You’ve been working in your chosen field for a while now. For you it’s not a job, but a calling. You’ve gone so far as to earn a master’s degree to gain a deeper understanding of the work you’re doing, but now you’re ready for more. You want to gain advanced expertise in your field, or you have a great idea you want to research or a problem you want to solve: you want to earn a doctoral degree. Unfortunately, you live too far from the nearest research university. Or your day job is too enjoyable. Or you have a family that depends on your income, and you can’t afford to stop work to undertake an intensive doctoral program.
You don’t have to take a long, costly sabbatical from your career (or wait until the children are grown) to pursue your Ph.D. Depending on your field of expertise, an online doctoral program may be available that can help you take the next step towards fulfilling research and professional growth.
What An Online Doctorate Entails
Ground-based Ph.D. programs involve four to six years of intensive original research beyond your master’s degree. In these programs, you work under a mentor who already has a Ph.D. in your field, writing extensively about your subject, and eventually producing a publishable book-length dissertation. After successfully defending your dissertation in an oral presentation to a group of faculty advisors and depositing it with your university, you have earned your doctorate.
With an online Ph.D. program, the requirements and timelines are similar: you undertake research, attend intensive online classes, and have a mentor or mentors guiding your research efforts. The main difference is that you only meet your mentors and fellow students face-to-face once or twice a year, during a short required residency at your school’s ground campus (the exact length and frequency of this residency will vary from school to school).
An online doctoral student is still expected to undertake serious, rigorous academic research, and will still be required to produce a publishable dissertation or similar written end product. Any school promising a quick, easy Ph.D. (especially one with “credit given for life experience”) is most likely not legitimate and should be avoided. Always choose a regionally accredited institution when enrolling in an online doctoral degree.
Popular Online Doctoral Programs
As you can imagine, not all Ph.D. programs are capable of being undertaken via online learning. Nuclear physics clearly requires laboratory time, as does chemical engineering. For many of these hard science and engineering doctorates, access to a physical university for research, laboratory or medical facilities (such as a teaching hospital), and networking is still essential. In fact, the Sloan Consortium, which routinely tracks trends in online education, notes that engineering degrees at all levels are the lowest-represented discipline at online universities. However, online Ph.D. programs are available in a surprising number of career-focused fields. The Sloan Consortium’s 2008 report, “Staying The Course”, reveals that most online doctoral programs are in education, business, and management. Some specific doctoral programs on offer via online education include:
- Computer science
- Business management
- Public health management
- Information technology management
- Education (especially Ed.D. programs, which are aimed at administrators)
If your area of expertise falls into one of these segments, you have better chances of finding an online doctoral program at the moment. Bear in mind, however, that if you are pursuing your Ph.D. in the hopes of increasing your chances of career advancement, that an online doctorate may not confer required or preferred professional certifications in addition to the degree.
Do your research, and you can find a suitable online university for tackling your doctorate—so you can do more research. Good luck.
Colorado Technical University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and a member of the North Central Association (30 North LaSalle Street, Suite 2400, Chicago, Illinois 60602-2504) www.ncahlc.org.
CTU does not guarantee employment, salary, or performance of graduates.