Can You Get a PhD Online?

Woman studying and working on her online degree

When you’re ready to further your academic and professional qualifications, you may start thinking about heading back to school. But if you are already pursuing a career, it can be burdensome to attend classes on campus while continuing to meet your current professional responsibilities. Online classes may be an ideal solution for those who must balance professional and academic obligations. This raises further questions, such as Can you get a PhD online? and If a professional terminal degree is better suited to your needs, can you get a EdD or DBA online?

Yes, you can indeed earn both terminal degrees (PhD or professional) online, depending on the school and your particular degree program (some programs may have in-person residency requirements, including Grand Canyon University). If you are passionate about your field of study, but you have a schedule that makes it challenging to attend classes on a university campus to obtain your doctoral degree, then an online PhD may be a perfect fit for you.

Can you do a PhD online at Grand Canyon University? Yes, GCU offers an online PhD in counselor education and supervision and an online PhD in psychology with a variety of emphases, including performance psychology, cognitive psychology and I/O psychology, as well as technology, learning and psychology. Each program features an integrated dissertation that allows learners to start the dissertation process immediately.

In This Article: 

Why Pursue an Online Doctorate?

Now that you know the answer to the question, Can you get a doctorate online? it’s time to consider some of the reasons why you might take this route. An online doctorate or PhD program can offer the following benefits compared to an on-campus program:

  • Flexibility: When you’re able to attend classes online, it may be easier to fit them around your existing schedule.
  • Time saver: Although you’ll need to find the time to attend classes online, you won’t have to spend time stuck in traffic as you commute to campus.
  • Geographic freedom: An on-campus doctoral program requires learners to live within commuting distance of their school. In contrast, if you choose to earn your PhD online, you can choose the school that best fits your needs.

How Does an Online Doctorate Work?

Every school and doctoral program establishes their own procedures and policies. In general, however, you’ll be able to attend classes from anywhere, provided you have a high-speed internet connection.

Just like an on-campus program, you’ll be responsible for completing online course assignments by set due dates. You can view course materials on the e-learning platform, and you can also participate in discussions with fellow learners and instructors on the platform.

The traditional approach for a PhD program is to first complete all of the coursework, and then work on the dissertation. However, at GCU, doctoral learners begin planning the dissertation when they start classes, whether online or on campus.

At some schools, you’ll need to travel to the campus for residencies, which may last a few days each. Other schools may offer online residencies. These residencies are opportunities to present and polish your dissertation research. GCU’s residencies are offered on or near campus and allow you to work in-person with faculty who are knowledgeable in research and the dissertation process. During these residencies, you will have the opportunity to master the resources available to you as well as establish a collaborative network of doctoral peers.

Are Online PhD Programs Respected? (And Other Misconceptions About Online Doctorate Programs)

Aside from the query, Can you do a PhD online? there are some other persistent questions and misconceptions about online doctoral programs. Explore a few of them here:

  • Are online PhD programs respected? When the internet was young, online degree programs were virtually unheard of. These days, it’s far more common for learners to earn all types of degrees online. According to a study by Northeastern University, 61% of HR leaders believe that credentials earned online are of equal quality as those earned in person, and 71% reported they have personally hired someone who earned their degree or credentials online.1
  • Myth: Few people earn graduate degrees online. This myth is exactly that — a myth. Distance learning has been increasing in recent years, with a sharp spike during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, 42% of postbaccalaureate students had taken at least one online class. In 2021, that figure had risen to 56%.2
  • Myth: The quality of the instruction is reduced. In fact, while learning in these programs may take place predominantly online, online PhD students can generally expect to receive the same quality of instruction as on-campus students.1
  • Myth: There aren’t any opportunities for networking. Networking is definitely an important component of a doctoral program. Fortunately, you can indeed enjoy digital networking opportunities as an online student. You can also connect with your instructors and your dissertation advisor whenever you need to or take advantage of networking opportunities during your residency.

How To Prepare for an Online Doctorate

Starting an online doctorate program is a huge decision, but with a bit of organization and planning, it can be much easier to take on. Here are a few things to keep in mind when preparing to start your program.

Participate in Class

At GCU, each week your online doctorate program will start on Thursday (day one) and end on Wednesday (day seven). You will be expected to complete two discussion questions (150–250 words each) every week. The first discussion question is due by day three (Saturday) and the second discussion question is due by day five (Monday). You will also be expected to submit three substantive responses to your classmates on three separate days (150–250 words each). 

Remember to acknowledge the participation needed for each class; some may require a different level of participation based on the instructor. Be sure to make time for each class, perform the work at a high level and meet your professor’s expectations. Study time is also crucial to any program because it allows you to prepare for assignments and tests. Consider designating a study area to you to get the most out of your allotted study times.

Create a Time Management Plan

Develop a study schedule. Find 20 hours per week to devote to your online doctorate. We recommend blocks of time of at least one hour, with one block of time of six to eight hours on one day.

Finding that kind of time isn't always easy — so be creative. Delegate tasks to those in your support network who want to support you during your doctoral studies. Commute to work using public transportation or in a carpool instead of driving yourself; that way you can study instead of watching the road. Devote an hour before work, during lunch or after work. Once you establish a study schedule, stick to it.

Manage your time wisely. Be sure to allot enough time to successfully complete your assignments and respond to discussion questions. Each class will require you to write anywhere from four to eight papers (typically five to six), so determine how long it takes you to write a 1,500-word research paper (six to seven pages) and plan your time accordingly.

Develop a Personal Support Network

GCU’s doctoral programs are time-intensive, and it is important to have a personal support network to encourage you along this journey. Be sure to speak with your family and friends about your doctoral program, make them aware of the time commitment involved and ask them to help support you along the way.

You should also always have a back-up plan. What will you do if your personal computer breaks down? To back up your work, we recommend a flash drive or external hard drive.

Tips for Earning Your Online Doctorate

Once you’ve made the decision to earn an online doctorate, you’ll need to maintain your level of commitment throughout the program. You can expect long hours and hard work, so stay motivated and make the most of your academic journey.

Stay Motivated

Your level of motivation is a key factor in determining your success as a doctorate learner. Balancing your online coursework with other responsibilities can be challenging, and at certain points in your degree program, you may feel tempted to give up.

However, it is important to never lose sight of the benefits that will come with having your online doctorate degree. In addition to major milestones, it is also important to focus on the small successes throughout your doctorate journey, as this can help you to avoid feeling overwhelmed and stay motivated!

Immerse Yourself in Research

Research is an important component of any doctoral degree. Therefore, be sure to immerse yourself in research during your time as a doctorate learner. This can help you to gain valuable knowledge and become familiar with the role of research in your field.

For example, if you are earning your PhD online, you may have the opportunity to conduct research that can lead to new developments in current research or the creation of new theories. Conducting research can be exciting — especially if you get to see your work published. Therefore, taking advantage of research opportunities can be beneficial for doctorate learners.

Perfect Your Reading and Writing Skills

Having strong reading and writing skills is necessary for completing an online doctorate degree. In an online format, nearly all of your communication with professors and other learners will be done through writing, and most of your assignments will be completed in written format as well. In addition, you will most likely be given reading assignments in order to engage with the class material.


With GCU’s interactive digital classrooms, you will have the opportunity to connect with your classmates and professors. Building these relationships can bring many benefits, both during your time as a doctoral learner and after you graduate.

While you are a doctoral learner, connecting with peers can allow you to bounce ideas off one another and develop teamwork skills. In addition, by building relationships with your professors, you can receive valuable feedback and advice. GCU’s Doctoral Community (DC) Network® helps to keep learners and faculty connected virtually throughout their program and after graduation through inactive communication, instant notifications, and an indexed search functionality that offers collaboration among those with similar academic interests.

How To Choose an Online Doctorate Program

Only you can determine which online doctorate program is right for you. However, you’ll want to consider the quality of the instruction, your career goals and the type of degrees available when selecting a program. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does this degree program align with my professional goals and personal interests?
  • Is the online doctorate accredited?
  • Does the online program require any in-person residencies?
  • Is the dissertation integrated into the coursework, or will I have to finish all of my classes first before I can start working on my research?
  • How flexible is the class schedule?
  • Will I have opportunities to interact with fellow learners and instructors?

Can You Get a PhD Online at GCU?

Yes, you can indeed earn a PhD online at GCU. The College of Doctoral Studies is proud to offer a variety of online doctoral programs, including the following online PhDs in psychology.

Online PhD in Performance Psychology

The online PhD in performance psychology may appeal to individuals looking for an opportunity to position themselves for possible advancement in their sports, business, sales, marketing or higher education careers. This degree concentrates on the psychology of human performance in professions that demand excellence. Learners examine empirical, research-based approaches to understand mental progressions and thought processes.

Online PhD in Cognitive Psychology

GCU’s online PhD in cognitive psychology can prepare learners to train adult educational communities and develop the best instructional methods by evaluating the construction and analysis of all learning outcomes, including social cognition and assessments. Learners in this program are taught useful knowledge in cognitive research and instructional applications. After completing their studies, graduates may be able to position themselves for possible advancement within their careers, whether it be in a government position, school system or other instructional settings.

Online PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology

During the online PhD in I/O psychology degree program, learners are invited to explore the psychology behind human behavior at work, employee–management relationships and strategies for improving workplace performance. While enrolled in this program, learners are encouraged to gain an in-depth understanding of the contributors that drive individual performance, as well as the external forces that impact these behaviors. 

Online PhD Psych Tech

Learners interested in studying the influence of mass communication and its effects on organizations and modern society may consider GCU’s online PhD with an emphasis in technology, learning and psychology. The curriculum dives deep into research, statistical analysis and evidence-based outcomes to optimize the use of technology in various environments. 

GCU is committed to providing quality doctoral degree programs. To learn more about the opportunities available at GCU and the College of Doctoral Studies, fill out the form on this page. 


1Villagomez, Blanca. (2023). Are Online Ph.D. Programs Legitimate? Intelligent. Retrieved October 4, 2023. 

2National Center for Education Statistics. (2023). Postbaccalaureate enrollment by distance education enrollment. U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved August 22, 2023.

Approved by the dean of the College of Doctoral Studies on Oct. 2, 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.