Best PhD and Doctoral Programs in California: Online & Campus 

Looking to get your PhD or professional doctorate in California? Find your perfect fit in this guide with a list of top grad schools and other key information.

Written By

Angela Myers

Last updated

Sep 22, 2022

If you live in California and are considering getting your PhD or professional doctorate, there are dozens of top-notch programs near you that can help you reach the pinnacle of your field. Many also feature convenient online or part-time options, allowing you to keep working as you complete your degree. This guide will help you find the best PhD and doctoral program in California for you, whether you’re an educator looking to earn your EdD or an aspiring psychologist who’s ready to get a PhD. Start by reviewing a list of this year’s top grad schools below, and then continue reading for additional program options available to you and the schools that offer them. 

Top-Rated PhD and Doctoral Programs in California for 2022

While everyone has a different idea of what the best PhD program looks like, the three universities spotlighted below offer a variety of high-quality, advanced-degree programs. Doctoral programs from these universities have flexible study options, including online and hybrid programs, and reasonable costs. Even if these programs aren’t the perfect fit for you, they serve as a quality barometer when researching other schools.

California State University, Fresno

California State University at Fresno offers many high-quality, affordable graduate programs. In addition to a variety of master’s and certificate programs, it also offers three doctoral programs. The EdD in Educational Leadership is offered both online and in person while the doctoral programs in nursing and physical therapy are only on campus. The school also offers a variety of online resources available to help graduate students with their studies and to cut down on campus visits for accessing physical resources like the library. To help offset the cost of tuition, CSU at Fresno offers assistantships, fellowships, and scholarships, though most doctoral students are not all fully funded. Doctoral program costs and CSU Fresno range from about $6,400/semester to just over $9,000 a semester, depending on the program.

Loma Linda University

Loma Linda offers a variety of graduate degrees that integrate health, science, and faith. Among their graduate programs, the school has over 25 doctoral degrees with 20 of these degrees offered fully online. While not all PhDs and doctoral degrees are fully funded at Loma Linda, financial aid is available in the form of scholarships, loans, and graduate assistantships. Graduate assistants either help in research labs or work as TAs in undergraduate courses. Financial aid is more common for in-person students than online students because of the opportunity for graduate assistantships, but online students are still eligible for scholarships and loans. Tuition costs vary by program. For example, tuition for a psychology PhD is about $12,000/year, and a Doctor of Social Work in Clinical Leadership costs about $57,355 for the entire program.

California Baptist University

California Baptist University offers a variety of high-quality graduate degrees. While many of the graduate programs at CBU are for those seeking a master’s, there are three doctoral programs available. Doctoral programs in business administration, public administration, and organizational and change administration are all offered online. You don’t have to be in California to attend, either, since the university is qualified to provide distance learning to students in 37 states. Though there are fewer financial aid opportunities as compared to other universities, CBU’s tuition is lower because of its online offerings. In fact, doctoral tuition is only $795 per credit hour. 

Types of PhD and Doctoral Programs Available in California

Along with deciding what school to attend, it’s also important to seriously consider which type of PhD or doctoral program is right for you. There are six main program formats offered in California, and each has its pros and cons.

Full-Time PhD/Doctoral Programs in California

A full-time PhD or doctoral program often takes four to five years to complete. These programs usually include a combination of PhD-level coursework and a dissertation, which can take two years or longer beyond the coursework to complete. Full-time programs are available in almost any discipline and are typically offered via in-person formats. Popular full-time programs include Loma Linda’s PhD in Biology and UC Berkeley’s PhD in Psychology.

Part-Time PhD/Doctoral Programs in California

Part-time PhD programs take longer to complete than full-time programs, often five to eight years total. Because they are part-time, however, they can more easily be completed alongside a full-time job and other responsibilities. Many part-time programs also offer flexible study options, including online program formats. Popular part-time PhDs in California include Loma Linda’s Doctor of Marital and Family Therapy and California Baptist University’s EdD in Organizational Change and Administration

Fully-Funded PhD/Doctoral Programs in California

If funding a PhD is holding you back, consider pursuing a fully-funded program that covers the cost of tuition and sometimes offers a living stipend in exchange for working as a teaching or research assistant. These programs are fairly common at the doctoral level, especially for in-person programs. Popular fully-funded programs include UCLA’s PhD in English and UC Berkeley’s PhD in Molecular Biology.

No-GRE PhD/Doctoral Programs in California

The GRE is the entrance exam for many graduate programs. If you want to attend graduate school but don’t want to take the GRE, consider a no-GRE PhD or doctoral program. Beyond this one entry requirement, no-GRE programs vary greatly in discipline, delivery (i.e., online versus in-person), and content requirements. No-GRE programs in California include UC Berkeley PhD in English and California Baptist University Doctor of Public Administration

Accelerated PhD/Doctoral Programs in California

If you want to finish your PhD in less than five years, consider an accelerated program. Accelerated PhDs are available in one-year online formats as well as in longer formats. These programs still usually require a dissertation, but they often have fewer PhD-level courses than other programs. Popular accelerated doctoral programs in California include California State University at Fresno’s EdD in Educational Leadership and California Baptist University’s Doctor of Business Administration

No Dissertation PhD/Doctoral Programs in California

A dissertation is a common requirement for most PhD and doctoral programs in California. While a dissertation can be an enriching experience, it can also take over two years to complete. If you want to complete your PhD faster than is usually necessary, consider a program with no dissertation requirement. To make up some time, these programs may require a smaller capstone project in place of the dissertation. California programs without a dissertation requirement include California State University at Fresno’s Doctor of Nursing Practice and Loma Linda’s Doctorate of Nursing in Adult-Gerontology


A PhD in English allows bookworms and grammar aficionados to deepen their expertise in the English language. Many with this degree become English professors, though some also enter the private sector in fields like communication and publishing. 

Quality Examples of On-Campus Programs
Quality Examples of Hybrid/Online Programs


A PhD in biology offers those with a passion for biology and scientific research the opportunity to gain expertise in the field and to lead biology research projects. While you can work in a biology lab with only a master’s or bachelor’s, a doctoral degree is needed to become a research lead. Since a PhD in biology requires lab work, it’s difficult to find an online or hybrid program. 

Quality Examples of On-Campus Programs


If you want to take a deep dive into educational theory, consider getting your PhD in education. This degree can lead to a variety of career paths, including curriculum design, higher education, and leadership in school systems.

Quality Examples of On-Campus Programs
Quality Examples of Hybrid/Online Programs


A PhD in psychology allows you to hone your expertise in psychology while helping others as a clinical psychologist. You can work in the counseling field without your doctorate, but a PhD is needed to serve as a clinical psychologist or research lead in the field. 

Quality Examples of On-Campus Programs
Quality Examples of Hybrid/Online Programs


While nursing positions for those with a bachelor’s or master’s degree are plentiful, a PhD in nursing allows you to take your craft to the next level. It also opens more opportunities for academic research in the field and for pursuing a specialty as a nurse practitioner. 

Quality Examples of On-Campus Programs
Quality Examples of Hybrid/Online Programs

Inside Look at Earning Your Doctorate Online in California

Hybrid and online PhD and doctoral programs offer the same high-quality education as in-person programs. Class hours are typically more flexible and fit around a typical work schedule. They also sometimes provide asynchronous learning formats where you attend classes at your own pace instead of on a set schedule. 

With fully online programs, you usually don’t have to visit campus. For example, all three fully-online doctoral degrees from the California State University System don’t require travel to campus, though classes are synchronous. The dissertation in an online program is also often more flexible with programs offering plenty of resources on how to complete a dissertation online. For some online programs, like California Baptist University’s three doctoral programs, no dissertation is required at all.

For hybrid programs, like UC Irvine’s PhD in English and UC Davis’ PhD in Literature, you’ll likely have to be on-campus part of the time. These programs both require students to be on campus for classes but allow them to complete their dissertations online. 

Funding Your PhD or Doctoral Degree in California

There are a variety of financial aid opportunities available to help offset the cost of getting a PhD or doctoral degree in California. These include scholarships, grants, fellowships, work-study programs, and graduate research assistantships. Graduate research assistantships are the most common and often cover the cost of tuition plus provide a stipend for students. For example, UC Berkeley’s PhD in Molecular Biology offers a fully-funded option that includes tuition and a stipend. 

Other fully-funded opportunities come through a combination of financial aid types. UCLA’s PhD in English, for example, fully-funds students through assistantships, fellowships, and a research grant. Schools in the California State system have a variety of financial aid options as well. 

Earnings for Doctorate Holders in California

Not only does earning a PhD allow you to develop field expertise, it also often leads to an increase in pay. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that on average, PhD holders make up to 33% more than those with just a master’s or bachelor’s degree. Some fields, like physical therapy and counseling, require a PhD to enter the field as anything other than an assistant or aid.

Salaries vary greatly by profession, though. The table below gives you a better idea of what to expect in average wages in California for the most popular positions that require a PhD. 

Job TitleRelated Doctoral Degree(s)Median Earnings90th Percentile Earnings
Nurse PractitionerDoctor of Nursing Practice$149,910$208,000
College Math ProfessorPhD in Education$127,720$208,000
Clinical PsychologistDoctor of Psychology (PsyD) / PhD in Psychology$126,470$205,460
K-12 School PrincipalDoctor of Education (EdD)$126,980$163,080
Physical TherapistDoctor of Physical Therapy$101,180$135,570
Personnel DirectorDoctor of Business Administration (DBA)$138,920$208,000
EconomistPhD in Economics$124,910$208,000
BiochemistPhD in Biochemistry$111,210$165,500

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2021