Complete Guide to Online Doctoral Programs
A doctorate degree is the highest degree in a field that a person can earn in most professions. Earning such a degree typically qualifies one for teaching college courses in that field or working in management in the industry. The median number of years to complete a doctoral degree across all fields in the United States is seven, although the time necessary to complete varies greatly depending on the program. Online degree programs offer an even greater freedom since they're usually created with working adults in mind.
There are two main types of online doctorate degrees awarded by universities in the United States: research and professional. Research doctorates are typified by relevant classwork, exams and defense of a thesis or dissertation. The dissertation is an original work by the student designed to enhance human knowledge in the field of study. Professional doctorate degrees are those that require degrees for licensure in the field, and usually have a residency or other professional experience requirement in addition to its educational requirements.
One of the most important aspects to consider when choosing an online doctorate degree is the accreditation of the program or school that offers it. The U.S. Department of Education publishes a list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies for higher education each year. When pursuing a doctorate degree, it's especially important to ensure that the time and effort spent in earning the degree will be recognized as rigorous to the professional field the student will enter after graduation.
Comprehensive List of Colleges & Universities for an Online Doctorate Degree
What is an Online Doctorate Degree?
A doctorate degree's credit hour requirements vary with each program, but 60 credit hours for a doctorate degree is common. Most schools require a doctorate candidate to already have a master's degree in a related subject, although there are a growing number of doctoral degree programs that accept students directly following the receipt of an undergraduate degree. Other requirements often include letters of recommendation, statement of interest in the field of study and a documented history of relevant academic achievement.
Professional doctorate degrees, those in which the degree is often required to be licensed to practice in the field, are often pursued early in a professional career. This could be directly after a student receives their master's degree in a related subject. Research degrees can be pursued at any time in an individual's career—early on to gain an advantage in the workplace or later on for either personal fulfillment or to continue moving forward in one's profession.
An online doctorate degree of either type allows a student to fulfill most or all of their degree requirements virtually, which is ideal for working professionals. Many programs allow students to work at their own pace, so they can complete the degree requirements as quickly or as leisurely as the rest of their lives allow.
Employment opportunities vary greatly depending on the degree earned. Almost all doctoral degree holders are qualified for teaching within their disciplines. Professional doctorates qualify the degree-holder to become licensed within the field - for instance, a doctor of medicine is required to become a physician, a juris doctor is required to become a lawyer, and a Doctor of Ministry is often required to serve in the clergy in certain denominations. Those who hold doctorate degrees in a physical science can become scientists (developing and researching potential health cures, working for a company to create or improve products such as food and personal care products or publishing papers). Those who hold doctorates in the business, finance and economic fields may work for a corporation developing innovative ideas for the market,work for a governmental organization overseeing spending, or work in a variety of environments as a consultant.
Popular Online Doctorate Degree Programs
Students can earn a PhD in education with a variety of specializations, including special education, English as a second language, education leadership, and teacher development. To enter most programs, students will usually need experience in the education industry and a master's degree in education. Required courses typically include program evaluation, literacy foundations, and advanced scholarly writing. To earn a doctorate, students must not only pass a comprehensive exam but also complete a dissertation of original research within their concentration.
Concordia University-Portland Online's doctorate in Educational Leadership requires students to complete two intense modules to hone their research skills. Students of this program may choose a concentration in teacher leadership, educational administration, higher education, or transformational leadership. Doctoral candidates at Concordia Online can take part in a "virtual residency," which helps connect online students with a mentor.
A doctorate in computer science teaches students theories ranging from managing complex database management systems, programming for doctoral research, or forecasting computer security issues. Therefore, the classes will vary depending on which field of computer science a student is interested in but many programs require courses on management information systems, programming languages, and software architecture. Students are also required to complete a dissertation containing original research.
Colorado Technical University offers six different doctorate of computer science programs including its Information Assurance program. The 96-credit hour program trains students to manage risks related to process, store, and transmit data which is especially important as cloud computer becomes more commonplace. Enterprise security architecture, security management, and enterprise changes are all required courses.
Alternatively, Northcentral University offers a PhD in Applied Computer Science that concentrates on programming for doctoral research. Students have several classes on C# and C++ programming, as well as database management, and IT network architecture.
There are many different tracks and specializations a student can choose when considering an online doctorate in healthcare but almost all programs will require courses in leadership, healthcare information resources, and health policy. Many programs will also require an internship or practicum and a dissertation containing original research on a healthcare topic related to the student's specialization.
Grand Canyon University offers a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, which qualifies a registered nurse to become a primary care provider. Students of this program will take classes such as emerging areas of human health, patient outcomes and sustainable change, and healthcare informatics.
The Importance of Accreditation
There are two types of accreditation a PhD program can or should have to ensure that the coursework and other requirements are standardized and rigorous enough to ensure preparedness for students to enter the post-grad workforce: institutional and programmatic. An institutional accreditation applies to the entire college or university, indicating the university as a whole has a high level of achievement concerning preparing students within most or all of the disciplines offered. Both national and regional accrediting agencies can offer institutional accreditation. Programmatic accreditation applies to individual programs, departments, or schools within the university system.
Any college or university a student is considering for an online doctorate degree should have an institutional accreditation from an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. For example, the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, and the Distance Education and Training Council are all regional or national accrediting agencies offering institutional accreditation. Students considering an online doctorate program in the computer science or healthcare fields should also consider if the degree program has a programmatic accreditation. For instance, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology and the Association for Computing Machinery both offer programmatic accreditation for computer science programs. The Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools and the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs are just two of the many healthcare programmatic accreditation agencies.
- About Concordia Online Education. Concordia University. Accessed November 8, 2014. http://www.concordiaonline.net/about/.
- Postsecondary Teachers. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accessed November 8, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm.
- Database Administrators. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accessed November 8, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/database-administrators.htm.
- Doctor of Computer Science. Colorado Technical University. Accessed November 9, 2014. http://www.coloradotech.edu/degrees/doctorates/computer-science/information-assurance.
- Medical and Health Services Managers. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accessed November 9, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/medical-and-health-services-managers.htm.
- Doctor of Nursing Practice. Grand Canyon University. Accessed November 9, 2014. http://www.gcu.edu/degree-programs/dnp-doctor-of-nursing-practice.
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