Top 10 Best Online Communications PhD Degree Programs (Doctorates)


We rank the best online PhD degree programs in communications.

Key Takeaways

  • A number of graduate schools offer an online PhD in communications.

  • A communications PhD program is a good fit for students with an interest in linguistics, media studies, organizational communication, post-secondary education, and more.

  • The best online communication doctorates are regionally and programmatically accredited and prepare students for success in the job market.

Featured Programs

Online doctoral degree programs are growing in availability and credibility. However, only a select number of universities offer a full selection of PhD in communication programs online.

In most fields, an online PhD is considered a terminal degree, which means it is the highest degree that you can earn in your field. This means that online doctoral programs for PhD students in communication can lead to opportunities for leadership, public consultation, research, and post-secondary education in your field.

Online PhD in communication candidates are typically already working at a high level in their field. This means that students seeking their doctorate must balance existing work and personal responsibilities with a challenging course of education. For many graduate students, online courses and fully online programs provide a way to achieve this balance.

For a look at how these online doctoral programs stack up against traditional on campus programs, check out our look at the The Best Research Universities for Communications Degrees.

Or see the complete University Rankings Guide.


Otherwise, read on and learn more about how you can earn an online PhD in communication through a top-ranked online doctorate program.

Woman giving a speech

About Accredited Online PhD in Communication Degree Programs

Online doctoral students have plenty of options, but quality and credibility are important when it comes to finding an online PhD. The best online doctorate programs will have proper accreditation:

  • Institutional Accreditation: Accreditation is vital for online doctoral programs. It signifies that the online PhD programs offered by the graduate school are in compliance with the standards of a Department of Education-approved accrediting body.
  • A school must also be accredited in order to offer federal financial aid to its online doctorate candidates. When looking for an online doctoral program, seek out options with accreditation from a colleges and schools commission in your region. This stamp of approval is critical for ensuring the quality and credibility of your online program.

  • Programmatic Accreditation: In addition to institutional accreditation, look for online doctorate degree programs with programmatic accreditation. Specialized programmatic accreditation can be an indication that certain online PhD programs are respected in your field. The Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC) is the key specialized accrediting agency in communications.
  • Carnegie Classification: The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, or as it is more commonly known, the Carnegie Classification, is a framework for categorizing all accredited, degree-granting institutions in the United States. Originally formulated in 1970 by The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and administered through the University of Indiana’s Center for Postsecondary Research since 2014, the Carnegie Classification is “the leading framework for recognizing and describing institutional diversity in U.S. higher education.”
  • Under this classification, top research universities for doctoral degrees and PhD candidates are identified as either R2: Doctoral Universities for “high research activity” or R1: Doctoral Universities for “very high research activity.” Look for these classifications when considering options for your online Phd programs.

Key Point: The best online doctoral programs will have both institutional and programmatic accreditation.

Students in a lecture hall

Admission Requirements

Schools that offer online doctorate programs have different admission requirements. However, most online doctoral in communication programs will carry the same basic threshold for admission:

  • A completed online application
  • Official undergraduate college transcripts
  • A cumulative GPA of at least 3.0
  • GRE scores, MAT scores, or GMAT scores
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal interviews
  • Personal statement or essay
  • Plan of study

Key Point: In some cases, you’ll be eligible to enter a doctoral degree online after earning a bachelor’s degree. However, manyu specialized online PhD programs may require you to have earned a master’s degree as well.

Curriculum and Courses

As with other advanced degree and graduate programs, research is the central component of your online communications doctoral program. This is true for fully online doctorate degrees as well as hybrid degrees combining online education with traditional on-campus courses.

Regardless of whether you complete a traditional, hybrid or online doctoral program, the typical time to completion is three to five years.

The typical components of your online PhD program may include:

Foundational Courses

Your online PhD program will typically begin with a number of core courses in areas like technical communication, mass communication, strategic communication, and more. You will likely also take foundational courses in your area of concentration.

PhD program concentrations may include media and communication studies, health communication, political communication, and more. Foundational courses will also provide critical research skills including how to apply both quantitative research methods and qualitative research methods. You may be able to complete many of your communications program requirements through online classes.

Examinations for PhD Candidacy

Many online doctoral students are required to complete certain examinations to enter into online PhD candidacy. This will typically occur after you’ve completed one to two years of foundational courses.


The central component of most online PhD in communications programs will be the completion of a dissertation. After gaining status as an online PhD candidate, you will typically work closely with a professorial advisor or mentor to develop an original research question.

This research question will form the basis of your dissertation—an ongoing project designed to address this research question through applied research. While you will work closely with your advisor or mentor, much of your dissertation will be rooted in independent research. This is especially true for students pursuing an online PhD.

Oral Defense

Upon completion of the written portion of your dissertation—which will typically present the findings from your original research project—you will be expected to defend your findings. This “oral defense” will typically be conducted by a commission of professors and experts in your field. PhD candidates in some online degree programs may be able to conduct this defense via teleconferencing.

Teaching Requirements

Some online PhD programs will also include a teaching component, which will require you to work as an adjunct professor or teacher’s assistant in an undergraduate or graduate school. It may be possible for students in the online doctoral degree program to also serve teaching requirements by instructing online students.

Key Point: The online communications PhD is a research-focused degree. Your dissertation will be a central part of your online doctoral degree program.

Professionals having a meeting
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Careers for Students Who Complete Online Communications Doctoral Degree Programs

Accredited online doctoral programs are generally terminal degree programs. This means that students who complete credible online doctoral programs in their field are generally eligible for top positions and opportunities in their field. This may indicate high paying opportunities for public policy research, post-secondary education, and editorship.

For instance, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the top 10% of earners in the field of Editing earned nearly $130,000 in 2021.

These higher earnings are reflective of the rarified professional opportunities that await those with a PhD in communications. Working professionals who earn an accredited online doctorate may be eligible to work in the following areas.

  • Marketing and Consumer Research
  • Publishing and Editing
  • Public Relations
  • Post-Secondary Education
  • Public Policy Consultation
  • Political Campaign Management

Key Points: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, students with a doctorate n communications will earn more than graduates with a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

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What’s the difference between online doctoral programs and online PhD programs?

Technically, a PhD is a type of doctorate degree. This means that all online PhD candidates are doctoral students. By contrast, not all doctoral students are PhD candidates.

The primary distinction is that doctoral students are primarily focused on putting existing theories into practice. Depending on your chosen field, your online doctoral degree may require participation in an educational leadership program, engagement in clinical practice, work as a resident in a nursing program, and much more.

By contrast, online PhD students are focused on creating new knowledge in their area of study. This usually means that online PhD candidates are focused on introducing new theories, creating research projects around these theories, and presenting new findings that demonstrate a mastery of existing knowledge and the insight to introduce new ideas into the field.

Today, more working professionals than ever before are pursuing both online doctoral degrees and online Phd programs.

Median Salaries of Similar Careers in the U.S.

The following graph depicts the average salaries of similar occupations to Public Relations Specialists in the U.S.


Annual Salary
63230News Analysts, Reporters, and Journalists
73250Public Relations Specialists
81120Writers and Authors
81470Technical Writers
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The Best Online Communications Doctorates (PhDs)

The online PhDs and doctorates in communication identified here are ranked based on influence, with weighting for graduation rate and full-time online enrollment.

  1. #1

    University of Alabama

    Tuscaloosa , AL
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    What do we love about University of Alabama?

    University of Alabama was founded in the city of Tuscaloosa, Alabama in 1820. Emerging in the immediate aftermath of Alabama’s statehood, Bama is the oldest institution of higher learning in Alabama.

    And today, a student body of more than 38,000 undergraduates and postgraduates makes this public research university the largest school in the state of Alabama.

    University of Alabama’s Communication and Information Sciences doctoral degree program is noted for its multidisciplinary approach to the study of communication and information sciences.

    • University of Alabama is great for students who:

      Enjoy a strong athletics program. The University of Alabama Crimson Tide enjoy a heated cross-state rivalry with the Tigers of Auburn University.

    • University of Alabama might not be the best fit for students who:

      Prefer a more intimate learning environment. University of Alabama is noted for the size of its student body, the scope of its academic offerings, and the expansiveness of its campus facilities.

  2. Journalists interviewing a man in a suit
  3. #2

    American University

    Washington , DC
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    What do we love about American University?

    American University is a private research university located in Washington D.C. American University was actually formed by an act of Congress in 1893.

    Today, American University is home to more than 8000 undergraduates and more than 6000 graduate students.

    Its doctoral-level communications program demonstrates the close connection between American University and the city it calls home. The AU School of Communication’s Doctor of Philosophy in Communication gives PhD candidates a chance to conduct independent research at the intersection of media, technology, and democracy. /p>

    • American University is great for students who:

      Have an interest in public service, political affairs, and government work. Its location in the nation’s capital makes American University a feeder school for many government opportunities.

    • American University might not be the best fit for students who:

      Are seeking a more affordable degree program. American University provides generous student amenities but these expenses are reflected in the cost of attendance.

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    What do we love about the University of Colorado Boulder?

    The University of Colorado Boulder was founded in 1876 and was, in fact, established five months before Colorado achieved statehood. This makes it the flagship university in the state’s public university system.

    The University of Colorado Boulder, located in the mid-sized city of Boulder, is home to a decidedly large student population. Roughly 38,000 students are currently in pursuit of their undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at Boulder.

    Among its noteworthy graduate degree programs, the University of Colorado Boulder offers a PhD in Communication to students who have earned a master’s degree in a related subject.

    • The University of Colorado Boulder is great for students who:

      Are pursuing advanced degrees. Boulder ranks among R1: Doctoral Universities, so noted for their very high level of research activity.

    • The University of Colorado Boulder might not be the best fit for students who:

      Are looking for an intimate college experience. Though the Boulder campus is routinely ranked among the most beautiful colleges in the nation, it is also the largest school in the state of Colorado.

  5. #4

    Clemson University

    Clemson , SC
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    What do we love about Clemson University?

    Clemson University was founded in 1889 and began life as the Clemson Agricultural College. Today, the public land-grant university occupies 1400 acres alongside Lake Hartwell in Clemson, South Carolina.

    With more than 25,000 students pursuing degrees at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, Clemson University ranks as the second largest university in the state of South Carolina.

    Clemson is included in the list of R1: Doctoral Universities, those noted for their high level of research activity. Clemson offers an array of unique advanced degree programs, such as its doctoral program in Rhetorics, Communication, and Information Design, which emphasizes “an overall balance of ecologies in rhetorics and communication with emphasis on rhetorics and digital information design.”

    • Clemson University is great for students who:

      Enjoy college athletics. Clemson’s Tigers enjoy an enormous cultural presence both on campus and in the surrounding region.

    • Clemson University might not be the best fit for students who:

      Are looking for a college in a lively area. Clemson is located in the foothills of the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains, but this also means that the university is a two hour drive from the nearest city.

  6. Business meeting
  7. #5

    Texas Tech University

    Lubbock , TX
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    What do we love about Texas Tech University?

    Texas Tech University began life as the Texas Technical College with its founding 1923. Based in Lubbock, Texas Tech is considered the primary institution among the five schools making up the Texas Tech University System.

    Taking its present name in 1969, Texas Tech University would become the sixth-largest institution in the state of Texas. Today, there are more than 40,000 students earning degrees at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels at the public research university.

    Texas Tech is particularly noteworthy as a destination for prospective PhDs. Texas Tech is classified among R1: Doctoral Universities, so noted for their very high research activity. This includes opportunities for doctoral level students interested in Texas Tech’s PhD in Media and Communication.

    • Texas Tech University is great for students who:

      Like a college with strong school spirit. Students repeatedly note that the school spirit is a major feature of campus life, which can make Texas Tech feel like one big community.

    • Texas Tech University might not be the best fit for students who:

      Are looking for a small campus. Like a lot of other things in Texas, Texas Tech is a sprawling campus. Students note that the sheer distance of walking between classes can sometimes be exhausting.

  8. #6

    Colorado State University

    Fort Collins , CO
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    What do we love about Colorado State University?

    Colorado State University was formed in 1870 as the flagship institution in what would become the Colorado state school system. The Fort Collins-based public research university is noted today for including the biomedical sciences, engineering, environmental science, and more.

    Colorado State University was formed as a small agricultural school in the years leading up to Colorado’s 1876 statehood. Today, Colorado State serves more than 34,000 students.

    Colorado State University is noted for its top-ranked graduate courses and degree programs, such as its PhD in Communication.

    • Colorado State University is great for students who:

      Are pursuing careers in healthcare. Colorado State ranks high for spending on its various medical sciences programs.

    • Colorado State University might not be the best fit for students who:

      Are seeking a small campus experience.

  9. #7

    University of North Dakota

    Grand Forks , ND
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    What do we love about the University of North Dakota?

    The University of North Dakota’s history actually predates North Dakota statehood by a full six years. Formed in 1883 by the Dakota Territorial Assembly, this Grand Forks-based university began as a liberal arts institution before expanding to include scientific research.

    Today, the University of North Dakota is classified among R2: Doctoral Universities, noted for their high level of research activity. UND is currently home to more than 13,000 students pursuing degrees at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

    The University of North Dakota is noted for its excellent array of doctoral level research programs such as its Communication PhD.

    • The University of North Dakota is great for students who:

      Are seeking options for getting involved. Current students praise the wide range of clubs and activities offered to UND students.

    • The University of North Dakota might not be the best fit for students who:

      Don’t have a high tolerance for cold weather. Temperatures on campus dip well below freezing throughout the winter months.

  10. #8

    Liberty University

    Lynchburg , VA
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    What do we love about Liberty University?

    Liberty University is one of the largest Christian universities in the world as well as one of the largest private non-profit universities in the U.S. Much of this size is based on its online enrollment.

    Liberty University enrolls roughly 15,000 residential students across its 17 colleges, and an additional 80,000 through its extensive online course and degree offerings.

    Liberty University is noted for the sheer volume of advanced degrees and online degrees earned by its student body. With more than 47,000 students pursuing advanced degrees, Liberty offers an extremely wide range of online doctoral programs, including its PhD in Communication Online program.

    • Liberty University is great for students who:

      Wish to attend the world’s largest seminary—Liberty University’s Rawlings School of Divinity.

    • Liberty University might not be the best fit for:

      Students who do not identify with Evangelical Christianity.

  11. #9

    Regent University

    Virginia Beach , VA
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    What do we love about Regent University?

    Regent University is a private Christian University that provides an array of both undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Founded in 1977 by Southern Baptist Minister Pat Robertson, Regent University offers a wide range of both online and on-campus degree programs.

    Regent University serves more than 10,000 students today, with many pursuing online degrees at the master’s and doctoral degree levels.

    Regent University is also noteworthy for its extremely diverse range of online doctoral degree programs, including an Online PhD in Communication.

    • Regent University is great for students who:

      Are pursuing advanced degrees online. More than 60% of Regent’s students are in post-graduate programs.

    • Regent University might not be the best fit for students who:

      Prefer a secular educational experience.

  12. #10

    Walden University

    Minneapolis , MN
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    What do we love about Walden University?

    Walden University is a private online school with headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Walden operates on a for-profit business model.

    Walden University was established in 1970 with the goal of helping working adults–specifically those in education–earn their doctoral degree. Today, Walden serves nearly 50,000 students in countless areas of study.

    Walden University offers several online doctoral programs through its Departement of Business Administration and Communication including its PhD in Management, which is available as both a full program and a completion program.

    • Walden University is great for students who:

      Are studying nursing, public health, and healthcare administration. Walden is one of the nation’s top degree providers in these fields.

    • Walden University might not be the best fit for students who:

      Plan to earn PhDs in psychology. Walden’s PhDs do not have accreditation from the American Psychological Association (APA).


Other Options for Aspiring Communication PhDs

Students considering an online doctoral in communications should also check out the best on-campus options to compare features like cost, curriculum, acceptance rate, and more.

  1. #1

    New York University

    New York , NY
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  2. #2

    University of Michigan

    Ann Arbor , MI
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  3. #3

    Boston University

    Boston , MA
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Learn more with a look at our List of Online Programs.