I know one can get a Bachelors degree online. Can one do the same with a PhD (I refer to fields which don't need specialized equipment like Math or CS, for example).

At first glance, it should be easier since your doing almost independent work (you don't really need tests).

Are there such programs?

  • 19
    You mean a respectable PhD or a bogus vanity title? Commented Jul 14, 2013 at 8:34
  • 13
    Yes. Wire me $7900.
    – Mark Adler
    Commented Jul 14, 2013 at 21:14
  • I know of a remote student in my program but it is still not a considered an online program. It was a temporary exception. Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 4:11
  • There should be a law, for instance, that MD that acquired its Phd on-line, will only be allowed to perform surgeries online.
    – Ran G.
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 2:14

6 Answers 6


Most PhD programs that I am aware of have "residency requirements"—that is, you must be registered at the university and in general physically present in the department for some period of time. However, most PhD advisors that I am aware of in disciplines in which people can "work remotely" do allow their students to "telecommute" if necessary. For instance, if a spouse gets a job far away from campus, and daily commutes are no longer a realistic option.

That said, the idea of a purely online PhD strikes me as highly unlikely to work out—because the nature of a PhD is fundamentally different from a bachelor's, in that it is a research degree, not a coursework degree. You are learning to become an independent researcher, and I don't think the online format translates well to that goal. There's too little direct interaction with other researchers. You'd definitely be independent, but there's no guarantee that you'd learn how to do research.

  • 1
    Why won't skype work?
    – phduser
    Commented Jul 14, 2013 at 23:23
  • 5
    Skype is a great communications medium for oral conversations. However, if you want to sketch things out, develop ideas, and work collaboratively in real-time, it's not so efficient.
    – aeismail
    Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 9:36
  • 2
    Part of being a researcher is being part of the community. You have to go to seminars to meet people and give seminar talks. You have to go to other people's lab to find new collaborations and even in Math/CS many times you have "lab meetings" where all of the people that are being advised by the same professor come together to explain their current progress. You can't expect someone to walk around with you on their laptop via skype every other day. When people are telecommuting for a PhD they have already done this, have postdocs lined up, and are finishing their thesis. Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 20:23

I did my PhD as a part-time external student from a reputable university.

I am unsure if this is any different from an online mode because I did not have to be physically present on the campus. Additionally, I mostly communicated with my supervisor via email.

This arrangement worked well for me because I did not want to resign from my job and also the university was at least three hours drive from my place of work. (I did go there occasionally to get a 'feel' of being a PhD student!)

There were however some requirements like two seminars that I had to present and a few face-to-face meetings with my supervisor. They could all be negotiated, depending on my circumstances as a full-time employee (e.g. video conferencing etc).

The drawbacks were that it took double the time to complete the PhD (which is expected for a part-time external student) and there was no network of fellow students etc.

So, if you want to do a PhD online, chose a university which has a solid reputation as a distance education provider. The university I chose was the leader in this field.

  • 4
    I have no problem with the general thrust of this answer, but I'm curious about how one might determine which universiteis have "solid reputations" in distance education, and which universites are considered "leaders in this field."
    – J.R.
    Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 9:19
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    @J.R. - how do you determine reputation of anything else?
    – Davor
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 8:48
  • 1
    @Davor - DL is still new enough that it's hard to get reliable data on reputations. There are the famous U.S. News & World Report rankings, but I know of at least one school that had a meteoric rise in the ranking of their DL program – not because their program improved, but because their institutional research office was able to fill out the survey questions more completely that it had been able to do in the previous year. You can figure out reputation with surveys, rankings, and data, but it'll be hard to find all those when so many DL programs are barely a decade old, and still evolving.
    – J.R.
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 9:18

YES! If you google "phd by published work" or "PhD by publications", you will find many universities offering such a way of graduating.

Basically, you do your research with no time pressure, with or without colleagues, with or without a mentor (it is better to have a mentor though and colleagues are fun!). You publish your work in scientific journals or books. When you are ready, i.e. an amount of published work equivalent to a regular PhD student, you submit an application to your university. A committee will decide wether or not the body of researches is sufficient or not. And that's it!

A more complete answer can be find here http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/416988.article and here http://www.psy.gla.ac.uk/~steve/resources/phd.html

  • 1
    This seems akin to an honorary degree which, while it definitely commands the respect of peers and asserts your ability to accomplish research goals, is still not equivalent to a traditional PhD. You're missing the entire experience of academia, and what university would hire a professor with no graduate level experience? How could you hope to advise and mentor others, or deal with teaching assistants, without the experience?
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 1:21
  • 11
    This is just an observation of mine but, "the entire experience of academia" is a phrase I see employed when people seem to have few other means of defending academia on the whole. Or really any institutional behemoth. It is a close cousin of religion's "you just have to have faith" when certain hard questions arise. It is indicative, I think, of systemic momentum for the sake of momentum: "We do this, because this is what we do."
    – L0j1k
    Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 8:24
  • 4
    @L0j1k, I'd upvote your comment more times, if I could.
    – ktorn
    Commented May 4, 2015 at 5:28

Yes, you can get a PhD online from a reputable university. I think that most universities would waive nearly all "residency" type requirements when presented with a body of completed research that well surpasses the minimum requirements for a PhD and a sum of money. I would guess that proving the Riemann hypothesis and donating a building would get you a PhD from your choice of university.

More realistically, the question then becomes how does one complete a body of research that well surpasses the minimum requirements for a PhD in the absence of ever attending the university. This actually happens quite frequently with industry based PhDs. Similarly, it is also possible, but difficult, to complete PhD level research without any supervision.

Finding someone at a university who is willing to mentor you online while you do your research will be much harder. While a purely online student can provide all the tangible benefits mentors receive (publications and grant applications), the best mentors enjoy mentoring and they will receive very little of the intangible benefits.

I would consider mentoring an online PhD student. I would even consider funding such a student. That student would have to demonstrate to me that they can provide me access to research that I would otherwise be unable to do. For example, access to unique and proprietary industry data or a rare subject population. They would also have to convince me that they can do the work purely online.

  • 6
    I would guess that proving the Riemann hypothesis and donating a building would get you a PhD from your choice of university. — [citation needed] ...but if you had a proof of the Riemann hypothesis, why would you want a PhD?
    – JeffE
    Commented Jul 16, 2013 at 1:42

The only way I can see anything remotely like this is if you are external - similar to the way I did my Masters - I was in Tokyo, and my university near Brisbane. However, I still had to present a seminar each year on campus.

As aeismail states, there is often a residence requirement.

  • 3
    The external PhD students I know all did their experiments at an external location such as the research labs of a company or at some other institute. There were always practical reasons for that, such as the lab having specialized equipment, doing the experiments close to where the samples are taken, etc. The external PhD students did work mainly in an external (to the university) research environment, but they did not work as "lone wolf". Commented Jul 14, 2013 at 9:12
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    @cbeleites - yes, I had access to equipment and equipment sent to me. But, I still had to report back at least once a year.
    – user7130
    Commented Jul 14, 2013 at 9:17
  • 3
    the "externals" I know did that as well. I just wanted to emphasize that while not being "on campus" they still were involved in relevant professional communities person-to-person on a daily basis. Which is a huge difference to what I'd expect with an online course. Commented Jul 14, 2013 at 9:21
  • @cbeleites definitely agree with you there.
    – user7130
    Commented Jul 14, 2013 at 9:24

There are many schools that offer a PhD (or other Doctorate degree) online.

please note I am speaking only of US schools.

While many are considered degree mills, others rise above this and offer quality education. Still further, many traditional universities have online PhD programs.

The question one should be asking is 'will a PhD completed online be of value, or of as much value of a traditional on campus brick and mortar PhD?'

The answer is highly situational. First, the 'quality education' part. This is determined by accreditation.

Degree mills (where you just pay money and get a degree) are not respectable in the slightest. They are generally not accredited or accredited by a dubious agency. It is a vanity purchase and means nothing of value to anyone of discerning character. They should be avoided at all costs.

Second up is Nationally Accredited. These are actual accredited schools and recognized by the US Dept of Education and are held to some standards. You will have to do the work. You will buy textbooks and it will take you several years to get done. These degrees are often sought by working professionals that do not have time or the ability to go to a campus and compete a residency requirement. In many cases, they are just as rigorous (hard) as a traditional PhD, and in others, much easier.

Third is Regionally Accredited. These are usually state schools that are offering a PhD online. Many are very good schools, others are not. It will depend on the program itself. generally, most people regard regional accreditation a bit higher than national.

Accreditation is the first thing you should look at and find out who the accrediting agency is and if they are legitimate.

The other part of this question is residency. Can the degree be completed 100% online. Some schools will have no residency requirement at all. Every course may be completed online and any exams may be taken at a testing center near you (often a library or local school) with a proctor. Others may require a short residency of a few weeks or a single semester. In between them is a 'weekend residency' where you travel to the university for a few days, at one or more times through out the program. These often take the form of workshops or seminars.

There are various combinations of these traits in hundreds of schools.

To provide an example, the University of Missouri offers several Online Only PhD programs, here is one of them:


Many universities recognize that online education is an effective medium for learning and that not everyone can travel or dedicate time to living on campus. With some research, you are likely to find a PhD program available online that suits your needs. Pay careful attention to accreditation and any residency requirements and you may find a path forward that suits your needs in higher education.

  • According to Mizzou Online, the only doctorate program they offer 100% online is a Ph.D. in Architectural Studies. The program you listed is not actually offered online according to the same site.
    – tonysdg
    Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 16:48
  • One point you might add: It's highly field dependent. In some fields, online doctorates are "normal" and nobody will think twice about them. This typically occurs when there is a high density of people who work full time in a field where a doctoral degree would open certain doors. Education is a good example: there are many reputable EdD (or similar) programs. Nursing is another (many online DNPs). In some other fields, there are essentially no reputable online doctoral programs, or only a handful (e.g. try finding a reputable online PhD in theoretical physics!)
    – ff524
    Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 16:51
  • @tonysdg link corrected, they have a program finder on their website with checkboxes, that came up when the 100% online option was selected. I actually looked into the architectural studies program and had thought they added new offerings, thanks for the catch. to: ff524 :: agreed! Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 8:48

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