How to Choose the Best Online PhD Program
I’ve always enjoyed learning. If there’s something new worth knowing I enjoy the challenge of picking up that new knowledge. That’s why, as I graduated with my online Master of Science in Information Systems last year through a distance learning program from Dakota State University, my first thought was: “What can I learn next?”
After I finished my masters in information systems degree online I was planning on another masters degree, probably an online MBA. However, because that plan originated when I’d just begun online learning in 2006, several new online graduate degree options now existed for me to consider.
Could I go further than a masters degree? Could an online PhD be an option for me? Amazingly enough… it seemed like it actually could!
In the last several years distance education offerings across the United States have exploded. As of 2011, there are literally over one hundred online PhD programs; degrees ranging from an online Doctoral of Public Administration at Valdosta State University to an online PhD in Financial Planning from Kansas State University.
I honestly wish I had the time — not to mention the money! — to experience them all. But since my chances of winning the lottery this year are once again miniscule, I narrowed my choices using the same seven factors I used when searching for an online masters degree in order to find the best online doctorate for me:
- Degree Focus (Major or Emphasis)
- Admission Requirements
- Campus Residency or Internship Requirements
- Program Length and Schedule
- Ability to transfer credits from my masters degree
- Cost: Credit hours/course and tuition
Whether I’m applying for an online doctorate, masters, bachelors, associates, or a certificate degree, I’ve found it helpful to consider these factors. After all, education requires a huge investment of time, money, and energy, so the act of choosing the best online PhD program shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Best Online PhD Program: 7 Factors to Consider
1. Online Doctorate Focus
3. Admission Requirements
- Undergraduate GPA
- Graduate GPA
- GRE/GMAT/MAT scores
- Work-related experience
If you don’t quite meet all of the requirements posted by the university, be sure to contact the school before giving up on that online PhD program. For instance, you may be interested in the PhD in Technical Management at Indiana State University, but your undergraduate GPA may be below their stated minimum. If you’ve had an excellent graduate GPA, GMAT score, and/or had some really outstanding work experiences, you could gain provisional acceptance into the program. Then, if you do well on your first 2- 4 courses, you could be admitted as a degree-seeking student.
4. Residency and Internship Requirements
- Doctor of Business Administration at Baker College: Students must attend two professional business conferences from a faculty approved list.
- Online PhD in Information Systems at Nova Southeastern University: All students must travel to the Ft. Lauderdale campus four times a year for three-day on-campus sessions.
- Online PhD in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University: Students must attend a two-week on-campus workshop during the month of May.
5. Program Length and Schedule
6. Ability to Transfer Credits from Other Programs
Pending the approval of the faculty, credit hours from prior masters or doctoral programs can sometimes be transferred, reducing the number of credits the student needs to earn the new online doctorate degree.Every institution’s policy differs but, as a general rule, the lower the number of credit hours required by the new online doctoral program, the less likely there will be a chance for credit or course transfer. For example:
- Indiana State University’s Online PhD Program (90 credits) allows for transfers of up to 21 masters level credit hours.
- Baker College’s Online Doctorate in Business Administration (90 credits) will accept doctoral level credit transfers, but not masters level.
- University of Maryland University College Online PhD in Management (48 credits) does not accept credit transfers.
Of course, the cost of the degree is always a significant factor. The cost per credit hour for an online doctorate can range from $255 to over $1,000, so make sure you are aware of the total cost of your PhD degree as well as your payment schedule.
Also, keep in mind the number of credits per course and how many classes you are required to take at a time- taking fewer courses at once may make your payments easier to budget. Don’t forget to add the costs of campus residencies, if any. Expenses related to flights, food, and a room may, once tacked on to tuition and fees, cost as much or more than a single class.
Keeping these seven tips in mind, I found several interesting online PhD programs in my own online doctoral search, however, the one that fit the best was the Online Doctor of Science in Information Systems from Dakota State University. DSU is a regionally accredited state institution where I can continue to build upon my master’s and bachelor’s work in Information Systems and Computer Engineering.
Dakota State University Online has no residency requirements, and while the online PhD requires 88 credit hours (63 hours of coursework, 25 of dissertation), up to 27 credits of masters-level credits can be transferred. This was a deciding factor for me since I recently earned my masters degree online from Dakota State.
The online PhD programs cost is $368 per credit hour for classes that are three credits each, one of the lowest tuition rates that I found.
However, my undergraduate GPA was a bit lower than what they preferred, so I’ve been encouraged to apply with copies of any published work I have and the highest GRE scores I can manage. So, for me, if I want to get serious about stepping up to an online doctoral program as my next education milestone, I may have a lot of work ahead of me.
Overall, the most important advice for anyone who is looking to begin a new online degree, especially an online PhD, is to weigh as many of these seven factors as you can before choosing the best degree for you. Factors like program accreditation, cost, and class schedule should be taken into account before enrolling in an online graduate degree program.
Earning an online doctorate is tough enough without having to worry about surprise costs and logistical hiccups once you’re already in the degree program. Evaluate these seven online PhD factors first, and you will save yourself time, worry, and maybe even a little bit of your sanity.
Editor’s Note: Get Educated profiles more than 100 online PhD degrees. You can sort all of them into a custom list of the best online doctorate degrees for your needs according to accreditation type, major, and cost by using our search filters and sort buttons.
For more information on online PhD degrees check out the GetEducated video Online Doctorate Programs
About the Author: In addition to pursuing and writing about higher education, David Handlos works as a Lead Software Performance Engineer at Fiserv. He has also worked for Kansas State University as the webmaster, managing both the College of Engineering and Engineering Extension web sites. Handlos holds a Bachelors of Science in Computer Engineering from Kansas State University and a Masters in Information Systems which he earned online from Dakota State University.
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