Why It Matters Where Your Online Ph.D. Program Is Based

In many ways, online degree programs are providing more students with quality access to higher education than ever before. While most people know online colleges offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees, few realize it's possible to earn a doctorate online as well. Unlike some other online degree programs, however, where your university is based is one of the most important factors to keep in mind.


Like their traditional counterparts, online colleges do not just exist "on the internet" — they all have a base of operations, and most even have a campus somewhere. Where your online degree is based shouldn’t directly affect your studies, but there are some cost and logistical issues to consider. Tuition, for example, can vary depending on where your online degree program is located.

As colleges and universities throughout the country continue to raise tuition for students across the board, prospective doctoral students should be aware of their options. In many cases, public schools that offer online degree programs assess in-state tuition fees for online students, regardless of their state of residence. This could mean tremendous savings if the school is located in a state that is quite a distance away. Be careful, however, because some schools assess costly non-resident tuition fees for online learners who live out-of-state.

On the other hand, tuition for online doctoral programs is often less for students who live in the same state as the school. For example, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln currently assesses tuition costs that are considerably less expensive for online learners who reside in Nebraska. In many cases where tuition rates are tiered based on residency, in-state online doctoral candidates can save as much as 50% on tuition costs.

Hybrid Options

Also keep in mind is that most online doctorate programs cannot be completed solely over the internet. Many “hybrid” programs require students to complete a component of their degree online, as well as on-campus. While these hybrid options have their own series of unique benefits, they can be somewhat troublesome for those who live a significant distance away from campus.

Despite the logistical issues distance learners will face when choosing an out-of-state hybrid program, the benefits of such programs cannot be ignored. Unlike a fully online degree program that allows you to complete a degree from the comfort of your own home, hybrid programs also offer the ability to meet and network with instructors and fellow students on-campus. In today’s ultra-competitive job market for doctoral grads, having the opportunity to network is worth far more than you may realize.

Testing Locations

Another key factor prospective online doctoral degree candidates should take into consideration is the testing locations offered by online colleges. Many tests, particularly at the graduate school level, cannot be taken from home and must be taken in-person with a proctor. This can be a rude awakening for online doctoral candidates who later find out they will need to travel many miles from their homes to take an important test.

Most online programs have agreements with testing centers with multiple locations, but if there is not a center in your area, you'll need to arrange someone to proctor your exams at a local college or university. This can be a lot to ask of busy faculty and staff, so make sure your online doctorate program provides a testing location near you.

Ph.D. Programs Always Require a Visit

In the end, online doctoral candidates will not be able to avoid at least one trip to the college campus to complete their degree. For all intents and purposes, a doctorate is the most prestigious academic degree offered by colleges and universities today. So it is no surprise colleges want some face-time with their candidates before awarding a degree.

In most cases, earning a doctorate requires the establishment of a committee to guide and monitor your progress. For many, this can include important qualifying examinations or the defense of a doctoral thesis. Doctoral candidates in the performing arts, for example, might be required to schedule an on-campus performance to complete their degree.

Some online doctoral candidates may need to spend time on-campus completing courses or lab work that cannot be offered online. This is especially the case for degree candidates in the sciences. Other programs, such as Boston University’s online Doctor of Music Education degree pathway, require that students spend at least one week on-campus at some point during their studies.

Choosing to earn your doctorate online can be a great decision if you wish to earn an advanced degree without sacrificing your current job or lifestyle. Not only can such programs offer savings on tuition and other expenses, but in many cases, you can still take advantage of valuable on-campus resources, events, and networking opportunities. With this in mind, studying online often represents the best of both worlds — but make sure to choose a school nearby.