Considering a Doctorate Online

Last updated on November 15, 2017

A doctorate degree is the highest level of education you can earn. It is typically earned after a master’s degree and can take three to four years to complete, depending on the field of study. Some programs admit students with an undergraduate degree and award a master’s degree halfway through the doctoral program.

A doctorate can be earned in a variety of subjects, including those that require professional licensing, like medicine or psychiatry, as well as academic fields that require intensive research and publication.

Can I Earn a Doctorate Online?

Doctoral degrees can be completed at most public and private universities. You can even choose to pursue a doctorate degree online; however, doctorate programs are not offered online as much as bachelor’s, master’s, or MBA degrees due to their intense laboratory or hands-on practical components.

If you do seek an online doctoral education, do your research to find a program that holds regional and programmatic accreditation to ensure you are receiving a reputable education with rigorous research standards.

Also, keep in mind that while you can earn a doctorate degree online, you will be required to complete an internship, as well as a research thesis or capstone project, to meet graduation requirements.

What Subjects Can I Study Online?

Students pursuing an online doctoral degree can choose from a variety of majors. However, some subjects are better learned through traditional campus-based programs.

Many theoretical-based subjects, such as business, technology, education, and counseling, can be easily learned online, but students studying more complex subjects that require significant hands-on training like medicine will benefit more from a traditional campus-based program.

It is best to evaluate your own personal learning style to determine if attending a doctoral program online is the ideal option for you.

The doctoral degree is the most research-intensive level of study, which requires that you be a strong independent learner, especially in an online program. If you learn best with direct contact with your professors and peers, a brick-and-mortar program will be a better fit.

Explore Types of Online Doctoral Degrees

There are three main types of doctoral degrees: research, professional, and honorary. All three types are considered to be the highest level of post-secondary degree you can receive. Continue reading to compare and learn more about these types of doctoral degrees.

Research doctorate

The research doctorate, also known as a PhD or doctor of philosophy, requires a significant amount of independent research of students. A PhD is commonly offered in the arts, literature, sciences, religion, and history. The PhD title or abbreviation  differs for some subject areas.

For example, EdD stand for doctor of education, DSc stands for doctor of science, and DA stands for doctor of arts. Students pursuing a research doctorate are required to write a thesis or dissertation, which must be presented to the school’s education committee before the designation of PhD is conferred.

Professional doctorate

Professional doctoral degrees are awarded to students who complete a doctoral program in fields that do not require academic research, but rather prepare them for a specific profession.

For example, professional doctorates are awarded in the fields of medicine or law, where students are preparing to enter a specific career upon graduation. Some familiar professional doctorate titles include DMD, which stands for doctor of dental medicine, and PsyD, which stands for doctor of psychology.

Honorary doctorate

An honorary doctorate, unlike the previous types, is not necessarily pursued through academic study, but is granted to professionals who have contributed significantly to research in their field. Philanthropists, politicians, writers, and even scientists are commonly awarded this PhD designation.

The Dissertation Process

As mentioned above, students pursuing a research doctorate must complete a dissertation, or research project, before they can receive the title of doctor of philosophy. The dissertation process varies for each college or university, but the process is long and in-depth.

Doctoral students work alongside an academic advisor during the dissertation process to receive guidance when developing a proposal and designing a research plan. You will also work with a dissertation committee, to which you will present your research before graduation.

The dissertation process students undertake includes the following steps:

  • Develop research questions and a plan for completing necessary research
  • Prepare a dissertation proposal to be presented to your school’s dissertation committee for review
  • Revise your study plan as needed, taking into consideration the dissertation committee’s feedback
  • Get approval for the revised plan and begin researching
  • Upon completing your research, prepare a report to be reviewed by the dissertation committee
  • Participate in an oral defense before the dissertation committee
  • Obtain final approval and majority vote for your project to be accepted by the dissertation committee

Seek an experienced advisor

Earning a doctoral degree is a lengthy and difficult process, so make sure you have the support you need to make your way to graduation.

You should find a mentor or advisor with a doctoral degree that can help you navigate your way through your education. This will be your go-to person for questions and guidance as you formulate hypotheses and develop an original research project.

Prepare for Life as a Doctoral Student

Plan to be a professional student

Since doctorate programs involve intense coursework and studying, you should limit personal obligations during this time.

Earning a PhD is stressful, so you should learn how to prioritize your commitments and plan an appropriate amount of time dedicated to regular studying and researching.

It is challenging to hold a job at this time, which is why many doctoral students apply for stipends that cover living expenses throughout their studies.

Exhaust all sources of financial assistance

You should also seek financial assistance for your tuition expenses. Since many doctoral students already have school loans from their undergraduate and master’s degrees, the prospect of taking on more education debt is intimidating.

Before applying for government loans to fund your doctoral program, conduct thorough research of the job outlook and median salary of PhDs in your field to ensure you’ll be able to secure employment and pay off your debt.

Also, think beyond student loans. Form a comprehensive plan to seek as much assistance as possible, including scholarships and grants.

Many colleges, universities, professional organizations, and even some companies offer scholarships to students in areas where the demand for qualified PhDs is not being met.