Online Ph.D Programs

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Many Ph.D. candidates will testify that attaining the honorable degree is no easy feat. It requires that candidates complete a course study, research and write a publishable dissertation, and finally, defend their doctoral dissertation. However, at the end of what can be an arduous journey, Ph.D holders are recognized as experts in their chosen fields of study. These students can claim the highest possible level of academic achievement. With a Ph.D, they can pursue university-level professorships and other highly-skilled positions.

Online Ph.D programs are not as widely available as their undergraduate or graduate level counterparts. The academic demands that a doctoral degree entails often restrict the flexibility inherent in other online degrees, such as bachelor's and master's degrees. But candidates in some fields are actually asking distance providers for online doctoral options. As online learning becomes more popular, online Ph.D degrees will likely become more prevalent.

Pursuing a doctoral degree is an expensive, challenging, and time consuming endeavor. On average, candidates take 7.7 years to receive their Ph.Ds. About 50% of students drop out along the way, and many students stall during the A.B.D. — All But Dissertation — phase. In addition, 12% of graduates carry more than $50,000 in debt.

While the statistics may seem bleak and foreboding to some, others seek the opportunity to be recognized as a global leader in a specialized field of study. A Ph.D may be right for them and it is required for many who plan to enter academia.

Cost of an Online Ph.D Degree

Earning a doctoral degree online may cost tens of thousands of dollars. Brick-and-mortar universities offer teaching assistantships to subsidize costs, but these are not available for online Ph.D programs. The cost of a Ph.D depends largely on what school students attend, the program they select, the availability of financial aid, and how long it takes them to complete the program. Some employers may help pay for a doctorate degree or a portion of doctorate program costs. Many graduate students qualify to take out government subsidized student loans with lower-than-average interest rates. Additionally, private student loans are available from banks and lending institutions.

Most Popular Ph.D Programs

Some of the most popular online doctoral degrees are in the fields of education, psychology, education, business administration, and public health. A report by the National Science Foundation found that the number of doctorate degrees awarded in the fields of science and engineering is growing quickly, while the number of doctorates awarded in social sciences, education, and humanities has declined in the past decade. Still, more doctorates were awarded in education and humanities in 2009 than in 1999.

In the field of education, a student may receive either a Ph.D or an Ed.D. The Ph.D usually leads to a career in teaching or administration in higher education, while the Ed.D degree usually prepares teachers and administrators for higher-level jobs in elementary and secondary education.

In the field of psychology, a Ph.D generally leads to a career in research and teaching, whereas a Psy.D is conferred upon students who desire to go into counseling. These tracks will differ in course work, and students on a counseling track will need to obtain practice credentials and licensing. Subspecialties within the field include clinical psychology, counseling psychology, educational psychology, and organizational psychology.

A Ph.D in public health prepares candidates for research or administrative positions in community health, whereas the D.Ph concentrates on public health policy studies.

Many online Ph.D programs will require students to spend time taking classes, attending lectures, or meeting with advisors on an actual campus. Some programs may even require a year or more of on-campus residency. These requirements are generally non-negotiable, so be sure that the online Ph.D program you select has requirements that fit your schedule.

Job Opportunities

While the average annual earning potential of someone who holds a Ph.D generally exceeds that of someone who has a master's degree, the decision to pursue a doctorate should not be based solely on earning potential. Not all Ph.D degrees lead to large salary increases and some may pay considerably less than master's degrees in other fields. While this isn't true of every field, one should not pursue a Ph.D solely based on the hope of a salary increase.

That being said, in many careers outside of education, the Ph.D often does leads to higher earning potential. In the engineering field, the average annual salary increases to about $75,000 with a Ph.D; this is $13,000 more than the average salary of those with a master's degree. The potential payoff is even higher within the social sciences, where a Ph.D pays on average $49,000 more than a master's degree. In the health services career field, the potential earnings almost double — from $77,000 for holders of a master's to $140,000 for those with a doctorate degree, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Within business, a Ph.D generally will not increase earning potential. The average for both a master's degree and a Ph.D is about $87,000 a year. But if the student is interested in college-level teaching or publishing, a doctorate is mandatory.

Before beginning a doctorate program, the prospective student should seriously consider why he or she wants to pursue the degree. If the answer lies in academia or personal satisfaction, then the arduous studies will be worth their efforts. However, if the end goal is increased earnings, the student should definitely research their potential employment choices to determine whether the time, effort, and costs required for a Ph.D will pay off in the long run.

Evaluating Online Colleges

Students who plan on pursuing a Ph.D must ensure that the institutions and programs that they are interested in are accredited by legitimate bodies. Whether a college or university receives accreditation is based on a review of the quality of its educational programs. A private regional or national educational association conducts this review, which helps to ensure that the level of education provided by the school meets an acceptable level of quality. The U.S. Department of Education maintains a list of accrediting agencies that they deem as credible evaluators of high-quality educational programs. As the number of online educational enterprises increase, checking with these databases becomes increasingly important. A host of illegitimate institutions, referred to as diploma mills, promise to award so-called ìdegreesî after little or no academic study. Employers and other educational institutions will not recognize these degrees.