Pros & Cons of Online PhD Programs

Oct 11, 2018

While a traditional PhD might work for some, an online degree program gives those who are on a tight schedule a lot more freedom. Within this article you'll find information on the benefits and disadvantages of such a degree.

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Earning a PhD takes a lot of time and hard work, but more universities than ever are offering these programs to students all over the world through the Internet. We'll take a look at some of the pros and cons of earning your PhD online, rather than through a traditional college setting.


Choosing to pursue your doctorate in an online setting can be a bit daunting at first, but there are some benefits in terms of increased flexibility and reduced degree requirements. Below you will find information on some of the key positives to earning a PhD online.

More Affordable

While there are some traditional PhD programs that pay for student housing and travel, there are more than a few that do not. Studying online allows students to avoid such expenses, though there are a few rare times that they will have to travel to a testing location during their program. Additionally, for those programs that are not fully funded, students are likely to pay a lower amount in tuition and fees.


Most traditional PhD programs are rigidly structured, requiring students to attend courses at a given time and day of the week. This can make working during school very difficult and can also make time with family and friends a lot harder to come by. Online PhD programs allow a lot more freedom in this area, giving students more choices in terms of the times and days of the week that they will need to attend a given course or complete coursework. This allows students to tailor their school schedule around their work and life schedule, giving a sense of flexibility and freedom.

Some Traditional Requirements Are Lifted

For students whose program requires teaching, this may seem to be a daunting task. While there are some online PhD programs that require students to teach in a university setting, there are a good number of online programs that allow online teaching or teaching at a community college. In some cases, the teaching requirement will be completely waived, giving students more time to focus on their research. This means that they may be able to complete their PhD program in less time than is typical in a traditional program.

No Need to Relocate

Having to relocate is one of the reasons that students sometimes limit themselves when it comes to college choices. They have to decide if the environment is for them and if they want to spend that time potentially away from friends and family. With an online degree, students have the ability to stay where they are and often take exams from the comfort of their own homes.


While there are certainly a lot of positives to earning a PhD online, there are also some potential negatives to consider. In this next section we'll get an in-depth look at some of these cons.

Less Instructor Interaction

A traditional PhD program gives students the ability to meet with their instructors and comb over issues that they may be having. While this is still possible through video conferencing with an online degree, the availability of professors is often reduced. In addition, it may be more difficult to clearly convey issues related to a current project, since most communication will typically be done via email conversations.

Diminished College Experience

Online degree programs have made improvements over the years in terms of a college experience, but there are still some things that won't be the same as in a traditional school. The interaction with fellow students is still possible through group chat and forum discussions, but it isn't the same experience found within a college classroom.

Reliable Internet Required

For most online degree programs you must have regular access to rather high-end Internet. Chances are you already have it, but having to rely on it can cause some issues. If you have Internet problems it could set you back, or worse, it could cause you to fail an assignment.

Your Degree May Not Hold as Much Weight

Though many universities state that their online degree programs differ very little from traditional programs, employers may see things differently. While earning an online degree may make you appear self-disciplined, many employers see it as less impressive than a traditional PhD and may prefer a job candidate with a PhD earned at a brick-and-mortar school. This sentiment doesn't change too much from one university to the next, although a degree from a highly accredited university might not have as negative an impact. This is part of the reason that some online PhD programs have a traditional learning component to them.

Just like anything in life, earning your PhD online has both pros and cons. An online program will give you the flexibility required to continue to work while earning your PhD, but it will be at the cost of a reduced college experience and less assistance from professors.

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