Top Online International Doctoral Programs

The most advanced degree in most academic disciplines, the doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) indicates the holder possesses a broad, comprehensive understanding of their discipline. Doctoral degree-holders also have in-depth knowledge in a specialized field. Professionals pursuing research careers and high-level jobs in academia typically need a Ph.D. Some prestigious careers in law, education, and healthcare require a doctoral-level professional degree, such as a juris doctor, doctor of education, doctor of medicine, or doctor of physical therapy.

Working professionals can also earn a doctorate to qualify for promotions and salary increases. Depending on the discipline and program, students typically need 3-8 years to complete a doctoral program. Students with relevant master’s degrees can sometimes finish a professional doctorate in 3-4 years. A Ph.D. often takes longer to earn than a professional doctorate due to dissertation requirements.

Attending an international school online enables doctoral students to engage with diverse cultures, ideas, perspectives, and research opportunities without relocating. Online schools may also offer discounted tuition rates. Tuition rates vary by program and school, so prospective students should compare prices for similar programs before enrolling.

The Top 5 Online International Doctoral Programs
1University of Oxford
2King’s College London
3University of Manchester
4University of Birmingham
5University of Liverpool

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Can I ear a Ph.D. online?Yes, online learning is an increasingly popular choice. Online Ph.D. programs can help professionals obtain educational and career advancement without taking time off from work.
Do you need a master’s degree before pursuing a doctorate?Not all doctoral programs require applicants to hold a master’s degree, but students with related master’s degrees typically finish doctoral programs faster.
Can I earn a doctorate from another country?Yes, many doctoral programs accept qualified international applicants. However, international students may not qualify for certain types of financial aid.
How long does it typically take to earn a doctorate?Program length depends on factors such as degree type and the student’s prior graduate coursework. Doctoral programs generally take 3-8 years.
What is the difference between “study abroad” programs and earning a degree internationally?Learners in study abroad programs usually attend one or two semesters at a school in another country and transfer earned credits to their home institution. Students earning an international degree complete most credit requirements at a foreign university and receive their degree from that school.
Do I need a passport to study internationally online?Fully online programs do not require students to travel internationally, so learners do not need a passport. However, students do need a passport to complete doctoral programs that include in-person requirements.

Accreditation for International Online Ph.D. Programs

Accreditation is a voluntary evaluation and improvement process directed by approved third-party organizations. Accreditation verifies the academic quality of schools and programs. Not all countries use the term accreditation, but most of them maintain systems for reviewing schools and ensuring they deliver promised value. For example, the United Kingdom’s Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education accredits many U.K. schools.

Most school and program websites include a page containing accreditation information and standards. Students should verify this information through the country’s education department. The U.S. Department of Education advises U.S. students to verify that degrees earned internationally meet U.S. educational requirements for their desired career. Prospective students can learn more about international higher education quality standards through the Council of Higher Education Accreditation website.

Prospective students should understand the accreditation systems in their prospective schools’ countries to make sure that any institution and program they consider meets rigorous standards. Many schools only accept transfer credits and degrees from institutions with similar accreditation status. Furthermore, only students at accredited schools typically receive consideration for financial aid.

Applying for International Doctoral Programs

Educational prerequisites and application requirements often vary by country, school, discipline, and program. Many doctoral programs outside the U.S. accept top-level bachelor’s degree-holders into doctoral programs, whereas U.S. students almost always need a master’s degree to qualify for Ph.D. programs.

Virtually all schools require applicants to submit official transcripts, and most doctoral programs require graduate-level standardized test scores. Some programs accept general exams, such as the GMAT, while other schools, such as Oxford University, require applicants to complete school-administered, subject-specific testing.

Doctoral programs in writing-intensive disciplines usually require writing samples. Applicants may also need to provide recommendation letters, submit a resume or portfolio, and undergo an interview. Many international doctoral programs do not require application fees.

International students must submit additional documentation, including proof of identity. When applicable, learners may need to demonstrate foreign language proficiency. Applicants to programs with in-person requirements typically need a passport and may also need a student visa. International students should contact the international student office of each prospective school for specific documentation requirements.

Student Resources in International Programs

Students considering enrolling in an international doctoral program should utilize all available resources. For reliable, current information, students should begin the application process by contacting the international student services office at their prospective university. Schools such as the University of Liverpool provide individualized guidance and special resources for international students and scholars.

International student services offices may offer counsel and documentation assistance to help students navigate the application, student visa, and immigration processes. International student services offices also frequently run orientation programs that familiarize international students with the host country’s education systems and culture. When possible, consulting with the school’s alumni can also help prepare international students.

Many schools feature international student programs, clubs, activities, and events that foster community and cross-cultural exchange. Additional campus resources may include career services, which can help international students find employment during or after their degree program. Schools such as King’s College London offer language courses for international students learning in a non-native language.

Financial Aid for International Students

International students may not receive the same federal financial aid opportunities as domestic learners. However, according to the Federal Student Aid office students can apply domestic federal student loans toward international tuition.

Many schools and programs offer financial aid opportunities to international students, including grants, scholarships, and loans. Grants do not require repayment and are often awarded based on financial need. Although often competitive, international student scholarships do not require repayment either. Many scholarships require applicants to demonstrate academic merit and/or belong to an underrepresented group. Unlike grants and scholarships, loans require repayment, usually upon graduation.

Doctoral students may also qualify for fellowships, which generally involve conducting research or teaching in exchange for tuition remission or stipends. Many international schools treat graduate students as employees, requiring students to qualify for research positions before receiving admission to doctoral programs.

Prospective students should begin researching financial aid options early to increase their funding prospects.

Why Get a Ph.D.?

Earning a Ph.D. online or on campus can lead to a variety of professional and personal benefits and opportunities. Doctoral degree-holders often qualify for specialized careers, promotions, and salary increases. High-level positions such as researcher, professor, and psychologist usually require a Ph.D., while medical and law careers require professional doctorates.

A Ph.D. and a professional doctoral are both terminal degrees that signify advanced expertise. These credentials warrant professional respect and the title of doctor. After earning a Ph.D. online, graduates often have opportunities to conduct original research and contribute to their field’s body of knowledge.

Professionals in some fields and industries may earn an online Ph.D. to compete for administrative positions. Although managerial roles may not require a doctoral degree, an advanced degree demonstrates the holder’s initiative, commitment, and expertise. Candidates with a Ph.D. often have a competitive edge in the job market.

Professionals with a Ph.D. typically have higher earning potential than those with less education. Doctoral degree-holders in the U.S. earn a median weekly salary of $1,883, according to the BLS, compared to a median salary of $1,248 per week for bachelor’s degree-holders. The same BLS data indicates that doctoral degree-holders boast the lowest unemployment rates.

Why Earn a Degree Online?

Online programs typically feature the same rigorous curricula as their on-campus counterparts, and both online and on-campus students receive the same degrees. Many students choose online Ph.D. programs because of their geographic and scheduling flexibility.

Particularly advantageous to working professionals and international students, online doctoral programs often help learners earn their degree without relocating or taking time off work. Time zone differences can make synchronous class participation difficult for international students, but many online programs offer asynchronous formats.

Distance Ph.D. programs can also save doctoral students time and money by eliminating the need to travel or relocate to an area with a higher cost of living. Online doctoral students can receive all of the benefits of international study without leaving home. Students in remote Ph.D. programs often access global perspectives, unique research opportunities, and lower tuition rates.

Top Online International Doctoral Programs

The following list ranks several high-quality international doctoral degree programs. These programs meet rigorous accreditation standards and offer resources for international students. Our rankings page provides information on the criteria we used to rank these schools.

1. University of Oxford (England)

Without a doubt, the name “Oxford” elicits thoughts of quality, expertise, and the best British higher education has to offer. Oxford offers a number of D.Phil. degrees (the U.S. equivalent of a Ph.D.) in a number of fields that can be taken at a distance. Part-time students usually take six to eight years to complete their program while the minimum amount of time one has to spend in the program is four years. Like many European programs, there are no required courses but rather a thesis and an oral examination called a viva voce. The viva voce consists of a thesis defense as well as an oral examination of the candidate’s subject of inquiry.

Distance students are often required to be on campus for 30 days a year and must meet with their supervisor once a term. Programs such as Art History and Design, Counselling and Psychotherapy, History, Human Rights Law, Literature, Maths, Computing and Data Science, Political Economy and Business and Sustainable Urban Development are available through the oxford research program. While there are dedicated subjects that one can take at a distance, a student can apply to participate in a D.Phil. program by inquiring about the availability of supervision in said subject area.

U.S. News and World Report ranks University of Oxford #1 among British Universities and #5 globally. Tuition, however, is difficult to summarize because different departments may charge different levels of tuition. As an example, the Department of Classics charges overseas D.Phil. students £15,295 per year while the Department of Anthropology charges £18,770. One can find the course rate calculations for tuition here. Looking at various institutions abroad, Oxford easily rises to the top of the available institutions for advance degrees in a number of areas.

2. King’s College London (England)

King’s College London is a public research university in London, England and is a constituent college of University of London. The college boasts 22,080 students overall with 36% of the student population being postgraduate students. 49% of those post graduate students are international. The Arts and Humanities college is ranked at #23 worldwide by QS Top Worldwide Universities. The University leads the world in research and has been the center of major advances such as the discovery of the structure of DNA and research that lead to the development of the radio, television, mobile phones and radar.

King’s College London offers various distance learning D.Phil. degrees (equivalent to a U.S. Ph.D.) in various fields. Much of the program is from a distance but there are a few on campus requirements for students. Enrollment and induction into programs often requires the student to be on site. For some degrees, this is the only requirement as no residency requirements are enforced beyond induction into the program. However, the departments often encourage students to be on campus for various activities that might involve other Ph.D. students.

Again, different departments and colleges have different requirements. For example, the Ph.D. in War Studies is targeted at mid-career professionals who are unable to leave their place of residence for any period of time and, therefore, are exempt from any residency requirements. This may not be the case with other degrees in other departments. For example, the department of Political Economics gives more vague and flexible instructions in their residency requirements because they wish the student personally to work it out with the department. Like at University of Oxford, tuition varies between departments. U.S. News and World Report ranks King’s College London #7 among British Universities and #61 Globally. QS World University Rankings places King’s College London at #19 in their top global universities.

3. University of Manchester (England)

University of Manchester is a public research university in Manchester, England. Manchester University was formed in 2004 when the University of Manchester Institute of Science and technology merged with the Victoria University of Manchester. The universities boasts 34,470 students with 26% of the student population being postgraduate students. 43% of those postgraduate students are international. The Social Science and Management college is ranked #35 by QS Top Universities. University of Manchester boasts accomplishments in research such as the birth of modern computer, the splitting of the atom, and advancements in the principles of modern economics.

University of Manchester offers a distance PhD to international students in Nursing. While distance learning is indeed an option, it does entail some on campus time during induction week to meet your supervisor and fellow students. The research methods course which is mandatory for all students has been converted into an online course for students learning at a distance. Supervisors meet with their students through teleconferencing throughout the program. Tuition is approximately £14,000 per year (this number is based on the number given for funding to EU students and is not a direct number from a tuition database on the U.Manchester site). While students from the EU get full funding, it is unclear what funding there is for international students outside of the EU. Individual students should inquire about exact tuition and funding when looking into the program. The program offers a number of emphases including Midwifery (PhD), Nursing (PhD), and Social Work (PhD).

U.S News and World Report ranks University of Manchester #11 globally and at #6 within Britain. QS World University Rankings places University of Manchester at #33 in their top global universities.

4. University of Birmingham (England)

University of Birmingham is a public research university located in Edgbaston, Birmingham in the country of England. University of Birmingham has a student population of 25,826 with 31% of the student population being postgraduate students. Further, 31% of the academic staff are international as well. 61% of those postgraduate students are international. The university’s Arts and Humanities school is ranked #63 worldwide by QS World University Rankings.

The University of Birmingham offers a large number of distance Ph.D’s in many different fields. Distance Learning Ph.D.’s include those in African Studies, Archaeology, Classics and Ancient History, English Literature, History of Art, Russian Studies, Sexuality and Gender Studies, among many others. Tuition is £13,680 for a year for full-time, overseas students. If one takes a full-time approach to the degree, it takes about three years while part-time tracks take about six years. Birmingham provides access to distance learning mentors who are students in the program available to answer questions one might have about the program in general and how they cope with being far away from their home campus. The program is meant to provide a way for people in the work place or for those who do not wish to or are unable to uproot their families to pursue research work in a field of their choice at the highest levels.

U.S. News and World Report ranks University of Birmingham #122 globally, #43 among European universities, while the university ranks #11 among universities in Great Britain. QS World University Ranking ranks University of Birmingham at #76 among global universities.

5. University of Liverpool (England)

University of Liverpool is a public university in Liverpool, England. University of Liverpool provides that largest group of 100% online degree courses in Europe with about 7,000 students taking such courses. There are 19,639 students at University of Liverpool with 18% of the student population being postgraduate. 30% of the postgraduate student population is made up of international students. The Research Excellence Framework (a group which assesses the value of and ranking of British institutions and their research) ranks University of Liverpool in the top 10 in the UK for research in Chemistry, Computer Science, General Engineering, Archaeology, Agriculture, Veterinary and Food Science, Architecture, Clinical Medicine, and English.

University of Liverpool offers fully online Ph.D.’s in both business and education with an optional residency. They provide both a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) and a Doctor of Education – Higher Education (EdD). The purpose of the programs is to bring together senior professionals who wish to further their careers and the knowledge within their respective subjects through advanced research. The online Doctor of Business Administration is accredited by the University of Liverpool Management School’s AACSB Accreditation, which is awarded to only 5% of business schools worldwide. The online Doctor of Education is focused on leadership within the context of higher education in a global context. While both degrees are considered to be professional degrees, they are equivalent to Ph.D.’s throughout the European Union. If you are in the U.S., seek advice from specialists in the field to get information about equivalence in the states.

Tuition for the Doctor of Business Administration is listed on Liverpool’s site to be $85,750 for the entire program with options for reductions in cost depending on how the student pays. Tuition for the Doctor of education is $58,650 for the entire degree with options for reductions in cost depending on how the student pays. U.S. News and World Report ranks University of Liverpool at #155 globally, #61 among European institutions, and #15 within Great Britain. QS World University Ranking ranks University of Liverpool at #151 worldwide.

6. McGill University (Canada)

McGill University is based in Montreal, Canada. The university boasts 250 specialized Master’s and Doctoral degree programs, placing it among the best research universities in North America. McGill has a student population of 29,100 people with 24% of the student population being postgraduate. 34% of those postgraduate students are international students. QS World University Ranking ranks McGill University’s Life Sciences and Medical school at #34 globally.

McGill University is located in Quebec, Canada and allows students wanting to earn a Ph.D. in Nursing to do so from a distance. However, this is not a distance degree that can be done entirely at a distance. Intensive summer courses will be a part of the curriculum and will have to be taken on site as well as meetings with supervisors. It is unclear whether the program takes advantage of Skype type technologies for meetings with supervisors and other individuals within the program to limit travel. Some students elect to spend a year in Montreal while taking the coursework (which can be completed in this time) and then spend the remaining years away. What one can take away from the information concerning the program is that it is incredibly flexible and the faculty and staff are willing to work with various student situations and needs. Further, there is no need to know French.

Part time registration (usually how one approaches a distance Ph.D.) comes in at approximately $4,989.27 (CAN) per semester for tuition and fees. U.S. News and World Report ranks McGill University at #53 internationally. QS World University Ranking ranks McGill University at #24 globally. The only reason this university is not higher on the list is simply the offerings. There is really only one degree, to our knowledge, that has distance learning available.

7. Australian National University (Australia)

Australian National University is a research university located in Canberra, Australia. The university is consistently ranked among the top 50 research universities in the world. Australian National University boasts a student body of 13,328 people with 39% of the population being post graduate. Of these postgraduate students, 60% of them are international students. QS World University Ranking ranks Australian National University’s Anthropology department at #7 and Arts and Humanities school at #12 globally.

Australian National University is typically offers on-campus, residential degrees but does make exceptions for distance learners. If an exemption for distance learning is granted, then the student is required to be in residence, not consecutively, for four weeks of the academic year. There are various degrees offered at the PhD level on the campus of Australian National University. For example, the College of Arts and Social Sciences offers degrees in Anthropology, History, Literary Studies and many more. Again, one must apply to study within any given field from a distance and get permission to have a limited residency for the Ph.D. in your field. Each college and major has their own tuition and fees which apply. Please see the individual degree programs and send an inquiry as to cost for international students learning at a distance.

U.S. News and World Report ranks Australian National University #4 among Australian institutions of high learning and #80 among global institutions. QS World University Ranking ranks Australian National University at #19 globally. This disparity between U.S. News and QS is interesting but is centered in their various research parameters and caused us to place Australian National University further down the list. In spite of this being the case, the university is in our top 10 and definitely should be in consideration for a distance PhD if you are looking to apply.

8. University of Calgary (Canada)

University of Calgary is a research university located in Calgary, Alberta in Canada. The university has 14 faculties and over 85 research institutes and centers. University of Calgary has a student population of 28,601 with 19% of the student body being postgraduates. 38% of postgraduates are international students. The university consistently ranks within the top 10 among Canadian universities. University of Calgary boasts 77 Canada Research Chairs.

University of Calgary provides a Doctor of Education with a blended delivery. There are online courses with some face-to-face meetings that occur throughout the program. One of the major admission requirements is practical experience in the field of education along with a portfolio of work which can include a thesis (MA), curriculum documents, articles, research grants, and so forth. If one does not have the relevant degree background for the Ph.D., life experience can be utilized for admission with proof such as work experience, continuing education efforts, work related products such as handbooks or reports, and a number of other related documents. The program is a three-year cohort based curriculum with two years of course work and one year of writing the dissertation. The maximum a student can take in the program is six years, making the extended time the equivalent of doing the program as a part-time student. Graduate tuition is $12,695.88 per year for international students.

U.S. News and World Report ranks University of Calgary at #194 globally and #6 within Canada. QS World University Ranking ranks University of Calgary at #204 globally.

9. Sabi University (France)

Sabi University, unlike those who make our list in our top 8 above, is a private university located in Paris, France. Also different from the above institutions is Sabi University’s focus. Sabi University is a university dedicated to the fields of business and public administration. Sabi University attempts to develop leaders and citizens who are part of a global environment which emphasizes diversity, competition, environmental respect, cultural understand, and technological advancement.

Sabi University is an online degree granting university which is located in Paris, France. The university offers a Doctor of Business Administration. The research done within the context of Sabi’s program centers on the novel application of theory within business practices rather than on the creation and testing of theory. The target student for this degree are professional students and not necessarily those who wish to work in the field of academics. Those who participate in the program are expected to integrate their new knowledge into their current working environments. The program utilizes a number of ways to learn including pre- recorded lectures, flipped interactive classroom discussions, case studies, assignments, seminars, additional reading materials and through active research using appropriate quantitative and qualitative methods.

All courses, seminars and workshops must be completed within the first 20 weeks of the program which are followed by a Grand Final Exam (equivalent to graduate exams in U.S. programs). The program is concluded with a thesis. Tuition is $90 per credit hour with the program being 120 credits in length.

10. Monarch University (Switzerland)

Monarch University is located in Zug, Switzerland. Like Sabi University, Monarch is a specialized university concentrating in applied education and research in management. The programs at Monarch are accredited by the Swiss Federation of Private Business Schools. The student body at Monarch is represented by 33 nationalities and the university encourages learning and growth in cross-cultural engagement.

Monarch University in Switzerland offers a number of distance Doctoral programs centered on Business. They offer doctorates in Management, Finance, Economics, Business Philosophy, and Business Administration. Like many of the schools in our list, students in the distance doctoral programs must complete their own research and be independent in their working habits. The school hopes that all students who are accepted at the university will get to know their supervisors as well as the international faculty that are available to them. The target students for theses degrees are primarily those who are going into academia or wish to work in consulting firms as theorists and specialists.

When a student completes the first three chapters of their dissertation, they are awarded the Master of Philosophy Degree. Therefore, the program is a dual degree program with a Master’s Degree built into the sequence of study. Students are allowed to attend symposiums which are conducted at the Rapperswil Castle on the shore of Lake Zurich. Further, the university conducts workshops which candidates are allowed to attend. These workshops have been conducted in Dubai, Spain, Switzerland and other international locations. Tuition costs 5,000 euros per year plus fees.

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