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What’s the Cost of an Online Doctorate?

Search hundreds of top schools for the doctorate YOU want.

Written by

PhDs.me Staff

Last updated

Apr 21, 2023

Earning a PhD requires time, energy, and, perhaps the toughest part of the entire equation: money. It’s no secret that college tuition has risen significantly over the past thirty years. In 1989, the average in-state tuition at a public university was $1,999 per year for a full-time graduate student. By 1999, that rate had reached $4,042. By 2015, $11,303. Does that mean an online PhD is too expensive? Not at all. It just calls for a little research and know-how on your part — the student — to identify the schools, programs, and financial opportunities that make the most sense for you.

Paying for Your Online PhD

Finding an affordable online PhD is possible with a good understanding of how college costs work. The two key price points to consider are cost per credit and estimated number of credits required for degree completion. These two points can help part-time students with flexible schedules estimate their tuition costs more accurately than traditional full-time students who pay annual tuition. Keep in mind that today, many online PhD programs allow students to work part-time and/or take up to six years to finish their dissertation, so make sure you get an accurate idea of the associated expenses before you commit.

But what do online PhD programs actually cost? It can depend on a number of factors, which we’ll outline below, but here’s a look at the cost of an online PhD (or EdD) in Education at eight different U.S. colleges:

University of AlabamaPublicEdDEducational Leadership$39472$28,368
University at BuffaloPublicPhDCurriculum & Instruction$62172$44,712
Walden UniversityPrivate, For-ProfitPhDEducation$67586$58,050
University of PhoenixPrivate, For-ProfitEdDEducational Leadership$81062$50,222
Colorado State UniversityPublicPhDEducation$92660$55,560
George Washington UniversityPrivate, Not-for-ProfitEdDEducational Leadership$1,09060$65,400
St. John’s UniversityPrivate, Not-for-ProfitPhDLiteracy$1,23042$51,660
Pepperdine UniversityPrivate, Not-for-ProfitPhDEducation$1,84078$143,520

Important caveats to keep in mind as you read the rates:


Total credits depend on time it takes to complete the dissertation process.


Some colleges and/or states have tuition caps. For example, Arizona has an in-state tuition ceiling of $5,703 per quarter.


Some colleges charge more per credit for part-time study.

Even when breaking down the cost for similar online doctoral programs, variation exists. Variables such as college type, degree major, and geographic location often come into play. Let’s examine how these differences can impact the cost of earning your PhD online.

College Type: Public, Private, and Profit

The type of college to which you enroll can influence your tuition bill. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but at the macro-level we can see the difference. And while you can view this cost difference on a cost-per-credit level (see table above), we can also examine the most recently reported (2016) annual graduate program tuition rates from the National Center for Education Statistics:

  • Public institutions: $11,303
  • Private, for-profit: $14,432
  • Private, non-profit: $25,817

Your location

No matter the type of online PhD program, location matters for all students. With fully online programs, you don’t have to worry about regular campus visits, but for those in blended programs, having access to a physical college is important. Make sure you take into account your geographic preferences before applying and be aware of any potential costs associated with travel or relocation. If you’re looking for a blended PhD program near you, here are the ten most and least affordable states for higher education in 2015, according to the CollegeBoard. You can see the full report here.

Most affordable in-state tuition:


Wyoming ($5,220)


Florida ($6,360)


Utah ($6,790)


Montana ($6,910)


New Mexico ($6,920)


Idaho ($7,250)


Nevada ($7,270)


North Carolina ($7,380)


Alaska ($7,440)


West Virginia ($7,890)

Least affordable in-state tuition:


New Hampshire ($16,070)


Vermont ($16,040)


Pennsylvania ($14,440)


New Jersey ($13,870)


Illinois ($13,620)


Michigan ($12,930)


Virginia ($12,820)


Massachusetts ($12,730)


South Carolina ($12,610)


Connecticut ($12,390)

At this point, you may be asking, “Do online students always pay in-state tuition?” The answer is not so clear-cut. While many colleges and universities offer their online students the in-state rate, other institutions set separate rates for their virtual programs, regardless of the student’s location. Still more charge all students equally – no matter if they’re an on-campus or online student – based on where they call home.

  • Example: UMassOnline: All students pay identical rates, no matter where they live.

If you’re interested in an online PhD program where in-state/out-of-state residency influences cost, see if the college is part of a tuition exchange agreement. For example, the Southern Regional Education Board Academic Common Market offers tuition discounts for nearly 2,000 academic programs in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. Any student living in one of these states, and pursuing one of the approved 2,000 programs, can pay in-state tuition at a college within any one of the partner states. Similar tuition exchange programs include:

Type of Delivery: Online vs. Blended vs. Campus

When it comes to tuition, the cost-per-credit for an online PhD is the same or similar to that of a campus or blended program. The same goes for most fees. However, students may see differences in costs that come with earning a doctorate online. For example, some of the costs that campus students see that online students may be able to forego include:

More common:


The majority of PhD students live off-campus and commute to school. While some may choose to walk, others may opt to drive or take public transportation, which introduces additional expenses such as gas or a bus pass.


It’s rare you find a college campus where parking is easy to find. And if you do manage to track down a great spot near the center of campus, you’re likely paying the equivalent of three months rent at a Manhattan apartment just to use it for the quarter.

Athletic/gym fee

If you’re not on campus and taking advantage of the school’s recreational facilities, should you pay for it? Some colleges say no.

Student health fee

These fees go toward funding the campus health clinic or urgent care. Online students may be able to avoid these, as well.

Less common:


While it is not a widespread practice, some fully online programs offer students a complimentary laptop and iPad upon enrollment. This trend is gaining momentum, so if you plan to apply to a college with a significant number of online programs, it is worth checking whether they offer any technology-related benefits.

It’s important to note that online PhD students may see non-academic fees that campus students don’t. A few common examples include:

Online course fees

Creating and delivering online programs requires investment on the part of the college. This can include professor training, material generation, and either development or purchase of an online learning and communication platform.

Extra technology fees

Sometimes folded into the aforementioned online course fees, but they definitely can be their own line item. These usually cover the online learning platform and any other tech needed to make online programs and courses function.

When evaluating the cost of an online PhD program, it is important to pay close attention to how the program handles fees. Ideally, the college should remove these fees from your bill upfront to avoid affecting your financial aid or draining your account. However, in some cases, all students are required to pay these fees. In this scenario, the college may offer a rebate or discount to online students at the end of the term. Since fee policies are not always clearly stated, it is advisable to contact the financial aid office for a comprehensive rundown of the program’s requirements and protocols.

Your Subject

On many college and university tuition pages, you may see the always helpful, “tuition varies by program”. This can make it difficult to track down how much your online PhD may cost you. But why the variation by program, and does that really happen everywhere? In most cases, yes. Here’s why.


Cost to the college.
Each major requires instructors, equipment, and resources, and the number and costs associated with those elements varies across majors. In 2017, the National Bureau of Economic Research examined tuition rates by major across the state of Florida. According to the study, engineering was the most expensive major, followed by health sciences and physical sciences. Among the lowest? English, philosophy, and mathematics. While the study focused on undergraduate cost per credit, this can be a proxy for ballparking the cost of an online PhD.


Much like an economy, supply and demand play here, too. Due to popularity at the doctorate level, education, business, and psychology may see higher-than-average tuition rates, as well.

Reducing the Cost of Your Online PhD

Pursuing an online PhD program may require a substantial financial investment, but fortunately, students are not without options for funding. Over the past three decades, there has been a corresponding increase in funding opportunities for students pursuing doctoral degrees beyond the bachelor’s level. The number of private and public scholarships available to PhD students continues to rise, and grants and fellowships offer even more opportunities to make a doctoral education a reality. Here are some factors to consider when seeking and applying for each of these funding options.


Perhaps the best form of money for college, scholarships can be merit-based, need-based, or based on other specific qualifying criteria such as ethnicity, gender, or field of study. They can range between a few hundred dollars to enough money to pay for your entire PhD education. And the best part? It’s free money…no repayment necessary. For details on scholarships for doctorate students, including where to find them, how to apply, and expert advice on how to land them, visit our feature guide to online PhD scholarships.


Similar to scholarships, grants are primary need-based and don’t require any repayment after graduation. Many grants focus on a certain type of student or need, e.g. the Federal Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant and the Federal TEACH grant. For PhD students, many grants aim to cover research and dissertations, including AERA Doctoral Dissertation Grants for education PhDs and ASHF Student Research Grants for those looking to earn a PhD in speech-language pathology. For more information, read our expert-driven guide on how to apply for a grant.


Although the money is essentially “free”, fellowships can be extremely competitive and require the PhD student to work or research in a specific academic field. For example, the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) offers a foreign language and area studies fellowship, which provides up to $18,000 per year to qualifying students. Requirements include full-time study, submission of online performance reports, language proficiency in area of study, and employment reports after graduation. See our complete guide to fellowships for more details.

Sure, an online PhD comes with a cost, one that could be tough to tackle if you’re not prepared. Hopefully, with the right information and some guidance from a financial aid counselor, you can make that cost manageable.