Part-Time PhD Programs: How Do They Work?

If you're considering doctoral study but are reluctant to leave your job, part-time study through a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) program may be right for you. Read on to learn more about the requirements for earning a Ph.D. part-time, as well as how these doctoral programs work.

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Why Pursue a Part-Time Ph.D.?

According to the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, the number of part-time students in American colleges and universities rose 19% between 2002 and 2012. The NCES also noted that during this same period, among graduate students, there was an eight percent increase in part-time male students and a 13% increase in part-time female students.

Parents with family obligations may need the flexible scheduling offered by part-time study. Many working students also choose part-time study because it allows them to keep their jobs while pursuing a degree. Finally, some students choose a part-time Ph.D. program because it allows them to study at a distant school without needing to commute frequently.

How Do You Manage a Part-Time Ph.D. Program?

It's important to remember that part-time doctoral study isn't easier than earning a full-time Ph.D. In fact, students may find it more challenging to split their focus between other activities. Ph.D. programs require intensive research that is typically more difficult and time consuming than the coursework in a bachelor's or master's degree program.

Students who plan to continue working while studying may consider pursuing a Ph.D. in a field related to their current professions. Not only will this expand your pool of educational resources, it can lead to some overlap between projects at work and school, which will help simplify your commitments.

In order to successfully complete a part-time Ph.D. program being prepared to make personal and social sacrifices, highly organized and self-motivated in order to maintain focus on your studies can be beneficial.

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What are Common Requirements for a Part-Time Ph.D.?


Many part-time Ph.D. programs allow students to complete most of their research off-site. However, depending on the academic focus, some programs require a minimum of one year of residency so that students can interact closely with faculty and their graduate peers.

Time to Degree

Part-time doctoral students must complete the same number of academic credits and other requirements as full-time students. As a result, the time to complete the degree program may take as long as seven or eight years even if you already have a master's degree.

Qualifying Exam

Like full-time students, individuals enrolled in a part-time Ph.D. program must take a qualifying exam to determine that they're ready to start the dissertation process. This exam may be offered as an oral examination in front of an advisory board of your department.


All Ph.D. students must complete a doctoral thesis or dissertation in order to earn their degrees. The dissertation process may take longer for part-time students, but most schools expect them to complete the same level of original research and to submit a paper that's equal in length to that of full-time students.

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