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Inside Online DBA Programs with No Dissertation

Ready to earn your DBA without dedicating all your time to a dissertation project? Explore top programs and get answers to your most pressing questions.

Search hundreds of top schools for the doctorate YOU want.

Written By

Michael Hoffman

Last updated

Feb 20, 2024

Business professionals in pursuit of top-level positions in their chosen field today often look past the popular — and still valuable — MBA and toward a doctorate. For those interested in careers in academia and advanced research, that will likely mean a PhD in business. But what if your interests lie elsewhere? Say, in gaining advanced business knowledge and skills to apply to top positions in business management and practice?

That’s where the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) comes in. The DBA is geared toward those seeking top-tier careers away from academia in the “real” business world. Strangely enough, despite focusing more on practical application than research, most DBA programs still require their students to complete an academic dissertation. Before you let that discourage you, remember we said “most DBA programs.” There is a major trend developing among DBA programs, particularly those online, of ditching the dissertation requirement altogether and replacing it with an alternative culminating activity.

This guide offers an introduction to the world of those online DBA programs with no dissertation requirement. Below you’ll find lots of valuable information on how no-dissertation DBA programs work, who they’re for, how they’re structured, what they cost, and more. So, if your goal is to advance to the top levels of the business profession — without spending years caught up in theories and academia —keep reading to discover how you can get there through one of today’s best online DBA programs with no dissertation requirement. 

School Spotlights: Online DBA Programs with No Dissertation

To give you a good idea of what DBA programs without dissertation requirements entail, we’ve spotlighted three below. Curricula, admission requirements, and cost will obviously vary from program to program, but you can use these as a framework for what to expect as you continue your search.

California Intercontinental University

California Intercontinental University (CIU) is a private postsecondary institution headquartered in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. CIU offers a range of undergraduate and graduate degrees featuring 100% online formats. Students of its Doctor of Business Administration program can choose to pursue a general business concentration or one of the following four specializations: Entrepreneurship and Business Management, Global Business and Leadership, Healthcare Management and Leadership, and Information Systems and Enterprise Resource Management.

Regardless of their specialization, students have the option of completing a research project as their culminating project in place of a traditional dissertation. Admissions requirements include a master’s degree earned with a GPA of 3.0 or higher and a minimum three to five years of professional experience in a business, corporate, or entrepreneurial environment. Applicants with a non-business master’s degree may be required to complete graduate-level pre-requisites prior to admission.

CIU is an excellent option for students looking for affordable online DBA programs. The current tuition rate for the 60-credit program is $529 per credit and the estimated total program cost is $36,675. CIU is accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) and its business program is currently a candidate for accreditation by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP).

Bellevue University

Bellevue University, a private institution located in Bellevue, Nebraska, offers a no-dissertation Doctor of Business Administration program that can be completed 100% online with no campus residencies. Courses are delivered in an asynchronous format that allows students to log on and complete their coursework at any time. In place of a dissertation, students complete an applied research project as their culminating activity. Students start their projects in their first year and continue to work on them throughout their course of study alongside other course requirements.

Admission into Bellevue’s DBA program requires an MBA or equivalent degree from a properly accredited college or university earned with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or better. Additional application requirements include a current resume and a 1,000-word personal statement. GMAT/GRE test scores are not required.

The current per-credit tuition rate for this 91-credit program is $799. Up to 36 credits of approved coursework from the student’s MBA program may be transferred in to satisfy DBA course requirements, allowing students to save substantially and complete their program in as few as three years. 

Liberty University

Liberty University is another private school that offers a fully accredited Doctor of Business Administration program entirely online. What sets Liberty’s DBA apart from other programs is the availability of a whopping 17 specialization options. Specializations include common business fields like healthcare management, leadership, and marketing, as well as less common fields like executive coaching, six sigma, and tourism management. Following completion of their coursework, Liberty DBA students complete an applied doctoral research project (ADRP) addressing a current business problem relevant to their specialization. The entire degree program is designed to be completed in as few as three years.

Admission into Liberty’s online DBA program requires a master’s degree in business or closely related field with a minimum of 30 hours of graduate-level business credits earned with a 3.0 or better GPA. Students applying to a specialization may be required to possess a master’s in that field. For example, students applying to the DBA in Accounting program must possess an MS or MBA in accounting.

The current per-credit tuition rate for this 60-credit program is $595 for full-time students and $650 for part-time students. Students may be able to transfer up to 50% of the total credits needed to earn their DBA.

Comparing Dissertation Alternatives for DBA Students

Online DBA programs with no dissertation still require students to complete some form of culminating project or other activity to demonstrate their mastery of course material. Understanding which alternative will work best for you before you enroll in an online DBA program is critical to your academic success. Here’s a look at the most common of those alternatives: the business consulting project and the doctoral research project.

Business Consulting Project

Students completing a business consulting project collaborate with a small business or nonprofit organization to gain valuable real-world experience. Acting as consultant-scholars, students create a doctoral study that analyzes, write a report on, and propose a solution to a problem related to a service, product, or method of the business. The business consulting project is a relatively common culminating activity for MBA programs but is less common in DBA programs. One example of a DBA program that offers the business consulting project as a dissertation alternative is the Online DBA Program at Walden University. To learn more about how its business consulting project option works, visit Walden’s What is a Consulting Capstone Project? webpage.

Doctoral Research Project

By far the most common of all alternatives in online DBA programs without a dissertation is the doctoral research project, the details of which we dive into just below. Generally speaking, though, the doctoral research project offers DBA students a valuable opportunity to conduct academic research that addresses a specific topic and apply that research to a real-world business practice issue. Along with the three programs spotlighted above, schools offering online DBA programs with doctoral research projects as a requirement or option include Capella University, Trevecca Nazarene University, and the University of Pittsburgh.

Components of a Doctoral Research Project: A Closer Look

The doctoral research project is the most common alternative to the dissertation, which is why we’ve broken it down into its component parts below. Keep in mind that while, not all projects are the same, this can give you a good idea of what to expect. Be sure to review the specific project requirements for your online DBA program when you enroll.

Format

Doctoral research projects for DBA programs may follow any of a number of formats depending on the specific program and audience for the project. Most employ a variation of the traditional five-chapter format common to most dissertations. Chapter titles typically include Introduction, Literature Review, Methodology, Results, and Discussion/Application to Practice. Research projects created to address an issue or problem for a specific business organization may employ a modified version of the five-chapter format or use a different format entirely to best address the issue and the needs of that organization.

Given the differences in each program’s specific format requirements, it’s important that you consult with your online DBA program’s handbook to gain a detailed understanding of those requirements. Your handbook will, of course, also detail all other components of your research project, as well as your entire DBA program. Examples of handbooks for online no-dissertation DBA programs include these from Indiana Wesleyan University and Liberty University.

Purpose

The purpose of the doctoral research project is to provide the student a way to demonstrate their mastery of course content as well as research skills that are foundational to their subsequent professional business practice. This is similar to the purpose of the dissertation. The major difference in purposes between the two is that the doctoral research project centers on applying research relevant to the project’s subject matter (an aspect of applied practice) as opposed to the creation of original research to bridge a gap in extant literature. In short, the research project focuses on the application of existing theories while the dissertation focuses on adding to and extending those theories. For more on the purpose of the doctoral research project, check out this article on the Online Accredited DBA Research Program from California Intercontinental University.

Scope & Length

Scope – as it relates to your doctoral research project – refers to the extent and parameters of the study you propose. This typically takes the form of your definition of the study and what it will cover, followed by a description of the limitations you expect to face in carrying out the research required. Total word counts can vary substantially, but most research projects fall between 45,000 and 65,000 words.

Timeline

The time it takes you to complete your doctoral research project depends on a number of factors, including your work pace and, most significantly, your specific program. For example, students in Liberty University’s DBA program typically begin work on their doctoral research projects upon completion of the program’s didactic coursework and commonly take around one year to complete them.

On the other hand, students in Bellevue University’s DBA program start their projects in the first year of their programs and continue working on them throughout their full course of study (typically three years or more).

Generally speaking, projects are completed by following a set of sequential milestones that mirror the chapter sequence of the project report (see the Format section above). Examples of project milestone sequences can be found in the Indiana Wesleyan University and Trident University DBA program handbooks.

Answering Your FAQs About Dissertation-Free DBA Programs

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this guide, but choosing to pursue a DBA is not something to do lightly — or without asking important questions. We’ve collected and answered some of the most common questions asked by prospective students of online no-dissertation DBA programs to help you feel more confident in taking the next step and knowing what to ask next.

Are DBA programs without dissertations seen as equally legitimate by employers?

That will depend on the specific employer, but it’s much more likely that your employer will be more interested in where you received your DBA — your school’s reputation and accreditation, above all — than if you completed a dissertation. It’s also possible that employers outside academia or research will prefer to hire applicants who completed an applied research project over those that wrote academic dissertations.

Can graduates pursue academic positions without a traditional dissertation?

The simple answer is probably not. Once again, however, that will depend on the specific academic institution for which you hope to work and in what capacity. Nevertheless, if you intend for your career path to work its way through the world of academia, you will want to seriously consider a PhD in business administration or DBA with a dissertation instead of a non-dissertation DBA program. At the end of the day, dissertations are intended to prepare you for the rigorous research that these academic positions demand.

How can students customize their focus or specialization area in these programs?

The dissertation is traditionally the instrument through which doctoral students in business focus their studies on a particular area of interest. Rest assured that even without a dissertation, you’ll have the same opportunity to customize your DBA studies to fit your specific interests via the subject of your applied research project. Of course, many schools also offer students the ability to tailor their studies through a specialization or concentration option. Examples include the DBA programs at Liberty University and California Intercontinental University (both spotlighted above) as well as Walden University, which offers four specializations plus the option for students to design their own specialization.

How long does it typically take to complete a DBA program without a dissertation?

Most online DBA programs with no dissertation requirement are designed to be completed in as few as three years — including all coursework and the applied research project. It’s important to note, however, that most programs allow students additional time to complete their courses of study as necessary. For example, George Fox University’s hybrid DBA program (which offers a project portfolio option as a dissertation alternative) allows up to seven year for degree completion.

What is the difference in admission criteria for traditional DBA programs and those without dissertation requirements?

In general terms, admissions requirements for online no-dissertation DBA programs are quite similar to those for dissertation DBA programs. All typically require applicants to possess an MBA (or master’s in a business-related field) earned with a minimum cumulative GPA. If there is a major difference in admissions criteria, it concerns professional work experience.

Online DBA programs with no dissertation often require applicants to have substantial professional experience — typically between three and five years’ worth. Indiana Wesleyan University’s DBA program, for example, requires applicants to have at least five years’ work experience in the field of their chosen specialization. The work experience requirement is not as common with DBA programs requiring a dissertation. However, this is far from a hard-and-fast rule.

What kind of support do students receive while completing their capstone or final project?

Students in virtually all DBA online programs without a dissertation requirement are assigned a “research chair” or other faculty member whose job it is to provide them with guidance and support throughout the research project process. Additional support services are also typically available. For example, the Online DBA Program at Indiana Wesleyan University features a single learning management system through which students can access a number of research, writing, consulting, and other valuable resources.