What to Expect from an Online PhD Program

At one time, online schools were under large amounts of scrutiny because it was so easy for scams to offer “diplomas” in exchange for anyone willing to pay the price of tuition. Today’s accrediting processes have enforced standards in a more thorough manner, which ensures only qualified online schools are able to award substantive diplomas and prove their legitimacy, instead of merely being diploma mills. Additionally, it’s not just bachelor’s and master’s degree programs that are available. More and more students are entering online programs to earn PhDs – one of the highest levels of education you can complete. But just what can you expect from an online PhD program?


At an online school, you can expect to face the same rigorous coursework and schedule you’d expect at a traditional offline campus. Every program differs a little based on your field of study, of course, but you can you still expect to complete high-level research and even participate in internship and other hands-on learning opportunities. Don’t expect online programs to be easier!

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A common misconception about getting a PhD online is that the experience will be starkly different from if you were attending a brick-and-mortar university. The truth is frankly, there are a number of parallels to draw between the two. While you may have a physical location to meet at your adviser throughout your work as a PhD student at a more typical university, much communication in the 21st century takes place via email anyway.

For students apprehensive about advising for getting a PhD online, you will still get the same attention compared to if you weren’t online. Since almost all PhD work takes place independently or is focused on research, it’s truly not that different from most traditional PhD programs. Many times PhD students will live hours from the university they’re attending, for numerous reasons. Maybe the school you’re attending is in a more rural area and you’re pursuing a degree that requires you to be in a more urban area for something like city planning or inner-city social work. Or perhaps the opposite, maybe you’re attending school in an urban area and need to be in a more rural locale to focus on agricultural work. The point being, many times students do not live close to their college, so attending online isn’t that relevant to the PhD experience. PhD’s require such a high level of independence that getting it online is very much similar to other situations.

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Most PhD students are given a certain level of responsibility and freedom when it comes to directing the course of study. It’s this flexibility that enables them to properly carve out a worthwhile dissertation. The thing about earning a PhD online is that almost all work takes place outside the classroom, you won’t be missing that much compared to those enrolled in a PhD program at a brick-and-mortar school. You’ll be able to complete work whenever you see fit, so you have to be sure you’re prepared for that responsibility. The only difference is that instead of meeting your adviser in person, often you will just video chat with them or chat online about prospective issues that you’re having with the dissertation.

It can be very tempting to procrastinate, which may lead to your downfall as a PhD student, but that can happen in-person or online. It’s important to stay focused. The thing that’s very interesting about earning a PhD online is that since most students today work so much from a laptop or a desktop computer anyway, it’s not that significant of a difference to work exclusively online. Really, meeting your adviser online is the only difference and frankly, that is done for students who go to more mainstream ideas of college as well.

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Online colleges do provide students with a number of resources to help with their education, but as a PhD student, you might also want to seek local libraries and labs that would be willing to work with you, since you won’t have traditional physical resources. This is because PhD students don’t have to live particularly close to the school they’re attending and it’s even more relevant to those who are attaining their PhD on the internet.

Many online colleges actually have partnerships with schools across the country that allow students to access these resources, but it depends on the program you enter.

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An important part of an PhD student’s work is feedback from peers and professors. While you do not have the option for face-to-face meetings very often, there is still interaction online through virtual tools like email, chat rooms, and instant message programs. Since that’s how you would be communicating information to them anyway, it is, again, not a big difference from going to a university not online.

Many schools also require that you travel to campus once or twice a semester to meet with professors and peers face-to-face, though it depends on the college you attend. This is one of the most significant differences between the two. Really, it’s pretty beneficial to not have to commute somewhere to have a conversation, but meeting in person does comes with it’s own benefits that help maintain a beneficial dynamic concerning writing.

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Understanding Your Options

Regardless of taking the advice of how to properly go about getting a PhD, it’s important to do this yourself. Being on this site exemplifies your drive to find resources on your own and make the most educated choice. The 21st century is going to continue to see so many changes to the education process, so be proactive and don’t be afraid to explore less-known avenues and options that may be completely normal in 20 years.

Working on a computer has become such second-nature for our world that getting a PhD online shouldn’t feel that outlandish. People take notice of those who go about things in a unique way, so take advantage of the possibility of differentiating yourself from the rest of the job field once you’ve completed this very impressive feat. There are many ways to get a PhD, all as impressive, so make sure you finish and doors will open regardless of how it was achieved.

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