Online PhD in Information Technology

The primary purpose of an online PhD in information technology is to help students develop workable solutions to computer-based data and communications problems in a corporate or government setting. Like most other PhD programs, online doctoral degrees in information technology tend to take between two to four years to complete. The exact amount of time that it will take you to earn an online PhD in information technology depends on your previous level of education and the specific school with which you enroll. For example, if you have already completed a master's degree in a related field, an online information technology PhD should only take two to three years to complete, whereas those who earned their master's degree in an unrelated discipline and those who only have a bachelor's degree may need up to four years to complete a master's and doctoral combined program.

Some programs—especially campus-based programs—require newly admitted students to register for and pass a set of qualifying exams designed to test their prior knowledge and ensure a unified learning environment. After these exams, if the university requires them, students will continue their education in a classroom (or virtual classroom) setting, with an academic curriculum including courses in IT research methods, parallel computation, data compression, and other topics that will increase their understanding of business technology and communication. Most programs feature a comprehensive final examination in the last year, as well as a dissertation, which represents at least two years of rigorous study on a topic that students develop as they focus their interests during instruction. Students of online doctorate programs in information technology will craft their dissertation around a relevant topic, such as a certain problem or solution with current payroll systems, grading systems, or inventory systems.

About Online PhD Programs in X

Believe it or not, earning an online doctorate in information technology is very similar to earning that same degree in a traditional campus-based school. Yet, there are some key differences. First, an online doctorate in information technology is obviously earned online rather than in a classroom. You will be able to “attend” your class from any computer with a stable Internet connection, and at any time as well. Though some schools have live webcasts that students can join, most typically allow students to log in to view lectures and assignments at any time.

Every online school uses an online platform, such as WebCT, Moodle, or Blackboard, to deliver class materials. Students will log in and access all of their work through the platform. For class participation, most online information technology PhD programs will have students take part in message board threads, which mimic instructor-led class discussions. When online students pass their classes, fulfill their graduation credit requirements, and get their dissertations approved, then they will be allowed to graduate with a degree that looks exactly like those received by campus-based students.

The typical online Information Technology PhD curriculum will cover the same material as a traditional campus program, and may proceed as follows (from Capella University's course catalog):

Year One:

  • Information Technology Technical Foundations . Introduction to the theoretical, investigative, and practical foundations of information technology management, surveying the history of technology systems, current systems, applications, programs, and procedures—especially in the business world—and emerging software and technology. Students will also apply information learned to theoretical problems, and begin to refine their own research abilities.
  • Information Technology Delivery. Examination of the technical, systematic, psychological, and physical dimensions of deploying information technology in organizations. In addition to studying both academic and professional sources, students will become familiar with the successes and failures of delivery in the past, and be challenged to research current alternatives.
  • Information Technology Strategy and Management. A focused look at information technology from an organizational, managerial perspective, i.e. strategy development and implementation; IT organization, structure, and governance; and roles of IT staff and departments within organizations.

Year Two:

  • Software Engineering. – Application of software engineering principles, design approaches, and tools through real-life scenarios.
  • Security Issues . Security policies and tools related to confidentiality, integrity, authentication, identification, and availability issues associated with information and information systems.
  • Software for Critical Systems . Software analysis of systems for which failure is potentially catastrophic—and methods of preventing catastrophic outcomes through redundancy.

Year Three:

  • System Development Theory and Practice . Study and execution of software engineering for application across large-use systems, such as enterprises or corporations. From capacity appraisal to system design, installation, maintenance, this course examines the entire information system process and has students utilize theoretical information in practical scenarios.
  • Local Area Network Architectures . An overview of LAN architectures and the options available to and protocol in place for businesses seeking them, and operators installing and maintaining them. Students will leave with a comprehensive knowledge of design, administration, security, and management of LANs in a number of different platforms.
  • Computer Forensics and Investigations. In-depth, practical exploration of data mining, transportation, and storage techniques and tools, as well as the legal parameters that constrain electronic information investigation, with particular focus given to the ways data can be hidden.

Over the course of the first two years, while enrolled in classes such as those featured above, students will be collecting research for and developing the topic of what will be—for most students—the longest sustained academic research of their career: their dissertation. Dissertations of Information Technology students tend to examine a particular problem within the IT field, either to analyze and diagnose it, if it is especially complex, or to offer a creative solution. Past IT dissertation have covered a wide variety of topics, with titles such as: Household Management System and UI Usability; Web Form Generation System; Statistic Gathering for a Commercial Website; and Online Survey and Monitoring of Evolutionary Beliefs.

Value and Criticisms of a PhD in Information Technology

Simply put, an online PhD in information technology is best for those who desire to pursue a research-based career, enjoy learning about information technology, plan to go into an academic position teaching the subject, or desire to reach an executive position within a company. This is because most online doctoral programs in information technology delve much deeper into the subject than someone within the field would typically need to know, as the education focuses more on theory than practical skills. This means that if you have already obtained a master's degree in a related field and are enjoying success in your career, you will not need to go further and pursue information technology doctorate degrees online.

For those who would like a career in research and academics at a university level, an online information technology doctorate is a necessity. No school will employ a professor without a doctoral degree for a full-time teaching position, and most research departments of companies will only consider those with a doctorate as well because the expertise in theory that they possess is necessary for abstractions and IT planning. This degree is also good for those who would like to rise to executive positions within the technology department of a company, as professionals in executive positions must have fundamental skills as well as knowledge in IT theory and research methods to push the department further.

With the rise of technology, and concurrent demand for technologically adept employees, employers are more commonly accepting the validity of online PhD degrees in information technology. Of all the online doctoral programs offered, the online IT PhD will probably carry the greatest weight in the job market; having not only studied the relevant subject material extensively, but also having done so in a platform that required technical savvy will be a great asset to students, to the extent that completion of the online degree may even count as work experience in itself.

Application & Admission Requirements

Candidates for the top online information technology PhD programs online are typically high achievers who are analytical, focused, and committed to pursuing a rigorous course of study. Online doctoral programs in information technology generally require that applicants possess strong GRE or GMAT scores, and have a high level of programming language knowledge, as well as demonstrable skills in areas such as statistics, differential and integral calculus, discrete math, and linear Algebra.

A master’s degree in information systems is the best preparation for candidates looking to earn their information technology PhD online. However, earning a master’s degree in another related field, such as engineering, computer science, or mathematics, can also provide a highly suitable foundation for the doctoral program. In addition, significant on-the-job experience is typically required of candidates for online PhD programs in information technology. Most have previously worked as or are currently employed as project managers, engineers, and database managers. Doctoral programs are intensive, so candidates must have the technological savvy and organizational experience to quickly apply their newly obtained knowledge to their career roles.

Career Options & Job Market

Given the current emphasis on technology in business, it is not surprising that the future looks bright for those completing online doctorate degrees in information technology. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 24 percent employment growth rate during 2006-2016 decade for those in the IT field—a high growth rate compared to the 10 percent projected growth for all occupations. Some career options for those holding a PhD in information technology include:

  • Systems analyst
  • Project manager
  • Director of information technology
  • Consultant
  • Chief Technology Officer
  • IT professor

Earnings for online information technology graduates vary, depending on the amount of work performed and the area of specialization, but those with doctoral degrees are poised to lead technology strategy and advancement in increasingly complex corporate and government technology landscapes.

Where to Find Information

How to Get Funding

You do not have to pay for your entire information technology PhD tuition out of pocket. Though it may seem like all scholarships and grants are only available for undergraduate students, financial aid options for doctoral students do exist. One of the most basic and popular aid options is federal aid, which you can apply for free through FAFSA. This will enable you to see which federal loans and grants your education is eligible to receive. In addition to FAFSA, you can check to see what non-federal scholarships and grants are available, starting with the ones listed below:

Essential Advice

  • Consider why it is that you want to earn a doctoral degree in information technology. Consider your personal and career goals, and what it is that you hope to accomplish with your degree. If your goals match what the degree can actually give you, then it is the right degree for you.
  • Talk to current graduate students about what you will be getting into. It is easy to say that you want to earn a doctorate, but you must be prepared for the work that you will receive because an online education is not any easier than a campus-based one.
  • Set a concrete degree plan with your advisor during your first term. This will allow you to stay on track and prevent you from spending too much time and money on your degree.
  • Be sure to research your school choices so that you'll know that you have picked the best online information technology program for you. Avoid diploma mills and any unaccredited schools, as that could severely diminish the value of your degree.