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While the career benefits of earning a Ph.D. are undeniable, the process of getting this degree can be quite time-consuming. The 2021 Survey of Earned Doctorates shows that, depending on which major you select, the average time from graduate school entry to a doctoral degree ranges from six years all the way up to 10. Are you in a position to make that kind of commitment?

However, it is possible to complete a doctorate in a shorter period of time. Choosing one of the Ph.D. programs listed below can speed up the process of earning your doctorate. You can save a significant amount of time and money if you choose one of these programs over another.

How To Earn a Ph.D. in Just One Year

By paying attention to the factors listed below, you may be able to reduce the amount of time it takes to earn your Ph.D. by several semesters. Depending on which field you would like to work in, which school you attend, and your academic background, you may have the opportunity to complete your Ph.D. program in a single year.

Choice of major

Are you set on a major yet?

If you’re a graduate student or getting close to entering a graduate program, then switching majors would only set you back in terms of how long it takes to earn your Ph.D. But if you’re still in high school or working on the general education portion of an undergraduate program, you should be able to change course now without any consequences.

Liberty University’s selection of online Ph.D. programs shows just how much difference your choice of major can make. The length of these programs ranges from 48 credit hours (Ph.D. in Public Administration) to 72 credit hours (Ph.D. in History). Twelve credit hours is generally considered a full-time semester. Choosing one major over another would immediately reduce the amount of time it takes to earn your Ph.D. by an entire year. Of course, in addition to how long it takes to earn your degree, we recommend considering all of the other relevant factors (potential income, job demand, personal interests, etc.) before deciding on which major to pursue.

Number of credits required

School selection is also important. The Ph.D. program for a particular major at one college may require more credits than it does at another college. You should thoroughly research schools and consult with advisors to ensure that you fully understand the requirements for each program you’re considering.

For example, while the online Ph.D. in Criminal Justice program at Liberty University requires 60 credit hours, an equivalent program at Texas A&M International University only requires 49 credit hours. In this case, choosing one school over another would save you nearly a semester.

Transfer credits

Another reason school selection is important is that each college has its own set of transfer credit policies. Ideally, you’ll be able to transfer as many credits from your previous degree programs as possible. Not all Ph.D. programs accept transfer credits — once you’ve narrowed your choices down to a handful of options, contact each school’s admissions department to see how many credits you may be able to transfer in.


While most Ph.D. programs require dissertations, this isn’t always the case. Researching and writing a dissertation usually takes at least a year, so finding a program that doesn’t require one can save you a tremendous amount of time.

Keep in mind that even non-dissertation Ph.D. programs will likely still have some original research component. This is yet another factor that varies by school. Make sure you understand exactly what will be required of you before you enroll in any particular program.

Should You Earn Your Ph.D. Online?

You may be concerned about whether employers will take a Ph.D. that was earned online seriously. If so, there’s no need to worry. A 2018 Northeastern University study found that 61% of HR leaders believe that online degrees are as good or better than degrees earned in person, and 71% have personally hired someone who earned their degree online.

Rather than whether you earned your degree online or in person, the key to earning a degree that employers will respect is whether your school has the right accreditation. Proper accreditation will indicate that you attended an institution with strong enough academic standards to prepare students for their future careers. Specifically, you should only consider schools approved by at least one CHEA-recognized accrediting organization.

Online Ph.D. programs provide a much more convenient way to earn your doctoral degree. Unless you live within walking distance of your school, an in-person program would require countless trips to and from campus. That would take up a lot of your time, and the cost of gas can also add up to a significant sum. 100% online programs eliminate this need entirely, which is especially helpful for students on a tight budget or with responsibilities outside of school (taking care of kids, working full-time, etc.).

Of course, you may be the type of learner that prefers attending lectures in-person and interacting with your instructors and fellow students face-to-face. But if you don’t mind attending lectures remotely and studying course materials on your own, the advantages of an online Ph.D. program should far outweigh its disadvantages.

Our Research

This list features some of the country’s best one-year online Ph.D. programs. Each school featured is a nonprofit, accredited institution, either public or private, with a high standard of academic quality for post-secondary institutions.

We evaluated each school’s program on tuition costs, admission, retention and graduation rates, faculty, and reputation. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.

Next, we compared this comprehensive list of the best one-year online Ph.D. programs to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications, such as U.S. News & World Report, to simplify a student’s college search. We pored through these rankings so students don’t have to.

The 7 Best One-Year Online Ph.D. Programs

Best One-Year PhD Programs Online Badge

Chatham University

Frontier Nursing University

Boston University

Maryville University

UNC School of Medicine

Liberty University

University of West Georgia