In the upper ranks of the business world, thought leaders, chief executive officers and top management officials brainstorm and execute the business strategies that put their companies on the map. In most cases, climbing the corporate ladder into one of these lead positions takes more than job experience; earning a Doctor of Business Administration degree online can help you move toward your goal.

Commonly known by its abbreviation — DBA — Doctor of Business Administration programs occupy the highest tier of academic learning available for aspiring business professionals. There's also another top-level degree, the Ph.D. in business administration, which is geared toward students hoping to join the ranks of university researchers and business scholars rather than C-suite executives. We'll provide info about both options in the sections to follow.

Earning a DBA or Ph.D. in business administration can lead to a number of fast-paced careers in finance, marketing and the broader business world. With an advanced business degree, some of the career options available to you include teaching advanced business principles to students as a college professor, working as a statistician or venturing into the complex and crucial field of global economics.

Frequently Asked Questions

The abbreviation used to denote Doctor of Business Administration programs can be confusing to some people, since DBA can also stand for "doing business as" in corporate filings and other regulatory and tax paperwork. In an academic context, such as with university advisors and professors, DBA almost always refers to the degree program. When you're filing the necessary forms to create a corporation or other business entity, DBA is likely to mean "doing business as" and refers to the name you've chosen to use for your enterprise.

It's possible to complete some DBA or Ph.D. in business administration programs entirely online, while others require visits to campus for intensive sessions. An in-person residency may also be required in some online DBA programs. A residency can provide hands-on experience during important parts of your academic program, tying the knowledge you're building to its applications in the real world. Each individual program provides its own guidelines for how to get a DBA online, so be sure to check with an advisor while you're in the application process.
  • DBA — Students pursuing DBA degrees online tend to go on to use their business expertise in a professional capacity, such as running a large non-profit organization or consulting with business executives on sound commercial strategies.
  • Ph.D. — Those who enroll in Ph.D. in business administration programs are often building skills for careers as business researchers, teachers and scholars.

Some DBA holders may also teach, and some Ph.D.s may work outside of scholarly systems, but the study plans typically angle their material toward one side or the other.

Accreditation is a way for programs and institutions to demonstrate to students that the instruction they provide meets an accepted standard of quality and rigor. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) is one of the largest accreditors of doctoral business programs of worldwide, with nearly 900 business schools in more than 50 countries having earned accreditation through them. The Association of MBAs (AMBA) is another international accrediting body that covers campus-based and online DBA programs, with more than 260 total graduate, undergraduate and post-graduate business programs in its accreditation portfolio.


Doctorate in Business Administration Program Overview

We've laid out some peripheral information so far, but what exactly is a DBA? In simple terms, it's a post-graduate degree program that requires highly advanced study and research of a specialized avenue within the business disciplines.

A large portion of DBA students are established professionals returning to school to expand their knowledge and leadership capabilities. Students in business Ph.D. programs often have professional experience, although some may have followed the degree path upward without spending much time outside of academia.

Once a student begins their program, they tend to study independently as they dig into the finer details of economics, marketing and quantitative analysis. The second stage of an online DBA or Ph.D. in business administration program typically involves in-depth research and preparation for a dissertation or other capstone project that synthesizes what they've learned over the course of the program.

Earning an Online Doctorate in Business Administration

How long do online DBA programs take?

The amount of time you'll spend earning your DBA online can depend greatly on the institution you attend and the schedule of classes you choose to take as you study. Some schools offer DBA programs on an accelerated timeline that allows for degree completion in as little as two years, while others emphasize a four- or five-year model to better accommodate students who continue to work while they earn their doctorates. It's common for institutions to require that DBA students complete all their degree requirements within seven years in order to graduate.

What are the requirements to start a DBA in business administration?

Each institution that offers a DBA or Ph.D. in business administration either online or on campus sets its own admissions requirements, but there are a few things that are likely to be expected by most accredited schools:

  • A master's degree, preferably in business or a related field, from an accredited college or university
  • Around five years of professional experience (or a full-time position on a college business faculty)
  • A demonstrable track record of professional or academic achievements

Make sure to check in with the admissions department at your chosen school for more details on the requirements that apply to you, and check out our link on how to apply to grad school for more tips.

Why earn a doctorate in business administration?

The doctorate is the highest degree available for a business professional, and it can be very helpful to have that top level of education if the business you conduct has complex strategic needs or requires deep knowledge of advanced concepts. It's also the case that the majority of research positions are only available to candidates with Ph.D.s, so a doctoral degree can be essential for some career paths.

On top of that, statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that professionals with doctoral degrees earn substantially more than their less-educated counterparts. Those with doctorates earned just shy of $98,000 per year on average in 2019, while master's degree holders earned around $20,000 less.

Degree Timeline

Complete core business courses

Core classwork is part of any DBA or Ph.D. program in business and often includes research skills and other scholarly fundamentals. There has been an increased focus on ethics in business programs over the last several years, so you're likely to take some ethics courses in your first year or two as well.

Choose a specialization and take elective courses

Students typically dive more deeply into their areas of focus as their studies advance. Here's a short list of elective courses that may be available:

  • Global strategic management
  • International marketing
  • Competitive analysis and strategy
  • Negotiations and dispute settlement
  • Leadership solutions for innovation

Dissertation/capstone projects

The final project in doctoral programs can be related to real-world business cases or theoretical scholarship. A dissertation can require students to stand before a review panel and defend their research and findings.


Residencies, which can include several short stays on campus or regular visits to a place of business, can be a great opportunity to enrich your learning and enhance your business skills. Residencies may be several days or weeks in length, and often allow you to gain experience that can't be given in a single seminar.

DBA Concentrations

  • Business intelligence. This concentration focuses on data analytics and teaching students how to make better business decisions by understanding problems from multiple perspectives. Business intelligence skills can help you identify trends in the market, pinpoint growth opportunities and conduct your operations as efficiently as possible.
  • Project management. Nearly every business on earth faces project management challenges, and concentrating your DBA study in this vital specialization can equip you with the knowledge and techniques you need to meet those challenges head-on. Learn to manage risk, lead diverse teams of professionals and improve results.
  • Financial management. Sound financial fundamentals are an undeniably important part of running a good business, and specializing in financial management can teach you what it takes to handle organizational finances. Common courses in this concentration include managerial economics, investment management, capital markets, financial statement analysis and behavioral corporate finance.
  • Healthcare administration. Hospitals and other healthcare facilities tend to deal with unique operational circumstances, and this concentration focuses directly on the tools and skills needed to manage them. Students learn about healthcare compliance and law, healthcare informatics, quality control in healthcare and the special economics of the field.
  • Human resource management. A strong workforce is a valuable business asset, and learning the finer points of human resource management can teach you how to increase efficiency, productivity and employee satisfaction. Students in this concentration expect to study subjects like labor relations, supervisory practices and effective learning concepts.
  • Leadership. Leadership is one of the most important skills for a top-level manager or executive. Becoming an expert in business leadership can help you learn to effectively motivate your workers, develop long-term growth strategies and manage your enterprise in a socially and environmentally responsible way.
  • Strategy and innovation. Innovation carries a high value in today's business world, and choosing this concentration for your DBA can help you learn the essential theories and practices that produce actionable results. Strategy and innovation students study how to leverage information to create groundbreaking business opportunities.
  • Information technology management. Well-organized information technology (IT) management can reduce business overhead and provide advanced and efficient solutions for your computing and data infrastructures. Courses in this specialization often address real-world issues in enterprise IT and work to help you generate policies and processes that streamline your operations.
  • Marketing. Especially in a business climate that relies on data-driven approaches to make its decisions, becoming an expert in the art of marketing can provide a big boost to your and your company's endeavors. Concentrating your DBA in marketing can help you gain an advanced understanding of research design and consumer behavior.
  • Accounting. The more complex the operations of a business, the more nuance may be required in its accounting practices to ensure proper compliance and planning. Earning an accounting-focused DBA can give you the expertise you need to run an efficient business or provide high-value consulting services to existing enterprises.

Career Outlook

What Can You Do with a DBA or Ph.D. in Business Administration?

Check out this quick list of careers that may be available to graduates with a DBA or Ph.D. in business administration:

Online DBA and Ph.D. in Business Certifications

Program Management Professional (PgMP)

Offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI), this senior-level credential is designed to certify advanced professionals who manage multiple projects in a coordinated fashion to promote an organization's strategic goals.

Requirements: Bachelor's degree holders must have 6,000 hours of project management and program management experience; candidates without four-year degrees need 4,500 extra hours of experience in program management.

Exam Format: 170 multiple-choice questions with a four-hour time limit.

How long does the certification last?: Maintaining a PgMP certification requires 60 professional development units (PDUs) every three years.

Certified Investment Management Analyst (CIMA)

This credential, issued by the Investments and Wealth Institute, can demonstrate that you have the expertise necessary to skillfully manage investment portfolios for individuals and enterprises.

Requirements: Candidates must complete an approved educational component, either in college or from an independent provider, along with having three years of financial service experience and a solid record of ethical conduct.

Exam Format: 140 multiple-choice questions with a five-hour time limit.

How long does the certification last?: Every two years, CIMA holders must complete 40 hours of continuing education.

Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM)

Governmental finance can be complicated, and professionals with the CGFM credential from the Association of Government Accountants (AGA) are certified as understanding the special challenges of the field and how to meet them.

Requirements: A bachelor's degree, two years of experience in government financial management and an agreement to abide by the AGA code of ethics.

Exam Format: Three comprehensive exams of 115 questions each, with a time limit of two hours and fifteen minutes.

How long does the certification last?: A renewal fee and at least 80 hours of continuing professional education are required every two years.

Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP)

The Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM) provides this credential to professionals specializing in logistics and supply chain dynamics with a global reach.

Requirements: A bachelor's degree, three years of relevant business experience or one of a list of similar certifications.

Exam Format: 150 multiple-choice questions with a three-hour time limit.

How long does the certification last?: CSCP holders must accumulate 75 professional development points every five years to maintain their certification.

Professional Associations for DBAs and Ph.D.s in Business

Membership in a professional organization can provide networking opportunities, professional development resources and other benefits. Here are a few organizations available to business professionals:

This organization serves the supply chain and logistics professions and offers two levels of membership to suit your career needs. Both levels include career resources; PLUS members get additional discounts.
Business professionals in the healthcare field can earn proprietary certifications relevant to their specialization and receive an invitation to the group's Annual National Institute (ANI) for professional development and networking.
This professional association offers access to a global community of international business scholars and features members-only subscription to a total of four proprietary publications on international business.
PMI is one of the largest business associations in the world with more than half a million members and over 300 local chapters. It provides members with a wealth of career tools and online professional development events.