Online Doctoral Degrees

Doctorate or doctoral degrees are the highest academic degrees offered. PhDs can be earned in many areas, including history, sociology, and criminology. EdDs are specific to the Education field, although some education programs offer PhDs. Earning a doctoral degree (on campus or through online colleges) can qualify you to teach in higher education.

Benefits of Earning Online Doctoral Degrees

Doctoral degrees represent high-level thinking, writing, and research skills. Earning your degree via online colleges means you can create your own schedule and won't be limited to attending local colleges. Earning doctorate degrees, on average, can also enhance weekly earnings and job stability. Consider these 2014 median-based earnings statistics by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

  • Associate degree: $792/week, 4.5 percent unemployment
  • Bachelor's degree: $1,101/week, 3.5 percent unemployment
  • Master's degree: $1,326/week, 2.8 percent unemployment
  • Professional degree: $1,639/week, 1.9 percent unemployment
  • Doctoral degree: $1,591/week, 2.1 percent unemployment

Not all doctoral degree holders teach. Others work as researchers, consultants, and in various other positions that demand high-level thinking.

The 20 Most Popular Doctoral Degree programs

The following is a list of the 20 most popular PhD programs in the U.S., according to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES). This list includes the number of doctoral degrees conferred by postsecondary institutions for the school year 2012-2013 (the last year for which statistics are available), as well as the types of jobs available to doctoral degree graduates.

1. Health professions and related programs
U.S. universities awarded about 170,000 doctoral degrees in 2012, and more than a third of those went to people studying health professions. These graduates became doctors, counselors, physical therapists, podiatrists, medical researchers or one of a wide range of medical specialties. Job prospects for many in the health profession, particularly for optometrists and podiatrists, will remain strong in coming years, according to the BLS. Most medical professions require an internship or residency.

2. Legal professions and studies
People with doctorates in law or legal studies often find work as lawyers, teachers, jurists, magistrates or judges. These professions often pay well; in 2014, the mean pay for lawyers was $133,470 per year, according to the BLS.

3. Education
Students earning a doctorate in education can often find work in postsecondary education, where job growth in the next several years should be above average, according to the BLS. The greatest demand is expected to be for English language and literature teachers, the BLS reports, who could see up to 50,000 new jobs open up by 2022.

4. Engineering
Doctorates in engineering can lead to jobs as postsecondary teachers, but also jobs in the field as any one of a number of engineering disciplines, from nuclear engineering to civil engineering. Most engineering jobs require only a bachelor's degree, but many student seek higher-level degrees so they can teach or conduct research.

5. Biological and biomedical sciences
Students graduating with doctorates in biology or biomedical sciences often go on to become university professors, researchers, writers and environmental scientists. Jobs for biochemists and biophysicists are expected to grow 19 percent by 2022, with mean annual wages of $91,960, according to data from the BLS.

6. Psychology
High-level studies in psychology prepare students to work as clinical psychologists, neuropsychologists and therapists. Psychiatrists must attend medical school and complete a four-year residency. Clinical, counseling and school psychologists also must complete an internship/residency, and jobs in those fields are expected to grow faster than average in the next several years, the BLS says.

7. Physical sciences and science technologies
Some doctoral programs in the physical sciences aim to prepare their graduates for work on interdisciplinary science teams studying astronomy, biochemistry, biophysics and other disciplines. These students often go on to teach or to conduct theoretical or laboratory research. Opportunities for biochemists and biophysicists are expected to grow faster than normal, according to the BLS.

8. Social sciences
Students with doctorates in social sciences graduate with a deep understanding of economics, political science and econometrics, and are highly valued in education, government and industry. Those who go on to teach economics, for instance, earn a mean annual salary of $102,120, according to the BLS.

9. Business
Most students graduating with a PhD in business are headed to teaching or research jobs at colleges or universities. There, the BLS reports that jobs are expected to grow by 19 percent a year from 2012-2022, and they paid an annual mean salary of $88,740 as of May 2014.

10. Theology and religious vocations
Nearly 2,500 doctoral degrees in theology, biblical studies and religious vocations were granted in the U.S. to students who went on to teach, lead religious missions or become pastors at churches. The mean annual wage for clergy in the U.S. is $47,730, and the number of jobs is expected to grow about as fast as normal, the BLS reports.

11. Visual and performing arts
Artists often earn a Master of Fine Arts, which allows them to also teach, but now some universities hiring arts professors are looking for candidates who are also scholars and philosophers of art. This, according to Inside HighEd, allows these graduates to teach both studio and academic courses. The mean annual wage for postsecondary art teachers is $75,350, and overall job growth for postsecondary teachers is expected to be nearly 20 percent in the coming years, the BLS reports.

12. Computer and information sciences
The BLS reports that jobs for computer and information research scientists, who earn a mean annual salary of $113,190, is expected to grow by 15 percent by 2022, faster than average. These graduates invent and design new approaches to using computers.

13. Mathematics and statistics
The demand for mathematicians is expected to grow by 23 percent in the coming years, faster than average, as the federal government and private industry turn to them for help on engineering and other science challenges, the BLS reports. The mean pay for mathematicians is $104,350 a year.

14. English language and literature/letters
Students who earn a doctorate in English often go into teaching, where the demand for teachers is growing and jobs pay $68,390 annually, according to the BLS.

15. Agriculture and natural resources
Like many who earn doctorates, those who get a PhD in agriculture and natural resources often go into high-level research or postsecondary education. Agriculture and food scientists earn an annual salary of $58,6710, as of 2012 data from the BLS, and jobs in the field are growing about as fast as average.

16. Foreign languages, literatures, and linguistics
Jobs for foreign language and literature teachers are growing a little faster than average, the BLS reports, and they pay $67,910 annually. In addition to teaching, doctorate holders also become writers and translators, working for the government and the courts.

17. History
Historians with a PhD often teach at the postsecondary level, write books and articles about history, or use their deep knowledge of historical periods to advise governments on national and international affairs. Postsecondary history teachers are paid a mean annual wage of $73,720, the BLS reports.

18. Public administration and social services
People who earn doctorates in this field often go into teaching and research. They earn grants and conduct studies that they deliver to influential audiences around the world. Those who prefer working in social services can also find work. Social and community service manager jobs pay a mean salary of $67,730 a year, and jobs will grow 21 percent between 2012 and 2022, the BLS reports.

19. Philosophy and religious studies
Doctorate degrees in this field allow students to teach, write, lead religious missions or become religious leaders. The median annual wage for clergy in the U.S. is $47,730, and the number of jobs is expected to grow at a normal pace, the BLS reports.

20. Multi/interdisciplinary studies
Interdisciplinary scholars often establish their own area of study because their interests don't lay completely in one field. The absence of boundaries allows the students to explore niches of study that can lead to work later in life as a leader of interdisciplinary teams.


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  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/home.htm
  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Computer and Information Research Scientists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-and-information-research-scientists.htm
  4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Clergy, www.bls.gov/ooh/about/data-for-occupations-not-covered-in-detail.htm
  5. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Occupation Finder, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/occupation-finder.htm?pay=&education=Bachelor%26rsquo%3Bs+degree&training=&newjobs=&growth=&submit=GO
  6. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Employment Projects, http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm
  7. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Historians, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/historians.htm
  8. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Mathematicians, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/math/mathematicians.htm
  9. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Postsecondary teachers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm
  10. Digest of Education Statistics, National Center for Educational Statistics, https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d13/tables/dt13_324.25.asp
  11. For Artists, M.F.A. or Ph.D.? Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2013/05/24/phd-challenges-mfa-requisite-degree-arts-professors-essay
  12. Marquette University: What Can You Do With a Major in Biomedical Sciences?, http://www.marquette.edu/explore/what-can-you-do-with-a-major-in-biomedical-sciences.php
  13. Stanford Graduate School of Business PhD Program. https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/programs/phd

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