The Doctor of Philosophy degree — the PhD — is one of the most prestigious academic credentials one can attain. In many fields, it can take more than a decade of dedicated study to earn a PhD, during which time a student can do little else but study, conduct research, teach and write. After successfully arguing a dissertation and being awarded with the doctorate degree, PhD-holders have outstanding career opportunities in academia or in industry, as they have become highly sought-after masters within their fields.
Thanks to a push for greater access to education, many schools are beginning to offer online PhD programs, which students can access from anywhere in the world. Yet, because PhD programs are not like many other degree programs — they do not usually follow a typical structure of courses and assignments — many students are curious about the details of online PhD programs.
Online PhDs are attractive to graduate students for the same reasons that all online education is appealing to most people. Attending courses online eliminates much of the cost and inconvenience of higher education; though tuition rates might be comparable per credit-hour, students save money by avoiding relocation and commuting, and students can maintain full-time employment as they pursue their PhDs because they can fit their online courses into their unique schedules.
For PhDs in particular, online education can be a useful tool for controlling the pace of the academic program. Many traditional PhD programs advance at a rate determined by one’s faculty advisors or dissertation committee. This can place undue stress on a student to commit more time and energy to their studies than they currently have available. Students who crave more control over when and how they work toward their PhD might find more comfort and success in an online PhD program.
When it comes to bachelor and master degrees, students can review a school’s program curriculum to get a good sense of what knowledge and skills the degree program will provide and how. Yet, PhD programs tend to be more subjective, following a student’s interests and their advisor’s plan for achieving specific knowledge and skill. Thus, students cannot set their expectations about an online PhD program by reading about course requirements on the school website.
Still, most online PhD students will follow a similar path to their degree. The path typically includes the following steps:
- Determine career goals and distinguish what advanced knowledge and skills are necessary.
- Identify how many credit hours can be completed per semester based on personal bandwidth.
- Build a PhD plan with the help of an academic advisor.
- Enroll in courses and engage with course materials online.
- Complete research assignments set by instructors and academic advisors and submit assignments via online portal.
- Visit the college campus in person occasionally for specific meetings and events.
The best way to know for certain what an online PhD program looks like is to begin the process of enrolling in one. Students can learn more by researching PhDs in Psychology online — or searching for PhD programs in whatever field they hope to master.
It is a mistake to assume that because a PhD program is primarily online, it will be much easier than a traditional, in-person program. As long as students are careful to enroll in accredited online institutions, they will find themselves challenged to grow intellectually in key ways. Likewise, students should recognize that their online PhDs will be just as credible as any traditional degree — assuming they earned their degree from an accredited school.
Thanks to the rise of online education, many online PhD programs are just as prestigious as their traditional counterparts — but there remain a good many degree mills and unscrupulous for-profit programs that students certainly want to avoid. Students should do due diligence to understand a school and its PhD program before enrolling. They should research the school’s accreditation, the tuition requirements, the graduation rates of students and the academic credentials of instructors. It might be useful to have a conversation with prospective faculty advisors as well as existing PhD students enrolled in the program.
Then, when a student has identified one or two online PhD programs that fit their goals and interests, they should begin the application process. In many cases, students need little more than the acceptance of their academic advisor, but in other cases, students will need to submit personal statements, recommendation letters, CVs and more to gain admittance into a program.
Every PhD student has a different reason for pursuing a PhD — and fortunately, thanks to online PhD programs, there are enough spaces to welcome every unique case.