Accredited Distance Learning Ph.D. Degree Program Information

Learn about online Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree programs. Get an overview of the program types, requirements and course descriptions available for these degrees.

Essential Information

Distance education Ph.D. programs are offered through exclusively online schools, as well as physical college campuses with online learning options. Scholarly research is often the focus of a Ph.D. program. Most programs have some type of in-person component, since the dissertation process typically requires some collaboration with professors and/or a student's chosen dissertation committee. Some programs may require clinical rotations or residencies. In order to apply for a doctorate program, you may need to have either a bachelor's or a master's degree and, in some cases, relevant work experience in that field. A few fields of study that can be pursued are English, statistics, criminal justice and nursing.

To find out if a school is accredited, a prospective student can search the U.S. Department of Education's online database of accredited postsecondary institutions and programs ( Additionally, the Distance Education Accrediting Commission, which provides voluntary certification to distance education institutions, maintains a database of accredited online schools (

Ph.D. Programs

Online doctoral program options vary by school, but students can find degrees in conflict analysis and resolution, technical management, criminal justice and education. Degrees in occupational therapy, physical therapy, music education and nursing are also available.

In these programs, students use an interactive web system to take courses, submit assignments and communicate with their professors. Depending on the program, students may also need to complete clinical work at an approved facility - this is often the case in healthcare-related programs. Attendance on campus for residencies or specific coursework could be required, as well.

Program Information and Requirements

To gain admission to a Ph.D. program, either a bachelor's degree or a master's degree is required, depending on the school. Standardized test scores may also need to be submitted, and some schools look for students with relevant work experience.

Along with traditional lecture-style courses, students often need to pass qualifying exams that demonstrate their scholarly knowledge of their chosen field. In addition, the dissertation process is essential to many Ph.D. programs. Students choose a research specialization for their dissertation, which is approved by a dissertation committee and guided by a faculty mentor. Both a dissertation proposal defense and a defense of the completed dissertation may be required.

List of Common Course Topics

The following courses are offered as part of various Ph.D. degree programs.

Research Core

The research component of a degree program consists of courses in research design and methodology, as well as statistical analysis. Students must also complete a dissertation.

Risk Assessment Course

Taken as part of a criminal justice degree program, this course delves into one of the most controversial topics in forensic psychology: the prediction of violent behavior. This course explains why the topic is so controversial, and then provides students with an introduction to the different techniques and methods used to identify potential violent behavior.

Marital and Family Therapy Course

An essential part of any family therapy degree program, this course offers an introduction and overview of the evolution of theories on marital and family therapy. Students also explore clinical approaches and essential therapeutic skills and concepts.

Learning and Behavior Course

This occupational therapy course reviews interdisciplinary methods and theories on learning and behavior change. Students will come to understand how these theories impact current OT approaches and interventions.

Health and Wellness Course

This course stresses the role of occupational therapy in the development of evidence-based and theory-driven health promotion programs. Students also examine intervention models and theoretical perspectives.

Professional Studies

Less conventional than the other sections, the professional studies component allows students to take non-traditional approaches to learning, such as internships, elective courses, or independent study courses.

Accredited Ph.D. programs are available completely online with only minimal requirements in person, such as a residency or clinical rotation. Numerous fields of study are offered, and prerequisites might include a bachelor's or master's degree, work experience and standardized test scores.

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