Earning a PhD can boost your career and earnings potential. But which doctorate degrees offer the highest salaries? We rank them here.
A doctorate is a terminal degree in most fields. The doctorate can be a path to career advancement and higher earnings in areas like research, post-secondary education, and organizational leadership.
A growing number of graduate schools now offer online doctorate degree programs, whether you’re pursuing an applied doctorate in an area like computer engineering, computer science, or biomedical engineering, or a PhD in an area like psychology, history, or economics. In fact, you can earn a high paying doctorate degree from a top research university through a wide range of online and blended degree programs.
It is absolutely possible to earn some of the highest paying doctorate degrees online. You can also earn some of the highest paying PhD degrees online.
From online PhDs in economics and history to online doctoral programs in areas like public health and applied behavior analysis (ABA), many graduates with a doctorate degree will go on to earn an annual median salary in the six figure range.
Many doctoral candidates are already working at a high level in their field. This means that students seeking a doctorate program often 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. This is why many accredited universities now offer flexible and credible online doctorate degree programs.
However, it may be difficult to locate accredited online doctorate degrees and PhD programs for some of the highest paying PhD jobs. For instance, some of the highest paid PhD degrees are held by those in fields like computer science, engineering management, electrical engineering, and chemical engineering.
The same may be true if you are considering in STEM fields you’ll be conducting research in a hands-on, physical environment such as organic chemistry, biomedical engineering, and aerospace engineering.
In each of these cases, fully online doctorate degrees are scarce. If you require a doctorate degree in one of these fields to advance your personal and professional goals, check out the 50 Best Graduate Schools in the U.S..
Otherwise, read on and learn how you can be among the best paid online PhD graduates.
Accredited online doctorates 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. The average salary will of course differ from one field to the next.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that those with a doctorate degree will generally receive higher entry-level and mid career salaries than their counterparts with just a bachelor’s degree or even a master’s degree.
According to the BLS, the median weekly earning for graduate students with a doctorate degree was $1909. By contrast, those with a master’s earned a weekly median of $1574, while bachelor’s degree holders earned a median of $1334.Back to Top
These higher earnings are reflective of both the higher early career salary and the higher job growth trajectory for those with the highest paying PhDs and doctorate degrees. Generally speaking, those who earned advanced degrees through a doctorate or PhD program will qualify for roles in:
Key Points: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, students with a doctorate will typically be among the highest earners in their field.
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.
The following graph depicts the average salaries of Sociologists for each percentile in the U.S.
Source: U.S. BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS
SVG Attribution: Wikipedia
The online PhD and doctorate programs identified here are ranked based on the pay scale for the top 10% of earners in a given field. Salary figures are drawn from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Economics is the field of study concerned with wealth transfer, production, and consumption. The PhD in economics is a terminal degree program, which means PhDs in economics are generally eligible for top positions and opportunities in their field.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the Top 10% of Economists earned more than $193,000 in 2021.
Many of these top earners worked in fields like finance, insurance, federal governance, technical consulting services, and more. PhDs in Economics are also more likely to be sought out be prestigious international organizations for leadership and consultation opportunities.
These higher earnings reflect the high demand for qualified PhDs in economics in the following fields:
Find out more with a look at the Best Online Economics Doctorate Degrees.
Sociology is the study of human behavior, institutions, and societies. Accredited online sociology doctorates are generally terminal degree programs. This means that students who complete credible online doctoral degrees in sociology or a related field like public policy or educational leadership will generally be eligible for top positions and opportunities in their field.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top 10% of earners among sociologists work in areas like research, development, and policy implementation, and earned more than $136,000 in 2021.
Working professionals who earn an accredited online doctorate in sociology or a related area may be eligible to work in the following areas.
Find out more with a look at the Best Online Sociology Doctorate Degrees.
English may concern the study of literature, language, creative writing, literary education, and more. The online PhD in English is a terminal degree program. This means that PhD students who complete this online program will qualify for top positions in their field such as those in publishing and post-secondary education.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that you may be able to qualify for work as an English teacher with a master’s degree in English. However, the highest paying careers in English are generally held by those working in post-secondary education. The BLS notes that the highest paid 10% of professionals in the English field earned more than $132,000 in 2021.
Earning an online PhD in English can lead to some of these top-paying roles in the field, including:
Find out more with a look at the Best Online English Doctorate Degrees.
Communications concerns the strategies and media that people use to share and receive messages. The PhD in communications is generally a terminal degree. This means graduates 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.
Working professionals who earn an accredited online doctorate may also be eligible to work in the following areas.
Find out more with a look at the Best Online Communications Doctorate Degrees.
Physical Therapy is a healthcare field in which licensed physical therapists provide exercise programs, support, and therapeutic treatments for individuals with a wide range of physical needs. The Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) is the basic threshold for taking the National Physical Therapy Exam and becoming a licensed physical therapist. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median pay for licensed physical therapists in 2021 was $95,620.
Top earners in the field may include those working in home healthcare, those providing geriatric physical therapy in nursing homes, and those running their own advanced clinical practice. According to the BLS, the top 10% of earners in the physical therapy profession earned more than $127,000 in 2021.
In addition to aspiring physical therapists, students who earn their online doctor of physical therapy degree can qualify to work in the following areas:
Find out more with a look at the Best Online Physical Therapy (PT) Doctorate Degrees.
Students with a Ph.d in applied behavior analysis will usually be eligible for opportunities in critical areas like special education leadership, autism treatment, occupational therapy, policy research, and more.
For instance, Board Certified Behavior Analysts who earn a doctorate may be eligible for top field leadership roles such as occupational therapists. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top 10% of earners among Occupational Therapists earned $126,000 in 2021.
Working professionals who complete BCBA doctorate programs may also be eligible to work in the following areas.
Find out more with a look at the Best Online Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Doctorate Degrees.
Public health concerns a wide range of subjects including hunger, mental health, criminal rehabilitation, community outreach, health information campaigns, and much more. Students who earn this terminal degree in public health are generally eligible for top positions in areas like organizational leadership, field research, and post-secondary education.
The BLS reports that the top 10% of earners among health and medical services administrators earned more than $119,000 in 2021.
It bears noting, however, that public health is an extremely wide subject area, and that those with a doctoral degree have the opportunity to pursue a wide range of high paying and important career paths. For instance, the BLS notes that public health professionals who conduct research on epidemiology for government agencies earned more than $130,000 in 2021.
These higher earnings reflect the high demand for public health researchers, public health policy consultants, and public health educators. Working professionals who earn an accredited online doctorate in public health may be eligible to work in the following public health careers.
Find out more with a look at the Best Online Public Health Doctorate Degrees.
History is the study of our past including the culture, literature, and impact of historical periods and events. The online PhD in history is a terminal degree program. This means that PhD students who complete this online program will qualify for top positions and opportunities in their field.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that you may be able to qualify for work as a historian with a master’s degree in history. However, the highest paying careers in history are generally held by those working in research positions either for educational institutions or government agencies. The BLS notes that the highest paid 10% of professionals in the history field earned more than $118,000 in 2021.
Earning an online PhD in history can also lead to some of these top-paying roles in the field, including:
Find out more with a look at the Best Online History Doctorate Degrees.
Counseling concerns the therapeutic engagement of individual, couples, families and groups with a variety of personal, professional, and mental health needs. Online PhD in counseling programs are generally terminal degree programs. Students who complete an online PhD in counseling program from a regionally accredited institution are generally eligible for top positions and opportunities in their field.
It bears noting that many practicing marriage and family therapists, substance abuse counselors, and advanced group counseling professionals do engage in counseling practice with just a master’s degree. However, a doctoral degree is required to counsel in a clinical setting such as a hospital, nursing home, or mental health facility.
In addition, many of the top earners in the field are those who apply their counseling education to research endeavors for government agencies as well as those who apply their clinical and supervisory skills in post-secondary educational settings. These positions generally also require a doctorate in counseling.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that these individuals account for the top 10% of earners in the field. In 2021, the highest earning counseling professionals earned more than $98,000.
These higher earnings are reflective of the rarified professional opportunities that await those with a PhD in counseling. Working professionals who earn an accredited online doctorate may be eligible to work in the following areas.
Find out more with a look at the Best Online Counseling Doctorate Degrees.
Clinical Nutrition is the field concerned with educating and supporting individuals in a clinical or care-giving setting for a variety of nutritional and dietary needs.
The Doctorate of Clinical Nutrition is a terminal degree program. Students who complete this program are generally eligible for top positions and opportunities in their field including public health research, policy consultation, and post-secondary research. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the top 10% of registered dietitian and nutritionists earned more than $93,000 in 2021.
These earnings are reflective of the top professional opportunities that await those with a doctorate in clinical nutrition. Working professionals who earn an accredited online doctorate may be eligible to work in the following areas.
Find out more with a look at the Best Online Clinical Nutrition Doctorate Degrees.
Quality and credibility are important when it comes to finding an online PhD. The best online doctorate programs will have proper accreditation:
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 degree program.
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 degrees will have both institutional and programmatic accreditation.
Schools that offer online doctorate programs have different admission requirements. However, in most online doctoral degree programs will carry the same basic threshold for admission:
Key Point: In most cases, you’ll be eligible to enter a doctoral degree online after earning a bachelor’s degree. However, some specialized online PhD programs may require you to have earned both an undergraduate degree and a related master’s degree.
Research is the central component of your online doctoral degree program. This is true for fully online doctoral 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 five to seven years.
The typical components of your online doctorate or PhD program may include:
While some foundational online doctorate courses may be focused on your specific discipline or area of study, most courses will focus on research methods and experimental design. You may be able to complete many of these requirements through online classes.
Students pursuing their doctorate are typically 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.
In most cases, the central component of your online PhD program will be the completion of your 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.
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.
Some online Ph.D 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 PhD is a research-focused degree. Your dissertation will be a central part of your online doctoral degree program.