Guide to Online Phd. Programs

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When students are thinking of a Ph.D., they would think what the most effective way would be to earn a doctorate. Students must have considered the time, energy resources required for the same. For already busy professionals, this would be a no-go right from the start. Enter an online Ph.D. program. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics, full-time employed females in the U.S. work an average of 8.33 hours per day, while full-time employed males work an average of 9.09 hours per day. Beyond the bloated work schedule, people are often struggling to balance hectic home schedules, social calendars, and additional commitments. But with the reward in mind like a bigger salary, greater recognition, upward mobility, professionals might ask the question, can this be done online? An online Ph.D. is an attractive option to earn a doctorate while balancing the ins and outs of daily life. It turns out, this advantage is appealing to many. Online doctorate programs are rising in popularity as more and more professionals see the value of refining their skill sets via efficient and convenient programs. In this article, we would discuss all the aspects of Ph.D. programs and try to declutter and answer all the questions that students might have about Ph.D. programs.


What is a Doctorate

A Doctor of Philosophy which is an abbreviation for Ph.D. is the highest academic degree students can achieve. A master’s degree is a prerequisite to enroll in a Ph.D. program. A typical Ph.D. program will entail coursework, research work, a comprehensive exam, and a dissertation. A Ph.D. program would require original research work, and this would mean it requires a substantial investment of time and the graduation time ranges from anywhere between 3 to 8 years making it a very time-consuming pursuit. Hence, students should take all these considerations into account before they delve into a Ph.D. program.

A Ph.D. is best suited for students who are looking into research as their career, or they aspire to get into academics as a profession at the university level or both. Many students pursue their Ph.D. while teaching or doing academic work.

Not all doctoral degrees are Ph.D. ‘s. Apart from a Ph.D., there are professional doctorate degrees that are focused on building specific skills in their chosen field and teach students how to apply research into practice in their professional domain. This type of degree is better applied to sectors outside of education and is best suited for students interested in professional careers rather than academic careers. Some examples of Professional Doctoral Degrees include:

Why get a

A Ph.D. is the highest degree that a student can achieve and is the pinnacle of academic achievement. But is it the right career choice for you and should you get a Phd.? Well, we would try to answer this question in this section. If you have a flair for original research and are always looking for new findings in your area of expertise, and what to spend teaching and researching, then a Ph.D. would be a step in the right direction.

It is also good to note that certain subjects attract more Ph.D. students than others. Students pursuing arts and pure science subjects like English literature, history, mathematics, physics, psychology, chemistry end up with more Ph.D. than students in applied science and technology courses like engineering and technology. One reason for that being engineering and technology fields are very practical and hands-on and work experience counts more than a classical Ph.D. study.

So, to answer the question as to why get a Ph.D., one might say, that a Ph.D. program is most suited for students:

  • Whose career is relying on it and there is an unrelenting requirement for it;
  • The student has a great affinity towards new findings and research work or
  • The student has a great desire to add the prefix of ‘Dr.’ to their name.

Online Ph.D. Programs Vs On-Campus
Ph.D. Programs

Since more and more universities are offering accredited online Ph.D. programs, and hence the industry is accepting those degrees on par with on-campus Ph.D.’s, students are inclined to take up these online Ph.D. programs.

Students might ask should they pursue an online Ph.D. or an on-campus Ph.D.? Well, both modes of study have their pros and cons. Below we will look at different aspects of a Ph.D. program which are important criteria for the students to decide on an online or an on-campus Ph.D. program.

Advantages to Online and On-Campus Ph.D. programs:

Below we touch upon the advantages of each mode of study and discuss them in detail:

Online Ph.D. Program AdvantagesOn-Campus Ph.D. Program Advantages
Online Ph.D. programs are becoming more readily available as students start to recognize the advantages of this type of education. When you attend school online to earn your Ph.D., you get the following benefits:While online school is a great option, campus Ph.D. programs have their advantages as well. Most students still attend Ph.D. programs at these more traditional schools, and with good reason – they’re also good educational options. Here are some of the advantages:
1. Your class schedule is extremely flexible, so you can fit your education around your busy life.
2. Tuition is less expensive, on average, at an online school.
3. When you attend school online, you get more freedom, so it is great for students who work independently.
4. There are no travel expenses to commute to classes every day and you don’t have to pay room and board to live on campus.
5. Online Ph.D. programs give you access to professors from around the world, so you can work with the best in your field even if you don’t live near them.
1. You get access to the campus’ research facilities and libraries.
2. If you prefer hands-on learning where you work closely with professors and other students, this gives you the opportunity.
3. Campus colleges often have more scholarships and grants available.
4. You can participate in campus activities while you’re a student there.
5. Campus programs have been around longer and are therefore more historically prestigious.

In general, online Ph.D. programs are great for students who work better solo, and they’re best suited to those going back to school to earn a Ph.D. after working in the field. With distance learning, you can get your advantaged degree while still working at your job and raising a family.

When considering programs, both online and offline options could be a good fit for you, depending on which bracket you fit into.

How long is an Online
Phd. Program?

While many Ph.D. programs are designed to be finished in four or five years, the average time to completion is much longer when you factor in the time it takes to research and write a dissertation. In 2020, doctoral students took between six and twelve years to complete their Ph.D. By comparison, students can complete a master’s degree in one to three years.

Note that the process of obtaining a Ph.D. is arduous, regardless of the type of Ph.D. program. A Ph.D. is a long commitment of a student’s time, energy, and financial resources, so it’ll be easier on students if they are passionate about research. A Ph.D. isn’t about rehashing years of knowledge that is already out there, but rather it is about a student’s ability to generate new knowledge. A student’s intellectual masterpiece (which is his dissertation) takes a lot of time, intellectual creativity, and innovation to put together, so you must be truly passionate about that to pursue a Ph.D.

The specifics of a Ph.D. program vary by college and university, but the following estimates give you an idea of what to expect during your time in graduate school:

Year 1Complete advanced coursework.
Year 2Complete advanced coursework and begin preparing for your comprehensive exams.
Year 3Study, take and defend your comprehensive exams. Begin researching your dissertation proposal.
Year 4Submit your dissertation proposal to your committee chair, and once approved, begin working on your dissertation.
Year 5Finish writing your dissertation and submit it for committee approval. Defend your dissertation and apply for graduation.

How to choose an Online
Ph.D. Program?

When choosing an online Ph.D. degree, students must keep a lot of things in mind. Below we discuss them in the section of the article.

  • Preferred Ph.D. Program: The first check would be to pick the subject of study and accordingly check the below points.
  • How to fund your Ph.D. program: There are some fully funded programs, somewhere you might get some teaching assistant positions, some might be partially funded.  
  • Next would-be which institutions offer the coursework: The next step would be to check all the institutions that offer that program and then pick one depending on the below points.
  • Accreditation: Is the Ph.D. program accredited.
  • How many faculty are working with students?
  • How many faculty members are researching areas related to my interests?
  • What opportunities are there to work with a variety of faculty and to be exposed to different approaches in research (modeling, work with data, experiment design)?
  • Am I technically prepared to learn to research in this field?
  • Most Ph.D. students change their vision of research, and many change their intended concentration area after joining the program and being exposed to a variety of research styles. Does my program of choice offer the flexibility needed to do so?
  • Is there financial support for students to attend academic conferences to present their research?
  • What opportunities are there for students to participate in colloquia, both as an attendee and as a presenter?
  • What is the department’s placement record? What types of jobs do graduates take and where?
  • Finally, how well do graduates of the program perform in the long term (contributing to the field through publication, the practice of management, and earning tenure)?

Completing a doctoral program requires commitment and perseverance. The most important step in this process is to consider whether academic life is right for you and what kind of doctoral program, from discipline to environment, will be the best fit for your goals and preferences. Following are some questions current students and faculty suggested students ask themselves, and answer, to select the appropriate program.

A Basic Description of a Doctoral Program

As a doctoral student, you will spend the first two years of your program exploring areas of interest through coursework. In the two to three years that follow, you will select and pursue your research topic, one which will make an original contribution to the existing body of knowledge in your field. Your original research culminates in an extensive written document known as the doctoral dissertation.

General Questions

If you are considering your career options, answering these questions will help you clarify your goals and ambitions — and determine if a doctoral program is a right decision for you.

  • Am I the type of person who is suited for a career in academia? Am I independently motivated to answer questions that I find interesting?
  • Do I want to spend the rest of my career doing research, as well as reading and talking about it?
  • Do I have a strong enough academic background to apply and be accepted by the program?
  • Is now the time for me to pursue a Ph.D.?
  • What are my goals after completing the Ph.D.?

Once students have answered the above questions, they would get a clear idea about which accredited online doctoral program to pursue.

How to apply for Online
Ph.D. Programs?

In this section we detail the typical requirements for a Ph.D. program as below:


Individuals who want to enroll in an online Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) program must complete an application for admission. Most universities require applicants to submit a curriculum vitae or resume, references, and a writing sample. Some universities also require you to have professional work experience before applying for admission.

Undergraduate Degrees

You must have a bachelor’s degree to pursue a Ph.D. online, and many programs also require a master’s degree. Typically, a grade point average (GPA) of at least 3.0 is required to apply for many online Ph.D. programs.

Graduate Record Examination

Scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) are a common prerequisite for admission to a Ph.D. program. Usually, students much achieve a minimum score to be considered for a program. According to the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the GRE measures a candidate’s analytical writing, verbal reasoning, and quantitative reasoning abilities.

Technical Knowledge

Completing an online Ph.D. degree program involves working independently with a variety of technologies; therefore, strong computer skills are necessary. You must have a solid understanding of word processing, graphics, spreadsheets, and videoconferencing.

Letter of Recommendation

Here you would need to have a letter of reference or recommendation from your professors and/or employers. Students might have to furnish 2 recommendation letters.

Personal Interview

As would be for an on-campus Ph.D. program, online Ph.D. programs would also have personal interviews, but these could be over teleconferencing apps over a laptop or a phone.

These are typical application perquisites for an online Ph.D. The above points would be covering most institutions. But there could be a few institutions where there might be a requirement less/more depending on their specific requirement.

Cost of Online Phd.

On average it takes roughly 4 to 8 years for an individual to complete their doctorate. The overall cost of a Doctorate can depend on several factors: the type of school, the kind of doctorate, the length of the program, and the amount of financial assistance available. There are more grants and aids available in general for a doctorate compared to a master’s degree. Most Ph.D. students offset the cost of their degree with teaching assistantships. According to education data, the average cost of a doctorate is $98,800. Though most of that cost is supported by grants and teaching assistantships etc.

According to the National Center for Science and Engineering, In 2020, about one-third of doctorate recipients were primarily supported by research assistantships or traineeships; 24% by fellowships, scholarships, or dissertation grants; and 22% by teaching assistantships. About 15% of doctorate recipients relied primarily on their resources—loans, personal savings, personal earnings, and the earnings or savings of their spouse, partner, or family—to finance their graduate studies, and 5% relied on other sources, such as employer reimbursement and foreign support. The primary sources of financial support used by doctorate recipients vary by field of study. In 2020, research assistantships were the most common primary source of financial support for doctorate recipients in engineering, physical sciences, earth sciences, and life sciences. Fellowships, scholarships, dissertation grants, and teaching assistantships were the most common source of primary support for comparable shares of doctoral students in humanities and arts.

As we can see from the above data that even though the cost of Ph.D. programs is very steep, most of it is coved by grants and financial aid. And with the returns on investment that a Ph.D. would give, it is an investment a student might want to make if they have the desire to pursue their affinity towards research work and academics.

Financial Aid for Online
Ph.D. Programs

Though Ph.D. programs are an expansive affair, most of the students are coved by grants and financial aid. The different types of grants and financial aids available for Ph.D. programs are as below:


Scholarship based on the merit of students. Upton 80-90 percent of a Ph.D. program can be funded by scholarships and does not need to be repaid. In some science and technology-related fields of study, 100 percent of the Ph.D. programs are funded by scholarships.

Teaching Assistantships

Ph.D. students often get into teaching classes to meet their expenses and pay their tuition. This is not aid, but this is remuneration for the work they do teaching classes.


 Grants do not need to be refunded, if students meet the minimum academic requirements agreed upon while disbursing the grant. Students can use grant dollars to pay for anything academically related, including tuition, fees, books, or housing costs.


Some federal aid packages include a work-study program wherein the government pays students to work part-time for their universities. Some online schools offer work-study positions for online students on their campuses or with community partners.


Federal and private student loans are the least popular of all forms of financial aid and students must repay them. Federal loans are more popular because of their low lending rates and easy repayment plans.

The obvious question that arises is how students apply for financial aid:


The first step in the application process is to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Financial Aid). This form provides schools with the information they need to offer you institutional aid and will act as an application for federal and state loans and grants.

  • You can fill out the FAFSA as early as October 1st of the year before you plan on attending school.
  • Start early. Some states award grants until funding runs out, so students should submit applications as soon as possible after October 1st to receive the maximum amount of aid they qualify for. Check your state’s deadline requirements here.
  • It is still worth it to apply if you miss priority deadlines. Even if state grants run out, you may still qualify for federal grants.
  • Add each school you are interested in on your application, even if you haven’t been accepted yet. This ensures they all receive your financial aid information. You can add up to 10 schools at a time.

Here are some other tips to help you navigate the financial aid process:

  • Get information from the schools you’re interested in. Many schools have counselors who will help you find the financial aid options you need, and most schools offer scholarships and grants specifically for their students.
  • Talk to your local librarian. Librarians can help students find resources for financial aid and college applications, and some library systems have counseling centers specifically for this. If you are not currently enrolled in a high school with counselors, checking out the library is an excellent alternative.
  • Rely on grants and scholarships first. Use federal student loans to cover what is leftover and take out private loans only as a last resort. Federal loans provide many benefits for borrowers, including fixed interest rates and income-driven repayment plans, that private loans may not offer.

Careers and Pay for Online Ph.D.
Program Graduates

A doctorate though guarantees a pay hike but makes a student’s profession very coveted and specialized. Also, the percentage of Ph.D. graduates employed is far more than master’s graduates. Below we discuss a few career paths and pay structure of the same post a Ph.D. degree.

Degree Occupation Job Description Median Annual SalaryJob Growth (2018-2028)
Ph.D. In PhysicsPhysicists and AstronomersPhysicists and astronomers study the interactions of matter and energy. Theoretical physicists and astronomers may study the nature of time or the origin of the universe. Some physicists design and perform experiments with sophisticated equipment such as particle accelerators, electron microscopes, and lasers. Physicists explore the fundamental properties and laws that govern space, time, energy, and matter. They may study theory, design, and perform experiments, or apply their knowledge in developing materials or equipment. Astronomers study planets, stars, and other celestial bodies. They use ground-based equipment, such as optical telescopes, and space-based equipment, such as the Hubble Space Telescope. Some astronomers study distant galaxies and phenomena such as black holes and neutron stars. Others monitor space debris that could interfere with satellite operations.$128,9508%
Ph.D. in BiochemistryBiochemists and BiophysicistsBiochemists and biophysicists study the chemical and physical principles of living things and biological processes, such as cell development, growth, heredity, and disease. Biochemists and biophysicists use advanced technologies, such as lasers and fluorescent microscopes, to conduct scientific experiments and analyses. They also use x-rays and computer modeling software to determine the three-dimensional structures of proteins and other molecules. Biochemists and biophysicists involved in biotechnology research use chemical enzymes to synthesize recombinant DNA.$94,2705%
Ph.D. in BiologyMedical ScientistsMedical scientists conduct research aimed at improving overall human health. They often use clinical trials and other investigative methods to reach their findings. Many medical scientists form hypotheses and develop experiments, with little supervision. They often lead teams of technicians and, sometimes, students, who perform support tasks. For example, a medical scientist working in a university laboratory may have undergraduate assistants take measurements and make observations for the scientist’s research.$91,51017%
Ph.D. in AgricultureAgricultural and Food ScientistsAgricultural and food scientists research ways to improve the efficiency and safety of agricultural establishments and products. Agricultural and food scientists play an important role in maintaining and expanding the nation’s food supply. Many work in basic or applied research and development. Basic research seeks to understand the biological and chemical processes by which crops and livestock grow. Applied research seeks to discover ways to improve the quality, quantity, and safety of agricultural products.$68,8309%
Ph.D. in GeologyGeoscientistsGeoscientists study the physical aspects of the Earth, such as its composition, structure, and processes, to learn about its past, present, and future. Geoscientists use a wide variety of tools, both simple and complex. During a typical day in the field, they may use a hammer and chisel to collect rock samples and then use ground-penetrating radar equipment to search for oil or minerals. In laboratories, they may use x rays and electron microscopes to determine the chemical and physical composition of rock samples. They may also use remote sensing equipment to collect data, as well as geographic information systems (GIS) and modeling software to analyze the data collected.$93,5807%

FAQs about Online Ph.D.

Can you get a Ph.D. for free?

Pursuing a fully-funded program is another way to get your Phd. “for free.” Within a fully-funded program, students’ tuition and a percentage of their living expenses are paid for without the use of student loans. Some fully funded Ph.D. programs also provide health insurance, as well as funding for research and travel.

Do Ph.D. programs pay you?

Can I complete a Ph.D. in 2 years?

Are online degrees as credible as traditional degrees?

 Is an online Ph.D. an easy way to earn a doctorate?

Does Online degrees invariably cost less?

Are online degrees harder?

Do employers know if your degree is online?

Does a Ph.D. increase employability?

 Is Ph.D. or MS better?

Additional Resources for Online Ph.D.
Programs Students

A Ph.D. is a very specialized field and very chosen people would be your peers and contemporaries. Hence, it would be a great idea to be in touch with your industry pals and form forums where you can share your thoughts and work and get feedback. Below we discuss a few such organizations, groups, or forums.

Organization Description
Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (GEN)Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (GEN) is the flagship publication of Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2021, GEN was the first publication in this field and remains the key driver in the explosion of the industry, paving the way for the development of new tools and technologies, investment growth, and career opportunities. Through its cornerstone Magazine, dynamic Website, high-frequency eNewsletters, and innovative suite of multimedia, GEN is the 360-degree resource that researchers and executives depend on for information that is pivotal for their success.
The Student WayWith the help of Science Careers Magazine and Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (along with many other collaborators), Dr. Raver has a passion to help other graduate students and postdocs with career counseling. The lack of Professional and Career Development within Universities and grad schools is the main reason why he decided to create and launch The Grad Student Way. In addition, he felt compelled to make others aware of graduate school hardships (prospective or current students) and provide solutions, advice, and insights. Whatever stage you are at in your career, you will find this blog and website users. Feel free to contact me for any resume, grad school, career advice, or speaking/consulting opportunities.
Science Careers MagazineScience has been at the center of important scientific discovery since its founding in 1880—with seed money from Thomas Edison. Today, Science continues to publish the very best in research across the sciences, with articles that consistently rank among the most cited in the world. Science Translational Medicine is an essential platform for peer-reviewed, multidisciplinary research driving the latest medical advances. Science Signaling offers original review articles, protocols, and teaching resources for the growing field of cellular signal transduction.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)IEEE and its members inspire a global community to innovate for a better tomorrow through highly cited publications, conferences, technology standards, and professional and educational activities. IEEE is the trusted “voice” for engineering, computing, and technology information around the globe.
As the world’s largest technical professional organization, IEEE offers several ways to get involved with technical and local communities. These communities are active participants in research and authorship, conferences, and important conversations about today’s most relevant technical topics locally and globally.
American Mathematical SocietyThe American Mathematical Society is an association of professional mathematicians dedicated to the interests of mathematical research and scholarship and serves the national and international community through its publications, meetings, advocacy, and other programs.