It is rare, but not impossible, to get your doctoral degree in less than two years. Learn how to set yourself up for success in a fast-track doctoral program.
May 18, 2022
Whether you’re an undergraduate student making plans to pursue an advanced degree or a master’s student thinking about doctoral studies, it’s never too soon to start considering your options. Doctoral programs are typically serious time commitments. According to the National Science Foundation, online and on-campus doctoral students typically spend an average of six to seven years finishing their doctoral degrees, depending on their academic field and educational history.
With the help of online learning formats, a handful of schools are offering one- and two-year doctorate programs. These programs are still pretty rare and aren’t available in all traditional academic areas. If you do find a one- or two-year program that fits your needs, they can be an excellent way to set yourself apart from others in the competitive job market. This guide helps you explore your options and offers a semester-by-semester timeline for fast-track doctoral programs to give you an idea of what to expect.
Inside the Shortest Doctorate Programs Online
The number of one-year doctoral programs is pretty slim. Almost equally as rare are two-year doctoral programs, but there’s a few colleges and universities offering these programs in a handful of academic areas, with different types of requirements, and we’ll discuss each one of your options below.
1-Year Doctoral Programs
While not many of these types of programs exist, there are one or two out there. Breyer State Theology University, for example, offers an accelerated, one-year doctor of psychology program. This particular degree is designed for students interested in pursuing careers as grief counselors.
Like most accelerated programs, you’d need a master’s degree in psychology, counseling, or a related field to apply. This ensures that you have the foundational knowledge on which to quickly build a more advanced, doctoral-level skill set. In order to graduate, students in Breyer State’s program need to complete a “graduate thesis,” often referred to as a dissertation, or a final project in a specialized area related to grief counseling. Students also need to complete 11 six-hour classes.
Most doctoral programs, regardless of their duration and curriculum, will require you to complete a final project or dissertation. This is, in part, because doctoral degrees signify that a student now possesses expert-level knowledge in a very specific academic area, and a dissertation or final project is a way to document your original ideas and your contributions to a field.
Practical Doctorates with no Dissertation
Some doctoral programs don’t require a dissertation. In these cases, schools will likely require you to enter the program with a master’s degree in that field or a closely related area. Some EdD programs, such as the one offered at Baylor University, don’t require a traditional dissertation. Rather, you’d take “dissertation in practice” classes that offer more guided explorations of higher education administration and organizational leadership. The degrees featured below offer a glimpse of what you can expect in a practical program with no dissertation.
This online program allows distance students to complete a doctor of nursing degree entirely online, except for clinical requirements. Most learners take 18 to 20 months to complete the program. Additionally, the program does not require a GMAT or GRE score for admission and there is no dissertation requirement for graduation.
Degree-seekers need to complete 60 credits of coursework focusing on healthcare organizations, nonprofit institutions, government agencies, and education systems. Most learners need 36 months to complete this program. Applicants must possess a master’s degree from an accredited institution with a 3.0 or higher GPA for consideration.
Number of credits: 60
Large Amount of Master’s Credits
Many doctoral programs today require students to possess a master’s degree, or at least some master’s degree-level credits or prerequisites, for admission to the program. Depending on the structure of the program, you might be able to count some or all of those master’s course credits toward your doctoral degree. These types of programs tend to be 18–24 months long.
Another way to expedite your graduate school experience is to pursue your doctoral degree at the same school where you earned your master’s degree. Typically, there’s overlap between the two graduate curricula, and you can often receive credit for courses you’ve already completed. You can think about it as earning a type of “dual credit” for some classes. Also, when pursuing a doctorate at the same school where you did your master’s, there probably will be zero issues with transferring credits. The programs below show how two-year doctorate degrees are possible by applying existing graduate credits.
Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision
This doctoral program has no limits on the number of transfer credits from master’s programs that may be applied toward the Ph.D. For graduation, learners need to complete an internship and practicum in addition to 11 core classes.
Number of credits: 60
After this program, degree-holders can pursue a wide variety of careers in higher education, research, and teaching roles. Common jobs for these graduates include academic counselor, university faculty, and counseling supervisor.
While this program may take two or three years to complete, Franklin takes special care to ensure that you receive the most credits toward your doctorate as possible. Franklin students save time and money by transferring up to 24 credits of previously earned credits — that’s up to 40% of the credits you’ll need for graduation. Incoming students with 32 or more master’s credits can use that experience to satisfy elective requirements for this degree.
Number of credits: 58
Graduates of this program move on to careers as professors, management analysts, economists, business executives, and many more top business roles.
Accelerated Doctorate Programs
Accelerated programs can help shorten the amount of time you’ll spend earning a doctorate. The faster pace “acceleration” refers to the duration of an individual class. For example, while a traditional on-campus course in finance might take a full 15- or 16-week semester, an accelerated online program may offer a comparable course in six or eight weeks. If all of your required classes are offered in an accelerated format, you can see how that time you save compounds over time, ultimately saving you a year or two of time in school.
Most accelerated programs, especially if they’re research-focused like most Ph.D. programs, will require you to complete a dissertation, thesis, or extensive final project. Professional doctorates, such as those in business or education administration, may not require a final project or traditional dissertation. This is a major factor in how long you’ll spend earning your degree. The following example programs below can give you an idea of what to expect in an accelerated degree.
For incoming students with master’s degrees, this MSN-to-DNP program takes only five semesters to complete. Students complete 15 courses, a residency, and a final project. Applicants should possess a 3.0 or higher GPA for consideration.
Number of credits: 35
UF graduates with a DNP often pursue careers as nurse educators, nursing officers, clinical nurse specialists, and advanced practice nurses.
In addition to offering an accelerated course schedule, Walden will waive up to six PhD-level classes if you enter the program with a master’s degree in psychology or closely related field. Learners can also transfer up to 53 credits toward the degree. Fast-track, accelerated students complete three courses per semester.
Number of credits: Depending on transfer credits, learners usually need around 60 credits of coursework to finish the program.
Graduates with this degree in forensic psychology seek out employment as researchers, college professors, analysts, consultants, and more.
Entering 1- and 2-Year Online Doctoral Programs
There are several things to keep in mind as you prepare for an online doctoral program. If you already have a good idea of which type of degree you want to pursue, use that to your advantage by planning ahead and crossing some things off your list before you apply.
Get prerequisites out of the wayIf you know which degree you’re interested in, there are prerequisite and foundational courses that you might be able to take before entering a program. You might be satisfying many or all of these credits while working toward a master’s degree. You may choose to take prerequisites online or at a community college. Not only will this save you time when you enter your doctoral program, but you’ll probably save some tuition dollars, too.
Earn a master’s degreeSometimes a closely related master’s degree will get you pretty far in terms of transfer credits and being able to take a larger workload per semester. Master’s programs also give you the time and space to sort out some further research ideas that could become a part of your doctoral dissertation (if you’re going into a program that requires it).
Earn a competitive GPAMost doctoral programs expect applicants to possess a strong GPA, whether in their undergraduate or master’s coursework. You’ll likely need a 3.0 or higher GPA to receive consideration.
Produce a writing sampleIf you’re applying for a research doctorate (PhD) as opposed to a practical, career-focused degree (EdD), your writing sample should showcase your academic research skills and show promise for success in doctoral-level study.
Provide letters of recommendationMost applications require letters of recommendation from people who can speak to the likelihood of your success in your chosen field. Be sure to give your recommendation writers at least a couple of months of lead time before your applications are due.
Benefits & Challenges of Short Online Doctoral Programs
Spend less money on tuition. You’ll often spend less money overall on expenses and tuition in accelerated programs, particularly if they’re online. Even if you live out of state, many online doctoral programs today will allow you to pay in-state tuition rates, which can be almost half the cost of out-of-state rates.
Less time spent in school. The faster you get through the program, the more time you can spend giving attention to other aspects of your life. Many graduate students have families, jobs, and other responsibilities that are challenging to manage in traditional, on-campus programs that take three to seven years to complete.
Begin your career more quickly. A short online doctoral program can propel you into the competitive job market more quickly. If you play your cards right, you’ll be out of school and earning a good salary in only a few years or less.
Lack of preparation time before the job market. Quickly preparing for the job market is not impossible. You’ll just need to use the time you’re in school wisely. This includes meeting with professionals from the career development center at your school, academic advisers, professors, and other mentors to make sure you’re covering your bases, making good professional contacts, and checking out a diverse set of resources.
Time away from other responsibilities. Even in a fast-track program, you’ll be dedicating a lot of time to your studies and research. Many students learn how to meet the demands of these busy schedules while still making time to take care of other responsibilities. You can get creative with your daily schedule so you can complete school assignments while juggling other things. Thankfully, online degree programs are often extremely flexible in terms of scheduling.
Less time to publish research and network. Professionals who want to work at universities and research institutions want to publish work that’s related to their dissertation or final project before they enter the job market. Spending less time in school shortens this window and means that you’ll have fewer opportunities to network with other students, make professionals contacts, and attend conferences. All of this is manageable if you’re proactive and organized student. By pooling your resources and making good contacts while you’re in school, you can still get a strong foothold in the job market upon graduation.
Online Doctorate Timeline in 2 Years or Less
To complete a doctorate in one or two years, you’ll need to follow the school’s curriculum and schedule exactly as it’s planned out. If you plan to finish on that timeline, there is no room to fail or retake classes, as most doctoral-level classes aren’t offered every semester. Here’s an example of what your one- or two-year program might look like.
Nebraska Methodist College offers a doctor of education and leadership in healthcare program for distance learners. Full-time students can finish the program in two years or less, while part-time learners can expect to earn their degree in about three years. Instead of a traditional doctoral thesis or dissertation, NMC requires students to complete a capstone project. This opportunity gives you the chance to demonstrate your expertise in the subject matter without having to spend the extra one or two years after coursework that students typically need to write a dissertation. This program also features an asynchronous course delivery format, allowing you to complete your coursework on your own timeline, provided you keep up with the department’s schedule.
One of the ways this program can maintain its streamlined path to graduation is that all incoming students must possess a master’s degree in an education- or healthcare-related field from a regionally accredited institution with a 3.0 or higher GPA. Applicants must also submit an official online application, an admissions essay, an updated resume, and their official transcripts. Additionally, applicants need complete an admission interview and meet the school’s English language proficiency before gaining admission to the online doctor of education program. The GRE is not required for admission.
In total, online doctoral students at NMC will need to complete 44 credits for graduation. Requirements for the degree include two on-campus learning intensives that take place during the summer months. In order to stay on track for a two-year graduation, full-time students need to take six to nine credits per semester, including summer semesters.
2-Year Online Doctorate Example Timeline
Program orientation: 0 credits
Leadership in organizations: 3 credits
Legal and ethical Issues in organizations: 3 credits
Organizational change and accountability: 3 credits
Healthcare policy: 3 credits
Biostatistics: 3 credits
Organizational outcomes and sustainability: 3 credits
Population health: 3 credits
Research: 3 credits
Capstone I: 1 credit
IT in healthcare and education: 3 credits
Capstone II: 3 credits
Teaching, learning, and instructional methods: 3 credits
Capstone III: 3 credits
Healthcare finance: 3 credits
Curriculum planning and education: 3 credits
Capstone IV: 1 credit
1-Year Online Doctoral Program FAQ
Q: How can an online program help accelerate the doctorate-earning process?
A: In many cases, online programs allow you to work at your own pace and accommodate busy schedules outside of school. Asynchronous course delivery formats do not require you to log in or attend virtual meetings at any specific times. You’ll be viewing recorded lectures and reading course material when you choose in asynchronous formats. On the other hand, synchronous learning formats may require you to work in tandem with other students and interact in virtual classrooms online. In these cases, you’ll still be able to save time by avoiding commutes to campus.
Q: Can I work during this time?
A: It’s possible to work while completing your degree, but it largely depends on your personal learning style, schedule, and work ethic. Doctoral programs, by their very nature, require you to engage with and learn about advanced concepts in your field. In this way, they won’t necessarily rely on rote memorization as you might have encountered in an undergraduate program. If you manage your time well, and can find focused study time within your normal routine, you may be able to continue working while finishing an online doctoral program.
Q: Are fast doctorate programs as good as regular programs?
A: Yes, accelerated online doctorates are valuable programs. You will be getting some non-traditional training and professional development simply because you’re in a fast-track program. They are useful degrees, however, when it comes to securing employment and setting yourself apart from others in the competitive job market.
Q: What are the best fast doctorates to get?
A: The best doctorates for accelerated programs vary among schools and largely depend on your experience and abilities as a student. Practical, career-focused doctorates, such as the doctor of education degree (EdD) or doctor of business administration (DBA), might be better suited for accelerated formats than research-focused programs like doctor of philosophy (PhD) programs.
GradHacker Hosted by the well-known Inside Higher Ed blog, GradHacker provides you with some great tips, tricks, and student advice for getting the most out of your doctoral program.
Grad Resources This site specializes in providing resources for graduate-level students, mostly in terms of managing mental health and stress.
Imagine PhD Helping to bridge the gap between academic-focused knowledge and practical skills that are highly valued in outside degree paths, Imagine PhD provides excellent free online resources for graduate students and young professionals with advanced degrees.
Pearson Accelerated For students who are unsure which academic direction they’d like to take, Pearson offers an interactive college planning tool. Students can enter information that will help them choose academic paths, make financial decisions, and prepare for specific careers.
Purdue Writing Lab Purdue University offers excellent online resources for graduate students. You’ll be able to find answers to just about any academic writing-related question here, including how to avoid plagiarism, write for specific subjects and fields, and manage writing in English as a second language.
University at Buffalo Graduate School of Education UB’s list of doctoral student resources can help learners in just about any field get the most out of their online education. From conducting doctoral-level research, writing proposals, and publishing your work to stress and time management, this extensive list will come in handy.
Versatile PhD This site helps currently enrolled doctoral students and those who have recently graduated locate online resources to better prepare them for the academic and non-academic job market. Available resources include webinars, online networking opportunities, discussion forums, and options for in-person advising and mentorship.