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Can You Get Your Doctorate Online? (And Should You?)

Looking for an effective way to earn your doctorate degree?

If you’re considering a doctorate, you’ve likely taken an inventory of what will be expected to earn the degree. And that inventory likely includes a huge chunk of time, energy and resources. For already-too-busy-professionals, this can be a dream killer right out of the gate.

Enter the online doctorate degree.

Can I Get My Doctorate Online?

With the reward in mind (think bigger salary, greater recognition, upward mobility), many professionals jump out of the gate by asking, “Can I do this online?”

The reason is simple – Americans are working more than ever before. According to a United Nations Study, 85 percent of American males and 67 percent of American females are working more than 40 hours per week. Beyond the bloated work schedule, people are often struggling to balance hectic home schedules, social calendars and additional commitments.

An online program offers an attractive format to earn a doctorate while balancing the ins and outs of daily life.

It turns out, this advantage is appealing to many. Online doctorate programs are rising in popularity as more and more professionals see the value of refining their skillsets via efficient and convenient programs. Today, there are 205 accredited institutions in the United States offering more than 1,000 online doctorate programs.

Earning a doctorate is challenging and rewarding, but do you know what to really expect? Download this free guide for tips and insights to help you prepare for success.

So how exactly does an online doctorate work?

Going Virtual: How It (Typically) Works

The online doctorate program is really a hybrid version of the traditional campus experience. Online students engage with professors and coursework through various formats—including webcasts, emails, messaging apps and semi-annual campus visits.

While every program is different, the process typically follows a similar structure. If you choose to get a doctorate online, here’s what you can expect:

  • Choose a program. Work with your academic advisor to build the program that is right for your career goals and objectives.
  • Determine your bandwidth. Inventory your time and priorities to identify how much time you will need to complete your program.
  • Select a path. Based on your availability and pace, you’ll identify how many credit hours you will take each semester.
  • Enroll in your courses. Each semester, you’ll join the online classes that will keep you on pace to earn your degree.
  • Get notified about current lectures and assignments. When a new lecture is available, you’ll be notified via email. Then, it’s up to you.
  • Download lectures and watch on-demand. Classes are typically delivered in a webinar-style format, complete with screen shares and presentation slides. Some programs utilize a synchronous format that requires students to log in and watch at a defined time. Others use an on-demand format. You watch them when you want, where you want, as long as you are able to keep pace with the schedule.
  • Use tools to enrich your education. Leverage tools like Slack, Skype or other messaging platforms to communicate with professors, research assistants and advisors.
  • Complete research assignments and submit via portal or email. As you complete the associated work with a lecture or course, you’ll submit to your professor for input and reaction.
  • Visit campus for important events. Depending on the program you choose, you’ll likely be required to visit the campus for a group class or meeting on a semi-annual basis.

It is possible to get your doctorate online—and the online experience offers several advantages to busy individuals. But, the real question to ask is:

Should you get your doctoral degree online?

The Online Debate: 4 Big Myths About Online Doctoral Degrees

Let’s start to answer that question by dispelling some myths.

As the popularity of online programs has risen, so has skepticism. It may be that the program sounds too good to be true, or it may be that they’ve heard too many “diploma mill” horror stories—for a variety of reasons, people tend to write off the online doctorate before they really research it.

The most common myths people believe about doctorates are:

  • They are only given out by degree mills. While there are certainly degree mills out there offering paper degrees for money, they aren’t the only ones—nor are they in the majority. There are plenty of reputable, regionally accredited institutions taking their doctorates online.
  • They are an easy way to earn a doctorate. While the program may require less face-time or physical presence on a campus, accredited programs are by no means a shortcut to earn your degree. You’ll still be expected to research, write your dissertation, and defend it successfully. In addition, the freedom comes with a challenge: learning to balance your time. No strict class schedule means you’ll need to have excellent time management skills. There’s no shortcut for that.
  • Online degrees are not credible as traditional degrees. This is a false narrative. The key is to understand the accreditation of the online program. If the institution you choose is regionally accredited, the degree carries just as much weight as a degree from a traditional program.
  • Online doctorates cost less. This also isn’t necessarily true. Just because a program is online doesn’t mean it will be cheaper. Online programs may also cause you to incur additional expenses if you need to invest in new technology (i.e., laptop and wi-fi).

Many people leave a doctorate on the table because they discount online programs early on—and fail to adhere to the standards and time-constraints of a traditional program. While there are certainly some outliers, online degrees offer a valid and creative solution to earn your doctorate degree.

The key is to pay attention to where you are choosing to get your degree.

Where Can I Get My Doctoral Degree Online?

So, you’ve settled on an online program as the preferred method for your doctorate.

The next question is where you’ll look to find a program. There are lots of institutions offering online or distance-learning doctorate programs—and it can be challenging to know where to invest your time, energy and money to ensure you’re getting the degree you want or need.

It helps to understand the guiding forces behind a school offering the program. A general rule of thumb is to understand how that type of school operates, how they make decisions, and what their chief priorities are. Online programs are offered by two types of schools: for-profit, and not-for-profit.

Most colleges offering online doctorates today are good and trustworthy institutions. There are great public, private, for-profit, and non-profit options out there (for more information, check out our blog post Non-Profit vs. For-Profit Colleges: What You Need to Know. But, there are some outliers who dangle the promise of a cheap, fast degree to get your dollars.

Avoid those types of programs at all cost.

5 Questions To Ask About an Online Doctoral Program

Once you’ve narrowed your choices down to a few select players, you’ll want to take a few additional steps to fully validate the program—and the outcome you can expect to receive. It’s best to meet or talk with the program chair and ask five big questions about their accreditation legitimacy and what the student experience will look like.

  • Are you regionally or nationally accredited? And, what is your accreditation status?
  • What is the student experience at this university like?
  • What resources will I have in this program?
  • Will I have any dissertation support? If so, what does it look like?
  • How easily accessible is the faculty here?

If you have any doubts about the legitimacy of the accreditation agency, make sure it is recognized by one of two authorities on the matter: the Council for Higher Education Accreditation or the Department of Education. The latter has a College Navigator tool allowing students to verify the accreditation of any school they may be considering.

Why Get My Doctorate Online?

Earning your doctorate is no easy task, especially if you’re a busy working professional balancing a career, home life and social calendar. An online doctorate program may be an ideal solution for you to earn your degree. With an online program, you are in greater control of both your schedule and academic pace.

That can make all the difference between the start and finish lines of your degree.

Free Guide:
How to Complete Your Doctoral Journey
Discover common pitfalls and the 5 key metrics that will help you finish your doctorate degree.