Best Online Doctorates in Engineering: PhD/DEng

Thinking about continuing your education in engineering by earning your doctorate online? Whether you want to pursue a PhD or a DEng, you have more choices than ever. This guide introduces top-ranked programs and walks you through the basics as you consider your options for an online doctorate in engineering.

Search hundreds of top schools for the doctorate YOU want.

Written By

Megan Harrington

Last updated

Apr 06, 2023

Demand continues to grow for graduates of PhD and doctoral engineering programs, especially for jobs in environmental, aerospace, and tech industries. With an advanced degree in engineering, you’ll have your choice of top-tier career opportunities. Well-known universities offer plenty of accredited online doctorate in engineering programs that allow flexibility for busy professionals. 

Getting your online doctorate in engineering online is a big decision, and no doubt you have lots of questions swirling around: 

Which program is right for me, a PhD or Doctor of Engineering? Will the time, money, and effort of an advanced degree be worth it professionally? What are the in-person requirements for an online PhD in engineering or online doctorate in engineering?

This guide introduces you to several top-ranked programs and provides other key information that will walk you through the decision-making process and help you find the right program for you. Keep reading to take the first step toward an online PhD in engineering or online doctorate in engineering.

Best Online Engineering PhDs and Doctorates for 2023

Let’s get started by taking a quick look at a few of the top PhD/doctoral programs in engineering. These school spotlights cover basics such as admission criteria, cost, program options, and any in-person requirements for classes, research, or dissertation defense. Because every student’s needs are different, comparing programs can help you make decisions based on cost, convenience, and desired professional outcomes. Looking for more school spotlights? Our full rankings list will be available later this year.

Texas A&M University

Texas A&M, one of the largest universities in the United States, has two online options for doctoral level engineering programs. The school’s online PhD in engineering is more theoretical and prepares students for a career in academia and tenure track positions. Meanwhile the online doctor of engineering prepares graduates for leadership roles in business and the public sector. The PhD requires research and a dissertation defense, while the DEng requires a one-year professional internship. Entry requirements vary depending on the prior level of education, but applicants should have at least a 3.0 (for applicants with a bachelor’s degree) or 3.25 (for applicants with a master’s degree). Students must make an annual visit to the College Station campus or attend a conference or workshop with other students.

PhD in Engineering
  • Credits: 96 credit hours beyond a bachelor’s degree or 64 credit hours beyond a master’s degree
  • Cost: $717.89/credit (in state, includes fees), $1,247.40/credit (out of state, includes fees) plus a $555.56 distance education differential tuition fee per credit hour
  • Length: Three to seven years
  • Mode: Partially online
Doctor of Engineering
  • Credits: 96 credit hours beyond a bachelor’s degree or 64 credit hours beyond a master’s degree
  • Cost: $717.89/credit (in state, includes fees), $1,247.40/credit (out of state, includes fees) plus a $555.56 distance education differential tuition fee per credit hour
  • Length: Two to five years
  • Mode: Partially online

Penn State University World Campus

The Penn State World Campus online doctor of engineering program prepares students for leadership roles heading up research organizations or corporations. The program is for students who are looking for a career in the practical application of engineering rather than academia. Penn State’s program is unique in that it allows a lot of customization; students can fulfill their 15 elective credit hours from 20 multidisciplinary course options (e.g., homeland security, geodesign, data analytics). In addition to academic courses, successful completion of the program also requires maintaining a 3.0 GPA, a residency requirement (minimum of five days on campus), and completion of program milestones (qualifying exam, comprehensive exam, and praxis defense). 

Doctor of Engineering
  • Credits: 45 credits beyond a master’s degree in engineering or a related field
  • Cost: $1,007/credit
  • Length: Two to five years
  • Mode: Partially online

The George Washington University

The George Washington University offers three options for its online doctorate in engineering programs: doctor of philosophy in systems engineering, doctor of engineering in cybersecurity analytics, and doctor of engineering in engineering management. The doctorate degrees focus on applied research and finding solutions to real-world engineering problems. These approximately two-year programs require completion of ten courses (30 credit hours) and a praxis paper. The PhD program focuses more on research, journal publication, and a career in academia and takes about three years to complete and is comprised of eight courses (24 credit hours) and a dissertation. To gain entry to the program, applicants should hold a master’s degree and must maintain a 3.2 GPA average, with no class grade lower than a B-. While the program is completely online, it’s presented in a synchronous environment and students are expected to attend online classes from approximately 9am to 4pm on Saturdays.

Doctor of Philosophy in Systems Engineering
  • Credits: 54 
  • Cost: $1,625/credit
  • Length: Three years
  • Mode: Synchronous, fully online
Doctor of Engineering in Cybersecurity Analytics
  • Credits: 30 
  • Cost: $1,625/credit
  • Length: Two years
  • Mode: Synchronous, fully online
Doctor of Engineering in Engineering Management
  • Credits: 30 
  • Cost: $1,625/credit
  • Length: Two years
  • Mode: Synchronous, fully online

Benefits of Earning Your PhD or Doctorate in Engineering Online

Compared to just a few years ago, there are now more options than ever when it comes to completing a graduate degree. Instead of quitting your job and moving to your program’s campus, you can earn a PhD or DEng completely online, mostly from the comfort of home. Below are just two of many benefits to an online doctorate in engineering.

  1. Flexibility and convenience. Online doctorate in engineering programs are usually presented in one of two formats: synchronous (live classes via Zoom or another platform) or asynchronous (students watch lectures and complete coursework on their own schedule). Asynchronous courses are particularly good for nontraditional students because they offer extra flexibility. Whether you’re balancing a demanding job or personal obligations, learning on your own timeline can be invaluable. 
  2. Cost. Another big benefit to online PhD in engineering programs is the potential for savings. You can skip the gas, tolls, and wear on your car and attend classes from home. Online students also save money when it comes to student activity fees, housing, and dining plans—since you won’t be on campus, most likely these won’t be necessary. You’ll be responsible for your own Wi-Fi and computer, so that’s something to consider, but the costs should be much lower than the cost of living on campus.

An online doctorate in engineering provides the flexibility and cost savings that make it possible for working professionals to enroll in a program. 

Online Learning Formats for Engineering Doctorates

The two main online learning formats for engineering doctorates are fully online programs and blended/hybrid programs. Both have their pros and cons. It’s important to note that even completely online programs may have in-person residency requirements or dissertation defenses. If you live far from your program’s home campus, be sure to ask how frequently (if at all) students are expected to be on campus.

Fully online

Many doctoral programs are available in a completely online format, meaning students attend lectures remotely (over Zoom or a similar platform) and communicate with the professor via email or phone. Some programs also require an in-person residency. This may range from a two-day orientation to a two-week (or longer) summer seminar.


This format combines elements of both online and in-person programs. Some classes may be remote, while others may be in person. This type of program can offer the best of both formats: the flexibility of an online program with the interaction and networking of an in-person experience. 

Regardless of the format, both types of programs usually have the same requirements for exams and dissertation/praxis defense. The following components may require an in-person meeting, even in fully online PhD or DEng programs:

  1. Qualifying exam
  2. Comprehensive exam
  3. Dissertation/praxis defense

PhD vs. DEng: Which Online Engineering Doctorate is Right for You?

Engineering programs offer two types of doctoral degrees. PhDs are generally more theoretical in nature and prepare students for careers in academia. DEng degrees focus more on practical application of engineering principles and prepare graduates for leadership roles in business or the public sector. Take a look at this table for a more detailed breakdown: 

Online DEngOnline PhD in Engineering
PurposeApply practical knowledge in a business or technical positionContribute to further research in the field, theoretical in nature
Student TypeMidcareer (often working professionals)Early career
Student GoalObtain a leadership position in a corporation or in the public sectorContribute to research journals, obtain a tenure track teaching position
FundingSelf-funded or funded by a business or public sector partnerGrants and fellowships
PrerequisitesMaster’s degree in engineering (or equivalent)Bachelor’s degree
Length3-5 years5-7 years
CapstonePraxis defense or final projectDefense of a thesis

Engineering PhD and Doctorate Timelines

The time it takes to complete a PhD or DEng varies depending on the individual and the program. Some programs can be accelerated (particularly those with online formats) and a motivated student with a foundation of master’s coursework may be able to finish a doctoral program in as little as three years. Part-time students, especially those who are working full time, may need a full seven years to complete their research and defend their dissertation (or final project). Many universities have time limits on their PhD and DEng programs, so it’s important to plan appropriately. 

Year one

First-year students often begin with core courses that focus on the program’s specific learning outcomes. Students also explore electives to assist them in narrowing down an area of research. Some online doctorate in engineering programs have in-person orientations or residencies during the first year.

Year two

Students continue to take courses focused on their research interests and should have a dedicated faculty advisor. Qualifying (also called candidacy) exams are usually taken at the end of the second year. Full-time students may be required to serve as teaching assistants for undergraduate classes. Students should begin to assemble their dissertation committee.

Year three

In the third year, students complete their qualifying exams if they haven’t already done so. They also meet with their dissertation committee to finalize their research topic and begin writing a formal proposal. Full-time students may begin writing their dissertation and may be expected to present at academic conferences. Students also prepare to take their comprehensive exams.

Year four

The trajectory of the fourth year largely depends on if the student is full- or part-time. Full-time students should be wrapping up writing their dissertation and preparing to defend it. Part-time students will be focused on the writing process. Depending on the program, some DEng students may be working on a capstone project rather than a dissertation.

Year five

Full-time students focus on defending and publishing their dissertation. Part-time students should be wrapping up writing and preparing to defend their dissertation.

Years six and seven

Most full-time students should have successfully defended their dissertation, praxis, or final project by the end of year six. Part-time students should schedule their dissertation defense. Be aware that some programs have a seven- or eight-year time limit. 

Each PhD and DEng program has different requirements and prerequisites. Depending on your personal and professional goals, your own timeline may be longer or shorter. Be sure to discuss specific benchmarks and special requirements with your academic or faculty advisor so you know what to expect.

Learning Outcomes of Engineering Doctoral Programs

Almost all institutions structure their doctoral programs based on expected learning outcomes. These are statements describing the knowledge and skills students are expected to master by the completion of the program. Learning outcomes guide students throughout their study and result in a set of common outcomes for graduates. Each program has its own specific learning outcomes, which vary depending on whether the program is a PhD or DEng. However, in general students can expect the following:

  1. Demonstrate advanced knowledge of engineering and science fundamentals. By the completion of the program, doctoral students should have an expert grasp of engineering, math, and science principles and the skills to apply this learning to real-world problems. 
  2. Demonstrate a depth of knowledge in a chosen specialty that meets or exceeds expert level. Beyond broad engineering principles, doctoral students choose a specialization and, through original research, contribute to further knowledge in the field. 
  3. Conduct original and independent research. In addition to critical review of the existing literature, students come up with their own questions and eventual solutions for issues in the engineering field. PhDs typically focus on publishing in academic journals and presenting at conferences.
  4. Identify and solve engineering problems and contribute to innovation and real-world problem solving. This real-world application is especially relevant for DEng graduates working on a capstone project/praxis rather than a dissertation. 
  5. Communicate effectively and clearly both orally and through writing. Regardless of the type of program or school, doctoral students will be expected to write and speak at an expert level. U.S.-based PhD and DEng programs require a mastery of English; international students need a specific score on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam.

Specialization Options for Your Engineering Doctorate

You can choose from numerous areas for specialization within an engineering doctorate. What you choose will likely depend on your strengths and interests. Think about what electives inspire you and spark interest. Do you enjoy leading a team of people? Or do you see yourself immersed in solo lab work? Is there a specific industry you’re focusing on for future career prospects (e.g., aerospace)? The following specializations represent a few examples in the engineering field. 

Engineering Management

This specialization combines technology problem solving with managerial and administrative skills. Both large and small organizations benefit from the expertise of a manager well versed in the field.

Systems Engineering

A systems engineer designs and manages complex systems over their life cycles. From spacecraft to software chip design, systems engineers use an interdisciplinary approach to problem solving.

Electrical Engineering

Electrical engineers focus on the study and application of three areas: electricity, electronics, and electromagnetism. They might design or develop communications systems or electric motors.

Industrial Engineering

An industrial engineer optimizes processes or organizations by analyzing the way people, machines, facilities, and systems work together. Many industrial engineers work in the manufacturing sector, designing solutions for systems to work better. 

Chemical Engineering

Chemical plants convert raw materials into usable products. A chemical engineer designs and optimizes that process.

Accreditation for Online Engineering Doctorates

Choosing an accredited online doctoral degree in engineering is important because it certifies the quality of the program and ensures your time, money, and effort result in the stated learning outcomes (e.g., graduates from two different accredited DEng programs should be at the same level). Attending a properly accredited program also is important so your credits transfer if needed and so you have access to the full range of financial aid options. For example, only students at accredited schools are eligible for federal financial aid. Accreditation is an independent evaluation attesting to the quality and rigor of the education, and it shows potential employers that you’re a qualified job candidate.

All doctoral students are advised to attend an institution accredited by an organization recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation or the Department of Education. Look for a university with regional accreditation, which means it meets the highest educational standards. A few examples of regional accreditation organizations include the Higher Learning Commission, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology accredits STEM programs at the bachelor’s and master’s level, but currently there is no specific accrediting organization for doctoral programs. For fully online or hybrid programs, ensure that the university’s on-campus program is accredited.

Applying to an Online PhD or DEng Grad Program

When applying to a graduate or doctoral program, you can expect several standard application components such as transcripts, letters of recommendation, written statement or essay, and GRE scores. Each school has its own application checklist, so be sure to follow the instructions regarding what’s required and how to submit materials. Applicants to doctoral programs in engineering may also need to complete the following.

  • Interview: Many doctoral programs require a virtual or in-person interview. This helps the program learn about the applicant’s academic history, interests, and professional goals. Through a one-on-one interview, the department determines if the applicant is prepared for the rigors of the program and, likewise, the applicant gets a better sense of if the program will be a good fit.
  • Scholarly Writing Sample: A common learning outcome for doctoral programs is excellent communication skills. Students are often required to synthesize their research in a written dissertation and present papers at academic conferences. Students should have a baseline competency and experience with scholarly writing before enrolling in an on-campus or online PhD in engineering or DEng program.
  • English Proficiency: Many PhD and DEng programs are taught in English (especially programs based in the United States). Students are expected to have strong working knowledge of the English language for reading, writing, and oral communication. Some programs may require the TOEFL exam if a student isn’t a native English speaker.

Online Engineering PhD and Doctorate Costs

When evaluating tuition for an online doctoral degree in engineering, you’ll want to consider several financial factors. Many schools list their cost per credit hour, but keep in mind that schools may have other required fees. For example, Texas A & M charges an additional fee per credit hour for all distance learning programs. An online PhD in engineering or DEng program can save you money on some costs (e.g., parking, meal plans, on-campus housing), but you may have to cover other things such as your own technology and Wi-Fi. For an overview of expected costs, check out the four real-world examples in the table below:

SchoolCost per CreditTotal CreditsSubtotal
Penn State University World Campus –Online Doctor of Engineering$1,00745$45,315
Texas A & M University – Online PhD in Interdisciplinary Engineering$717.89 (in state),
$1,247.40 (out-of-state)
George Washington University – Online Doctor of Engineering in Engineering Management$1,62530$48,750
Clarkson University – Hybrid PhD in Civil & Environmental Engineering$1,50090$135,000
*does not include distance education differential tuition

While it’s a good idea to know the overall tuition for a doctoral program, keep in mind that many financial aid options are available to graduate students. It’s not uncommon for a doctoral program to be fully funded through a combination of resources such as grants, fellowships, scholarships, and loans. If you have questions about paying for an online PhD or DEng degree, don’t hesitate to reach out to a school’s financial aid office to ask about program specifics. For general information on what might be available to you, read our guides on scholarships and grants and financial aid

How Much You Could Earn with an Engineering PhD or Doctorate

The path to a doctorate or PhD takes a few years, but that time is rewarded with higher earning potential. An individual with a PhD in engineering can expect a median salary of $150,000 but may earn much more depending on experience level and location. Comparatively, an individual with a master’s degree in engineering can expect to earn approximately $100,000, and an individual with a bachelor’s degree in engineering can expect to earn approximately $87,000.