Can You Get a Doctorate Online?

Earning a traditional or online doctorate degree in any field is the pinnacle of academic success. However, it takes a lot of commitment of time and resources to complete the requirements for a post-graduate degree. That’s not to mention the necessary personal qualities of steadfast dedication and unwavering perseverance. Perhaps that’s why only a very small percentage of the population is educated at the doctoral level. Fortunately for many doctorate candidates, there are several options to consider when deciding on a program, including online pathways toward a doctoral credential. If you’re wondering whether or not it’s possible to earn a terminal degree online, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll discuss traditional versus online doctoral programs, types of doctorates available via distance education, and some of the many advantages of studying online towards this ultimate academic credential.

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About Traditional On-Campus Doctorate Programs

If you have the time and resources, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with pursuing a doctoral degree on-campus. In fact, there may be some clear benefits to this route towards a doctorate, depending on your individual circumstances. Under a traditional online doctoral program, you will complete all the requirements for this academic degree on campus. This type of graduate program works perfectly if the university is accessible from your place of work or your home. For instance, if you already work for the university, completing your doctorate with the same university makes a lot of sense. When there were no alternative programs, many doctorate candidates would live on or near campus while completing course requirements. This often required them to take a break from their careers to invest in their education. For decades, this was the only way a doctoral degree could be earned. That has changed, though.

About Online Doctoral Programs

Advancements in distance education technology has made it possible for colleges and universities across the country to offer their academic programs online. This includes associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and yes, even doctoral programs. Under this type of program, candidates can fulfill all or almost all of their requirements online, making it a convenient option if you are working full time or if the university of your choice is not located within an accessible distance. The online doctorate program was created for professionals who cannot (or choose not) to take time off from their busy careers to advance their education.

Featured Programs

A note of forewarning here: Not all “online” doctoral programs can be completed entirely online. Some programs may require an appearance in-person to present the doctoral dissertation in front of your committee and the faculty chair. The doctoral dissertation is the culminating requirement to earn your degree, and you might have to undertake the oral defense more than once if the committee requests revisions of your work. This could require an extensive trip to campus, though some online universities allow a dissertation defense via conference call. Other on-campus requirements could include orientations, workshops, intensives, and residencies. Before choosing an online doctoral program, be sure to confirm any and all physical attendance requirements, and be sure you can work these into your schedule before committing to enrollment.

Hybrid Doctoral Programs

A third option for earning your doctorate via distance education combines the traditional program with an online curriculum. In this type of doctoral program, some courses may be completed online while others are taken on-campus. Courses in the on-campus segment may be scheduled individually if the campus location is convenient to your residence or workplace, but you also have the option of scheduling on-campus studies for a semester or more, usually heading toward your dissertation phase  for the purpose of acquiring heightened access to faculty assistance and campus resources ahead of this important requirement.

Advantages of an Online Doctorate Program

As you may have gathered, the primary advantage of undertaking an online doctorate program is flexibility in scheduling coursework. You can take your online classes at your convenience and collaborate with your peers according to an agreed time frame that has nothing to do with class schedules. For professionals with high-flying careers and busy schedules, an online program may be the only way to work toward a doctorate degree.

Additionally, an online graduate program will not require relocation to access the university. You can stay in place and work at the same job and still enroll in a specialized field with courses offered only at select universities. You may be given the flexibility of starting and completing your degree based on your own schedule. Pro tip: Make sure to choose a program and a university with the proper accreditation to ensure recognition by professional organizations, licensing agencies and employers.

If you previously thought a doctorate was out of reach due to constraints of time and geography, think again. Today, you have many options if you are considering a doctorate degree to boost your expertise and build up your academic or professional credentials. By far, an online program presents your best chances of making time to complete all the requirements and actually complete the degree while working at the same time. Established brick-and-mortar universities have offered online doctorate degrees to enhance one’s career opportunities for many decades now, making them a safe option for your graduate studies. Online learning has gone mainstream, however, and is expected to be a key component of the educational landscape in the future, including graduate studies. It’s certainly worth considering!

Types of Online Doctorates

While online doctoral programs will inevitably have some things in common, you shouldn’t expect them to all be identical. While these programs will differ in subject matter, of course, they can also vary in terms of structure and format. On the surface, it may not seem as if these differences are overly important, but they can certainly impact your daily schedule and responsibilities as an online doctoral student.  Let’s discuss some of the different types of online programs available at the doctoral level. If you check out some of our rankings, like this one featuring the best online organizational leadership phd programs, you will find most of the following types of delivery methods.

Asynchronous Online Doctoral Programs

An asynchronous online doctorate is probably what comes to mind when you think of a self-paced academic program. These are the most flexible types of doctorates you can pursue online. With an asynchronous program, course content can be accessed at any time of day or night, and students can choose to complete assignments at their convenience.  

Synchronous Doctorate Degrees Online

You might think all online doctoral programs are highly flexible, but in reality, some are significantlymore structured than others. Synchronous online doctorates may be the most rigid of them all. These types of distance learning options require students to commit to virtual attendance at specific times of the day. For example, in a synchronous program, doctoral students will log in, turn their webcams on, and be present for an online class just as traditional students would physically attend a traditional class.

Online Doctoral Programs: Admissions

The admissions process for an online doctoral program is comparable to what you might expect for a traditional, on-campus offering. Still, admissions criteria can vary quite a bit from one school to the next, and they also change depending on the type of program you’re applying to. Generally speaking, though, admissions requirements for online doctorate degree programs will include:

  • Completion of a Master’s Degree
  • Minimum Graduate GPA
  • GRE/GMAT Scores
  • Personal Statement/Essay

Online Doctorates: Curriculum

Getting into an online doctoral program is one thing; conquering the required coursework can be yet another. Don’t be tricked into thinking that a doctorate degree is easy just because it’s online. The reality is that doctoral-level courses are the most challenging types of classes one can take. While online classes may be more convenient, you can rest assured that they will be just as academically rigorous.

In addition to this difficult coursework, you may also be required to complete a dissertation before you can be awarded your doctoral degree. The dissertation is a researched-based scholarly paper on a topic of the student’s choice. In addition to conducting research and writing the dissertation, students must also defend the dissertation in front of a panel of their professors. Depending on the program, dissertation defense can take place in-person or online. If the dissertation sounds daunting, you’ll be happy to learn that some online doctorates without dissertation do exist. However, these high-level academic programs typically require a capstone or some other culminating element in place of the dissertation.

Frequently-Searched Online Doctorates

Online doctorate programs used to be rare. Now, they are available in dozens of different academic disciplines. In this section, we’ll turn the spotlight on some of the most popular degree plans available at this top level of study.

Online Doctorate Business Programs

If you want to climb to the top of the corporate ladder, an online doctoral program in business is a convenient way to do just that. Prospective doctorate in business students have two basic options when it comes to online programs at the doctoral level:

  • Online Doctor of Philosophy in Business (PhD in Business)
  • Online Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)

These online doctorates can lead to successful careers as small business owners, entrepreneurs, managers, and even CEOs.

Online Doctorate Criminal Justice Programs

Professionals ascending the top ranks of the criminal justice field may consider pursuing an online doctorate in criminal justice. These programs prepare graduate students to assume high-level criminal justice roles such as criminologists, criminal justice instructors, and law enforcement administrators, for instance. The types of doctoral level degrees one can pursue in criminal justice include:

  • Online Doctor of Philosophy in Criminal Justice (PhD Criminal Justice)
  • Online Doctor of Criminal Justice (DCJ)

Some graduate criminal justice programs enable doctoral students in the field to elect an area of concentration such as corrections, victimology, or juvenile justice, for instance.

Online Doctor of Education Programs

Another common online degree at the doctoral level is the doctorate in education. Students who pursue this top credential in the field of academia usually have ambitions of working in school administration, either at the local school level or in higher areas of leadership. There are two main options for those interested in earning a doctorate in education online:

  • Online Doctor of Philosophy in Education (PhD in Education)
  • Online Doctor of Education (EdD)

Specializations may be available through some universities, including those in higher education, special education, or diversity, for example.

Online Doctorate in Social Work Programs                                                          

An increasingly popular online doctoral degree is the online doctorate of social work. These challenging distance learning options are reserved for those students who want to rise to the top of their careers in social work, either in clinical practice or in administrative roles. Options for professionals in social work who desire a terminal degree include:

  • Online Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work (PhD in Social Work)
  • Online Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)

Opportunities to specialize one’s doctoral program in social work may include concentrations such as social justice, administration, child and family studies, and medical social work, for instance.

Online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Programs

Nursing may not be the first field of study that comes to mind when you think of online study, but it is, in fact, possible to earn your credentials in nursing via distance education, even at the doctoral level. In fact, with the recent boon in healthcare careers, this online doctorate has quickly become one of the most popular programs at this high level of postsecondary education. These programs are often customizable, offering a variety of specialization options such as:

  • Nurse Anesthesia
  • Gerontology
  • Nurse Midwifery
  • Family Practice
  • Psychiatric/Mental Health

While all coursework for online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs can usually be completed entirely online, clinical hours are usually required, either on campus or more typically, at an off-site health care facility of the student’s choosing.

Other Online Doctoral Programs

As we mentioned, online doctoral programs used to be an anomaly, but that is no longer the case. If you’ve ever desired to earn a terminal degree but didn’t think your schedule would allow it, now is the time. Above, we’ve discussed some of the most popular online doctorates currently available. Don’t see your program of choice on the list? Not to worry. Distance education technology has evolved to the point that nearly every subject area you can think of either has a program established or one in the works. Here’s a list of some of the more obscure online doctorate programs you can pursue right now:

  • Online Doctorate in Computer Science
  • Online Doctoral Degree in Public Safety Administration
  • Online Doctor of Public Health
  • Online Doctorate in Public Administration
  • Online Doctor of Ministry
  • Online Doctoral Degree in Music Education
  • Online Doctorate in Psychology
  • Online Doctor of Strategic Leadership

Online study at the doctoral level is an ideal pathway to the highest education possible in a given field. Not only are these top-level degree programs more convenient than ever before, they’re also more affordable than their on-campus counterparts, generally speaking. These cost savings will only increase your return on your higher education investment as you qualify for some of the most lucrative positions in your respective field. To answer this frequently-asked question definitively, “Yes!” It’s not only possible to get a doctorate online, it’s advisable!