Online Ph.D. programs are an excellent investment. As of 2021, workers who reach this level of education earn an average income of $1,909 per week. This adds up to an annual salary of over $99,000.

But like any investment, you’ll need to commit some money upfront before you see any of those returns. It can be difficult to project the cost of earning your Ph.D. online, as it depends on which school you attend, which concentration you select, and several other factors. This guide will help you determine how much this degree should cost and reveal where you can find the most affordable online Ph.D. programs.

Breaking Down the Cost of an Online Ph.D.

The main expense associated with online Ph.D. programs is tuition. To save as much money as possible, you will likely need to attend a public university and qualify for in-state tuition. Private schools tend to charge more than public schools, and public schools tend to charge out-of-state students more than in-state students.

Your course load may affect how much your online Ph.D. costs, as some schools offer discounted tuition for full-time students. If you have military experience, are married to someone with military experience, or are the child of someone with military experience, you might also have access to discounted tuition. The cost of your education will also depend on your field of study. Most colleges charge higher rates for certain specializations, with business, engineering, and nursing being among the most expensive options.

It’s worth noting that most schools will charge you extra fees on top of tuition for each course that you take. Some even charge their online students a “distance education” fee to help cover the cost of maintaining an online student portal as well as providing students with tech support.

The latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that the average annual tuition and fees for in-state students attending a graduate program at a public school are $12,394. At the same time, the average annual tuition and fees for students attending a graduate program at a private school are $26,621 (private schools usually charge the same rate regardless of in-state or out-of-state residency).

In addition to tuition and fees, online Ph.D. programs may also involve the following expenses:

  • Textbooks: The required reading for Ph.D. programs is often based on journal articles rather than textbooks, but some courses might still require you to purchase a book. These course materials generally cost around a couple of hundred dollars each. You can reduce this expense by renting your textbooks rather than buying them whenever possible.
  • Equipment: To succeed in your online classes, you may need to upgrade your computer or purchase a microphone or headphones. Setting up a dedicated study area in your home may also involve purchasing new furniture, such as a desk or office chair. These expenses can end up costing you hundreds of dollars as well.
  • Travel: While some online Ph.D. programs can be completed 100% remotely, others are only available in a hybrid format. Unless you already live within walking distance of your college campus, meeting the in-person requirements of a hybrid program will force you to pay for either housing near campus or commuting to and from your classes. Some hybrid programs also require students to travel to off-campus locations for experiential learning activities.

The Most Affordable Online Ph.D. Programs

On the high end, you’ll find that some colleges charge more than $1,500 per credit for their online Ph.D. programs. But if affordability is your highest priority, you should know there are options available that charge less than half that amount.

As mentioned above, the cost of your online Ph.D. program will likely depend on which specialization you select. To provide you with the most relevant information for your specific situation, we’ve reviewed affordable online Ph.D. programs for a variety of different subject areas below:


Anyone interested in attending a Christian college should have no problem finding affordable options for a Doctorate in Organizational Leadership. For less than $750 per credit, you can earn an online Ph.D. in this field at Johnson University or Columbia International University.

Education and teaching

Many programs are available for an Online Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction, Online Doctorate in Higher Education, or Online Doctorate in Educational Leadership that cost less than $750 per credit. For example, the online Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction at New Mexico State University is just $411.50 per credit, and there’s an online Ph.D. in Higher Education program offered by Notre Dame of Maryland University for $600 per credit.


You can expect most Ph.D. programs in the field of healthcare to only be available in an on-campus format. But there are some exceptions. Students who want to earn a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy can work toward an online Ph.D. for just $677 per credit at Nova Southeastern University.

Psychology and counseling

If you’re interested in earning an online Doctorate in School Counseling, check out the Ph.D. programs at Adams State University and the University of the Cumberlands for this doctoral program. Both of these options charge less than $500 per credit.