The Ultimate Guide to Earning Your Doctorate Degree Online

One of the highest educational attainments available is the doctorate degree. When you complete a doctorate degree program, you are assumed to be a true expert in your area of study. Earning a doctorate degree can, in some cases, open doors to a better career and higher earnings. However, it can take quite a while to earn your degree. After all, in order to be considered an expert, you will need to complete a rigorous course of study. Few people have the time it takes to attend school full time and earn a doctorate degree. It’s fortunate, then, that technology has made it possible to study online and complete a doctorate program via the Internet.

Indeed, online doctorate degrees are becoming more common — and even more accepted. It is possible to complete a substantial portion of your doctorate studies from the comfort of your home, and on your own time schedule. If you are interested in earning your doctorate degree online, here is a helpful guide to what you need to know:

Program Accreditation

The first thing you need to realize is that not all online doctorate degree programs are created equal. Some programs are obviously legitimate, such as those from well-known schools. An increasing number of traditional schools are offering advanced degree courses — and even whole programs — online. It is easy to know that these are legitimate online doctorate programs. Other programs, though, are not so cut and dry. You have to be on the alert for online degree scams from a variety of sources.

Before you sign up for a doctorate program from an online institution, make sure that it is properly accredited. An accredited institution meets certain requirements, and a degree from such an institution will accepted by most employers. Without a degree from an accredited program, you are likely to be dismissed as a serious contender in many workplace situations. You can find more information about accreditation, and accredited institutions, at the Council for Higher Education Accreditation web site, or at the U.S. Department of Education web site. Once you know a doctorate degree program is properly accredited, you can proceed.

Degree Types and Program Requirements

Next, you need to find out if your desired degree is offered. There are different types of doctorate programs. You can find degrees in the sciences, as well as in the humanities. If you get a PhD (doctor of philosophy), you will be expected to understand underlying principles, and be well-researched. You can also get a more specialized degree, such as a doctor of education degree (EdD) or doctor of engineering degree (DEng), or a professional degree, such as a doctor of business administration (DBA) or doctor of public administration (DPA).

Some types of doctorate degrees may not be offered completely online. It is difficult to earn your MD (doctor of medicine), DNP (doctor of nursing practice) and ScD (doctor of sciences) online, since there are usually hands-on components, and they are research intensive degrees. Before you sign up for a program, make sure you understand what degree you want, and make sure it’s practical to expect to be able to complete the requirements mostly online.

You should also research the program requirements. Different universities have different requirements for their online doctorate programs. You will want to go through the requirements carefully, since you don’t want surprises partway through your program. Realize that some requirements might include online chats, or attendance during webinars. You might also be required to visit the campus at various points during your program. You may have to take an evening class on campus, or visit the campus once a semester or once a year. Many doctorate degree programs — even those that take mostly online — require that you complete some sort of internship or practicum. Be clear on the requirements for different online doctorate programs.


One of the things to understand is that costs vary amongst online doctorate programs. While earning your doctorate degree online, you will want to make sure that the cost is something you can handle. You might need financial aid to help you cover the cost of your online degree program. If your school is properly accredited, you can fill out a FAFSA to possibly get graduate student loans to cover your program cost. You can also look for scholarships to help defray the costs related to your program.

There are usually two different methods of figuring tuition for online programs. In some cases, you might actually pay tuition by the semester. However, it is also quite common for you to pay by the credit hour. Paying by the credit hour provides some flexibility, since you can take classes one or two at a time, as you have the money. However, if you want financial aid and scholarships, you might need to look for a program that allows you to be considered “full time” and that charges by the semester, much like a regular, offline university might charge.

Can You Handle an Online Doctorate Program?

Once you have evaluated other aspects of earning your doctorate degree online, it is time to evaluate your own abilities to complete an online doctorate program. While an online degree program can be a great boon to some, an online degree isn’t right for everyone.

If you want to succeed with an online doctorate degree, you will need to make sure you are ready to complete your studies. Here are some items that are helpful if you want to successfully earn your doctorate degree via the Internet:

  • Self-motivation: You need to be self-motivated. You need to be able to get yourself going, and keep going — even when things are tough. It’s important to be a self-starter if you are going to earn your degree online.
  • Self-discipline: Sometimes, it’s a little easier to complete assignments when you have set deadlines throughout the semester, and if you are required to attend a class. In order to earn your degree online, you will need to have the discipline to do what you need to, and create a schedule for yourself.
  • Adequate workstation: Make sure you have what you need to complete your requirements. This usually means a computer at your disposal, as well as a reliable high speed Internet connection. Make sure you have an area that provides you some freedom from distractions so that you can accomplish your work.
  • Ability to work with minimal guidance: It’s true that some online instructors are quite interactive, and willing to provide a great deal of guidance. However, not all instructors will provide you with a great deal of feedback. You will need to be able to work on your own, with minimal guidance.

As long as you honestly feel you are capable of completing an online doctorate degree program, and as long as long the program is properly accredited, you are likely to find success — and perhaps a more rewarding career.