Online Ph.D. Programs With No Dissertation: Specializations, Cost & Period of Study

Online Ph.D. Programs With No Dissertation: Specializations, Cost & Period of Study
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

Unlike in the past when most schools required a dissertation for a doctoral degree, many now offer online Ph.D. programs with no dissertation to students. This seems to be attracting many postgraduate students as there are over 1.3 million of them who are enrolled in one or more distance education courses (NCES, 2019). 

If you are searching for Ph.D. programs that do not require a dissertation, this guide is a good place to start. It will provide a list of the programs you can take entirely online and include details such as the length of the program and average annual tuition. 

Online Ph.D. Programs with No Dissertation Table of Contents

  1. Accounting
  2. Adult and Career Education
  3. Behavioral Health
  4. Business Administration
  5. Criminal Justice
  6. Curriculum and Instruction
  7. Educational Administration
  8. Finance
  9. Grief Counseling
  10. Healthcare Administration
  11. Human Resources
  12. Information Technology
  13. Management
  14. Nursing Practice
  15. Occupational Therapy
  16. Physical Therapy
  17. Public Administration
  18. Public Health
  19. Psychology
  20. Social Work

The Purpose of Dissertations in Ph.D. Education

The purpose of a dissertation is to demonstrate the student’s skills in conducting independent research that will contribute new theories and knowledge to the field they are studying. These skills include performing investigations, forming hypotheses, and critical thinking skills. Excellent writing and presentation skills will also be necessary when completing a dissertation.

As Roberts and Seaman pointed out in their paper “Students’ Experiences of Undergraduate Dissertation Supervision,” “the primary purpose of a dissertation is to apply the research skills the student has honed in their time in university (Roberts and Seaman, 2018). Waheed et al (2021) quoting Maqsood et al (2019) also states that “the education and professional development of doctoral students as researchers is one of the essential functions of most leading educational institutions.”

The Dissertation Requirement  

Most universities require a dissertation as part of the requirements to obtain a doctoral degree. However, do all Ph.D. programs have a dissertation?

The simple answer there is no. Trends in higher education are moving towards online learning and more universities are offering online Ph.D. programs with no dissertation options to students.

This does not mean though that online Ph.D. programs without dissertations are going to be easier to complete or are less in quality. In fact, 41% said that college-level online learning was better than their classroom experience (Wiley Education Services, 2020).

Capstone projects require the same rigorous research and critical thinking because they aim to provide practical and immediate solutions to real-world problems in a specific field or issues directly affecting a community. For example, in the field of Marketing, a capstone project might be developing methods that will increase customer engagement. In Computer Science, it can be writing software that can address issues in the supply chain operations of small businesses.

Whether a program requires a dissertation or a capstone will largely depend on the focus of the university offering the program. Programs with dissertations go deep into original research that may not be immediately applicable in the workplace or community but can help specialists in the field or educators in understanding an issue.

On the other hand, programs with capstone allow students to apply theory and research on practice-focused projects; thus, will also entail more group work and interpersonal opportunities compared to doing individual work on a dissertation.

Online Doctoral Programs in Accounting

Whether you recently obtained your Master’s degree or have been working many years in the field of accounting, pursuing a no dissertation Ph.D. degree in Accounting can be a worthwhile endeavor. Online doctoral programs in Accounting have made it even more attractive to working professionals who might not have the time to attend in-person lessons.

Coursework for online Ph.D. Accounting programs focus on specialized and advanced courses students need to complete their final project. There can also be teaching practicums and written or oral examinations. A few of the common courses are Statistical Analysis, Behavioral Accounting Research, Research Methods, Capital Markets Research, and Empirical Research.

Examples of specializations:

  • Forensic Accounting
  • Public Accounting
  • Finance
  • Audit Accounting
  • Accounting Information Systems

A typical online Ph.D. Accounting degree can take four to seven years. Aside from the many years, you need to dedicate to your study, you should also prepare for the cost. The cost of doctoral programs will largely depend on your program, school, cost of living, and research needs. The average is $92,200 and $127,100 from public and private universities respectively.

Online Doctoral Programs in Adult and Career Education

Adult and Career Education doctoral programs help education professionals gain effective skills in teaching adult students and drive innovation and lifelong learning. This is especially relevant considering there are over 36 million adults with some college education but no degree and about 10% (3 million) are likely to go back and finish their degree (NSC, 2019).

Courses included in this program are Adult Learning Theory, Leadership in Adult Education, Current Issues in Adult Learning, Cognitive Coaching, and Teaching Diverse Learners. Graduates of this program can use their expertise not only in college education but also in corporate training, vocational instruction, and leadership roles.

Examples of specializations:

  • Adult Learning & Leadership
  • Higher & Adult Education
  • Educational Leadership: Adult Education

Full-time students can usually finish this degree in three to five years. As for the cost, most programs require 60 to 66 credits and per-credit-cost is from $350 to $775. So, you can expect tuition to be from $21,000 to $55,000.

Online PhD Programs No Dissertation 2

Online Doctoral Programs in Behavioral Health

A doctorate degree in Behavioral Health (D.B.H) is for clinical professionals interested in advancing their capabilities in providing medical services for general well-being through behavioral changes. Through this program, students will have a deeper understanding of how mental health affects physical health and learn behavioral intervention and counseling to help patients improve their mental state. Coursework often includes studying the U.S. healthcare system, understanding the psychosocial determinants of healthcare, and learning about advanced issues in behavioral healthcare.

Examples of specializations:

  • Psychopharmacology
  • Population Health Management
  • Clinical Specialization

Students can complete a typical D.B.M. program in approximately 12 months. This is why this program is popular among students in the field who want to gain advanced studies but not spend so many years trying to finish their degree. Cost-per-credit for food D.B.M. can range from $400 to more than $600. Ph.D. programs can require anywhere from 60 to 120 credits, so it is best to check how many credits a program has before you enroll.

Online Doctoral Programs in Business Administration

A Business Administration doctoral degree program or DBA aims to help experienced professionals gain a deeper understanding of principles and strategies used in governing global business. Business Administration offers a long list of career options and is a highly in-demand degree.

Some of the skills you can expect to gain throughout your Business Administration doctoral study include transformational leadership, effective presentation and business analysis, organizational communication, and advanced management skills for effective business operations.

Examples of specializations:

  • Business Intelligence and Data Analytics
  • Strategic Leadership
  • Information Technology Management
  • International Finance
  • Advanced Production and Operations Analysis

It is possible to complete a DBA program in three years; however, it will be very different for each student as internships and capstone projects take on many forms. As for the cost, NCES data indicates the annual average graduate tuition at public institutions to be at $19,000. Some of the top universities charge more than $43,000.

Online Doctoral Programs in Criminal Justice

Obtaining a doctoral degree in Criminal Justice opens doors to top career opportunities at universities, private organizations, and the federal government such as the Department of Homeland Security. The median annual pay for professionals in this field can be between $65,000 and $92,000, depending on the industry (BLS, 2021).

Throughout your coursework, you can expect to conduct rigorous academic research on the causes of crime and how policies impact criminal justice. Programs are also highly interdisciplinary, so prepare to take advanced courses in areas like demography, statistics, psychology, and sociology.

Examples of specializations:

  • Organizational Leadership
  • Homeland Security
  • Investigative Science
  • Policing and Law Enforcement
  • Criminal Behavior

Most Ph.D. programs in Criminal Justice take three years to complete but it can take longer for part-time students. The type of capstone project and teaching practicums you undertake will also influence the length of your study. The cost of tuition can range from $22,000 to more than $66,000, depending on the type of university and other student fees connected with your specific program.

Median Annual Wages: Police and Detectives 
Federal government$92,080
State government, excluding education and hospitals 70,280
Local government, excluding education and hospitals65,850

Online Doctoral Programs in Curriculum and Instruction

A doctoral degree program in Curriculum and Instruction dives deep into educational theory and techniques in developing comprehensive curricula that cater to diverse student bodies. You can expect to attend courses in a wide range of disciplines including psychology, ethics, law, instructional technology, and educational statistics.

Completing a doctoral degree also qualifies students for top positions in educational administration and postsecondary teaching. They can also have rewarding careers in curriculum design, academic research, and private organizations offering educational services.

Examples of specializations:

  • Higher Education Teaching
  • Learning, Design, and Technology
  • Urban and Multicultural Education
  • Learning and Development
  • Early Childhood Education

Depending on the program’s courses and the student’s capstone project, a doctoral degree in this field can be completed in three to five years. It typically consists of 60 to 66 credits with cost-per-credit at $350 to $775. So, tuition can be around $21,000 to more than $55,000.

Online Doctoral Programs in Educational Administration

Ph.D. programs in Educational Administration equips students with the knowledge and skills to handle issues and implement policies to run educational institutions. The duties and responsibilities of education administrators are vast but they commonly include analyzing finances, creating curricula, creating budgets, and mentoring teachers.

The coursework for this doctoral degree is highly interdisciplinary. Programs often include not only education-related courses like student and faculty development but also business courses like management and finance and budget.

Examples of specializations:

  • Higher Education Leadership
  • Special Education
  • Community Colleges
  • Instructional Design
  • P-12 System Level School Leadership

It takes about three to four years to complete a Ph.D. in Educational Administration. It can be longer for part-time students and shorter if you enroll in institutions that have a fast-track option for students. Tuition costs for this type of program can be between $20,000 and $55,000. You can always apply for student financial aid to help cover some of the cost.

Online Doctoral Programs in Finance

A Ph.D. in Finance will help students advance their skills and knowledge in areas such as banking, accounting, asset management, economics, data analysis, and financial policymaking. This will qualify them for high-paying jobs in the finance world as well as post-secondary teaching positions at universities.

Courses covered in Finance doctoral programs can be very different depending on the specialization and the school. But most include courses on analysis and research methods, empirical methods in finance, and wealth management.

Examples of specializations:

  • Financial Management
  • Public Finance/Finance Administration
  • Finance
  • Financial Planning
  • Accounting

A typical Ph.D. in Finance can take five years to complete. Some students might finish in six years, especially if they are working while studying. As for the cost, depending on the school, tuition can be from $20,000 to more than $50,000 on average.

Source: BLS, 2021

Online Doctoral Programs in Grief Counseling

An online doctoral degree program in Grief Counseling is for students who want to further their education in the grief and bereavement field. Earning this degree will not only help professionals in this field counsel their patients better but also teach those who want to gain knowledge and skills in counseling as well.

Coursework for this program often includes courses that prepare students for group and individual counseling. Students will be able to identify different stages of grief and how to address them, work with survivors of traumatic events, and help assuage the pain of those grieving. You can expect courses covering trauma, loss, resilience, and psychotherapy.

Examples of specializations:

  • Human Services Counseling
  • Addiction Counseling
  • Trauma and Crisis Counseling

This is one of the shortest online doctoral programs available online. Full-time students can complete this program within 12 months. The average tuition per semester for this program is $4,000 to $5,000.

Online Doctoral Programs in Healthcare Administration

Healthcare Administration Ph.D. programs aim to equip students with the knowledge and practical skills they need to improve the quality of healthcare services. Obtaining a doctoral degree in this field can qualify professionals for jobs as medical and health services managers, university professors, social service managers, and executives in private organizations.

The curriculum often covers healthcare-related areas of study that are focused on policymaking, management, and finance. Common courses include health policy, leadership strategies for healthcare organizations, health informatics, healthcare economics, and financial management.

Examples of specializations:

  • Healthcare Law and Policy
  • Health Leadership and Administration
  • Healthcare Management and Economics
  • Healthcare Informatics

This program can be completed in as short as two years and as long as seven years depending on factors like course load and capstone project. The cost range for this doctoral degree can be pricey ranging from $20,000 to $60,000. So, consider submitting your FAFSA form to see if you are eligible for grants and scholarships.

Online Doctoral Programs in Human Resources

Ph.D. programs in Human Resources are best fit to experienced Human Resource professionals who want to gain more in-depth knowledge that can help address issues in their field. With a doctoral degree, HR professionals can serve in top positions in the corporate world, become researchers, or pursue teaching careers in higher education.

Specific courses will vary based on the specialization but you can expect to cover courses on how to manage people and improve employee performance. Courses can include compensation and benefits, human capital management, labor laws, organizational communication, and diversity and inclusion.

Examples of specializations:

  • Organizational Leadership
  • Human Resource Management
  • Compensation and Benefits
  • Training and Development

Most doctoral programs for Human Resources require between 58 and 66 credits and can be completed in two to four years for full-time students. Cost-per-credit is usually between $420 and $995. As such, tuition can range from $24,000 and $66,000.

Online Doctoral Programs in Information Technology

A doctorate degree in Information Technology is best suited to IT professionals who want to develop advanced skills in Technology and Computing. It also prepares candidates for senior job roles in government agencies and private companies. Plus, it can open opportunities to teach at colleges and universities.

Coursework for a Ph.D. in Information Technology often covers the latest technologies including artificial intelligence, cloud computing, data science, and cybersecurity—a specialization in great shortage worldwide. 60% of surveyed organizations said cybersecurity staffing shortage is placing their organizations at risk (ISC2, 2021).

Examples of specializations:

  • Data Science
  • Cybersecurity
  • Multimedia Information Systems
  • Internet and Information Infrastructure

Online Ph.D. programs for Information Technology usually require 55 to 64 credits and it takes about three to five years for full-time students to complete their degree. Cost-per-credit is around $500 to $1,000, so you can expect to spend between $28,000 and $64,000 in tuition fees.

Source: ISC2, 2021

Online Doctoral Programs in Management

A doctorate degree in Management provides students with advanced research and analytical skills and deepens their understanding of business principles applied in organizations. Earning this degree can qualify professionals for leadership positions in government and the private sector. It will be required for teaching positions in higher education.

Most Ph.D. programs in Management with no dissertation will emphasize research methods and their application in real-world problems and experiences. You can expect to work on data analysis and quantitative and qualitative research skills.

Examples of specializations:

  • Information Systems Management
  • Leadership and Organizational Change
  • Organizational Design and Innovation
  • Human Resource Management

A typical doctorate degree in Management requires 40 to 60 credits, which full-time students can complete within four to five years. The cost of tuition fees will depend on the program and school, but the range usually starts from $20,000 to $51,000.

Online Doctoral Programs in Nursing Practice

A doctorate in Nursing Practice (DNP) is practice-oriented compared to traditional research-focused doctor of philosophy programs. It equips students with skills and knowledge to work in a clinical setting or nursing administration, training and education, and managerial/leadership roles in healthcare services. Chief nursing executives with a DNP degree can earn annual salaries up to $300,000 (AONL, 2019). But to date, only 1% of nursing graduates hold a Ph.D. degree.

Coursework for DNP covers a wide range of topics but will commonly include health policy implementation, statistical analysis, organizational leadership, social ethics, health technology, and direct patient care. Some programs also teach students spirituality and health.

Examples of specializations:

  • Nursing Informatics
  • Educational Leadership/Nurse Educator
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
  • Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist

A DNP degree can take three to five years to complete. Most programs require 65 to 95 credits and around 1,000 hours of clinical practice. Some of the most affordable DNP programs are under $12,000 and the most expensive ones can go over $60,000.

Online PhD Programs No Dissertation 1

Online Doctoral Programs in Occupational Therapy

An online Occupational Therapy Doctorate (OTD) is for licensed Occupational Therapists who want to gain advanced skills to qualify them for leadership roles in their field. Students will develop skills in clinical as well as professional practice.

Coursework will mostly focus on helping students develop advanced research skills and applying research methodologies to their chosen capstone project. Common courses include Occupational Science, Theory Development for Models of Practice, Leadership Development, and Qualitative and Quantitative Research.

Examples of specializations:

  • Rehabilitation and Health
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Post-Acute and Chronic Care
  • Policy/Administration
  • Adult Rehabilitation, Community, and Wellness

It can take three to five years to finish an OTD degree for full-time students. The period of study will depend on the student’s capstone project and if they continue to work while taking up their post-professional program. Tuition for an OTD program can cost from $22,000 to more than $60,000, depending on your school and whether you are an in-state student or non-resident student.

Online Doctoral Programs in Physical Therapy

Online doctoral programs for Physical Therapy (DPT) prepare students for licensure through courses that hone their clinical and professional skills in the workplace. Since licensure requirements will vary in each state, make sure to check an out-of-state program’s curriculum and if it meets your state’s licensure requirements.

Most programs will include courses on research methods, data analysis, statistics, and radiology. It is also common to have prerequisite classes before students can start work on their capstone project.

Examples of specializations:

  • Electrophysiologic Clinical Specialist (ECS)
  • Oncology Specialist
  • Neurology Clinical Specialist (NCS)
  • Geriatric Clinical Specialist (GCS)
  • Women’s Health Specialist (WCS)

DPT programs usually take three years to finish but some programs offer a fast-track path by compressing some of the academic requirements into a shorter period. The cost for this type of program can start from $18,000 to more than $37,000 per year.

Online Doctoral Programs in Public Administration

The Doctoral Program in Public Administration (DPA) helps students develop advanced research skills that can contribute to their work in public administration, nonprofit projects, and criminal justice. Obtaining a doctoral degree in Public Administration can open opportunities in top positions in government, healthcare, education, and the private sector.

Courses included in the program aim to advance students’ research, communication, analysis, and leadership skills. Public Administration, Quantitative Methods, Ethics and Social Justice, and Strategic Public Management are just some of the common courses in this program.

Examples of specializations:

  • Policy Analysis & Program Evaluation
  • Organizational Leadership & Management
  • Data Modeling & Analytics

Students enrolled full-time in this program typically finish within two to three years. The cost-per-credit for DPA is $500 to $900, so students can expect to pay $25,000 to $49,000 per year for tuition.

Online Doctoral Programs in Public Health

Doctoral degree programs in Public Health (DPh) are for professionals in the field who want to pursue higher learning to advance their careers. Among doctoral degrees awarded in A.Y. 2018-2019 in the U.S., health professionals and related programs topped the list with more than 82,000 degrees awarded to students (Satista, 2021).

Coursework for Public Health doctoral degree focuses on practice and leadership. Common courses include Health Management, Vaccinology, Issues in Global Public Health, Data and Analysis, and Public Health Ethics.

Examples of specializations:

  • Public Health Policy
  • Environmental Health
  • Epidemiology and Infectious Disease

It can take three to four years to complete a DPh program; some schools do not offer an option to extend. As for the cost, tuition is from $12,000 to $31,000 total per year. The source of funding for doctoral studies is one of the most important considerations when choosing a doctoral program, so be sure to research available scholarships and grants.

Source: Statista, 2021

Online Doctoral Programs in Psychology

Online doctoral programs in Psychology can help students pursue advanced research in the different branches of clinical and counseling psychology. A clinical degree (Psy.D.) is a practice-based study that can lead to licensure, while a Ph.D. degree emphasizes research and may or may not lead to licensure.

As there are many branches of psychology, specific courses will be very different based on your specialization. However, common courses include Cognitive Development, Neuroscience, and Ethics of Psychology.

Examples of specializations:

  • Forensic Psychology
  • Industrial-organizational psychology
  • Educational Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Sports Psychology

Most doctoral degrees in Psychology can require 60 to 90 credits at $240 to $640 per credit, which brings the total annual tuition to about $14,000 to $58,000. Compared to other online doctoral programs, this program can take longer to finish–usually five to six years or even seven years depending on the student’s capstone project and whether they are studying part-time or full-time.

Online Doctoral Programs in Social Work

Online doctoral programs in Social Work are for professionals in the field who want to strengthen their research, presentation, communication, analysis, leadership, and organizational management skills. These skills are necessary for their work since they encounter people from a wide range of backgrounds and may need to lead a team when conducting social work projects.

Coursework will depend on the specialization but will often cover topics on human rights, human behavior, clinical theory, research methods, and grant writing. Earning this doctoral degree can lead to high-level career opportunities in social work, community leadership, nonprofit, and academia.

Examples of specializations:

  • Social Work Administration
  • Medical Social Work
  • Disaster, Crisis, and Intervention
  • Children, Families, and Couples
  • Forensic Populations and Settings

It will take about four to six years to complete a doctoral program in Social Work. Some programs can be shorter and a student’s capstone project type will also affect the length of their study. Programs often require 45-60 credits at the cost for this type of degree ranges from $28,000-$40,000.

Is an online no-dissertation doctoral degree right for you?

Online doctoral programs best fit students who want to pursue advanced studies in their field while working and fulfilling other family duties. As most online programs are delivered via asynchronous learning, they offer the utmost flexibility and convenience to students. This does not mean though that they are easier than traditional doctoral programs. Even the cheapest online PhD programs could be tough. They would still require many years to complete and can come with high costs in tuition and fees.

Moreover, no dissertation online programs will still require students to complete a capstone project. If you are more interested in research application, group work, and finding immediate solutions to current issues in your field, a no dissertation doctoral program will suit you well.

On the other hand, if you are more comfortable doing independent research, want to contribute new knowledge to your field, and see yourself building your teaching career at universities, then search for traditional Ph.D. programs. Start reading up on key considerations when applying to Ph.D. programs such as choosing a university and how to fund your studies.



  1. AONL. (2019). AONL Salary and Compensation Study for Nurse Leaders — Executive Summary (3rd ed.). Chicago, IL: American Organization for Nursing Leadership.
  2. ISC2 (2021). Cybersecurity Workforce Study 2021.
  3. NCES (2019). Distance learning.
  4. Roberts, L.D. & Seaman, K. (2018). Students’ Experiences of Undergraduate Dissertation Supervision. Educational Psychology. Retrieved from
  5. Statista (2021). Number of doctoral degrees earned in the United States in 2018/19, by field of research.
  6. Wiley Education Services (2020). Online College Students 2020: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences.
  7. Waheed, S., Gilani, N., Raza, M., and Ahmad, F. (2021). The Beginning of More Worries: Doctoral Candidates’ Untold Stories After Submission of Dissertation. Retrieved from

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