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Best PhD Programs in Virginia – Online & Campus

Getting a doctorate could be the next step in your career. This guide reveals the best PhD programs in Virginia and what you can expect once you’re in a doctoral program.

Search hundreds of top schools for the doctorate YOU want.

Written By

Angela Myers

Last updated

Jan 31, 2024

Earning a PhD or doctoral degree is one of the best ways to become an expert in your field. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, only 4.5 million Americans have a doctorate, which is about 2% of the population; this means if you get this degree, you’ll be in a small subset of experts in your field. This expertise often provides more job opportunities and higher pay. Yet PhD programs in Virginia do come with challenges. High costs, an additional three to seven years in school, and the potential stress of completing a dissertation can be tricky to deal with if you don’t have the right strategies.

This guide outlines those strategies as well as stand-out doctoral programs in Virginia. Read on to learn everything you need to start applying for PhD programs in this historic state. 

Top-Rated PhD and Doctoral Programs in Virginia for 2024

The first step in researching your future graduate school is determining which program is best for you. While the word “best” means something different to everyone, there are some objective indicators of high-quality PhD programs in Virginia. These include flexible study options, affordability, accreditation, and a rigorous curriculum. Below, we’ve spotlighted three such programs. Even if these doctoral programs in Virginia are not the perfect fit for you, they can act as a quality gauge when researching other schools. 

Liberty University

Liberty University hosts dozens of doctoral degrees, most of which can be completed online or in a hybrid format — though some require residential intensives that are completed in person. The school’s PhD programs cover various subject areas including education, business administration, nursing, public administration, and leadership. They also have professional doctoral degrees that can be completed in a variety of fields including history, public policy, and criminal justice. Because the school does have a religious affiliation, they also have doctoral degrees in pastoral care, theology, and worship studies. Most of Liberty’s doctoral programs can be completed in two to three years, making them much faster than some other programs. Liberty University also offers a part-time option for those who work full time while getting their degree.

Virginia Commonwealth University

For students who want a variety of doctoral degrees to choose from, check out Virginia Commonwealth University. Their doctoral programs range from med school to nonprofit management to applied statistics. No matter which program type a student chooses, they are eligible for the university’s generous financial aid packages for graduate students. Because of the wide variety of degrees, the format and curriculum vary greatly as well. For example, the Doctor of Education in Leadership is offered fully online and can be completed virtually except for three in-person sessions during the summer. The Doctor of Philosophy in Media, Art, and Text, on the other hand, must be completed entirely in person. For a complete list of online and hybrid programs — and what type of in-person components are required — explore the online campus of Virginia Commonwealth University.

Old Dominion University

Old Dominion University hosts over 50 doctoral degrees in subjects ranging from aerospace engineering to workforce organization and development. Of these programs, 10 are offered either online or in a hybrid format. Online programs include multiple nursing doctorates, a degree in community college leadership, an engineering management doctorate, an instructional design and technology PhD, a public administration and policy doctorate, and the workforce organization doctorate. The English PhD can also be completed in a hybrid format. No matter which program or learning format you choose as a student, you are eligible for various financial aid options from the university, including fellowships, assistantships, and scholarships. Because Old Dominion University also promotes multicultural education, you’ll find opportunities to study abroad incorporated into many of its PhD programs.

Types of PhD and Doctoral Programs Available in Virginia

Not all PhD programs in Virginia are created the same. Some require a student to attend full time, while others can be taken on a part-time basis. Still others are fully funded, on an accelerated timeline, and/or don’t require a GRE or dissertation. Read on to learn about these different types of PhD programs and to discover which choice is right for you. 

Full-Time PhD/Doctoral Programs in Virginia

When looking at doctoral programs in Virginia, one of the most common program types is a full-time PhD. As the name suggests, students take their coursework on a full-time basis, making it hard for students to work full time while getting these degrees. Often, students graduate within five years of starting the program, making them faster than the part-time option. High-quality, full-time PhD programs in Virginia include Virginia Commonwealth University’s PhD in Engineering and the PhD in Economics at George Mason University.

Part-Time PhD/Doctoral Programs in Virginia

If you work full time or have time-consuming obligations outside of your studies, a part-time option may be for you. In a part-time PhD program, students take fewer courses each semester, making their time to graduation longer. While these programs take over five years to complete, students also have more flexibility and can balance their degree with other responsibilities. Some notable part-time doctoral programs in Virginia include the Executive PhD from Virginia Tech and EdD in Higher Education from the University of Virginia.

Fully Funded PhD/Doctoral Programs in Virginia

If finances are a concern, consider applying for fully funded programs. In a fully funded PhD, the school pays for your tuition and provides a living stipend in exchange for you working as a teaching or research assistant. The PhD in Business at Virginia Tech and the PhD in Chemistry at University of Virginia are two stand-out PhD programs in Virginia that are fully funded. It’s important to note that because assistantships most often take place in person, it’s tricky to find online doctoral programs in Virginia that are fully funded.

No-GRE PhD/Doctoral Programs in Virginia

What do the Doctor of Public Administration at Liberty University and the Genetics, Bioinformatics, and Computational Biology PhD at Virginia Tech have in common? Neither degree requires applicants to submit their Graduate Records Examination — or GRE — scores. The GRE is like the ACT or SAT but at the graduate level. If you’re anxious about tests or not happy with your GRE score, you may want to consider no-GRE doctorates. From our research, these programs are quite common in Virginia, meaning you’ll find plenty of online PhD programs in Virginia that don’t require test scores from applicants.

Accelerated PhD/Doctoral Programs in Virginia

The average PhD takes three to seven years to complete. For those who want to complete their degree faster, consider accelerated PhD programs. As you might expect, accelerated programs are shorter, with some only taking as little as one year to complete. On the flip side, these programs can be more intensive because the curriculum is crammed into a smaller timeframe. Some outstanding accelerated PhD programs in Virginia include the Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Management from Hampton University Online and Liberty University’s Doctor of Music Education.

No Dissertation PhD/Doctoral Programs in Virginia

A dissertation is a long research paper that doctoral students author and defend to a committee of faculty. For some, the experience is a rewarding introduction to the realm of scholarly research. But for those who don’t want to enter full-time academia, a dissertation may not make sense for your career. If you fall into the latter category, a no-dissertation PhD program may suit your needs. The DNP from Liberty University and the University of Virginia’s PhD in Nursing are two high-quality PhD programs in Virginia that don’t require a dissertation.


Whether you get your doctorate in business administration (commonly called a DBA) or pursue a PhD in business, these degrees prepare you to be an expert in the business world. Often, these programs are designed for experienced business professionals who want to grow their expertise in one area, such as marketing or finance. Because many DBA candidates work full time while getting their degree, many programs are offered virtually or on a part-time basis.

Quality Examples of On-Campus Programs

Quality Examples of Hybrid/Online Programs


Getting an education doctorate (EdD) or PhD in education is a great choice for those who want to work in higher education administration or a leadership position in a K-12 school, such as a principal or superintendent. Because K-12 and higher education require different curricula, ensure the EdD or PhD you’re looking at meets the requirements for the appropriate education level.

Quality Examples of On-Campus Programs

Quality Examples of Hybrid/Online Programs


If you want to work as a nurse practitioner or in an administrative role, getting a doctorate may be the right career move. A doctorate in nursing practice prepares nurses to work as licensed nurse practitioners, usually in a specific field such as family practice or mental health nursing. Other doctoral degrees in nursing prepare graduates to be nurse managers or educators.

Quality Examples of On-Campus Programs

Quality Examples of Hybrid/Online Programs

Social Work

While only a master’s degree is required to become a licensed social worker in the state of Virginia, those with a doctorate often experience more job opportunities, faster career advancement, and higher pay. Fortunately, you’ll find plenty of high-quality doctoral degrees in social work (DSW or PhD). Often, these programs require applicants to be licensed social workers before applying.

Quality Examples of On-Campus Programs

Quality Examples of Hybrid/Online Programs

Public Health

A Doctor of Public Health or a PhD in a public health-related field allows students to develop their expertise in the managerial and administrative side of health. Graduates of these programs often work in high-level positions in healthcare administration or conduct research projects for agencies like the CDC or the Virginia Department of Health. Typically, students need a master’s in public health and work experience before applying to these programs.

Quality Examples of On-Campus Programs

Earning Your PhD or Professional Doctorate Online in Virginia

When you’re attending graduate school, traveling to and from campus can be both time-consuming and costly. To make your degree more affordable and efficient, consider one of the many online doctoral programs in Virginia. In these programs, students attend either all or a certain portion of their lectures in a virtual classroom. In some programs, like the Nursing PhD from Virginia Commonwealth University, these classes are held in live virtual class sessions. Other programs, like Virginia Commonwealth University’s Doctor of Philosophy in Health-Related Sciences, provide asynchronous lectures that students can take on their schedule.

From our research, many of these programs don’t require students to step foot on campus, such as the many doctoral degrees at Liberty University Online. Others, like Virginia Commonwealth University, do have an in-person orientation and some on-campus program components.

While online PhD programs in Virginia are ideal for students with work or family obligations, you’ll need to be aware of some challenges inherent to the modality. Online learning is more independent, requiring students to hold themselves accountable. You’ll also need to stay focused in online lectures, occasionally troubleshoot your own tech issues, and feel engaged despite the lack of face-to-face contact with faculty and peers. Good online PhD programs will offer extra support to help students overcome these potential obstacles, such as tech support and virtual office hours. 

Where to Get Help Paying for Your PhD or Doctoral Degree in Virginia

Research reveals that the average loan debt for a doctoral degree is $112,080. While you can earn a PhD in Virginia without incurring this kind of debt, you’ll still find hefty tuition costs that can eat into your bank account and may require student loans. Fortunately, there are plenty of financial aid opportunities for doctoral students. Some of the most popular include graduate research assistantships, scholarships/grants, fellowships, and work-study programs.

In Virginia specifically, examples of financial aid options include graduate funding for veterans through Virginia’s GI bill, Scholars’ Lab Fellowships in the Digital Humanities from the University of Virginia, and PhD fellowships, assistants, and scholarships from Virginia Tech University

When researching PhD programs in Virginia, ask about how their financial aid works. Typically, they should have some combination of assistantships, scholarships, and work-study grants for which doctoral students can apply.

Earnings for Doctorate Holders in Virginia

The average annual wage in Virginia is $65,590, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As you’re researching your PhD, you may wonder how your salary after graduation will stack up. For many professions, you’ll far out-earn this average. Some fields, such as instructional coordinators, earn $10,000 over the average. Other fields that require a PhD, such as computer and information research scientists and financial managers, earn almost double the annual average.

Yet research reveals a wide range of salaries can be found nationally, depending on the different fields PhD graduates enter. For a better idea of the median earnings for a specific degree, explore the table below.

Job TitleRelated Doctoral Degree(s)Median Earnings90th Percentile Earnings
Chief ExecutivesDoctor of Business Administration (DBA) / Online PhD in Business$235,060$239,200
Clinical and Counseling PsychologistsDoctor of Psychology (PsyD) / PhD in Psychology$84,440$163,220
Computer and Information Research ScientistsPhD in Computer Science$137,240$198,990
EconomistsPhD in Economics$119,920$179,410
Education Administrators, PostsecondaryDoctor of Education (EdD)$106,200$215,700
Education Teachers, PostsecondaryPhD in Education / PhD in Special Education$77,020$110,150
Financial ManagersFinance Doctorate (PhD/DBA)$161,710$239,200
Instructional CoordinatorsDoctor of Education (EdD)$73,710$119,320
Nurse PractitionersDoctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)$110,860$141,490
PharmacistsDoctor of Pharmacy (PharmD)$134,070$165,610
Physical TherapistsDoctor of Physical Therapy (DPT)$97,780$127,920

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2022