Earn a Doctorate Degree Online

You may be considering earning your doctorate degree online. Whether you want to become a university professor or advance to a leadership position in your career, going online for your doctorate can be a challenging, but rewarding experience.

Even with the flexibility of online education, pursuing your doctorate degree requires a significant investment of time and money. You must be certain that an online doctorate will help you achieve your goals.

You also need to be prepared for the high academic standards of a doctorate program. It is a challenging and demanding experience that will test your abilities as a student.

Below are some important things to consider as your approach your online doctorate degree.

What Should I Expect in an Online Doctoral Degree?

If you're going to pursue your online doctorate degree, it means that you are ready to enter the elite academic level in your field. You will be required to conduct independent research and present an original idea or argument. This is your dissertation, also known as a thesis.

In a doctoral program, you're not just learning what others have discovered. You actually have to contribute to the body of knowledge with your own work. This is the real challenge.

You will be required to defend your dissertation in front of a group of professors who will challenge and critique your argument. It is a rigorous process meant to illustrate that you have completely mastered a field of study.

Is an Online Doctorate Program Right for Me?

Just like any other online degree, earning your online doctorate degree requires students to be disciplined, organized and self-motivated. While studying online offers you some flexibility, you should be prepared to commit a significant amount of daily time to your doctoral work.

Online doctoral students must possess advanced reading, writing and communication skills, as well as the ability to master highly complex concepts. You also must be highly organized and self-motivated.

You want to be certain that an online doctorate degree will actually contribute to your career goals. There are many high-paying, private sector leadership positions that require a doctorate degree. But if you're pursuing a career in academia, you may find that you don't make much more money with a doctorate degree.

The bottom line is this: if you're making the investment to earn an online doctoral degree, have a plan for how that will fit into your goals and aspirations in the future.

What Types of Doctorate Degrees Can I Earn Online?

Online education has its limitations. Some topics just don't translate to the online environment. In some cases, you will be required to attend some classes on campus (more on that below), and other fields are simply impossible to teach online, like medical surgery.

Here are some of the more popular online doctorate degrees in the United States:

  • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)
  • Doctor of Computer Science (DCS)
  • Doctor of Education (EdD)
  • Doctor of IT Management
  • Doctor of Public Administration (DS)
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

Verify the Accreditation of an Online Doctoral Program

If you've determined that you want to get your online doctoral degree, the next step is finding the right school. Before spending time investigating a school, first verify that it is properly accredited. Without this your online doctoral degree will be worthless.

Many students fall prey to diploma mills, which are not accredited and do not meet academic standards. Listing a fraudulent degree from such a school on your resume is illegal in most states. Furthermore, universities and employers will not recognize it and your reputation in your field will suffer.

The safest bet is a school that is accredited by a regional association. If you're studying for a lower level degree, such as an associate's degree, employers will usually recognize degrees with accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC). But the high academic standards of a doctoral program mean that it better be accredited by a regional association.

Residency Requirements for an Online Doctorate Degree

As you may have gathered by now, studying for your online doctorate degree is much more rigorous than lower level degrees. Because of this, doctoral programs are usually not completely online. With most schools, you will have to spend some amount of time in a physical classroom or lab. This is known as the residency requirement.

This is important because it means you have to live somewhat close to the school you're enrolling in. Be absolutely certain that you can meet this requirement, as it is a critical part of your online doctorate degree.

Residency requirements vary for different online doctorate programs. If a program has a limited residency, it means you'll have to attend occasional lectures, seminars or labs. These are usually conducted on weekends, or in the case of weeklong sessions, during the summer.

Many online doctorate degrees have substantial residency requirements. In this scenario, you are required to attend full-semester classes. With most programs, this will add up to approximately one full year of classroom attendance. If this is the case, then you obviously need to live near your school and have a schedule that permits regular class attendance.

How to Gauge the Quality of an Online Doctorate Degree

Aside from the factors listed above, how can you tell if an online doctorate program is really good? Start with the requirements for the degree. Are the requisite classes relevant to what you want to do? Is the workload schedule rigid or flexible? Do classes involve multi-media or just written text?

It also helps to compare all of these factors from program to program, school to school. This will help give you a context from which to judge a prospective online doctorate degree.

Next look and see what is offered outside of the classroom. What kind of support does the faculty offer? Are normal office hours and mentorship opportunities available? Extra support like this can be crucial in a challenging online doctorate program.

How to Cover the Cost of an Online Doctorate Degree

Going after your online doctorate degree can be an expensive endeavor. The total cost for a two-year master's degree is usually in the tens of thousands of dollars, and can vary widely from school to school.

Online students face one major restriction: you're not eligible for paid teaching fellowships. Most traditional doctorate programs involve some teaching, for which doctoral students are paid. This is done to offset your tuition.

But in online education, this opportunity isn't available. This makes the cost of tuition considerably higher. But you may qualify for other financial aid, including student loans and scholarships. Check with an admissions counselor to see if financial aid packages are available through your program.

If a doctoral degree will advance your career, your employer might have a vested interest in paying for some or all of your tuition. Talk to human resources or your supervisor about education finance programs.

An online MBA degree takes a lot of work, a lot of time, and several thousand dollars. But if you have a plan and you find a good online program that fits your needs, you will find success.

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