Why This Matters


    According to a 2017 Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, individuals with a doctoral degree earn, on average, $342 more per week than those with a master’s degree and $570 more per week than those with a bachelor’s degree.


    Individuals with a PhD enjoy the lowest unemployment rates of all potential workers in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Their advanced skills and knowledge make them sought-after by employers.


    Many people who earn a PhD do so to further their careers in post-secondary education. A doctorate is a common prerequisite for tenure-track teaching positions and administrative roles at universities.

Our Research

Typically, individuals seeking a PhD are older and already part of the workforce. They may also have family or other personal commitments that limit their ability to attend an in-person program. We compiled this list consisting of programs with coursework that can be fully completed online. Please note that some programs may require in-person attendance for a dissertation defense or a practicum component.

Once we selected our top programs, we evaluated their reputation, course strength, flexibility, and cost. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score of each degree on a scale from 0 to 100. For a more extensive explanation, check out Our Ranking Methodology.

  • 81 hours to write this article
  • 184 universities and colleges we assessed
  • 315 education programs we compared

The Top 40 Online PhD Programs

Best Online Doctorate Degree Programs
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What You Should Know About This Degree

Although all coursework for the listed programs can be completed online, some programs may require on-campus attendance for your dissertation defense or have an in-person practicum experience component. When selecting a program, check out its in-person requirements and make sure they fit into your schedule and budget.

When contemplating a doctorate degree, it’s important to determine if you want a PhD or a professional degree. Both are terminal degrees, but a PhD focuses more on research and scholarly development. As the name implies, a professional degree concentrates more on gaining knowledge and developing advanced skills for a particular profession. Many disciplines offer both PhDs and professional degrees. Consider what your career goals are and whether a PhD or a professional degree will be best suited for helping you obtain those goals.

Even an online PhD program is a significant commitment of time and energy. As this is the highest level of education one can obtain, the coursework is intellectually rigorous and demands focus and innovative thinking. For working adults, especially those who have been out of school for a number of years, enrolling in a PhD program is a big life change that requires preparation and planning.

What’s Next?

Here are some questions to ask when researching online PhD programs:

  • Do I meet the eligibility requirements for this program? Because of the advanced nature of doctoral study, most programs have specific educational requirements. They may include a master’s degree in a related field of study as well as professional experience in that field. Some programs may allow students to take foundational graduate-level coursework as part of the doctoral program, although this can add to the degree completion time.
  • What kind of faculty support does this program offer? At the doctoral level, it’s common for students to work closely with faculty on their research and dissertations. Having a good faculty support system in place is essential to success in a doctoral program, especially one that you’re completing online.

Once you’ve found the programs that interest you, research their application processes and requirements. This information is typically available on the program’s webpage; you can also contact the program directly if you have questions.

Financing your education is another important consideration. Research scholarship opportunities and financial aid deadlines. If you are currently employed, check with your employer to see if tuition remission/reimbursement benefits are available.