A Ph.D., or doctorate degree, is the highest academic degree you can earn in your chosen field and requires students to prove both general knowledge and specialized expertise. Like traditional doctorate program, an online doctorate program includes original research of publishable quality often referred to as a dissertation. Completing a doctoral program also qualifies you to hold upper-level administration positions within universities.
Choosing an Online Doctorate Program
As online education gains wider acceptance, online doctorate degrees are becoming easier to find, but your options most depend on what you'd like to study. Doctorate programs have demanding course work requirements and those demands result in fewer available areas of study than is the case with online bachelor or master degree programs. Among the programs you'll find are doctorate degrees in education, engineering, public health and psychology.
If you're interested in pursuing your doctorate online, take the time to talk with key professionals in your field of your work. Not all professional societies or organizations look favorably online doctorate degrees and you want to be sure you're not putting in a tremendous amount of time and effort only to discover yours doesn't earn their approval. Finally, if your work requires you to have license to practice, you'll want to check with state and local licensing agencies to see if the degree program and school you're considering is recognized by them.
Preparing for Your Program
There's little question that earning a doctorate degree is a significant undertaking. Attending school on campus provides some students with the structure and interaction they need to be successful. When you attend school online, the only schedule you're following is the one you set for yourself. If you struggle with time management, you may want to consider following the more traditional education route.
Earning an online doctorate degree can take anywhere from five to eight years, depending upon your chosen field of study. Your course work will likely be presented in one, two or a combination of ways: in-depth seminars, independent study or both.
Exact requirements for online doctorate degrees will vary from program to program as well as across fields of study, however, nearly all online doctorate degree programs require you to do original research that is presented in a thesis, dissertation or other final project that is publishable in quality.
The nature of your individual dissertation and how often you're able to work on it will ultimately determine the length of your online doctorate program. Any flaws in your process should be identified by the committee who approves your online doctorate dissertation subject, which also serves to help guide your research during this state of your online doctorate degree program. Choose good committee members. Once you've earned your online doctorate degree, these people will be your best resources and job references.
Once you've completed your final project, you'll be asked to defend your dissertation before your chosen committee. If you're successful, your online doctorate degree is complete and you'll receive the title of Doctor once your dissertation is filed formally with the university.
The label "online doctorate degree" can be misleading. Most online doctorate degree programs have residency requirements. Given that this is the most advanced degree you can earn, it's not surprising; earning an online doctorate degree is just as difficult as earning one on campus. However, not all online doctorate degree residency requirements are the same.
You may be required to visit campus only a few times a year for weekend seminars or meetings or you may be required to complete a full year of campus residency before distance learning begins. Online doctorate degree residency requirements tend to be non-negotiable, so you should know exactly what your online doctorate degree program expects from students and limit your potential online doctorate degree programs to those with schedules that work for you.
Paying for Your Education
Earning an online doctorate degree doesn't necessarily cost less than earning it on campus: You're still pursuing the highest level of excellence in your field, so expect costs to be in the tens of thousands.
Online doctorate degrees don't offer the teaching fellowships that on-campus schools use to offset tuition costs for master's and doctoral candidates. On the other hand, pursuing an online doctorate degree means you don't have to relocate to another state and can keep your paying job, so the trade off can be worth it. See if your employer's tuition reimbursement policy covers your online doctorate degree and find out whether you quality for subsidized student loans. If all else fails, go the traditional route with banks and other lenders--they don't discriminate against online schools.
Evaluating Potential Programs and Schools
Whenever you consider earning an online degree, it's important to understand the accreditation process. It's especially important when you're about to invest the amount of time, energy and money required to earn an online doctorate degree.
Look only at online schools that are accredited by a recognized accreditation agency and take it a step further: talk to peers and mentors in your field of study or work and get their recommendations along with lists of online doctorate programs they approve.
Finally, you'll be working closely and intensely with your advisor and other faculty members while you work toward your online doctorate degree. Spend time reading through faculty and administrative credentials to be sure you're working with the people who can best help you succeed.