Most Affordable Online Doctorate Programs

By the OnlineU team | Updated 4/13/2021

A doctoral degree indicates mastery of a subject area and can open doors to prestigious opportunities in academia, STEM research, or professional practice in a variety of fields. To help students on a budget, we've ranked the 25 most affordable schools for online doctoral degrees — each school on this list features an annual tuition under $18,000. Read about our methodology to understand the ranking process we used.

This resource also details some popular subjects for doctoral study, the best affordable colleges for earning an online doctoral degree, the differences between Ph.D.s and professional doctorates, and cost considerations for your online education.


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Most Affordable Online Colleges For Doctoral Programs

All tuition numbers were manually collected and verified
Rank School Locations Annual Tuition
# 1 #1 St. Augustine (FL) $3,770
# 2 #2 Lynchburg (VA) $5,500
# 3 #3 Chicago (IL) $5,595
# 4 #4 Saint Paul (MN) $6,720
# 5 #5 Mississippi State (MS) $7,335
# 6 #6 Berrien Springs (MI) $7,896
# 7 #7 Kirksville (MO) $8,000
# 8 #8 Marion (IN) $8,250
# 9 #9 Norfolk (VA) $8,925
# 10 #10 Fort Lauderdale (FL) $9,000
# 11 #11 Knoxville (TN) $10,710
# 12 #12 River Forest (IL) $11,025
# 13 #13 Virginia Beach (VA) $11,475
# 14 #14 New Castle (DE) $11,646
# 15 #15 Grand Forks (ND) $11,736
# 16 #16 Lexington (KY) $12,474
# 17 #17 Daytona Beach (FL) (and 3 others) $13,188
# 18 #18 Birmingham (AL) $13,320
# 19 #19 Nationwide $13,770
# 20 #20 Chicago (IL) $14,235
# 21 #21 Charleston (SC) $14,250
# 22 #22 San Diego (CA) $16,230
# 23 #23 Oakland (CA) $16,660
# 24 #24 Roanoke (VA) $17,441
# 25 #25 Boston (MA) $17,820

Most Popular Subjects for Online Doctoral Programs

Counseling
# 1 Liberty University
Tuition: $5,500
# 2 University of the Cumberlands
Tuition: $8,800
# 3 University of Louisiana-Monroe
Tuition: $12,000
DNP
# 1 University of South Alabama
Tuition: $4,158
# 2 Wichita State University
Tuition: $4,529
# 3 Aspen University
Tuition: $4,725
Education
# 1 California Coast University
Tuition: $4,350
# 2 University of North Georgia
Tuition: $4,545
# 3 Texas Tech University
Tuition: $5,070
Psychology
# 1 Regent University Online
Tuition: $10,125
# 2 Liberty University
Tuition: $11,900
# 3 Touro University Worldwide
Tuition: $15,400

Best Affordable Online Colleges for Doctoral Programs

All Tuitions Under $17,000, High Salary Scores

Students who want to make cost-effective decisions about higher education may want to take into consideration future earning potential in addition to tuition. With these two factors in mind, we determined a list of the 10 best affordable schools for earning an online doctoral degree, ranked by Salary Score. Doctoral graduates tend to earn different salaries based on their area of study, so we compared like programs across schools and then compiled the data for all programs at a single school to find its Salary Score.

Each school featured here has an annual tuition rate lower than $17,000. The #1 school on the list, Loma Linda University, has a Salary Score of 68.72 and an annual tuition of $16,800. Idaho State University and Texas A&M University closely follow with scores of 62.32 and 61.37, respectively. To learn more about our ranking process, view our methodology.


2021 Most Affordable Doctoral Degrees Badge

All tuition numbers were manually collected and verified
#1
#1

Loma Linda University

Loma Linda (CA)
Annual Tuition: $16,800
Salary Score: 69
Annual Tuition: $16,800
Salary Score: 69
Annual Tuition: $16,800
Salary Score: 69

The doctoral programs offered at Loma Linda University have an overall Salary Score of 69. The university's doctoral degrees score in the top 20% for many fields, including mental and social health services and allied professions, with a score of 81. Among the degrees offered in this field is an online Doctor of Marital and Family Therapy, which requires 78 quarter units over the course of three years. The program includes synchronous and asynchronous coursework, as well as clinical training. Loma... Linda University’s annual tuition varies from program to program. The online Doctor of Occupational Therapy is one affordable option, with annual tuition of $16,800.

Financial Support Overview

Loma Linda University is a small, private university that is affiliated with the Seventh Day Adventist Church. The school is a transfer institution, which means that most applicants will need to have previously earned college credits from an accredited school. Need-based institutional financial aid opportunities are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, and students may be able to apply transfer credits toward their degrees. Loan repayment assistance options for students include the Deferred Mission Appointee Program (DMA) for medical and dental students and the Global Service Award Program (GSA) for all other majors.

Online Student Resources

  • Clinical counseling
  • Veteran services
  • Financial services
  • Online library access

Explore programs at Loma Linda University >>

  • Online Degrees: 15
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 137
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 99
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: WSCUC
  • Phone #: (909) 558-1000

Online Doctoral Degrees

  • Doctor of Marital & Family Therapy
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice - Clinical Nurse Specialist - Adult/Gerontology (BS to DNP) (Hybrid)
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice - Clinical Nurse Specialist - Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (BS to DNP) (Hybrid)
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice - Nurse Practitioner - Adult/Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (BSN to DNP) (Hybrid)
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice - Nurse Practitioner - Family Nurse Practitioner (BSN to DNP) (Hybrid)
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice - Nurse Practitioner - Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (BSN to DNP) (Hybrid)
#2
#2

Idaho State University

Pocatello (ID)
Annual Tuition: $9,925
Salary Score: 62
Annual Tuition: $9,925
Salary Score: 62
Annual Tuition: $9,925
Salary Score: 62

Idaho State University’s doctoral programs have an overall Salary Score of 62, with many scoring in the top 30%. Several online doctorates are available in the field of nursing, including a Doctor of Nursing Practice and a Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing. Full-time graduate tuition costs $4,962.98 per semester, resulting in an annual tuition of $9,925. Full-time students take on nine credits per semester, or 18 credits each school year.

Financial Support Overview

Located in Pocatello, Idaho, Idaho... State University is a medium-sized institution that offers certificate, undergraduate, and graduate degrees. Financial aid is available to students in the form of loans, grants, and/or student employment opportunities. Assistantships and fellowships for graduate students are awarded through each specific college or program and typically last a full academic year. Scholarships may also be offered by program; the School of Nursing offers approximately 20 scholarships totaling $42,000 in aid annually. Students living in one of the fourteen states that make up the Western Regional Graduate Program qualify for in-state tuition for healthcare-related programs.

Online Student Resources

  • Career counseling
  • Tutoring
  • Writing center
  • Online library access

Explore programs at Idaho State University >>

  • Online Degrees: 9
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 92%
  • Graduation Rate: 33%
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 926
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 694
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: NWCCU
  • Phone #: (208) 282-2700

Online Doctoral Degrees

  • Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership - Community College Adminstration
  • Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership - Higher Education Administration
  • Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership - K-12 Administration
  • Doctor of Education in Instructional Design and Technology
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice - Family Nurse Practitioner
#3
#3
Annual Tuition: $15,014
Salary Score: 61
Annual Tuition: $15,014
Salary Score: 61
Annual Tuition: $15,014
Salary Score: 61

Curriculum and instruction is one of the top-performing fields at the doctoral level at Texas A&M - College Station, with a Salary Score of 60. Within this field is an online Doctor of Education in Curriculum & Instruction that requires a minimum of 64 semester hours. The curriculum for this cohort-based program focuses on advancing students' educational leadership skill set to prepare them for advanced roles. Texas A&M has an overall Salary Score of 61 for its doctoral degrees. Annual tuition for... postgraduate degrees at Texas A&M - College Station varies by program. The Doctor of Philosophy in Plant Breeding is an affordable option at the doctoral level, with annual tuition set at $15,014 for full-time distance learners.

Financial Support Overview

Texas A&M - College Station is a large, public university located in the city of College Station, Texas. It is the main campus in the system of Texas A&M institutions. Approximately 72% of the school’s student body receives financial aid. Scholarships and grants may be awarded on the basis of merit, need, or leadership. Graduate students may apply for fellowships that range from $1,000 to over $30,000, as well as grants such as the Texas Aggie Graduate Grant for Texas residents.

Online Student Resources

  • Career counseling
  • Academic advising
  • Veteran services
  • Financial services

Explore programs at Texas A&M - College Station >>

  • Online Degrees: 4
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 76%
  • Graduation Rate: 82%
  • Acceptance Rate: 71%
  • Average SATs: 1170 -1380
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 44
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 927
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: SACS COC
  • Phone #: (979) 845-3211

Online Doctoral Degrees

  • Doctor of Education in Curriculum & Instruction
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Interdisciplinary Engineering
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Interdisciplinary Engineering - Supply Chain Management
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Plant Breeding
#4
#4
Annual Tuition: $14,235
Salary Score: 58
Annual Tuition: $14,235
Salary Score: 58
Annual Tuition: $14,235
Salary Score: 58
  • Online Degrees: 14
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 98%
  • Graduation Rate: 74%
  • Acceptance Rate: 71%
  • Average SATs: 1120 -1310
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 282
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 854
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: HLC
  • Phone #: (773) 274-3000

Online Doctoral Degrees

  • BSN-DNP - Adult-Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist with Oncology Specialty
  • DNP
  • DNP Post Master's Systems Leadership
  • Doctorate in Bioethics
  • Doctorate in Bioethics - Catholic Bioethics
  • Doctorate in Bioethics - Clinical Bioethics
#5
#5
Annual Tuition: $8,000
Salary Score: 56
Annual Tuition: $8,000
Salary Score: 56
Annual Tuition: $8,000
Salary Score: 56
  • Online Degrees: 14
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 1,532
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: HLC
  • Phone #: (660) 626-2121

Online Doctoral Degrees

  • Doctor of Athletic Training
  • Doctor of Education in Health Professions
  • Doctor of Health Administration
  • Doctor of Health Sciences
  • Doctor of Medical Science
  • Doctor of Medical Science - Clinical
#6
#6
Annual Tuition: $8,189
Salary Score: 55
Annual Tuition: $8,189
Salary Score: 55
Annual Tuition: $8,189
Salary Score: 55
  • Online Degrees: 8
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 76%
  • Graduation Rate: 48%
  • Acceptance Rate: 65%
  • Average SATs: 1020 -1210
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 967
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 1,453
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: HLC
  • Phone #: (303) 556-5600

Online Doctoral Degrees

  • Doctor of Education in Leadership for Educational Equity - Higher Education
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice - Advanced Practice Registered Nurse
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice - Leadership
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice - Public Health Nursing
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (BSN to DNP)
#7
#7
Annual Tuition: $7,350
Salary Score: 53
Annual Tuition: $7,350
Salary Score: 53
Annual Tuition: $7,350
Salary Score: 53
  • Online Degrees: 9
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 62%
  • Graduation Rate: 84%
  • Acceptance Rate: 62%
  • Average SATs: 1200 -1460
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 419
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 4,348
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: HLC
  • Phone #: (217) 333-1000

Online Doctoral Degrees

  • Doctor of Education in Diversity & Equity in Education
  • Doctor of Education in Diversity & Equity in Education - Human Resource Development
  • Doctor of Education in Global Studies in Education
  • Doctor of Education in Human Resource Development
  • Doctor of Education in International Education Administration and Leadership
  • Doctor of Education in Learning Design & Leadership
#8
#8
Annual Tuition: $10,500
Salary Score: 50
Annual Tuition: $10,500
Salary Score: 50
Annual Tuition: $10,500
Salary Score: 50
  • Online Degrees: 6
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 81%
  • Graduation Rate: 67%
  • Acceptance Rate: 84%
  • Average SATs: 1070 -1260
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 570
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 478
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: SACS COC
  • Phone #: (804) 828-0100

Online Doctoral Degrees

  • DNAP (Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice)
  • DNP
  • EdD in Leadership
  • PhD in Health Related Sciences
  • PhD in Nursing
  • Post-Professional Doctorate in Occupational Therapy
#9
#9

University of Kansas

Lawrence (KS)
Annual Tuition: $11,569
Salary Score: 49
Annual Tuition: $11,569
Salary Score: 49
Annual Tuition: $11,569
Salary Score: 49
  • Online Degrees: 10
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 86%
  • Graduation Rate: 65%
  • Acceptance Rate: 93%
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 580
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 1,461
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: HLC
  • Phone #: (785) 864-2700

Online Doctoral Degrees

  • Doctor of Nursing Practice - Advanced Practice (Post Master's)
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice - Health Informatics (Post Bachelor's)
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice - Leadership (Post Master's)
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice - Organizational Leadership (Post Bachelor's)
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice - Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (Post Bachelor's)
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice - Public Health Nursing (Post Bachelor's)
#10
#10

Arizona State University

Tempe (AZ) (and 4 others)
Annual Tuition: $10,890
Salary Score: 49
Annual Tuition: $10,890
Salary Score: 49
Annual Tuition: $10,890
Salary Score: 49
  • Online Degrees: 11
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 94%
  • Graduation Rate: 66%
  • Acceptance Rate: 76%
  • Average SATs: 1091 -1298
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 28,353
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 9,021
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: HLC

Online Doctoral Degrees

  • DBH in Behavioral Health (Clinical)
  • DBH in Behavioral Health (Management)
  • DNP - Advanced Nursing Practice
  • DNP - Advanced Nursing Practice (Acute Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner)
  • DNP - Advanced Nursing Practice (Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner)
  • DNP - Advanced Nursing Practice (Innovation Leadership)

Overview: Online Doctoral Programs

Differences Between Ph.D.s and Professional Doctorates

In the U.S., the highest terminal degree a person can earn is a doctoral degree. Indicating an advanced level of expertise, doctoral degrees are generally divided into two categories: research doctorates, commonly known as Ph.D.s, and professional doctorates. Both of these can be earned online, and we outline the differences between each below.

Research Doctorate

Probably the most familiar research doctorate is a Doctor of Philosophy, better known as a Ph.D. The title is somewhat misleading because a student can earn a Ph.D. in a number of subjects in the sciences and the humanities. Students earning research doctorates conduct original research that serves as the foundation of a written dissertation or project, which must be defended and approved before the degree can be awarded. Doctoral students in this category sometimes earn a master's degree in their chosen field before continuing on for a doctorate, and they often need three or more years to complete all of the requirements. Once they've earned their research doctorates, students typically move into academia or research positions.

Professional Doctorate

In contrast to a research doctorate, a professional doctorate focuses on acquiring the advanced knowledge and application-based skills needed to go into professional practice. Examples include a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) for physicians, a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) for high-level nurses, and a Doctor of Jurisprudence (J.D.) for lawyers. These are just a few of the many occupations that call for a professional doctorate, some of which also require licensure to go into practice. Students in this category may or may not need to earn a master's degree first, and it is not unusual for a student to take at least six years beyond the completion of a bachelor's degree to fulfill all of the requirements for earning a professional doctorate.

Can You Earn a Doctorate Degree Online?

Yes, there are many online doctoral programs to choose from, both for research doctorates and professional doctorates. Some of the more popular online options include the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), and the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.). Online doctorates are especially appealing for working professionals. Students can usually arrange their coursework around their work schedules and other personal commitments. Plus, online doctoral candidates can choose among a multitude of options at schools across the country and beyond, selecting the best online program to help them achieve their career goals without having to change jobs or move.

How Do Online Doctoral Programs Compare to In-Person Programs?

There are many similarities between online and in-person programs at the doctoral level. In terms of admission requirements, applicants must have earned at least a bachelor's degree with a high GPA, have competitive GRE or other entrance exam scores, and provide positive references and personal essays. For those doctoral degrees that are offered online, the curricula and other requirements are comparable, demanding similar investments of time and effort and involving the same process for developing and conducting primary research. (Note that many online doctoral programs require students to attend one or more on-campus meetings, conferences, practicums, or residencies, lasting anywhere from two days to two weeks.) Just like their on-campus counterparts, online doctoral candidates must learn to manage their time effectively, stay on top of assignments, and communicate regularly with advisors to ensure they're meeting expectations. As long as students have earned their degrees at credible, accredited schools, their online doctorates should garner the same level of respect as in-person terminal degrees.

Are Online Ph.D. Programs Legitimate?

Although there are some online Ph.D. programs that are not reputable, there are far more legitimate online doctoral programs offered by respected schools. The key to identifying the credible programs is accreditation. The best online Ph.D. programs and other doctorates are available at accredited colleges and universities that have been independently evaluated and proven to meet accepted standards of accountability. An online Ph.D. or doctorate from an accredited institution indicates that you have completed the same demanding coursework, passed the same examinations, and conducted the same level of research as others who've earned traditional degrees. Today's hiring managers are starting to understand the self-discipline and perseverance needed to complete a degree through online learning.

Accreditation

If you're considering going back to school for a doctorate and you're trying to decide which colleges or universities to apply to, one of the most important things to look for is accreditation. Accreditation means that the school's programs, faculty, and student services have been evaluated by an approved, independent agency and found to meet or exceed recognized standards of excellence in education. The best online schools have been approved by one of six authorized regional accrediting boards or by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission. A doctoral degree from an accredited institution assures future employers that you have received a rigorous, high-quality education. Also, it may be a requirement for you to earn licensure to practice your chosen profession.

For a complete list of accrediting agencies and accredited colleges and universities, visit the U.S. Department of Education website or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) website. Most schools' websites also list their accreditation status, or you can contact the school directly for more information. OnlineU.org lists only accredited colleges and universities, and displays this information as shown below.

Prerequisites and Admissions for Online Doctoral Programs

The admission requirements for online doctoral programs vary by school, just as they do for traditional doctoral programs. Some programs are only open to students who have already earned a master's degree in the same or a related discipline, while others accept students who have earned a bachelor's degree or a master's degree in an unrelated field. In addition to a previous degree, most admissions boards are looking for candidates who have:

  • A GPA of 3.0 or higher
  • Strong letters of recommendation
  • Persuasive personal statements
  • Competitive GRE or other standardized exam scores

In some cases, applicants will need to have accumulated a substantial number of hours of field experience or years of related work experience as well.

Is It Possible to Get a Doctorate Without First Getting a Master's?

In the U.S., many schools allow students to skip getting a master's degree and go directly to earning a doctoral degree, which is a good option if you're certain you want to earn a doctorate. For example, if you know you want a career in academia, it may be possible for you to find a Ph.D. program in the subject that interests you that accepts students who've earned only bachelor's degrees. In many cases, you will complete the coursework for and be awarded a master's degree in the process of earning your doctorate.

Some advantages to earning a master's degree first is that you can explore your interests and become accustomed to the higher level of expectations in graduate work. Also, you can customize your education by studying at two different universities with two different sets of faculty. However, if you decide to go that route, make sure that your master's credits earned at the first institution will be accepted by the second. Some doctoral programs do not accept transfer credits from other schools.

Choosing a Program

The decision to pursue a doctorate will be guided primarily by your career goals. There are some occupations that simply demand this type of terminal degree. If you aspire to become a doctor, dentist, chiropractor, veterinarian, pharmacist, occupational therapist, or tenured college professor—to name some examples—you will need to earn a doctoral degree. However, there are many other occupations for which a doctorate is not a requirement but may enhance your chances of landing the highest-level jobs in your field. For instance, a speech language pathologist (SLP) can go into practice with a master's degree and expect to earn an average annual salary around $55,000, but an SLP with a doctorate can move into academic and research positions, earning an average annual salary of about $89,000. Other examples include executive-level management, education administration, mental health counseling, and health care administration.

In most cases, the occupation you choose will also dictate what type of doctorate you'll need to obtain. Within the medical field, for instance, there are many specialties that can only be practiced if you've earned one specific degree. These include doctorates for podiatry, optometry, audiology, and osteopathic medicine. Then again, there are a few occupations for which any one of several different doctoral degrees can be selected. For example, if you want to become a music director for any kind of religious institution, you could earn a Doctor of Pastoral Music, a Doctor of Church Music, or a Doctor of Worship Studies.

If you aspire to become a doctor, dentist, chiropractor, veterinarian, pharmacist, occupational therapist, or tenured college professor—to name some examples—you will need to earn a doctoral degree.

What Are Some Popular Doctoral Degrees to Earn Online?

Some of the most commonly offered online doctoral subjects include criminal justice, health care administration, psychology, engineering, counseling, information technology, business management, and organizational leadership.

Even more popular are the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) degrees, two online doctoral programs that are available in many concentrations and specializations. This reflects the findings of the National Center for Education Statistics about all doctoral programs (both online and in-person), which show that the number of healthcare-related doctorates earned since 2001 has increased by 106% and the number of doctoral degrees earned through education programs since 2001 has increased by 103%. These degrees are often pursued by working professionals, who appreciate the convenience and flexibility of distance learning for developing high-level expertise and advanced skills.

Program Average Full-Time Program Length Example Courses Common Career Paths Median Annual Earnings*
Nursing (DNP)
2 - 3 years
  • Evidence-Based Practice
  • Advanced Nursing Health Policy
  • Health Information Systems
  • Certified Nurse Practitioner
  • Nurse Manager
$88,427
Education
3 years
  • Organizational Leadership
  • Curriculum Theory
  • College President or Provost
  • Chief Learning Officer
$85,193
Psychology
4 - 6 years
  • Advanced Theories of Psychology
  • Cognitive Behavior
  • Clinical Psychologist
  • Human Resource Manager
$90,464
Counseling
4 - 6 years
  • Advanced Counseling Theory
  • Ethics and Law in Counseling
  • Counseling Psychologist
  • School Psychologist
$82,022
*SOURCE: PAYSCALE

Which Ph.D. is Most in Demand?

Many in academia acknowledge that, in general, the U.S. currently has too many doctoral degree holders and too few jobs to go around. Experts predict that Ph.D.s and other research-oriented doctoral graduates may find it challenging to locate work once they've earned their degrees. However, the demand for professional doctorate holders in applied fields, especially in science and technology, is still strong, creating opportunities to land high-level jobs. Several positions requiring professional doctoral degrees appear on the Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2020 list of fastest-growing occupations. These in-demand professions include lawyers, postsecondary teachers in health specialties, and physical therapists.

Length of Online Doctoral Programs

The amount of time needed to complete any type of doctorate, whether it's an online program or an on-campus program, varies widely, averaging anywhere from three to eight years. Perhaps the primary reason for this range is that the number of online courses required to graduate also varies dramatically, from 36 to 120 credit hours. Some students who have already earned a related master's degree may be able to get credit for previous coursework, thus reducing the number of credits they need to graduate and the time required to complete the degree.

Another factor that can extend the length of an academic program is the dissertation or capstone project, which is typically the focus of the later stages of the degree program after much of the program-related coursework has been completed. Due to jobs, families, and other commitments, some students in research doctorate programs will be able to complete their work more quickly than others. Also, some doctoral candidates may have to revise their dissertations repeatedly before getting final approval.

Doctoral Degree Quick Facts
  • Average Credits: 36 - 120
  • Average Duration: 3 - 8 years

Cost of Online Doctoral Degrees

How Much Does It Cost to Get a Ph.D. Online?

According to 2019 data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the average total cost of all graduate degrees—both master's degrees and doctoral degrees—ranges from about $12,200 at public schools to $27,800 at private, non-profit universities. While these NCES numbers may be helpful as a starting point, they aren't specific to online students, and what an online student will pay is sometimes substantially different from what an on-campus student will pay. Of the schools we researched in order to rank the most affordable online doctorate degrees, the median annual tuition rate is $15,441 at public schools and $13,188 at private universities.

Of the schools we researched in order to rank the most affordable online doctorate degrees, the median annual tuition rate is $15,441 at public schools and $13,188 at private universities.

To get an accurate comparison of the online doctoral programs you're interested in, you can start by determining the per-credit tuition rates and multiplying that by the number of credit hours needed to complete the program. The cost per credit of doctoral programs on our site ranges from $290 to $1393. At Liberty University, ranked #2 on our list of most affordable schools, the per-credit fee for online doctoral programs is $300. A Doctor of Public Administration requires 48 credits and totals $14,400 in tuition fees, while a Ph.D. in History requires 72 credits and totals $18,000 in tuition fees. To find your total cost, you must then add in other fees shown on the schools' website and additional expenses, such as books, travel for residencies, and childcare.

However, most doctoral candidates do not pay the full price for their degrees. Many are offered fully funded programs or receive partial financial assistance towards their education.

Funding an Online Doctoral Program

There are many financial aid options for doctoral students, but the options differ for online students versus on-campus students. Many traditional Ph.D. candidates are eligible for fully funded programs that feature paid tuition and stipends, but most students who get this kind of support earn it by working on campus, teaching and conducting research within the school's facilities. In this regard, online doctoral students are more like on-campus students who are pursuing terminal degrees in the humanities and the social sciences. They rarely qualify for full funding either, simply because there are so few school-sponsored research projects for them to contribute to.

However, online doctorate students can reduce the cost of their advanced degrees by considering affordable online Ph.D. programs and by applying for other types of financial aid, especially those that do not have to be paid back, such as grants, scholarships, and fellowships. Tuition discounts due to military service or tuition reimbursement programs through employers are also preferred types of financial assistance.

If none of these options are available, or if they do not adequately cover all financial needs, doctoral students can apply for federally funded loans by filling out the FAFSA form or for private loans through banks and other financial institutions. The advantage of federal student loans is that they offer fixed interest rates (generally lower than private loan interest rates) and repayment plans tied to the graduate's income.

When applying for financial aid, prospective doctoral students may be asked to specify whether they're planning to study full time or part time. They may also need to state their intention to enroll in an online program, and disclose whether the school is regionally or nationally accredited. All of these factors may affect their eligibility for financial aid. Note that many schools have financial aid counselors on staff who can assist prospective students in developing a payment strategy.

Can I Get a Ph.D. for Free?

Although there are many affordable online Ph.D. programs available, it is not possible to earn an online doctorate for free in the U.S. Some universities offer fully funded doctoral programs, which generally feature tuition waivers, stipends, and other benefits, such as health insurance, to cover a student's costs. However, these are designed for on-campus students who are required to work at the schools, often teaching or conducting research in exchange for getting an education.