GRE PhD programs are becoming more and more common. Test optional schools understand that the work of being a PhD students can't be measured by one exam, no matter how comprehensive and challenging.
A PhD program is an ultra-marathon, made up of years of intensive research, learning, and writing. It's a test of intellect, of course, but it's also a test of patience, endurance, time management, and maturity. Earning a PhD puts a person through the wringer intellectually, emotionally, socially, and professionally – that's why as much as 50% of PhD students drop out before completing the degree. Burnout comes with long hours of research and writing; conflicts with advisors or colleagues cause emotional stress; time management struggles (especially with a family, a full-time job, or illness) force students to choose their priorities.
Test optional colleges understand that GRE test scores can't begin to come close to demonstrating whether a student will succeed in a PhD program. Acing a computerized exam in 4 hours is easy (even with one of the hardest exams in the world) compared to juggling all of the requirements of a doctoral program. Test optional colleges and no-GRE PhD programs are one solution to a problem that plagues the highest levels of higher education – finding the PhD students most likely to not just make it through, but thrive. And the GRE test scores, to many experts, just don't do it. So, the no-GRE PhD.
Why Choose an Online No GRE PhD?
Online education makes a lot of sense for PhD students, for a lot of reasons. The top online PhD programs in the US offer students the same level of educational challenge and excellence as traditional on-campus programs, and all the advantage of online delivery. They're more flexible and convenient, and much of the time, online programs are also more affordable than on-campus programs – sometimes much more so.
After all, PhD students are usually coming to the PhD later in life, when they already have full-time careers, families (including dependent children and aging parents), community roles, and all of the other responsibilities of middle adulthood. These are also things that make it difficult for PhD students to move for their program, since uprooting family or leaving a stable career is a big challenge. An online PhD program lets PhD students complete their education without making that sacrifice, and a no-GRE PhD program lets them do it without the hassle of studying and taking the GRE when they could be getting down to business.
That's not to say that everybody who wants a PhD should go online. As hard as a PhD program can be, without the day-to-day, real-world interaction with professors and fellow students, online PhD students need to be exceptionally self-motivated and champions at time management (exactly the qualities, incidentally, that GRE test scores can't measure). The GRE exam can't tell PhD program admissions people whether you can cut the mustard when all of your personal, professional, and educational responsibilities come down on you at one time. But for those who can buckle down, get their work done, and keep it together, an online, no-GRE PhD program can be the best of all possible options.
The GRE vs GMAT Question: A Quick Note
One area of confusion that prospective grad students often face is the GRE vs GMAT question. After all, the names are similar enough that they could easily be mixed up by people just beginning to consider a higher degree. GRE vs GMAT – which should you take, and how do you know?
The key difference in who needs to take the GRE and who needs to take the GMAT is their goal. The GRE is the standard for most graduate schools, while the GMAT is specifically for business schools. That means, for the most part, students who want to earn an MBA or doctorate in business need to take the GMAT – but it's not as cut and dried as that, because many business schools also accept the GRE. So taking (and getting a good score) on the GMAT can get you into an MBA program, but may not help you get into a different sort of graduate program if you change your mind about business. On the other hand, GRE test scores may or may not be counted by business schools – but will work for any other kind of graduate program.
If you're in the position that the GRE vs GMAT issue can go either way – if you're interested in business, but also in computer science, for instance – then the differences between the GRE and GMAT may make the decision for you. In most ways, they are highly comparable – both are around the same length (3.75 hours for the GRE, 3.5 for the GMAT), around the same price ($205 vs $250, respectively), and they both test verbal and math abilities in a computer-adaptive format.
The differences are subtle, but important: the math section of the GMAT, for instance, is more developed for analyzing data (as in a business environment) while the GRE is focused more on solving equations and problems – and you can use a calculator in the GRE, but not the GMAT. The GRE verbal section uses more challenging vocabulary, while the GMAT is more oriented toward grammar and mechanics. Neither is "easier," but each exam has its own peculiarities and its own tricks; half the challenge to getting top GRE test scores or GMAT scores is learning how the test works.
If you're certain that business school is your destination, then the GMAT is the safe bet – it's accepted almost across the board, by business schools large and small. But if, say, you decide to take a quick left turn a year or so into your business degree and head in a different direction – like, for instance, health care, education, or computers – then you'll need the GRE. Think very fully about your career trajectory, and how set it is, before taking the narrower or the more open road.
The Top Online No-GRE PhD Programs in America
The following is not intended to be a comprehensive ranking, but simply a guide to no-GRE PhD programs that are available in some of the most in-demand fields. As more no-GRE PhD programs are developed, we will continue to update this guide with the top online no-GRE PhDs out there.
Business doctorate programs used to be rare, but in the last few years, online business doctorates have become more and more common. A more competitive job market has made it important for business professionals to distinguish themselves, especially if they want to move into the higher realms of executive life. For those with their eyes on the C-Suite, grit and determination aren't enough any more – expertise in areas like leadership, technology, and management tell recruiters that you're serious about getting to the top. In highly technical areas like finance doctorates and accounting doctorates, online business doctorates combine technical skills with business expertise to make well-rounded leaders.
Online, no-GRE PhD programs in business also fill the need for educators in business, as business schools expand to meet all of the demand for great managers and administrators. There's an important distinction in online business doctorates: the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) is mainly for those who want to work in the field as executives (say, for instance, an online DBA in Marketing) while the PhD in Business is primarily for those who want to teach business at the college level. For either, the old GRE vs GMAT question rears its head (see above), but choosing a no-GRE PhD program in business solves that problem before it even starts.
Some no-GRE PhD programs in business include:
- American University – DBA
- Bellevue University – PhD in Human Capital Management
- George Fox University – DBA
- Grand Canyon University – DBA with Emphasis in Marketing
- Northcentral University – Advanced Accounting PhD in Bus. Admin., Financial Management D.B.A., Financial Management PhD in Bus. Admin., Human Resources Management DBA, Human Resources Management PhD in Bus. Admin., Public Administration DBA, Public Administration PhD
- Trident University International – PhD in Business Administration
- University of Dallas – DBA Management
- Walden University – Online Doctor of Business Education, Online Doctor of Business Education w/ Accounting focus
- William Howard Taft University – DBA
- Wilmington University – Doctor of Business Administration
Computer science is an interesting field for a graduate student, because the culture in the tech industry is so complex. On the one hand, the tech and computer industry has more respect for the self-taught, self-motivated entrepreneur than probably any other field. The conventional wisdom within tech tends to assume that colleges and universities develop too slowly to be on the cutting edge, and that graduate programs are a waste of time when innovators could be out innovating. On the other hand, computer science is used in every industry – not just Silicon Valley, but government, banking, education – and most industries trust a graduate degree, making a doctorate in computer science a sound investment, especially in emerging areas like data science, where conventional industries need the reassurance of a degree.
Online education is a natural fit for computer science – where else would computer science students learn? Computer science students often thrive, even working at the doctoral level, in an online environment. Computer science schools are looking for students with drive, experience, technical skills, and that spirit of self-motivation that drives tech. But there is, in all honesty, not a lot that GRE test scores can tell a computer science school about how a doctoral student is going to perform, so a no-GRE PhD program makes a lot of sense for computer science.
Some no-GRE PhD programs in computer science include:
- Colorado Technical University – Doctor of Management in Technology Management, Online Doctor of Computer Science (DCS)
- Northcentral University – Computer & Information Security PhD in Bus. Admin., Computer and Information Security DBA
- University of Hawaiâi at MÄnoa – PhD Program in Computer Science
From the time fully online degrees became viable (around the mid-1990s), counseling and psychology have been prime candidates for online graduate education. That's especially true when it comes to a degree like the PhD, where students are usually already working professionals who have experience and connections in the field. They can easily set up clinical experiences, for example, and don't need the hand-holding and mentorship that a less-experienced student might need. That makes the convenience of an online psychology PhD or an online PhD in counseling well worthwhile.
Some professionals in psychology and counseling are interested in careers in research and education, but many just want to help people, directly and one-on-one. For those counselors, a no-GRE PhD program makes sense. It bypasses the headache of an academic exam that doesn't really fit the skills of a practitioner, and gets more dedicated experts into a field that needs all it can get. Since counseling and psychology online degrees are so common, a no-GRE PhD is just an extra step in the right direction for universities.
Some no-GRE PhD programs in counseling and psychology include:
- Argosy University – Doctor of Education in Counseling Psychology, Doctor of Education in Counselor Education and Supervision, Doctor of Education in Pastoral Community Counseling
- California Institute of Integral Studies – online PhD program in transformative studies
- California Southern University – Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)
- Capella University – PhD in General Psychology, PsyD School Psychology, Doctor of Social Work, Doctor of Philosophy in Human Services, Doctor of Philosophy in Human Services: Social and Community Services Specialization
- Christian Leadership University – Doctor of Christian Counseling
- Georgia State University – PhD in Counseling Psychology, PhD in Counselor Education and Practice
- Grand Canyon University – DBA with an Emphasis in Management, PhD in General Psychology: Integrating Technology, Learning, and Psychology, PhD in General Psychology: Performance Psychology, PhD in General Psychology with an Emphasis in Cognition and Instruction, Ph.D. in General Psychology with an Emphasis in Industrial and Organizational Psychology, PhD in Organizational Leadership with an Emphasis in Special Education
- Keiser University – PhD in Psychology
- Liberty University – Doctor of Education: Community Care & Counseling: Marriage & Family
- Northcentral University – DMFT Child and Adolescent Therapy, DMFT Couple Therapy, DMFT General Family Therapy, DMFT Medical Family Therapy, DMFT Mental Health Administration, DMFT Small Business Development and Entrepreneurship, DMFT Therapy with Military Families, General Family Therapy PhD In Marriage/Family Therapy, Couple Therapy PhD In Marriage/Family Therapy: Child & Adolescent Therapy, PhD In Marriage/Family Therapy: Industrial Organizational Psychology, PhD of Psychology Industrial/Organizational Psychology DBA, Industrial/Organizational Psychology PhD in Bus. Admin., Mental Health Policy and Practice: Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology, Health Psychology PhD
- Oregon State University – PhD in Counseling
- The Chicago School of Professional Psychology – Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Counselor Education
- Walden University – PhD in psychology
Criminal justice, and all of its many related fields – Homeland Security, cybersecurity, public administration, law enforcement, and many others among them – represent some of the fastest-growing job markets in the US. In a complex, interconnected world defined by globalization, security is a concern at all levels – worldwide and nationally, real world and online, government and business, home and community. Online doctoral programs in criminal justice and security, or online doctorate in public administration, are just some of the opportunities respected online universities have to offer.
An online, no-GRE PhD program is a sound option for students in criminal justice careers. Most people interested in a doctorate in criminal justice are already seasoned professionals who need advanced skills and credentials for advancement, so they're already self-motivated for online learning. Plus, the GRE is an academic test, while most fields in criminal justice (aside from research-intensive scientific careers) are more practical; the GRE might not be the best indicator of success.
Some no-GRE PhD programs in criminal justice include:
- Northcentral University – Criminal Justice D.B.A., Criminal Justice PhD in Bus. Admin., Homeland Security Leadership & Policy DBA, Homeland Security Leadership & Policy PhD in Bus. Admin.
- Nova Southeastern University – Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Criminal Justice
Like counseling and psychology, teacher education was one of the first fields to go online for graduate education, for many of the same reasons. Few educators go straight from undergraduate to graduate programs, usually going right into the classroom from their bachelor's degree and planning for more schooling later. For that reason, by the time educators get to their graduate programs, they have ample real-world experience. They don't need mentorship and camaraderie – they need specialized credentials, like an online doctorate in special education, to amp up their careers.
Online Doctor of Education (EdD) degrees have become especially common, preparing seasoned professionals for administration and advocacy. While the GRE exam definitely tests a lot of the skills and knowledge a well-rounded educator should know, by the time a student gets to the doctor of education, experience, recommendations, and accomplishments are far more important for admissions than one exam. Online no-GRE PhD programs in education are plentiful and invaluable for helping educators increase their credentials and earnings – and get the recognition they deserve.
Some no-GRE PhD programs in education include:
- Colorado State University, Fort Collins – PhD in Education and Human Resource Studies
- Concordia University Portland – Doctorate of Professional Leadership, Inquiry, and Transformation, Educational Administration EDD, Higher Education EDD, Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction Educational Technology Leadership Teacher Leadership EDD, Transformational Leadership EDD
- Edgewood College – Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership
- Grand Canyon University Ed. D. in Organizational Leadership with an Emphasis in Health Care Administration, Ed.D in Organizational Leadership with an Emphasis in Organizational Development, Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership Christian Ministry, Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership with an Emphasis in K-12 Leadership, Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership with an Emphasis in Behavioral Health, Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership with an Emphasis in Higher Education Leadership
- Keiser University Ft Lauderdale – PhD in Educational Leadership
- Liberty University – Doctor of Education: Community Care & Counseling: Marriage & Family, Doctor of Education: Curriculum and Instruction, Doctor of Education: Curriculum and Instruction/Elementary Education, Doctor of Education: Curriculum and Instruction/Middle-Grades Education – Doctor of Education: Curriculum and Instruction/Secondary Education, Doctor of Education: Curriculum and Instruction/Special Education
- Michigan State University – PhD in Educational Psychology and Educational Technology
- Northcentral University – Curriculum and Teaching, Doctor of Education Curriculum and Teaching PhD in Education, Doctor of Education Nursing Education, E-Learning Doctor of Education, E-Learning EdS, E-Learning PhD in Education, Early Childhood Education Doctor of Education, Early Childhood Education EdS, Early Childhood Education PhD in Education, EdD Learning Analytics in Higher Education, Educational Leadership Doctor of Education, Educational Leadership EdS, Educational Leadership PhD in Education, English Second Language Doctor of Education, English Second Language PhD in Education, International Education Doctor of Education, International Education Doctor of Philosophy in Education, International Education EdS, Leadership in Higher Education Doctor of Education, Leadership in Higher Education EdS, Leadership in Higher Education PhD in Education
- University of Alabama – Doctor of Education in Higher Education Administration
- University of Nebraska – Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Studies
- University of New England – Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership (Ed.D.)
- USC Rossier School of Education – Doctor of Education (EdD) in Organizational Change and Leadership
In an era of climate change, natural disasters, man-made pollution, and vanishing wildlife, environmental studies and sustainability are poised to be the next most-important fields for college degrees. While environmental studies has a long pedigree, college programs in sustainability are younger (like the idea of sustainability itself), and the field is still very much in development. It's a new model, and a new field, so new technology has stepped right in and made doctorate degree programs in sustainability and environmental studies a fertile ground for online education.
An online, no-GRE PhD in sustainability or environmental studies looks like the next frontier. Lots of degree programs in environmental studies and sustainability are interdisciplinary, experimental programs that don't fit into any one department or conventional college. The GRE, on the other hand, is fundamentally traditional, tied to conventional academic boundaries. Because of that divide, it could be argued that the GRE isn't the best indicator of whether a student will fit into a graduate program in environmental studies or sustainability; that means a no-GRE PhD program ought to be a no-brainer.
Some no-GRE PhD programs in environmental studies/sustainability include:
- Antioch University New England – PhD Environmental Studies
Nowhere are experienced professionals in more demand, and more shortage, than in healthcare. With a nationwide nursing shortage and some of the highest projected job market demand for the next decade, online doctoral programs in the health sciences have become crucial to closing the gap. Online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs, online pharmacy doctorates, online Doctor of Physical Therapy, Doctor of Occupational Therapy, and many more degrees and specializations are becoming common, and critical.
Online, no-GRE PhD programs in healthcare are much like those in education – hardly anyone goes into a graduate program in nursing or physical therapy without already earning years of experience in the field. These professionals don't need GRE test scores to tell admissions officers that they're ready for a doctoral program; they have years of direct care, continuing education credits, and employer recommendations to do the talking for them. For professionals planning to earn an online doctorate in the healthcare field, a no-GRE PhD is the shortest, most convenient way forward – one with significant impact on their career.
Some no-GRE PhD programs in healthcare include:
- Abilene Christian University – DNP Doctor of Nursing Practice
- American Sentinel University – DNP
- Brandman University – DNP
- Chatham University – DNP
- Clarke University – DNP
- Frontier Nursing University – DNP
- Georgia Southern University – DNP
- Liberty University – DNP
- Loyola University New Orleans – DNP
- NorthCentral University – Health Care Administration – DBA Health Care Administration, PhD in Bus. Admin.
- Simmons College – DNP
- South University – DNP
- Texas Christian University – DNP
- University of Missouri Kansas City – PhD in Nursing
- Walden University – Doctor of Healthcare Administration
- Western Michigan University – PhD in Interdisciplinary Health Sciences
- Wilkes University – DNP
Public health is one of the most important professional fields in modern life – and one of the most misunderstood, by those outside of the profession. Public health professionals may be doctors and nurses, but they may also be researchers, administrators, civil servants, marketers, public educators, and more. It's a broad field united by one particular focus – understanding and improving health on the mass, population level. That work is done through the cooperation of government, private industry, healthcare, nonprofits organizations, education, and media. In other words, the field is complex, enormous, and fascinating – and it's online.
Online doctor of public health programs are common now, offered by some of the most prestigious public health schools in the nation. The online format works well for public health, offering working professionals in a variety of fields (like nursing nonprofit management, and public administration) the chance to add public health expertise to their current A no-GRE PhD in public health is a sensible choice, since these experienced experts don't need to prove their competence in literacy and mathematics. They need the education to reach the next level of their career.
Some no-GRE PhD programs in public health include:
- Capella University – DrPH Public Health Doctorate
- Drexel University – PhD in Public Health
- Emory University – PhD in Public Health
- Loma Linda University – PhD in Public Health
- University of Illinois at Chicago – Doctor of Public Health in Leadership
- University of North Carolina Chapel Hill – PhD in Public Health
- Walden University – PhD in Public Health
A ministry career is a many-sided thing – it's partly public speaking, partly research and writing, partly counseling, and partly management. A professional theologian, on the other hand, is primarily research, writing, and teaching, usually in an academic environment (as a professor). In both cases, a doctoral degree is recognized as a standard. In many churches, a Doctor of Ministry is the expectation for a senior pastor, and no one is going to become a theology professor without a Doctor of Theology.
Standardized tests for a field like theology and ministry are a tricky proposition; we're talking about a career based on faith, after all, but one rooted in learning and literacy. In that respect, a GRE would make sense as a standard for admissions. But at the same time, many theology and ministry schools choose to opt out of secular standards like regional accreditation and standardized exams. That would make the GRE pretty insignificant for admissions. But in any case, an online, no-GRE PhD program can help prepare ministry and theology professionals for the next stage in their careers, faster and more efficiently.
Some no-GRE PhD programs in theology and ministry include:
- Catholic University of America – Doctor of Ministry