Best Part-Time PhD and Doctoral Programs (Online & Campus)

Learn how you can earn your PhD or professional doctorate part-time, plus find top colleges offering these flexible programs online and on-campus.

Written by

Angela Myers

Last updated

Jul 18, 2022

Ready to deepen your knowledge and reach the forefront of your field? Already have your bachelor’s or master’s and want to take your expertise even further? A PhD or professional doctorate degree is the logical next step. But as you’re likely thinking, juggling an intense doctoral program while working full-time is a lot to take on.

Fortunately, part-time programs (including convenient online options) are available from quality universities that can make earning your doctorate much more manageable. This guide reveals the best part-time PhD and doctoral programs, explores common fields of study that offer part-time programs,  and answers some of the most frequently asked questions about these programs. Keep reading to see if a part-time doctoral program is right for you and find the one that can take your career to the next level.

Top 5 Part-Time PhD and Doctoral Programs in 2022

Quality, affordability, and accreditation are important when searching for the best part-time PhD and doctoral programs. The best choice for you, though, often boils down to how well a program fits with your full-time work schedule and everyday life. We’ve rounded up the top part-time PhD and doctoral programs that are flexible for maintaining work, life, and education balance while also providing a high-quality education.

Wayne State University’s Part-Time PhD in Social Work

Wayne State University offers one of the best part-time doctoral programs in social work in the country for those who already have a master’s in social work. Students can also pursue dual PhDs with social work and either anthropology, gerontology, or infant mental health emphasis. The first three years in the program are comprised of coursework with the remaining time devoted to a dissertation. Alumni of WSU’s doctoral programs often take leadership roles in academia, clinical scholarship, and social welfare policy. While you can enroll part-time, there is a seven-year limit for the program.

Boston College’s Part-Time (Ed.D.) in Higher Education

Boston College’s Executive Ed.D. in Higher Education program exists for those looking to advance their careers in higher education. The program develops innovative leaders who are ready to tackle the big problems facing higher education today. A unique feature of this program is how the school designs cohorts so each student comes from a different background to increase the diversity of thought in the program. Courses are all offered online and at times that work around a typical nine-to-five career. 

Program requirements include summer residencies in Boston and Dublin. This three-year program also boasts a global focus with research and networking opportunities across the globe. Successful applicants need at least seven years of professional experience and a master’s degree.  

George Mason University’s School of Policy and Government Part-Time PhD Programs

George Mason University offers three PhD programs – biodefense, public policy, and political science – to those working in the public policy sector. The Schar School PhD programs are designed for those who want a heavy research focus and the opportunity to conduct ground-breaking research in their fields. Alumni find success working in academia, for government organizations, and at nonprofits thanks to the school’s robust dissertation program, rigorous coursework, and networking opportunities. 

Each program is available part-time or full-time and offers opportunities to customize the curriculum to your career goals. Prospective students need previous educational and work experience in the public policy field.

Johns Hopkins University’s Part-Time Online DrPH

John Hopkins University provides public health professionals with a robust Doctor of Public Health (DrPH). The program helps early- to mid-career professionals working in international or domestic public health roles become leaders in their fields. There are ten concentrations, and the program helps connect students with the right courses, opportunities, and research projects to reach their individual goals. 

Along with being a highly customizable program, this program also fits around a nine-to-five job. This doctorate takes one year when attending full-time, and you can enroll on a part-time basis. John Hopkins also offers competitive scholarships to help offset the costs. Applicants should have an MPH from an accredited university and at least three years of work experience in the field.

Drexel University’s Part-Time Online DBA

The Executive Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) program from Drexel University offers business professionals an online option to gain a high-quality doctoral education on their own schedules. The program prepares leaders for the business world and focuses on applying business theory to real-world scenarios. Students can also take PhD-level courses from other disciplines to integrate non-business ideas into their dissertations and projects. 

Drexel designed its program for those with over ten years of experience in business, and the admissions process is highly selective with each cohort consisting of only 12-18 students. While most PhD programs are completed in three years, this program can be completed in two and a half when enrolled full-time, though part-time enrollment is also an option. 

While there are part-time PhD or doctorate program for most fields of study, some are more popular than others. Professional doctorate programs that focus on applying research to real-world settings are more commonly offered in part-time, online formats versus PhD programs, which require a contribution to original, academic research. However, you can still find plenty of part-time PhD programs. Below are some of the most popular part-time doctorate and PhD programs to give you an idea of what’s available. 

Criminal Justice

Since PhD and doctoral programs in criminal justice are for those already working in the criminal justice field, many are part-time and online. A PhD is more research-focused, like the Criminal Justice with a Concentration in Intelligence (Ph.D.) program at the University of North Georgia. A professional doctorate program, like the Doctoral Program in Criminal Justice at Texas State University, is focused on applying academic theories to professional settings. Many of these degrees are available online and on a part-time or full-time basis.

Nursing

A doctorate or PhD program in nursing is a great option for nurses want to become nurse practitioners, teach at the college level, or conduct original research. Since candidates usually need master’s degrees and previous work experience, many online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs are designed for working professionals. There are two types of advanced nursing programs commonly offered, the PhD in Nursing and a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) at Baylor University and the online PhD program at George Washington University are examples of these types of advanced nursing programs.

Business

A PhD in business or Doctorate of Business Administration (DBA) are some of the most common part-time programs designed to be completed while working full-time. Many online DBA programs and online PHD programs in business work especially well for busy professionals. The DBA at Washington University and the Katz Executive DBA from the University of Pittsburgh are examples of online, part-time options for advanced business degrees.

Education

Education doctorates and PhD programs work well for teachers and educators wanting advanced leadership influence in the field. The programs are usually part-time and work around a typical academic schedule. Online education doctorates focus on applying academic theories to educational settings, while online PhD in education programs are more focused on academia. The PhD program from Harvard University, available on campus and either part-time or full-time, and the part-time Doctor of Education – Online with Residency program from Northeastern University are examples of popular advanced education degree programs.

Communications

A doctorate or PhD program in communication is a great option for those already in the communication field who want to enhance their expertise. Since candidates often need a master’s degree and previous work experience in the field to apply, many online communications doctorate programs are designed for working professionals. The online PhD in Communication program at American University and Columbia’s PhD in Communications give examples of popular doctorate and PhD programs in education.

Public Health

A Doctor of Public Health is one of the most common part-time advanced programs and is designed to be completed while working full-time. Many online public health doctorates work especially well for working professionals, some with work requirements built into the curriculum. That means having a full-time role can actually help you progress more quickly through the program. Boston University and Penn State University both offer part-time PhD programs.

Common Questions About Part-Time PhD and Doctoral Programs

Are part-time PhD and doctoral programs offered online?

While it is highly subject-dependent, many PhD and doctoral programs are offered online. However, it’s not only the subject matter that can determine if a program is offered online but the type of degree, too. Since a professional doctoral program is designed for working professionals, it is often offered online and around a typical work schedule. The Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) from John Hopkins University and the public policy PhD programs from George Mason University are examples of these types of flexible programs. However, PhDs are more academia focused and less likely to be offered online since they often have an in-person research component.

How long does it take to complete a part-time PhD?

The time it takes to complete a part-time PhD program depends on the curriculum, how many courses you take each semester, and the timeline for your dissertation. On average, expect a part-time PhD to take three to five years with some programs having a seven-year maximum you can spend on your coursework and dissertation.

Are part-time PhD students eligible for financial aid?

While PhD programs cost more than undergraduate and master’s programs, there’s also often more financial aid available to doctoral students. PhD students are often eligible for PhD-specific grants and scholarships as well as fellowship and tuition reimbursement opportunities. For more information on completing your PhD on a budget, check out our financial aid guide.

Am I still required to do a dissertation as a part-time PhD student?

Most part-time PhDs still have a dissertation requirement. Some professional doctorate programs have shorter research projects or capstones instead, which are less of a commitment than a dissertation. If you are looking for a program with a capstone instead of a dissertation, it’s best to talk directly to the programs you’re interested in about research requirements.

Do part-time doctoral programs have residency requirements?

This depends on your chosen field of study. Health-related fields and social work programs typically have residency requirements, but many programs outside of health and social work have them as well. For example, Boston College’s Executive EdD program has summer residency requirements for students. Residencies are often tailored around a working professional’s schedule, though, and work experience can sometimes be substituted in place of the requirement.