25 Best Online PhD Programs


These are the top 25 online PhD programs we could find. Our rankings take into account the reputation of the schools, their professional standing, costs, and their status as nonprofit or for-profit institutions. All of the schools in this list are accredited, and all of them can provide a quality education that can help prepare you for an advanced career. Doctoral degrees almost always have residency requirements, so few of these programs are 100% online. These kinds of details are important to keep in mind when deciding where to pursue such a degree. Tuition rates, as well as admission requirements, can change from one year to the next, and it is important to investigate these details thoroughly before applying to a given school. With that in mind though, this list can give you a starting point in your own search for the right online PhD program for you.

1. University of Southern California

The University of Southern California Rossier Online offers an online Doctor of Education in Organizational Change and Leadership, designed to prepare students for leadership roles in a variety of complex, changing fields. The program blends online learning with hands-on experience, and focuses on four themes: disposition, leadership, problem solving, and reflection. This 60 credit program can be completed in three years for students holding a master’s degree, who need only complete 43 credits. Online students are required to attend annual weekend immersion programs on-campus. Each student will complete a dissertation and a reflective self-assessment in order to finish their program.

2. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill offers an online transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, which is designed for licensed physical therapists to advance their knowledge and skills while maintaining their practice without interruption. Applicants must be licensed physical therapists, or eligible for licensure, and hold a master’s degree in physical therapy. International students must be licensed physical therapists in the United States. Applicants who hold only a bachelor’s degree but can show evidence of professional development may also be considered. The program is 30 credits in length and designed to be completed in two years of part-time study.

3. Northeastern University

The online transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy program at the Northeastern University College of Professional Studies can be completed in as little as one year for full-time students holding a master’s degree when they apply. This program is designed for practicing, licensed physical therapists with either a bachelor’s or master’s degree, and allows for a variety of concentrations including pediatrics, geriatrics, and even business management. All students complete a unique case study as part of the program. New students may enroll in any of the Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter terms in order to adapt the program to their existing.

4. University of Florida

Among several online PhD programs at The University of Florida is the PhD in Classical Civilization geared toward high school and community college teachers looking to expand their knowledge. Each student works with faculty to develop a personalized course of study in order to meet the requirements while working around their existing schedules. The program is between 60 and 90 credits in length, 30 of which must be completed in residency. Residency credits can be completed in two-week, intensive summer institutes. Other courses can be completed online, as independent studies, or through shared courses at other Southern University System campuses.

5. Pennsylvania State University

The online Doctor of Nursing Practice degree from PennState World Campus requires 61 credits for those entering with a bachelor’s of science in nursing, or 38 to 46 credits for those holding a master’s degree. This program is intended for nurses who wish to continue in a practice role. All courses are online, but students must complete three intensive sessions on-campus at the beginning of their first and second semesters, and the end of their second semester. Sessions are 3 to 4 days long and are hosted at Penn State University Park, or Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

6. George Washington University

Offered as both an off campus and an online PhD program, George Washington University’s Doctor of Philosophy in Systems Engineering is taught in a classroom phase followed by a research phase. During the classroom phase students take eight courses over four sessions. Each class is taught over nine weeks through 3.5 hour classes on Saturdays, with students taking two classes in each session. The research phase involves 30 credit hours of research leading to a dissertation. Students must also present at a professional conference and have an article accepted for publication by an approved journal in order to complete their degree.

7. Clemson University

Clemson University offers an online PhD program in Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management with a Recreational Therapy cognate which aims to train recreational therapy educators to help develop and strengthen the field. Applicants must be certified therapeutic recreational specialists with 2,000 hours of work experience beyond their internship. The program is taught using a personalized educational plan and synchronous online coursework, individualized mentoring, and three five-day oncampus residencies. The program is 60 credits and is designed to take place over three years. Students complete 13 courses and three residencies, as well as 18 credits of research and a dissertation defense.

8. Indiana University

One of the online PhD programs offered by Indiana University is the PhD in Nursing Science, which focuses on Clinical Nursing Science and Health Systems. This 90 credit program can be taken as either a BSN to PhD or as an MSN to PhD. Students on the MSN to PhD track can transfer up to 30 credits of their MSN work and reduce the time needed to complete the PhD. The program focuses on the development of research skills so that students can help to further the fields of nursing through 16 credits of dissertation work and other research courses.

9. University at Buffalo – SUNY

University at Buffalo, part of the State University of New York system, offers an online PhD program in Curriculum, Instruction and the Science of Learning. Students can follow the standard multidisciplinary program, or choose to add an optional concentration in English, math, or science education. At 72 credits, the program includes 28 credits of research towards completing a dissertation, and offers several optional teaching and research experiences. The program is generally completed in 4 to 5 years, but can take longer. Applicants must have a related master’s degree, but will transfer 10 credits from that degree toward the PhD requirements.

10. University of Alabama

The University of Alabama’s PhD in Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics is an online PhD program which can be completed full- or part-time. The program consists of 72 credits, 24 of which are required for dissertation research. Online students do have to make several visits to campus. Students must meet with their advisor once per semester, must present their dissertation proposal on campus, attend at least one dissertation defense on campus, and must attend a one day AEM Graduate Colloquium. Applicants need a bachelor’s degree accredited by ABET or CSAB, a 3.0 GPA, and a score of 300 on the GRE.

11. Iowa State University

Iowa State University offers an online PhD program in Apparel, Merchandising, and Design which is designed as a hybrid program for working professionals. The program is intended to train students for promising careers in museums, academia, and within the fashion industry itself. While most courses can be completed online, students will have to complete one or two on-campus summer coursework sessions. Courses within the program cover such topics as history and conservation, and consumer behavior. The program is 72 credits, 15 of which are reserved for dissertation research, and students can transfer up to 30 credits from a master’s program.

12. University of Missouri

The University of Missouri offers several online PhD programs, including a doctor of philosophy in human environmental sciences with an emphasis in architectural studies. This program is designed to produce researchers and leaders who contribute to the development of the field. Courses cover inclusive and accessible design, facility management, sustainability, and design education. This 72 credit program is offered entirely online, though students can visit campus for an optional workshop to present their research and get feedback. The program takes as little as five years, but the exact timetable varies by student, depending on courses per semester and dissertation research.

13. University of Nebraska-Lincoln

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s PhD in Educational Studies with a specialization in Educational Leadership and Higher Education is an online PhD program (which is also available as an EdD). This program is geared toward students with goals of working in higher education, student affairs, human resources development, or as leaders within the community college environment. While most of the 90 credit program can be completed online, students are required to take 6 credits of on-campus research seminars. Students must also complete and present several research studies during the program and complete a dissertation which adds to the topic knowledge base.

14. University of Kansas

The University of Kansas offers an online PhD program in nursing, which can be completed in as little as three years of full-time study. While the courses are offered online and students have access to online mentoring, students must also complete three one-week summer intensive residencies at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas. The program requires 52 credits of coursework and 15 credits of dissertation research. The program is offered in either BSN to PhD or MSN to PhD options. For students taking the BSN to PhD pathway, an additional 6 credits of coursework is required.

15. Catholic University of America

Students can earn a Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing from Catholic University of America in four years of full-time study. The program prepares students for roles in research positions which can help to further the field of nursing in a rapidly changing world. As such, the program covers such topics as the philosophy of science, theory development, research methods, and bioethics. This online PhD program is 70 credits, including 22 credits of research courses, and requires a dissertation to complete. Students have regular access to faculty who will work closely with them to ensure that they can finish their degree.

16. St. John’s University

One of the few online PhD programs in literacy is offered by St. John’s University. This program is designed to be completed quickly in order to get students back into the workforce or started on research that can help advance global literacy. Applicants need to hold a master’s degree in order to enter this 42 credit program, which can be completed in a little as two and a half years with full-time and summer study. The program is offered entirely online, and while there are set dates for assignments and tests, students can complete their coursework on their own schedule.

17. Mississippi State University

The Doctor of Philosophy in Community College Leadership offered by Mississippi State University is an online PhD program designed to help facilitate the growth and development of community colleges around the country. The program requires 61 credits beyond the required master’s degree, and applicants must have at least three years experience working in a community college environment. The program covers such topics as developing a work environment conducive to changing technology and student needs, administering both traditional and non-traditional students, how to use data ethically and productively, and the impact of the rural context on higher education and college administration.

18. Texas Tech University

The Doctor of Philosophy in Technical Communication and Rhetoric from Texas Tech University can be completed as an online PhD program with only two, two-week long summer residencies on-campus. The coursework and requirements are otherwise identical to those offered by the on-campus program, which has been offered since 1992. The program requires a total of 72 credits, including 60 credits of post-bachelor’s study, though 15 of those credits may be completed through an optional minor in a related field. The program culminates with a dissertation which requires a minimum of 12 credits of research, though can be longer if needed.

19. University of North Dakota

One of several online PhD programs offered by the University of North Dakota, the Doctorate of Philosophy in Aerospace Sciences offers the same options and has the same requirements as the on-campus equivalent, allowing students to seamlessly switch from one to the other. Students who choose to study entirely online must spend one week on campus each year, which can be scheduled with the help of their advisor. The program requires 90 credits of post-bachelor’s study, though 30 of those credits may be covered with an existing, approved master’s degree. The program also requires both qualifying exams and a dissertation.

20. University of South Dakota

This online PhD program from the University of South Dakota is designed to help healthcare practitioners become leaders in research, academia, and human service settings. The Doctor of Philosophy in Health Services requires a master’s degree in a health or human services related degree for admission. This 75 credit program is delivered online with the exceptions of a new student orientation, a one week dissertation boot camp, and the dissertation defense. Students can transfer up to 30 credits from a master’s degree toward this program, or 36 credits if that degree was also earned at the University of South Dakota.

21. New Mexico State University

The Doctor of Philosophy in Curriculum and Instruction at New Mexico State University is an online PhD program with minimal residency requirements. Students must complete three two-week sessions at the beginning of three consecutive summers, but can otherwise pursue their degree online. The program follows a specific sequence of classes for all students, which is completed in three years. This program focuses on theoretical approaches to the design and implementation of curricula, and prepares students for leadership roles in a variety of educational settings. Applicants will need to hold a master’s degree or higher in education in order to enroll.

22. Indiana Wesleyan University

Indiana Wesleyan University offers an online PhD program in Organizational Leadership, designed to prepare students for leaderships roles in a variety of fields. Students must attend one two day intensive course each term (January, April, and September) but online students can attend virtually. All students must also attend three, one week on-campus Summer Institutes in Marion, Indiana. Applicants need to hold at least a master’s degree and have five or more years of leadership experience in the workplace, in nonprofits, or the classroom. The program is 60 credits long, and students may transfer up to 9 credits of post-master’s work.

23. Troy University

Troy University offers an online PhD program in Sport Management, which is the first such program to be offered online in the country. Full-time students can complete this 60 credit program in as little as three years, though some dissertation topics do result in a longer program. Although students living near Troy, Alabama have the opportunity to take some courses on-campus, all are offered online, with no residency requirements. Classes are taught in nine week terms, with five terms each year, and a normal maximum allotment of two courses per term. Taking two courses in a term constitutes full-time enrollment.

24. University of Wisconsin

The online PhD program in Nursing from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee is offered in a cohort structure, in which students must complete their courses in sequence. They must also attend a one-week, on campus orientation at the beginning of the program, as well as another on-campus session at the end of their program. This program is designed to prepare students for careers in research and leadership which contribute to the knowledge of the nursing field, and is a research intensive program. The School of Nursing focuses its research on such topics as geriatric health, global health, and community-engaged health.

25. Indiana State University

Indiana State University offers an online PhD program in Technology Management, which can be completed in four and a half years of full-time study. This 66 credit program requires applicants to hold a master’s degree, and 18 of those credits must be completed in residency during the dissertation phase, though this can be completed in as little as two semesters. As a research focused program, the dissertation must be an original and major piece of scholarly work which contributes to the knowledge of the profession, and helps to prepare students for leadership positions within technology management and other technology fields.