Best PhD and Doctoral Programs in North Carolina

Boost your earning potential, move into higher-level positions, and immerse yourself in a field you love. Find online and on-campus PhD programs in North Carolina that will help you make these goals a reality.

Written By

Kenya McCullum

Last updated

Sep 22, 2022

Maybe you’ve just completed your bachelor’s degree and are dreaming about where you can ultimately go in your education and career. Or perhaps you’re already a seasoned professional and are ready to level up your education to land higher positions and increase your salary. Either way, North Carolina offers a variety of PhD and professional doctorate programs to get you where you want to go. Whether you’re looking for a traditional or online doctoral program in North Carolina, this guide provides an overview of what’s offered by schools around the state and an inside look at today’s top-ranked programs.

Top-Ranked PhD and Doctoral Programs in North Carolina for 2022

You know what you need in a grad program, and your needs will be different from the next student’s. That said, as students choose doctoral programs in North Carolina some common wish list items emerge, including affordability, study flexibility, and curriculum quality. The following schools with PhD and doctoral programs in North Carolina score high marks in all three of these areas and offer a variety of programs to choose from. Learn more about each option below.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Those in the healthcare field who want to enroll in online PhD programs in North Carolina will find options at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Programs focusing on nursing, public health, and physical therapy allow busy professionals to conveniently take classes online—and in some programs, courses are offered in a self-paced, asynchronous format. However the school also provides students with the hands-on training they need in advanced healthcare practices through experiences on campus and at healthcare facilities. Depending on the program, students may be required to also take their exams in person either on campus or at a proctoring center approved by the school. 

North Carolina State University

North Carolina State University offers 60 PhD programs, including a mix of some that are entirely online and some with both online and in-person components. Those who enroll in hybrid programs take a portion of their coursework online and come to campus on evenings or weekends for other required activities—which still allows students to easily fit classes into their busy lives. No matter what the course format, these doctoral programs provide preparation for career advancement and for students to successfully complete their dissertations.

East Carolina University

East Carolina University (ECU) offers public health doctoral degrees online for students who want to concentrate on either environmental and occupational health or health policy, administration, and leadership. To be admitted, applicants are expected to have a master’s in public health and two years of work experience in the field. To help students defray the cost of their education, the ECU Department of Public Health offers the J. Craig Souza Scholarship, which is designed for those who aspire to become long-term care administrators. The award is $4,000; to be eligible, students must demonstrate financial need and submit a statement explaining why they want to enter this field. The school also offers an EdD in Educational Leadership, an EdS in Educational Administration and Supervision, a Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP), and a PhD in Nursing.

Types of PhDs and Professional Doctorates in North Carolina

Whether you want to attend school full-time or part-time, want an accelerated degree to graduate faster, or want a school that doesn’t require GRE scores or a dissertation to graduate, the following are options to find the program that best fits your lifestyle and aspirations.

Full-Time PhD/Doctoral Programs in North Carolina

Whether you pursue a degree online or in person, you may be interested in enrolling in PhD programs in North Carolina on a full-time basis to complete your degree faster. For example, North Carolina State University offers a PhD in Communication, Rhetoric, and Digital Media for those interested in analyzing the impact of new information technology. The University of North Carolina at Charlotte has a Doctorate in Business Administration, which is a three-year program for professionals who want to pursue careers as high-level managers in corporations, independent consultants, and professors at colleges and universities.

Part-Time PhD/Doctoral Programs in North Carolina

If your lifestyle doesn’t allow you to attend graduate school full-time, you can also reach your goals through part-time PhD programs in North Carolina. Those who want to pursue leadership roles in the information and library science field can earn a part-time PhD in Information and Library Sciences from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which prepares students to conduct academic research and communicate findings to effect policy changes. Similarly, North Carolina State University has a part-time option for its PhD in Educational Leadership, Policy, and Human Development, which allows students to conveniently complete their studies during afternoons, evenings, weekends, and summer sessions.

Fully-Funded PhD/Doctoral Programs in North Carolina

It’s no secret that graduate school is expensive, but cost doesn’t have to keep you from reaching your goals. Some doctoral programs in North Carolina are fully funded so students don’t have to worry about how they will pay for their education. For example, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has an English and Comparative Literature PhD program that fully funds all its students through research and teaching fellowships. North Carolina State University has a fully funded PhD in Geospatial Analytics in which students can earn $25,000 plus tuition support and benefits through graduate assistantships.

No-GRE PhD/Doctoral Programs in North Carolina

Although it used to be the norm for most graduate schools to require that prospective PhD students earn a high score on the GRE, it’s becoming increasingly common for PhD programs to waive the GRE requirement. As of the Fall 2021 academic year, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill stopped requiring applicants for the Carolina Planning PhD program to submit GRE scores. For those interested in admission to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s PhD in Biology program, the GRE is no longer required and students are judged based on their grades—particularly in undergraduate biology classes—and a personal statement.

Accelerated PhD/Doctoral Programs in North Carolina

If you’re able to dedicate your time to intensive study and you want to complete your degree quickly, an accelerated PhD program may be the answer for you. North Carolina State University’s Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department has a Direct to PhD program for undergraduates who want to skip earning a master’s degree. The Doctor of Health Sciences program at Campbell University allows students to take accelerated eight-week courses so they can save time and money on their degree.

No Dissertation PhD/Doctoral Programs in North Carolina

If you’re interested in PhD programs in North Carolina but would prefer to earn your degree without completing a dissertation, there are schools that will accommodate you. The EdD in Organizational Leadership program at Gardner-Webb University and the Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill require students to participate in practical experiences that demonstrate their knowledge and skills rather than writing a dissertation.

With the large number of in-person and online PhD programs available in North Carolina, choosing the right one for you can be overwhelming. Get started by taking a look at these popular options. 

Clinical Psychology

People in the psychology field who want to work at the highest level of the profession can earn a PhD in Psychology or PsyD degree. By completing this degree, professionals are able to earn a license so they can prescribe medicine, provide treatment, conduct high-level research, and teach at the college level.

Quality Examples of On-Campus Programs

Physical Therapy

Although professionals used to be able to practice physical therapy with a master’s degree, a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) is now required for this profession. DPT students learn the theory and practice of evidence-based physical therapy, as well as develop the advanced critical thinking, leadership, and communication skills needed to work with patients and run a practice. This is a good degree for people who are already working as physical therapy assistants and aides and want to advance in their careers.

Quality Examples of Programs

Accounting

Since the curriculum is research heavy, accountants who earn this degree are generally interested in conducting research or working as college or university professors. In addition, a PhD in accounting is for people who want to demonstrate their expertise and open consulting or financial management businesses.  

Quality Examples of Programs

Applied Mathematics

Those who want to earn a PhD in applied mathematics get the preparation they need to solve numerous types of advanced problems in different work environments. After completing this program, students may go on to work for government agencies, manufacturers, insurance firms, medical companies, and communications service providers. Students who want to become college professors may also earn this PhD.

Quality Examples of Programs

Dentistry

The Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) and Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) are rigorous programs that provide a deep understanding of biology, anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry. In addition, students get extensive hands-on laboratory and clinical training so they can apply the skills they learned in class to real patient experiences. 

Quality Examples of Programs

What It’s Like to Earn Your PhD or Doctorate Online in NC

If you’re concerned about the quality of the education you might receive from online PhD programs in North Carolina, rest assured that schools provide the same quality education you receive in traditional programs. For example, students who enroll in the Doctor of Design program at North Carolina State University have the opportunity to reinforce their online studies by working closely with a mentor in the department, as well as committee members who help support their education.

Online PhD programs in North Carolina are a great option for busy professionals who want to work toward their career and education goals while they remain employed full-time. Oftentimes, these programs—like North Carolina State University’s PhD in Educational Leadership, Policy, and Human Development—provide the option for students to take coursework during evenings and weekends to best fit their schedule.

Where to Get Funding for Your Doctoral Degree in North Carolina

Tuition costs shouldn’t put a wall between you and what you want to accomplish. Whether you’re interested in online PhD programs in North Carolina or degrees offered through traditional programs, there are financial aid opportunities, such as scholarships and grants, fellowships, graduate assistantships, and work-study programs. For example, students who enroll in PhD programs at Duke University receive guaranteed funding through scholarships, fellowships, and assistantships, while students at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University can qualify for assistantships, scholarships, and fellowships.

In addition to support from your school, you may qualify for scholarships and grants through government agencies, private companies, and organizations that cater to specific professions. As you search for doctoral programs in North Carolina, be sure to explore all your funding options. What you find may save you thousands of dollars.

How Much You Could Earn with a PhD or Doctorate in North Carolina

One primary reason to pursue a PhD program in North Carolina is to qualify for higher-paying jobs. According to ZipRecruiter, in North Carolina, on average, those with a doctoral degree earn $103,361 per year—a huge jump from the average salary of $61,398 for those with a master’s degree in North Carolina. To get an idea of what people in specific doctorate-level professions in North Carolina make, review the table below.

Job TitleRelated Doctoral Degree(s)Median Earnings90th Percentile Earnings
School PsychologistPhD in Psychology$62,760$82,390
Clinical PsychologistDoctor of Psychology (PsyD)$81,700$163,980
College Education AdministratorDoctor of Education (EdD)$79,840$162,770
Nurse PractitionerDoctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)$102,370$133,790
Physical TherapistDoctor of Physical Therapy (DPT)$79,240$106,980
Operations DirectorDoctor of Business Administration (DBA)$99,040$208,000
AnthropologistPhD in Anthropology$61,100$94,840
Biomedical ResearcherPhD in Biomedical Science$101,900$182,100

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2021