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Best PhD and Doctoral Programs in Alabama: Online & Campus

Reach the highest level of education by graduating from one of the many doctoral and PhD programs in Alabama. Learn more about this terminal degree and what earning a doctorate can do for your career.

Search hundreds of top schools for the doctorate YOU want.

Written By

Shannon Lee

Last updated

Jan 31, 2024

Whether you’re a seasoned veteran in your field or currently earning your master’s, you might have your eye on yet another degree. You’ll find a wide range of doctoral programs in Alabama, one of the most popular being the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). Yet there are also professional doctorates, like a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), Doctor of Psychology (PsyD), Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD), and Doctor of Education (EdD), just to name a few. 

A doctorate isn’t typically necessary to start working in a particular field or profession. However, this terminal degree will often provide critical training and skills for higher-level positions. If you’re thinking about working as a professor, researcher, administrator, or advanced practice healthcare professional, a doctorate is something to consider. 

In this guide, we’ll examine some of the top on-campus and online doctoral programs in Alabama and what you can expect before and after enrolling. Keep reading to explore your many doctoral degree options in Alabama.

Top-Rated PhD and Doctoral Programs in Alabama for 2024

Alabama is home to a multitude of PhD and other doctoral programs, but how do you find the best one? Even though the best program for you will depend on your specific needs and goals, you can research several characteristics that separate best-in-class doctoral programs from the simply adequate ones. These include factors like affordability, program offerings, student services, and learning flexibility. Below we identify some top-notch Alabama doctoral and PhD programs that provide a great starting point for your program research.

Samford University

Samford University has various online and on-campus doctoral programs to choose from. The major areas of study for the online doctoral programs include the Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership, Doctor of Nursing Practice (includes five specializations), and Doctor of Public Health.

Because of the high level of instruction and need for experiential learning, many of these online doctoral programs are available in a blended format. Most classes can be completed online, although there may be one or more hybrid classes and experiential learning requirements, like clinicals or applied practice experiences. Students who want an in-person learning experience will have even more doctorate program options, such as Theology of the Church, Physical Therapy, and Pharmacy. 

Tuition rates vary depending on the program but typically range from $509 to $1,701 per credit. To help students defray the cost of their education, Samford University offers interest-free payment plans and program-specific graduate scholarships. 

The University of Alabama at Huntsville

While not as well-known as its Tuscaloosa counterpart, the University of Alabama at Huntsville offers students a wide selection of doctoral programs. Its online offerings are mostly in the engineering and nursing fields and include degrees such as a Doctor of Nursing Practice and PhDs in Engineering Management, Industrial Engineering, Systems Engineering, and Civil Engineering.Students willing to enroll in an on-campus program have a wider selection, like a PhD in Applied Experimental Psychology, PhD in Materials Science, or PhD in Applied Mathematics.

Proximity to Redstone Arsenal, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center is a key reason the University of Alabama at Huntsville offers so many PhD programs, many of which are in science and engineering fields. As a result, the school excels in research opportunities and has achieved elite Tier 1 status according to the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. 

The University of Alabama

The University of Alabama offers the widest selection of doctoral programs in the state. For example, you’ll find more than 40 PhD programs listed in its comprehensive slate of graduate programs, which doesn’t even count the various professional doctoral programs like the Doctor of Nursing Practice, Doctor of Education, and Doctor of Social Work.

Most of these graduate programs offer most of or the entire curriculum on campus. However, 10 programs can be completed mostly online or in a hybrid format. Some of these programs include PhDs in Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics, EdD in Educational Leadership, Doctor of Nursing Practice, and Doctor of Social Work. Most of these programs are blended programs, meaning much of the coursework is online, although there could be some on-campus courses and/or other in-person requirements such as clinicals or practicums.

Types of PhD and Doctoral Programs Available in Alabama

Even though most doctoral and PhD programs in Alabama are terminal degrees and follow a master’s degree, there are many different variants of doctoral programs available, even within the same field of study. The following section looks at some of the more common formats of on-campus and online doctoral programs in Alabama.

Full-Time PhD/Doctoral Programs in Alabama

Depending on the program and school, a full-time course load at the doctoral level is usually nine credits, although it may be as low as six. Doctoral students are more likely to work full time while in school, and much of the studying takes place outside the classroom. There are many full-time doctoral programs in Alabama, including the PhD in Computer Science from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the PhD in Global Leadership from Troy University.

Part-Time PhD/Doctoral Programs in Alabama

Most PhD and doctoral programs in Alabama are set up so students can continue working while in school, yet some students still prefer a slower pace of learning. That’s where part-time doctoral and PhD programs come in. Requiring students to take just one or two classes per term can make managing a personal, professional, and academic life far easier.

Despite the inherently self-paced nature of doctoral study, some programs provide formal part-time study tracks for doctoral students. Two examples include the online PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Alabama and the PhD in Interdisciplinary Engineering from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Fully Funded PhD/Doctoral Programs in Alabama

Higher education is expensive, and doctoral-level programs are no exception. To help offset the cost of education, some schools offer special financial packages that allow students to earn their degree at little to no out-of-pocket cost for tuition and related costs. These packages often include scholarships, fellowships, and/or assistantships that require students to commit a certain number of hours to working or teaching during their doctoral program. Fully funded programs can be found in various study areas, like the PhD in Social Work from the University of Alabama or the PhD in Chemistry program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

No-GRE PhD/Doctoral Programs in Alabama

The graduate school admissions process sometimes requires entrance exam test scores. The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) is the most popular, but others might be required, like the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). But some schools have determined that these tests are a poor predictor of future graduate school success, in addition to the fact that it can be difficult for applicants to find the time to prepare for and take these exams. As a result, programs like the PhD in Animal Sciences from Auburn University and the Clinical Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Alabama State University either don’t require the GRE or make it (or any other entrance exam) optional.

Accelerated PhD/Doctoral Programs in Alabama

Given the expansive nature of a dissertation or final project, many doctoral students need up to two years just to write their dissertation before they graduate, and this is after they complete their required credits. But some students want a doctoral program that allows them to expedite their coursework and research or project, even completing their degree in about one year. (Keep in mind, this accelerated timeline can often only be accomplished if you have transfer credits.) Two examples of where this is possible include Faulkner University’s PhD in Health Sciences and Columbia Southern University’s online Doctor of Business Administration.

No Dissertation PhD/Doctoral Programs in Alabama

The defining feature of a PhD program is the dissertation. However, some doctoral programs in Alabama don’t require a dissertation. Many of these are for students seeking professional degrees, like the Doctor of Nursing Practice programs at Auburn University at Montgomery and the University of South Alabama. Just remember that even if no dissertation is required, students will usually complete a culminating final project.

Doctor of Nursing Practice

One of the most popular doctoral programs in Alabama is the Doctor of Nursing Practice. This provides additional clinical and didactic training to currently practicing registered nurses (RNs). With this extra education, RNs can provide more advanced care to patients, either as a primary care provider or specialized advance practice RN. The DNP is also well-suited for RNs who want to shift into an executive or administrative nursing role within their healthcare organization.

Quality Examples of On-Campus Programs

Quality Examples of Hybrid/Online Programs

Doctor of Education

This degree is for current professionals who are interested in positions relating to overseeing the administrative and strategic aspects of learning and education. Many prospective EdD students find themselves pursing this degree even if they aren’t interested in a leadership position within the traditional educational setting, like a school system or university. However, they might work in a business or government organization where the training of employees is important, making the education and experience gained in a Doctor of Education program essential.

Quality Examples of On-Campus Programs

Quality Examples of Hybrid/Online Programs

Doctor of Philosophy in Business

While a graduate degree is often not required for employees in the corporate or business world, many standout professionals decide to pursue a doctoral degree. One of the most popular options is the PhD in Business. The Alabama PhD programs below emphasize theory and research so that graduates are better able to develop novel ideas and theories in the areas of finance, management, economics, and consulting.

Quality Examples of On-Campus Programs

Doctor of Physical Therapy

To become a licensed physical therapist, an individual must earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from an accredited institution. In other words, anyone who wants to become a physical therapist will need to earn a DPT. During the program (which often lasts about three years), students will obtain theoretical medical knowledge, and they will also receive hands-on training through extensive clinical work and supervised field instruction.

Quality Examples of On-Campus Programs

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology

A PhD in Psychology is a popular area of study because it helps professionals interested in future careers in research and clinical practice. While the PhD pathway is usually for those more interested in working as a researcher or in academics, it can still meet the licensure and training requirements for private practice as a fully licensed psychologist. Even if a doctorate isn’t required for providing a type of therapy or working in a teaching or research position, having the doctoral degree can often lead to higher pay and greater opportunity for specialization or taking on additional responsibilities.

Quality Examples of On-Campus Programs

Quality Example of Hybrid/Online Program

Earning Your PhD or Professional Doctorate Online in Alabama

Online PhD and doctoral programs in Alabama used to be a rarity, but a dramatic increase in student desire for remote learning options has made them ubiquitous. One such program is the Doctor of Nursing Practice program from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Most of the classroom instruction is online, but there are in-person practicums or intensives where students complete experiential learning requirements.

Even when classes are offered online, some of these might be synchronous, meaning students must be present for an online class at a specific time. The University of Alabama at Birmingham EdD in Educational Leadership is an example of this.

Even if all classes are online, the dissertation process may have in-person components, like defending the dissertation. This is the case with the PhD in Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics at the University of Alabama.

Where to Get Help Paying for Your PhD or Doctoral Degree in Alabama

Not everyone is lucky enough to get accepted into a fully funded doctoral program. This means they’ll have to find their own financial support to pay for their education. 

But here’s the good news: Many Alabama schools offering traditional and online doctoral degrees have several gift-based forms of financial aid options. Gift-based financial aid is ideal, as it doesn’t have to be paid back. These options may be offered by the school, like these from Troy University. They may also be offered through the specific doctoral program, such as those available in the School of Computing at the University of South Alabama.

Grants, scholarships, and other types of gift-based aid — including fellowships — can also be an option, like the Alabama Commission on Higher Education and its Minority Doctoral Scholarship Program.

Earnings for Doctorate Holders in Alabama

Students have plenty of reasons to apply to doctoral or PhD programs in Alabama, but one of the biggest benefits is earning more money. How much more you’ll earn depends on your profession and employer, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics offers these estimates to give you a rough idea. Notice how workers with a doctorate earn a median weekly income of $2,083, while someone with a master’s earns $1,661. Those with a bachelor’s degree usually earn even less, closer to $1,432 per week.

This is national data, but this trend applies to most careers in Alabama. For example, according to the Alabama State Department of Education, public school teachers with five years of experience and a bachelor’s degree will make about $47,689 per year. But that same teacher with a doctorate will earn about $63,433 per year.

To learn what other doctoral-trained professions typically earn, see the below table.

Job TitleRelated Doctoral Degree(s)Median Earnings90th Percentile Earnings
Chief ExecutivesDoctor of Business Administration (DBA) / Online PhD in Business$136,930$239,200+
Clinical and Counseling PsychologistsDoctor of Psychology (PsyD) / PhD in Psychology$83,930$132,410
Computer and Information Research ScientistsPhD in Computer Science$59,610$151,770
EconomistsPhD in Economics$113,240$205,950
Education Teachers, PostsecondaryPhD in Education / PhD in Special Education$65,250$102,730
Engineers (Civil)Doctorate in Engineering (DEng/PhD)$83,930$132,410
EpidemiologistsDoctor of Public Health (DrPH)$62,230$94,870
Financial ManagersFinance Doctorate (PhD/DBA)$127,210$219,020
Instructional CoordinatorsDoctor of Education (EdD)$77,030$119,560
Nurse PractitionersDoctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)$101,150$131,300
PharmacistsDoctor of Pharmacy (PharmD)$129,200$153,160
Physical TherapistsDoctor of Physical Therapy (DPT)$97,360$135,770

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2022