Most Affordable Online Doctorate Programs

By the OnlineU team | Updated 11/24/2021

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 differences between Ph.D.s and professional doctorates, accreditation, and cost considerations for your online education.


2021 Most Affordable Doctoral Degrees Badge

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All tuition numbers were manually collected and verified
Rank School Locations Annual Tuition
# 1 #1 University of St Augustine for Health Sciences St. Augustine (FL) $3,770
# 2 #2 Liberty University Lynchburg (VA) $5,500
# 3 #3 American College of Education Chicago (IL) $5,595
# 4 #4 Bethel University - MN Saint Paul (MN) $6,720
# 5 #5 Mississippi State University Mississippi State (MS) $7,335
# 6 #6 Andrews University Berrien Springs (MI) $7,896
# 7 #7 A.T. Still University of Health Sciences Kirksville (MO) $8,000
# 8 #8 Indiana Wesleyan University Online Marion (IN) $8,250
# 9 #9 Old Dominion University Norfolk (VA) $8,925
# 10 #10 Nova Southeastern University Fort Lauderdale (FL) $9,000
# 11 #11 The University of Tennessee - Knoxville Knoxville (TN) $10,710
# 12 #12 Concordia University-Chicago River Forest (IL) $11,025
# 13 #13 Regent University Online Virginia Beach (VA) $11,475
# 14 #14 Wilmington University New Castle (DE) $11,646
# 15 #15 University of North Dakota Grand Forks (ND) $11,736
# 16 #16 University of Kentucky Lexington (KY) $12,474
# 17 #17 Keiser University eCampus Daytona Beach (FL) (and 3 others) $13,188
# 18 #18 Samford University Birmingham (AL) $13,320
# 19 #19 University of Phoenix Nationwide $13,770
# 20 #20 Loyola University Chicago Chicago (IL) $14,235
# 21 #21 Medical University of South Carolina Charleston (SC) $14,250
# 22 #22 The University of Arizona Global Campus Chandler (AZ) $16,230
# 23 #23 Saybrook University Hybrid Online Oakland (CA) $16,660
# 24 #24 Jefferson College of Health Sciences Roanoke (VA) $17,441
# 25 #25 Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Boston (MA) $17,820

Most Popular Subjects for Online Doctoral Programs

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

2021 Most Affordable Online College Details

#1
#1
Annual Tuition: $3,770
Annual Tuition: $3,770
Annual Tuition: $3,770

The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences is a medium-sized private school offering 20 online doctoral programs. These include a Doctor of Education with four concentrations and a Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy for students who have at least a bachelor's degree in the discipline. All programs feature asynchronous online courses with either optional or required campus immersions. The university doesn't have minimum requirements for applicants, but average undergraduate GPAs for accepted students range from 3.3 to 3.7.

Financial Support Overview

USAHS charges tuition by trimester. The rates vary by doctoral program and the student's previous level of education in their field. Online doctoral students don't qualify for any of USAHS's scholarships, which are reserved for campus students. The university provides accelerated degree tracks to help students finish faster, but this may disqualify them from federal financial aid. There are also military tuition benefits available.

Online Student Resources

  • Academic advising
  • Tutoring
  • Alumni networking opportunities
  • Technical support

Explore programs at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences >>


  • Online Degrees: 20
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 690
  • School Type: For-Profit
  • School Accreditation: WASC WSCUC
  • Phone #: (904) 826-0084

Online Doctoral Degrees

  • Doctor of Education
  • Doctor of Education - Athletic Training
  • Doctor of Education - Executive Leadership
  • Doctor of Education - Nursing Education
  • Doctor of Education - Teaching and Learning
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice - Family Nurse Practitioner (BSN Entry)
#2
#2

Liberty University

Lynchburg (VA)
Annual Tuition: $5,500
Annual Tuition: $5,500
Annual Tuition: $5,500

Liberty University is a large, private, evangelical Christian institution. It offers more than 100 fully online doctorates with asynchronous classes, including programs in business administration, ministry, and education. The full list is detailed below. Admission requirements differ for each program but most are competitive and require at least a 3.0 GPA for the applicant's most recent degree.

Financial Support Overview

Liberty features several programs designed to make its degrees more affordable. Students can earn academic credit for life experience and military training, potentially shortening the time needed to finish coursework. Liberty also offers tuition caps and discounts to active-duty service members and their spouses, veterans, civilian first responders, and employees of partner companies. These benefits are stackable — for example, an EMT married to a veteran might qualify for the $300 cap per credit hour and the 25% first-responder discount.

Online Student Resources

  • Library services
  • Academic advising
  • Career counseling
  • Veterans services

Explore programs at Liberty University >>


  • Online Degrees: 119
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 99%
  • Graduation Rate: 47%
  • Acceptance Rate: 30%
  • Average SATs: 1040 -1260
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 34,092
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 36,337
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: SACS COC
  • Phone #: (434) 582-2000

Online Doctoral Degrees

  • DBA
  • DMin
  • DNP: Doctor of Nursing
  • DNP: Family Nurse Practitioner
  • DNP: Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
  • DNP: Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (Post-BSN)
#3
#3
Annual Tuition: $5,595
Annual Tuition: $5,595
Annual Tuition: $5,595

The American College of Education is a small, private, for-profit school with 57 online Doctor of Education programs. Students can specialize in subjects that include curriculum and instruction, nursing education, and leadership. Each 64-credit doctorate is designed to take three years to complete, with close faculty guidance through the dissertation process. Applicants must have earned a minimum 3.0 GPA in their most recent degree, and they must provide a personal statement and sit for an interview.

Financial Support Overview

ACE offers flexible payment options that include payment in full, by course, or monthly. Doctoral students can also pursue two scholarship opportunities that the college funds. The Board of Trustee and General Scholarships provide $500 per term to 11 recipients, and the Historically Black Colleges and University Scholarship covers full tuition and fees for one student who attended an HBCU as an undergraduate.

Online Student Resources

  • Tutoring
  • Academic advising
  • Online library access
  • Alumni networking opportunities

Explore programs at American College of Education >>


  • Online Degrees: 57
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 99
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 5,958
  • School Type: For-Profit
  • School Accreditation: HLC
  • Phone #: (800) 280-0307

Online Doctoral Degrees

  • Doctor of Education in Curriculum and Instruction
  • Doctor of Education in Curriculum and Instruction - ABD to Ed.D. Pathway
  • Doctor of Education in Curriculum and Instruction - Adult and Continuing Education
  • Doctor of Education in Curriculum and Instruction - Early Childhood Education
  • Doctor of Education in Curriculum and Instruction - Ed.S to Ed.D. Pathway
  • Doctor of Education in Curriculum and Instruction - Educational and Community Organizations
#4
#4

Bethel University - MN

Saint Paul (MN)
Annual Tuition: $6,720
Annual Tuition: $6,720
Annual Tuition: $6,720

Medium-sized Bethel University is a private Baptist school. Students can enroll in a Doctor of Nursing Practice or a Doctor of Education with a choice of two concentrations. Nursing students have the option of adding an MBA or M.A. in Strategic Leadership to their DNP. Nearly all of Bethel's graduate students work at least part time, so the university created flexible, asynchronous online programs with this in mind. Applicants must have earned a master's degree with a 3.0 GPA. Although Bethel is a Baptist institution, students don't need to be active in any religion.

Financial Support Overview

Bethel charges a different per-credit rate for each online doctorate. Students can apply for several institutional grants and scholarships with various award amounts. Opportunities include the Business Partnership Scholarship for employees at one of Bethel's corporate partners and the George Floyd scholarship for students dedicated to fighting racism.

Online Student Resources

  • Technical support
  • Library services
  • Writing center
  • Academic advising

Explore programs at Bethel University - MN >>


  • Online Degrees: 10
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 100%
  • Graduation Rate: 73%
  • Acceptance Rate: 83%
  • Average SATs: 1030 -1290
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 283
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 679
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: HLC
  • Phone #: (651) 638-6400
#5
#5

Mississippi State University

Mississippi State (MS)
Annual Tuition: $7,335
Annual Tuition: $7,335
Annual Tuition: $7,335

Mississippi State University is a large public institution that offers distance Ph.D.s in community college leadership, computer science, and many types of engineering. These programs are competitive, so applicants should hold a degree from an accredited school with at least a 3.0 GPA. The university no longer requires GRE or GMAT scores.

Financial Support Overview

Every online student at MSU receives the in-state tuition rate, regardless of where they live. This can potentially save thousands of dollars in tuition over the duration of the degree program. The university doesn't provide institutional scholarships to online doctoral students but does offer tuition exemptions and discounts to some categories of students. For example, Mississippi residents aged 60 and up may qualify for a full tuition waiver, as can service members, veterans, and their spouses and dependents.

Online Student Resources

  • Tutoring
  • Academic advising
  • Veterans services
  • Career counseling

Explore programs at Mississippi State University >>


  • Online Degrees: 19
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 95%
  • Graduation Rate: 61%
  • Acceptance Rate: 62%
  • Average SATs: 1070 -1280
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 872
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 964
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: SACS COC
  • Phone #: (662) 325-2323
#6
#6

Andrews University

Berrien Springs (MI)
Annual Tuition: $7,896
Annual Tuition: $7,896
Annual Tuition: $7,896

Andrews University is a small Seventh-Day Adventist school with 11 online doctorates available. Most of these are education doctorates, but students can also choose options in the health sciences. The university's student population is small but ethnically diverse, with more than 60% of students identifying as people of color. Doctoral programs are competitive, so applicants should have a 3.0 GPA.

Financial Support Overview

Andrews charges tuition by the credit hour that differs by program, in addition to a flat distance-learning fee of $145 per semester. Students can pursue institutional financial aid opportunities such as the School of Graduate Studies Scholarship, which provides a 10%, 25%, or 50% tuition waiver depending on an applicant's graduate test scores. Online students in Doctor of Education or Doctor of Physical Therapy programs can receive this award for up to six semesters.

Online Student Resources

  • Library services
  • Academic advising
  • Technical support
  • Clinical counseling

Explore programs at Andrews University >>


  • Online Degrees: 11
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 99%
  • Graduation Rate: 59%
  • Acceptance Rate: 58%
  • Average SATs: 1060 -1360
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 161
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 267
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: HLC
  • Phone #: (800) 253-2874
#7
#7
Annual Tuition: $8,000
Annual Tuition: $8,000
Annual Tuition: $8,000

This medium-sized, private, non-profit institution is exclusively for graduate students in the health sciences. ATSU offers more than a dozen online doctorates in subjects including athletic training, health education, medical science, nursing, and occupational therapy. Most online doctorates are asynchronous, with no campus residency periods. Admission requirements vary by program, but the majority require a minimum 2.5 GPA on the applicant's most recent degree. Some degrees require previous work experience in the field of study.

Financial Support Overview

The university charges tuition by the credit hour along with a student technology fee for online learners. Students employed by one of ATSU's partners may qualify for a 20% tuition discount. Partner organizations include more than 30 medical centers and professional associations in the U.S. and Europe.

Online Student Resources

  • Writing center
  • Academic advising
  • Counseling services
  • Career services

Explore programs at A.T. Still University of Health Sciences >>


  • Online Degrees: 14
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 1,604
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: HLC
  • Phone #: (660) 626-2121
#8
#8
Annual Tuition: $8,250
Annual Tuition: $8,250
Annual Tuition: $8,250

Indiana Wesleyan University Online is a medium-sized private school affiliated with the Wesleyan Church. The university features 13 doctorates with online, asynchronous courses, including degrees in business administration, ministry, nursing practice, and organizational leadership. Some of these have in-person residency requirements in Marion, Indiana, during the summer. Admissions requirements differ by program but most require a minimum GPA of 3.0 for the applicant's most recent degree. Doctor of Ministry applicants must have three years of ministry experience.

Financial Support Overview

IWU provides limited institutional financial aid options. The school offers tuition discounts to some students with financial need, but doesn't give many details on its website. Interested applicants should contact the representative for their chosen program.

Online Student Resources

  • Academic advising
  • Writing center
  • Technical support
  • Career counseling

Explore programs at Indiana Wesleyan University Online >>


  • Online Degrees: 13
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 93%
  • Graduation Rate: 53%
  • Average SATs: 1020 -1230
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 6,185
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 3,637
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: HLC
  • Phone #: (765) 677-2870
#9
#9
Annual Tuition: $8,925
Annual Tuition: $8,925
Annual Tuition: $8,925

A large public university, Old Dominion offers a dozen online doctoral degrees. Students can choose from programs in nursing practice, education, engineering management, and public administration and policy. The school's doctoral programs are competitive, and prospective students should have earned a master's degree with a minimum 3.25 GPA before applying to most of them.

Financial Support Overview

ODU charges tuition by the credit hour and Virginia residents pay a lower in-state rate. Undocumented students qualify for in-state tuition if they met other residency requirements. All distance learners pay an additional $11 in fees per semester and a $30-per-credit-hour technology fee. ODU hosts several graduate fellowships that doctoral students can pursue, including a National Science Foundation award for women in engineering and the Spencer Foundation Dissertation Fellowship for education research.

Online Student Resources

  • Academic advising
  • Technical support
  • Software and tools
  • Career counseling

Explore programs at Old Dominion University >>


  • Online Degrees: 12
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 94%
  • Graduation Rate: 51%
  • Acceptance Rate: 86%
  • Average SATs: 980 -1180
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 3,948
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 2,206
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: SACS COC
  • Phone #: (757) 683-3000
#10
#10

Nova Southeastern University

Fort Lauderdale (FL)
Annual Tuition: $9,000
Annual Tuition: $9,000
Annual Tuition: $9,000

Nova Southeastern University is a medium-sized, private, non-profit institution offering nearly 30 online doctorates. Degree programs include education, health sciences, criminal justice, nursing, and conflict analysis and resolution. Most online programs feature exclusively asynchronous courses paired with week-long residencies at least once a year on NSU's campus in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. To apply, students need at least a bachelor's degree with a 3.0 GPA or higher for the last 60 credit hours. Some programs require a master's degree to apply.

Financial Support Overview

NSU's tuition rates differ by program. Doctoral students can search NSU's graduate scholarship list for funding based on the field of study. For example, conflict analysis students may qualify for the Art of Peace Endowed Scholarship that awards a variable amount if they propose a dissertation examining the role of the arts in conflict.

Online Student Resources

  • Library services
  • Technical support
  • Alumni networking opportunities
  • Career counseling

Explore programs at Nova Southeastern University >>


  • Online Degrees: 29
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 100%
  • Graduation Rate: 58%
  • Acceptance Rate: 58%
  • Average SATs: 1070 -1280
  • Undergrad Online Enrollment: 292
  • Graduate Online Enrollment: 5,532
  • School Type: Non-Profit
  • School Accreditation: SACS COC
  • Phone #: (954) 262-7300

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.

Accrediting agencies labeled with a 'School Accreditation' label

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 $58,000, but an SLP with a doctorate can move into academic and research positions, earning an average annual salary of about $65,000. 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.