Online Ph.D. In Education 2022

Our guide provides a ranking of the top online Ph.D. in education degrees to help prospective students choose the best fit for their career goals.

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Updated September 6, 2022

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Are you ready to find your fit?

An online Ph.D. in education may suit students who enjoy classroom teaching or prefer the field's administrative aspects. Educators help students develop their potential and learning style through cooperative learning, teamwork, projects, and individual work. Educational administrators provide direction and day-to-day management of educational institutions, including preschools and colleges. A doctoral education degree meets qualifications for both roles.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, postsecondary education administrators and postsecondary teachers both earn higher than average salaries. The BLS projects 8% and 12% respective growth for these jobs during 2020-2030.

Ph.D. in Education Frequently Asked Questions

Is a ph.d. in education worth it.

Yes, though it depends on students' career trajectories and preferences. Mid-career education professionals wanting to advance their salary may consider pursuing a Ph.D. in education.

What can you do with a Ph.D. in education?

An online Ph.D. in education satisfies the educational requirements for high-paying senior educational leadership positions. Graduates pursue careers as educational administrators, superintendents, and researchers. They can also work as college professors.

How long does it take to get a Ph.D. in education?

Ph.D. students pursuing an education degree full time spend about three years to earn a degree. The program involves two years of classes as well as research and a dissertation. However, program length can vary by school and students' enrollment status.

What is the difference between a Ph.D. and a doctorate?

"Doctorate" refers to an umbrella term for a degree or rank. A Ph.D. falls under the doctorate category.

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Why Get a Degree in Education?

Students can apply education theory and put it into practice with a Ph.D. in education. Learning these practices gives students credibility, upward mobility, and the technical expertise needed to specialize in the field.

A Ph.D. in education offers students the potential for high earnings. The highest-paid postsecondary education administrators earn almost $200,000 annually. However, salary depends on career choice and the type of educational institution where graduates choose to work.

Ph.D. students who opt for an online education degree can benefit from lower costs, classroom flexibility, and access to faculty. Students and faculty communicate through email, instant messaging, and video chat.

How Much Does an Education Degree Cost?

Online education degrees often cost less than on-campus programs. However, an online Ph.D. in education varies in cost. Tuition, books, online registration, and other fees might cost several thousands of dollars per year.

Tuition makes up the largest percentage of the cost of getting an online education degree. Learners should compare costs among online schools before committing to one institution. Online degree -seekers save on transportation expenses, school supplies, and housing.

Prospective students may want to research other opportunities to reduce debt. Many schools support doctoral students through tuition waivers and stipends.

How Much Do Education Graduates Make?

According to the BLS, postsecondary education administrators earn annual median salaries of $97,500. Postsecondary teachers earn a median salary of $80,560 annually.

An online Ph.D. in education, a terminal degree, offers the highest level of education in the field. However, learners may need to tap into continuing education and certifications to advance their careers and salary.

Specific specializations within a Ph.D. program may offer more lucrative opportunities. A Ph.D. in education with a specialization in education policy can lead to a role as a public policy analyst. Specializations include counseling education, curriculum studies, and educational linguistics.

Courses in Education

Learners typically complete about two years of coursework. They also complete research projects, exams, and a dissertation. Some programs may require an individualized research practicum, research assistantship, or a faculty research project.

Degree-seekers gain research and analytical skills. They can align their studies with their research interests and professional goals through specializations. Options include curriculum and instruction , educational psychology, and leadership.

Not all programs offer every course. The three listed below represent a sample curriculum.

Higher Education History and Philosophy

Leadership and organizational theory, advanced educational psychology, certifications and licensure for education.

The following certifications and licensures enable students to become education leaders. Each credential features various requirements, including licensure exams. Students should learn their state's specific requirements.

Scholarships for Education

Students pursuing a Ph.D. in education qualify for various scholarships from companies and professional organizations. Learners can also apply for institutional grants and scholarships.

Online Ph.D. in Education 2022

#1 Online Ph.D. In Education 2022

Ball State University

Ball State University offers in-person doctorate programs on its campus in Muncie, Indiana, as well as online programs. Working professionals take advantage of the flexible program to earn their degree around their other commitments.

Pursuing a doctorate requires a large time commitment. students take required classes, pass exams, and write a research-based dissertation.

Ball State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, a regional accrediting body.

Ball State University Numbers:

Average Price After Financial Aid: $13,533

Percentage of Learners Awarded Financial Aid: 91%

Percentage of Students Awarded Loans: 56%

Student Admission Rate: 77%

Transfer Credits Toward Degree: No

#2 Online Ph.D. In Education 2022

East Tennessee State University

Located in Johnson City, Tennessee, East Tennessee State University enrolls students as a public institution. The school offers an online doctorate in . The doctoral program builds on the student's prior knowledge to strengthen advanced skills.

An online doctorate can help students pursue an advanced degree while maintaining a full-time job. Students considering the program can reach out to a faculty advisor to learn about any in-person requirements.

The terminal degree in childhood education prepares graduates for leadership roles in their field. Doctoral students typically complete their degree within five years. Graduates work in academic, research, or practice careers after completing the program.

East Tennessee State University Numbers:

In-state Graduate Tuition: $8,640

Out-of-state Graduate Tuition: $23,760

Admission Rate: 86%

Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 15-to-1

#3 Online Ph.D. In Education 2022

Hampton University

An online doctoral degree from Hampton University helps professionals advance their careers and pursue new opportunities. Employers value the graduate-level education and training of the doctor of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Students may receive credit for hands-on learning opportunities, such as internships. The institution's website provides details about how to earn credit for graduate-level experiential learning. To prepare for careers, degree-seekers can participate in networking events through student organizations.

The school holds accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, a regional accrediting body.

Hampton University Facts:

Students Awarded Financial Aid: 96%

Students Receiving Loans: 66%

Acceptance Rate: 36%

Awards Transfer Credits: No

#4 Online Ph.D. In Education 2022

Indiana State University

Located in Terre Haute, Indiana, Indiana State University offers on-campus and online programs as a public institution. The doctor of philosophy in educational administration trains graduates for advanced careers through a flexible learning format. The doctoral program builds on the student's prior knowledge to strengthen advanced skills.

A doctorate requires intensive studies. The online learning format helps graduate students balance school with other responsibilities. Doctoral students often arrange to complete in-person activities in their local areas.

As the terminal degree in , a doctorate represents the highest level of education in the field. Doctoral students generally spend 3-6 years earning their degree. After earning a doctorate, graduates work in academia, research, and practice.

Indiana State University Facts:

Total Online Doctoral Programs: 4

In-state Graduate Tuition: $7,542

Out-of-state Graduate Tuition: $14,814

Admission Rate: 90%

Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 18-to-1

#5 Online Ph.D. In Education 2022

Liberty University

Located in Lynchburg, Virginia, Liberty University offers on-campus and online programs as a private institution. The school offers online doctoral programs in many academic and professional subjects, including a Ph.D. in education. Prospective applicants can contact the program for more information about admission requirements and start dates.

While a doctorate requires intensive study, the online format helps students balance their degree with other responsibilities. Students considering the program can reach out to a faculty advisor to learn about any in-person requirements.

A doctoral degree, the highest level of education builds expert-level knowledge. Most doctoral programs require 4-6 years of study, though the length varies depending on the program and the student's enrollment option. The degree leads to opportunities in academia, research, and practice.

Liberty University Numbers:

Total Online Doctoral Programs: 9

Graduate Tuition: $7,980

Average Cost per Credit: 750

Admission Rate: 51%

Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 17-to-1

#6 Online Ph.D. In Education 2022

Regent University

Located in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Regent University offers on-campus and online programs as a private institution. Regent provides a flexible route to a doctorate in education. Prospective applicants can learn more about start dates, doctoral tracks, and admission requirements by contacting the program.

The online learning format helps doctoral students complete an advanced degree while working full time. Doctoral students often arrange to complete in-person activities in their local areas.

Doctoral students typically spend 4-6 years in school.

Regent University Facts:

Total Online Doctoral Programs: 12

Graduate Tuition: $15,552

Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 29-to-1

#7 Online Ph.D. In Education 2022

Texas Tech University

Ph.D. in curriculum studies and teacher education students receive valuable knowledge and training for their careers.

Texas Tech University may award credit for internships and service-learning experiences. Students can explore the school’s website to learn how to earn credit for internships and graduate-level hands-on learning opportunities. Degree-seekers can join student organizations to network with other students and access professional development opportunities.

Texas Tech University has received accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Texas Tech University at a Glance:

Grad Tuition Rate: $5,958 in-state; $13,428 out-of-state

Number of Online Master's Programs: 14

Online Doctorate Programs Offered: 1

#8 Online Ph.D. In Education 2022

Union Institute & University

A private institution, Union Institute & University welcomes degree-seekers to its main campus in Cincinnati, Ohio. The school offers an online doctorate in interdisciplinary studies. Prospective applicants should contact the program to learn more about the admission requirements.

An online doctorate can help students pursue an advanced degree while maintaining a full-time job. The school offers academic advising, library access, and career counseling for distance-learning doctoral students.

A doctoral degree, the highest level of education in interdisciplinary studies, builds expert-level knowledge. Doctoral students generally earn their degree in 3-6 years. Graduates pursue careers in academia, research, or practice.

Union Institute & University At a Glance:

Graduate Tuition: $14,652

Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 8-to-1

#9 Online Ph.D. In Education 2022

University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus

University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus is a public college based in Denver, Colorado. The online Ph.D. in education and human development prepares doctoral students for advanced roles in their field. Prospective applicants should contact the program to learn more about the admission requirements.

Designed for full-time professionals, the program makes it easier to balance school with work. Online doctoral students can visit campus to meet with fellow students or to walk at graduation.

The terminal degree in education and human development, a doctorate prepares graduates for leadership roles in their field. Most doctoral students complete their degree within five years. The program prepares learners for careers in academia, research, and practice.

University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus At a Glance:

Total Online Doctoral Programs: 6

In-state Graduate Tuition: $6,786

Out-of-state Graduate Tuition: $22,590

Admission Rate: 67%

#10 Online Ph.D. In Education 2022

University of Northern Colorado

University of Northern Colorado is a leader in e-learning. A doctoral degree from this school gives professionals the highest credential possible in their field.

Students first complete 1-3 years of coursework followed by dissertation research and exams. With a doctorate, graduates can pursue many different careers, including research and academic careers.

The school is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

University of Northern Colorado at a Glance:

Online Master's Programs Offered: 15

Number of Online Doctorate Programs: 3

Grad Tuition: $10,867 in-state; $19,620 out-of-state

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How to Survive Your PhD

finishing phd early

About this course

You need to be smart to begin a PhD - but you need to be resilient to finish one. Between one-quarter and one-third of all research students never finish their degree. The PhD is an emotional journey as much as it is an intellectual one.

What kinds of emotions does the research degree process provoke? What strategies can help students deal with the emotional highs and lows? How can academic advisors, family and friends help research students cope with these stresses - and celebrate the successes?

This course is primarily designed for masters, PhD, and research students and the academics who are tasked with helping them, but you may also be a family member or friend of a PhD student who is seeking to better understand what your loved one is going through.

By directly addressing the emotional issues, and by helping us see the connections between emotional resilience and success, this course aims to help us all create a more supportive academic environment, where students can do their best research work.

At a glance

What you'll learn

Week one: Setting the scene Prior research on research student success and failure shows that there are a range of common factors at play. We examine these factors and start to look at the causes.   Week Two: A quick history of the doctorate To better understand how and research degree study can be so difficult we will take a brief tour back to the late middle ages and the birth of the university - as a place and an idea.   Week Three: Confidence We take a look at confidence, in particular why some students have very little. We’ll explore the imposter syndrome and how we might counter it and then have a look at the risks of over confidence.   Week Four: Frustration This week we look at frustration. Research can be very frustrating, but writing is perhaps the site of most of the frustration that students feel. We explore the nature of this frustration and how supervisors can make it better - or worse.   Week Five: Loneliness Loneliness and isolation seems to be a common problem for research students - but how does it happen? We look at the difference between social isolation and intellectual isolation. We tackle the difficult problem of how much help a supervisor should really give a student.   Week Six: Fear Research students are high achievers who often have an intense fear of failure. We look at two fears in particular - fear of writing and fear of speaking in public.   Week Seven: Curiosity Good researchers are curious creatures! Curiosity is crucial to research, but what happens when curiosity gets out of control? This week we focus on the literature review as a site where curiosity can get out of control.   Week Eight: Confusion Confusion is an inevitable part of the research degree process - but do research students get confused about the same sorts of  things?   Week Nine: Boredom A research degree usually involves a big project that takes place over an extended period of time. It’s inevitable that some students will get bored. But boredom is much more interesting than you might think!   Week Ten: Love Do researchers always love their work? What about love for your supervisor - is that appropriate? If you truly love your discipline, how should you behave as a researcher? This week we look at Love - and it’s complicated.

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Your Career

10 tips to finishing your PhD faster

What they don’t always tell you before you sign up for graduate school

Rodney E. Rhode, PhD, in his lab at Texas State University

August 10, 2010, was a great day for Rodney Rohde – he finished his PhD. And he did it in four years while working as an Assistant Professor and then Associate Professor at Texas State University .

Rodney E. Rohde, PhD, in his lab at Texas State University

Now, as Professor, research dean and program chair of the Clinical Laboratory Science program in the College of Health Professions, he spends a great deal of time mentoring and coaching others in this sometimes mysterious and vague path.

Dr. Rohde's background is in public health and clinical microbiology. He has a bachelor's degree in microbiology, a master's degree in biology/virology and a PhD in education from Texas State. His dissertation was aligned with his clinical background: MRSA knowledge, learning and adaptation.

His research focuses on adult education and public health microbiology with respect to rabies virology, oral rabies wildlife vaccination, antibiotic resistant bacteria, and molecular diagnostics/biotechnology. He has published over 25 research articles and abstracts and presented at over 100 international, national and state conferences. He was awarded the 2012 Distinguished Author Award and the 2007 ASCLS Scientific Research Award for his work with MRSA. Recently, his work was the focus of an educational campaign regarding the important research focus of MRSA, which featured Dr. Rohde in a video by Texas State University that has been used by numerous media outlets. Learn more about his work here .

Recently, I came across a very interesting article here by Andy Greenspon, a PhD student in applied physics at Harvard: " 9 things you should consider before embarking on a PhD ." I thought Andy gave some fantastic advice, and it reminded me of a promise I made to myself while working on my PhD. In the wee hours of the night poring over coursework, informed consent documents, data analysis, and the umpteenth version of my dissertation, I vowed that if I ever finished my PhD, I would try to help others through the quicksand of a graduate school journey.

I hope I can begin to offer some help in the way of this list. Really, there's much more than I can put in a list of 10 items, so be on the lookout for more advice to follow.

1. Immerse yourself in writing – and learn how to write a funding proposal

Some might say this is more important after you finish a PhD. Don't fall into that trap. Learning how to write a funding proposal is nothing like writing your dissertation or a typical journal article. However, all types of funding proposals (federal, state, foundations, private/corporate, military) may offer you an opportunity to actually fund your research while working on your PhD. And it may very well be your best and most attractive resume item to landing a great job. For example, my professional organization, the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science, offers research grants to conduct graduate research. I was able to fund most of my research budget by this opportunity. Many other federal granting agencies, organizations and private foundations will have funding opportunities that often offer graduate students a vehicle to fund their research, especially if you are conducting research that is important to that agency/foundation mission.

2. Find a strong mentor

I can't stress how important this is. Can it be yourDissertation chair? Possibly, but find someone that can give you critical feedback on projects and encouragement. I was fortunate to have several colleagues in my college that had taken the PhD journey. I surrounded myself with several of these "PhD veterans," and they were able to help me avoid hurdles that could have slowed me down. They also were able to provide the most important thing a grad student might need – understanding and constant feedback. Think about finding someone that knows how to motivate you to finish jobs. It might be a colleague or a former professor. However, it should not be a friend that tells you all things will be just fine.

3. Grow a thick skin and take critical feedback for what it is – constructive criticism

It's OK to sulk a bit (we all do when we find out we are not a Nobel Prize winner in our first year of grad school), but get over it ASAP and learnfrom these comments. Most professors and advisors have much to share when it comes to the ins and outs of research design, writing for publication or finding grants. An old saying I always tell students and colleagues – "One often remember the toughest teacher the most" – is true for a reason.

4. Find the right dissertation chair for you

I always tell new PhD students that the chair of the program may not be the right choice – or a brand new tenure track professor or the 30+ year professor in the department. Do your research! Do they "graduate" students in a timely manner, and are they decently well-known in their research field? Are they collegial?

One way to find a dissertation chair is to do some research via the internet, or you could talk to current graduate students about particular professors. The department might also be able to assist you on finding out the statistics on each professor. For example, I found out the start to finish time period for a graduate student and the PhD completion rate under "X" professor. In my personal opinion, you don't want a rookie professor that's trying to make tenure, and you don't want the retiring professor that may not be worried about research anymore. And it's OK if they are tough. If they teach you something and get you through the process, that's what matters. It's like parenting; they shouldn't be your friend when they need to be your parent!

5. Direct your course research projects or independent study for course credit towards your dissertation

This could easily be my number one piece of advice. If you can conduct literature reviews or pilot research projects in your preparatory courses towards what you want to do your dissertation on, do it. This step will help you save time downstream in the dissertation phase. I turned three independent studies (with future dissertation committee members) into nine hours of completed doctoral coursework while also completing much of my first two chapters for the dissertation. Let me explain how I did this in more detail.

I always knew that I wanted to conduct a dissertation on Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) with regard to the knowledge, learning, and adaptation of individuals who had been diagnosed with MRSA . So, I went to the department chair of my PhD program and asked about opportunities to take independent study courses (electives) that would allow me to build towards conducting my literature review, pilot study and funding opportunities for my topic. By the time I reached the proposal stage, I truly had my first two chapters of my dissertation in good shape.

6. Keep your dissertation topic as narrow as possible

You may want to save the world, but do you want to spend 10 years on your PhD? You have a research life after the PhD is done to save the world. Certainly, if you want to win the Nobel Prize while working on your dissertation, then go for it, but be prepared for a long commitment. This is very important.

A narrow topic might seem like you will not have enough data or things to say. However, the longer I do research, the more often I see the value in a strong but narrow research design. Seek out active researchers in your core area of interest and discuss the "needs" of that research. Is there something missing from the literature? Are there research questions or hypotheses already being asked that need answering? These are great ways to narrow your topic and be relevant for publication.

7. There's a reason 50 percent of PhD candidates stay ABD...

Perseverance and finishing the job, in my humble opinion, are the two most important traits and qualities one needs after coursework is complete. As I tell my own two children, it's OK to fail but it's not OK to quit. Set an agenda and schedule with your dissertation chair and be accountable to it – and keep your chair accountable. I met with my chair every three weeks during my dissertation and finished in one and a half years! It can be done. Don't let your chair or yourself off the hook on this item. Find the time to meet on a set schedule. I typically would promise my chair that I would have a portion of a chapter done before our meeting time.

And, don't alienate your chair by emailing them pages to edit the night before. Always be sure to give them the courtesy of at least a week of time to review your work prior to your set time. They are very busy too and it will be more productive if they have time to edit your pages in advance. Celebrate each hurdle that you clear so that you know you're are making progress.

8. Focus only on the next step or hurdle as you work

This can be very difficult – to not stress out about the entire dissertation journey. It's so easy to become paralyzed by the mountain of checklists and things to do. This tip follows #7 for a reason. Set your agenda and schedule, and focus on what is immediately in front of you. Usually, the first step is forming your committee with a chair. Do that and celebrate. Then move to the next step, and the next:

9. Find a strong quantitative (or qualitative) research colleague that will assist you with a strong design

This is a critical decision, and doing it early and correctly will make your dissertation matter so as not to end up on the shelf. It has been my experience that most poorly written or non-meaningful dissertations were a result of the wrong research design. If your university has a "go-to person" for a quantitative design, seek that person out. But, don't choose that person to be on your committee or to assist you if they are primarily a qualitative researcher.

If you are considering a mixed-methods approach, then you might consider that option. I have a very good friend who is an expert quantitative researcher that has won multiple funding awards on a variety of projects across multiple disciplines. He always states that this is the biggest weakness of dissertations – a poor design. It's a national problem so don't ignore it. Find help if you need it. Get it right up front, and not only will it help you finish. It will make your work relevant and publish-worthy.

10. Promote your work and talk to others

This advice may not seem relevant for your dissertation. However, I would argue that you should do this not only on your campus but to go to graduate research forums, professional organizations for graduate research presentation, colleagues in your research area, and other routes to promote your work. Obviously, in today's world that might mean a good online blog, too. It can actually lead a solid sounding board for your research and may lead to job opportunities as you move into the final stages of your dissertation completion.[divider]

Now go do it. Concentrate on each step and see yourself finishing that step. Success is mostly about hard work and persistence. It's what separates the "almost finished" from a job well done. Nothing, in my experience, can take the place of sticktuitiveness . Good luck!


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Is it possible to finish PhD quicker than formally possible? [closed]

I said to my supervisor that I would like to finish my PhD very quickly. He said that formally I can submit my thesis 2 years after starting my degree at earliest, but that I am doing very well and it should be possible.

I verified the institutional requirements and indeed I cannot submit my PhD thesis in less than 2 years. However, I would like to submit the thesis in 1 year and 3 months. But I would like to ask you if this could somehow be possible and if yes, then how and what I should do.

I could talk to my supervisor in person about this, but the problem is that he would find it hard to believe me that much and thus he would be reluctant to help me or what is even worse, I may hurt the relationship with my supervisor. I have been doing my doctoral degree for 9 months in mathematics and some big parts are coming together, yet still there is a lot of work. I believe that I could finish it in 6 months, but my supervisor would believe me only if he saw everything completed. The problem is that by then it would be too late for me.

Edit: I study in the UK. If I can finish my PhD thesis earlier, and then move to a preferred place for a postdoc, I do not see a reason to delay. I need to know now if I can finish early, so that I could apply for the scholarships supporting my postdoctoral visit. The scholarships I am going to apply require that I start within certain dates and can be applied for only at specific times during the year twice or once a year.

I have fulfilled all the credit requirements already and meet my supervisor every week while formally it is required only once a month.

The specific rule is:

anon42's user avatar

3 Answers 3

You haven't explained why you need to finish your PhD so quickly- is there some particular reason that you can't complete the PhD program in the normal time frame?

You haven't mentioned what country you're in. The answer to your question could vary a lot by country.

You also haven't detailed the specific rule that says that two years are required. In the US system it would be common to have a minimum number of credit hours for the dissertation (e.g. 36 credit hours) and a maximum number of credit hours per semester that you could register for (e.g. 12) that would effectively create such a rule.

When an institution has a requirement like this it is typically not within the authority of the advisor or the dissertation committee to waive the requirement. Rather, any waiver of the requirement would typically require the approval of the Dean of Graduate Studies or some similar official. You can certainly ask, and especially if your advisor strongly supported your request, it's possible that a waiver would be granted. However, and assuming that you're in the US, it isn't at all likely that a requirement like this would be waived.

Brian Borchers's user avatar

I don't understand what you want; do you want us to contact your supervisor for you? We can't find some magic exception in the rules for you. Either you need to suck it up and accept this won't happen, or you need talk to your supervisor and convince them that this is a good idea.

Let me just add that this sounds like a terrible idea to me. UK Ph.D.'s are way too short anyways; rushing through one will just throw you out into the cold hard reality of the job market totally underprepared. You don't seem to have thought about the "If" in "If I can finish my PhD thesis earlier, and then move to a preferred place for a postdoc, I do not see a reason to delay." or thought about what happens at the end of your postdoc. If you are really finished with your thesis at the end of 15 months, then it's not as though you'll twiddle your thumbs for the next several months; you'll have an incredibly valuable chance to start some other projects, and get a bit of a head start before heading into your postdoc. That's time you'll never get back, and which you want to strain your relationship with your advisor in your rush to throw away.

Ben Webster's user avatar

It's time to read the fine print. At my university, a student can finish under two years if the Dean of Research approves and an independent assessor agrees that the thesis meets the required standard. This is pretty rare. The work must be ground breaking.

In any case, research is about time and having only spent <2 years is actually a negative. Spending more time means you get to hone your skills, accumulate more papers, and build up a better CV. This means you'll be extra competitive against other post-doc applicants; some of which by the way may have already completed multiple post-docs.

santa's user avatar

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On finishing ‘early’

Recently I published a post from Carmen Blythe on finishing the PhD in 2 years, which provoked a storm of comments. Some people pointed out the many advantages that Carmen had, which helped her finish in such a short time. You might have been left wondering: what about ‘normal people’ – can they finish early to?

There are a bunch of PhD students who routinely finish early: part timers. While they are more likely to drop out in the first couple of years, statistically people who start as a part timer to finish much earlier than their full time comrades; sometimes within four years (which is like being enrolled for two years full time). I guess we don’t notice this happening around us because finishing in 4 years instead of 8 means you are still around for a long-ish time. Truly, our part time students are the quiet achievers of the PhD world. I’ve wanted to highlight this phenomenon for a while, so I was glad when Alison sent in this post.

Dr Alison Bedford is a recent PhD graduate from the University of Southern Queensland, parent, wife, secondary History and English teacher, sessional lecturer in History teacher education, and generally busy human. Her research interests include Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, Foucault’s concept of discourse, science fiction and History curriculum and pedagogy. You can find her on LinkedIn and Twitter @bedforda1

finishing phd early

But as @thesiswhisperer points out in the later chapters of How to Be an Academic , if it was all bad, people wouldn’t finish their PhDs or become academics at all. To that end, I would like to share a positive PhD story. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows (because nothing ever is) but I hope it serves as a counterpoint to the many stories of woe (which are important in highlighting some of the deep inequities and flaws in the current state of academia in Australia and elsewhere).

My wife and I decided to start a family in 2013; at the same time I was offered the chance to enrol in a PhD in English Literature. So, with three months to go before our baby, Nigel-Wade*, arrived (my wife carried him), I started my doctoral studies. “How hard can it be? Babies sleep all the time!” I thought. “You’re mad!” I was told by my colleagues and boss, who nonetheless gave me their total support. So there’s the first three positives: I had a supportive partner, a full-time job (more on this later) and supportive colleagues. Having that good personal support network was obviously a huge advantage and the first sprinkle of unicorn-magic.

The other big advantage I had was a crack supervisory team (see The Tyranny of the Awesome Supervisor ) who had different but complementary approaches to my work. This meant instead of feedback in stereo or open disagreement, feedback on my writing was often double-layered and therefore doubly helpful. One supervisor tended to provoke me to think more deeply and read more widely to enrich my scholarship, while the other got into the nitty-gritty, honing my writing and developing my academic voice. I know this is not everyone’s experience and I cannot advocate strongly enough that finding a good supervisor is one of the key ingredients to being able to become a PhD unicorn.

Yes, I did say earlier I had a full-time job (and I continue to do so). Work and study are not incompatible, but another bout of unicorn-magic made this work well for me. As a school teacher, I get about 12 weeks of holidays a year (for angry rants about how little teachers do, please see MP Andrew Laming). As my wife prepared for her return to work, Nigel-Wade was enrolled in a day-care centre we loved. Him being in care allowed me to work full-time on my thesis in my school holidays (I have been teaching for 15 years and so have been able to get to a point where I rarely have to bring work home) and so I would not speak to my supervisors for the 10 weeks of term, then send them 5000 words at the end of each holiday. I think the key here is not finding a work/study balance, but rather being very productive in the time you give to both. I work hard at work and at uni to ensure I have the time for other things.

So, my recipe for unicorn-magic so far, is support, good supervision, and good time management – if you aren’t across these read ALL THE POSTS on the Thesis Whisperer blog immediately ! The real horn on the horse though is WRITING. I watched another PhD student read, and read, and read, and read… and then not submit their unfinished thesis because they had overwhelmed themselves with research and were unable to find a way through to a finished product. Even if it is not your natural mode of working, writing to think or to synthesise is a unicorn-hack of epic proportions. My own approach was to do a ‘chunk’ of research and reading (e.g. second-wave feminist responses to Mary Shelley, or understanding the methodology of contextual biography) – this might be a few days or a week, but rarely more than two weeks. At the end of this time, I would turn all my notes into prose – much of which became a part of my thesis or where spun off into conference papers of publication submissions. The first 2000 words I wrote for my literature review were rubbish, but as I read more, I added and refined chunks until it evolved into the 12000+ word chapter in my thesis.

I studied part-time, while raising a child and working full-time (I went 0.8 in my last year to allow me to engage more consistently with my work as it approached completion) and submitted my thesis for examination 5 years and 2 months after I started, 10 months prior to my official deadline for submission. I know I am hugely privileged to have had all of the positive experiences I have had and lucky that my studies were not derailed by serious illness or disaster (because as everyone knows #lifehappens). Was it all rainbows and sunshine? No. Of course I would have preferred to spend my holidays at home with my boy and I am revelling in that now I can. The guilt all parents feel of putting their child in care is real and unavoidable. Did I have negative experiences? Yes. The dressing down from a senior academic at one of my first conferences made me question the validity of my work.  The elation of a book contract was quickly dashed by a soul-destroying peer review that saw the contract vanish in a puff of very un-unicorn-like smoke.

Doing a PhD is not easy. But some have it easier than others and it is possible to become that mythical creature who finishes their studies in the given time with their personal lives and health intact. Following much of the wonderful advice in the #phdchat community and writing often might mean when you wander into the forest of academia, you are the one rare unicorn who emerges unscathed.

*note: this is the pseudonym we used for our unborn foetus, we did not name our child Nigel or Wade and we definitely didn’t hyphenate the two. Apologies to any Nigel-Wades reading this.

Thanks Alison – I commend your steady diligence that led to such a good outcome. Calling all part time students out there: are you closer to the end than you should be at this stage? How do you make time to progress your research amongst all the other things you do? Please share your part time magic unicorn dust with us all!

Related Posts

A PhD in 2 years… of less?

5 time management ideas – from Part Time students

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The Thesis Whisperer is written by Professor Inger Mewburn, director of researcher development at The Australian National University . New posts on the first Wednesday of the month. Subscribe by email below. Visit the About page to find out more about me and my books. Listen to my podcasts: On the Reg , Your brain on writing and WhisperCollective . Send me a message on Speakpipe.

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Can you finish a PhD early?

The title of Doctor is the one obtained by a doctoral student who, after completing his or her undergraduate studies, begins to complete his thesis.

How long does the student take to complete the Doctorate?

The time it takes the student to complete the Doctorate will depend on different factors. Some professionals reconcile their work with carrying out their research, that is, they don’t dedicate all their present time to this task.

5 reasons to get a PhD

Its importance lies in the development of additional skills, your training process becomes more solid making you an attractive candidate to fill a high-ranking position.

1. Continuity

2. professional development.

Therefore, expanding your knowledge will open up endless possibilities, both work, personal and professional.

3. Labor advantages

4. prestige, 5. development of personal skills, so, can you finish a phd early, faqs: can you finish a phd early, can you finish phd in 2 years , can you finish your phd in 3 years , can i finish my phd in 4 years .

A PhD degree certifies the original thesis documented in a defended dissertation has been done by the holder. You will be able to complete the study of certain academic fields in three to four years if you have a research advisor and subject; however, others such as the sciences may take longer.

What is the fastest way to get a PhD ?

What is the hardest phd to get, if(typeof ez_ad_units='undefined'){ez_ad_units.push([[336,280],'neurotray_com-large-mobile-banner-1','ezslot_0',128,'0','0'])};__ez_fad_position('div-gpt-ad-neurotray_com-large-mobile-banner-1-0'); leave a comment cancel reply.

Written by Hannah Slack

Finishing your PhD can be quite a daunting process. Completion and dissertation anxiety are extremely common and will often make this period feel a lot scarier than it actually is. However, knowing what to expect is a great way to prepare and keep calm. Finishing a PhD should be very exciting as you finally get to reap the rewards of all your hard work.

We’ve laid out the key information you need to know about completing a PhD so you can get organised early and enjoy the process.

When will I finish my PhD?

In the UK, a standard full-time PhD takes between three and four years to complete. If you are a funded student , then your funding body will outline an expected hand-in period. This will usually be six to twelve months after the completion of your third year. If you are on track to finish your PhD late you will be charged continuation fees .

If you are self-funded then you will start paying continuation fees when you begin your fourth year.

Continuation fees usually cover a set period of three to four months. If it’s likely more time will be needed, the continuation period can be extended at an extra cost. Payment will often be calculated based on your new submission date. If, however, you submit early then some universities will offer a refund for any over-payments.

Writing the dissertation

The average length of a PhD is 75,000 words or 300 pages , depending on the institution.

The PhD dissertation

Learn more about the dissertation , including some of our top tips for completion.

Submitting your thesis

When you are ready to hand in, there are a few things that you’ll need in order to move on to the viva.

What do you need?

Some institutions will also ask for an Appointment of Examiners form, though this is usually completed by your supervisor. Additionally, you may also be asked to provide an abstract of your dissertation. Make sure to check with your institution and department about their hand-in process.

The viva, an oral examination of your work, will take place within three months of your dissertation being dispatched to the examiners. At least one of the examiners will be external and they will be decided upon by your supervisor.

The process can take anywhere between one to four hours. During the meeting you’ll be asked to discuss various elements of your research and dissertation. You will also be provided with feedback before receiving the final report.

If you’d like to know more about the viva, we have explained the process in detail , including some helpful tips.

Potential outcomes

As well as receiving direct feedback during the viva, your examiners will produce a report that outlines any corrections. It’s common for students to be given some form of corrections and so you should expect the PhD process to continue at least a few months after the viva. Any recommended revisions should be discussed with your supervisor so you can create a detailed action plan for the final completion.

If you receive a pass, then you’ll have no corrections and will go on to receive your doctoral qualification.


Most students are likely to be given corrections before receiving a pass. These can span from spelling mistakes to major revisions.


If the thesis requires major revisions that cannot be completed in a six-month period, then a resubmission may be advised. An extension of 12 months will be given, and you may or may not be asked to undergo another viva.

If your research appears to be too narrow for a doctorate, then you could be downgraded to an MPhil or MSc. Usually your research will still be recognised as good quality, just not fitting for the PhD qualification.

Receiving a fail is not very common and will only be awarded in instances of plagiarism or if the examiners determine the project to be incompletable.

Life post-PhD

Remember, the PhD process does not end after the viva as it is likely you will have corrections to complete. You’ll need to take this into account when applying for jobs as you could have up to a 12-month resubmission period.

However, once you are awarded a pass status then you’ll have officially finished. Many graduates like to celebrate by treating themselves to a well-deserved holiday or a gift.

PhD careers

For more information on what happens after a PhD, read our guide to career opportunities and life after research .

finishing phd early

Joint PhD programmes involve collaboration between two (or more) different universities. So how does that work? Who can apply? And what are the advantages (and disadvantages) of researching in this way?

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How I finished my PhD early

Dr Christina Phillips explains how and why she handed in her industrial PhD thesis early.

Working on a laptop

My PhD studies began in October 2014 and should have finished by the end of September 2017, but in actual fact I successfully defended my thesis in July 2017 with only minor corrections required. So, how did this happen? I must start by saying, I do not have a magic formula and that you may find some of this advice difficult.

Choose the right supervisor

My relationship with my academic supervisor was healthy - occasionally confrontational but in a positive and supportive way which allowed for critical debate. This is invaluable as I have always felt he was there for me and had confidence in my abilities. He boosted my confidence by encouraging me to attend conferences and only felt the need to review my abstracts and presentations the first couple of times. 

We had regular meetings with other researchers where we would all present our work, building a collegiate supportive atmosphere. If my supervisor didn’t know the answers to my questions, he would try to find the right papers to help me out. He also sent me a list of useful publications in my first year just to get me started. But most of all, he gave me deadlines, listened when I needed a sounding board and always made time to respond to my emails. 

My supervisor encouraged my innovative viewpoint and helped me to feel confident that it really was the right way to go. This saved a lot of ‘worry-time’. I have seen some of my fellow students struggle with supervisors who micromanaged their work, even when the content was good, causing them to lose confidence and feel their work was never good enough. For conferences, where I had been confident to present my research without the need for a detailed review from my supervisor, others appeared to be held back, needing everything to be checked before they could move on. This can have a stifling effect and doesn’t serve to produce an innovative self-reliant PhD student, it can also produce rather narrow research. More importantly, for this account, it takes up time and energy which should be invested in the research and in learning how to self-critique.

My advice: Choose the right supervisor to help you and your research grow.

Check their publications - do they have recent papers and a good research output?  Do you ‘click’ – you need to spend a lot of time together through one of the hardest tasks in your life, could you weather storms together?  Don’t expect your supervisor to be an expert in your area of research, you are doing a PhD and they will give you support but it is your research journey. If you are worried because you need support in your research area eg it is heavy on technical development, maybe a co-supervisor could help you here or a mentor who works in the field. Sometimes you can find an adviser who is not your supervisor and that can work well if your supervisor is okay with it. Does the department have relevant experts who you could ask for advice? The department I worked in contained academics whose advice was very useful.

Background knowledge

Now that I have covered what I see as the really critical bit, choosing your supervisor or supervisory team, what about the rest?

Understanding the background theory to your research is important, ideally before starting your PhD. I had been embedded in the company for 18 months before starting my PhD, as part of a shorter Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP). In that time, I intensively learnt about operations management and research within a real world environment. In my opinion, I don’t think I would have been able to finish my PhD early had I not had this concentrated experience in the company, particularly in terms of the initial level of learning.

My advice: Find ways to improve your background knowledge and experience before starting your PhD

Time management

This was an industrial PhD, meaning I had to conduct my research, work one day per week, and teach (up to 8 hours per week) – quite the juggling act. So how did I do it?

Because I was in a company, I worked the company hours (and often overtime). My company based hours were 08:30 to 16:30, and at the University, I would often work until 18:00. Working these hours meant I had a packed working day, but very importantly, was able to have my evenings and most of my weekends.

My advice: Work strict hours during the week and enjoy your evenings and weekends.  Headspace and rest is very important when you are synthesising so much information and creating something new.

Meet deadlines

If I had a deadline, big or small, I did it, no matter what. As I undertook an industrial PhD, the regular deadlines associated with the in-house PhD procedure (eg annual reports) did not always apply. Although such reports provide structure and encourage writing skills, its rigidity was often difficult for me to achieve in the context of my industrial PhD. By year two, I was setting my own deadlines and it worked, really well. Getting to this point is important, you need to be able to set your own realistic goals and have the self-discipline to stick to them.

My advice: As the subtitle suggests, meet your deadlines, no matter what

Friends and family

Another factor which helped was my family. My son is not small anymore, and was studying for his own exams over this time. My partner started an MRes in my second year so we were a studious family, who to a large extent understood each other’s pain and acted accordingly. During my final write up my boss at the company (also my industrial supervisor) let me take holiday from my contract so that I could go away and just write. My family also understood the need for me to be away so that I could just write, and I did for two weeks solid, total immersion in my subject. Going against my earlier advice, I also took no holidays for the first part of 2017 and worked occasional weekends – something I would not recommend, but may occasionally have to happen. In my case I had a new job to start!

My advice: Be flexible and recognise when you have to work outside of normal hours – but don’t make this the norm!

Start writing early

I had started writing early and this meant I had bits and pieces that I could edit and pull together, which I then built upon for the final thesis draft. My doctoral school expected research students to produce a literature review and methodology by the end of year one, which I found difficult, but I did start writing papers in the second year. My initial literature review did not get used at all in the final thesis - this is okay – as frustrating as it may feel, it means your writing and knowledge has improved. I also had a paper, which was already under review, so was able to include this unedited. My thesis was, in effect, a three paper PhD, which in the end came out at four papers.

As I wrote the whole thesis up, ideas started to combine even more and some strong research themes emerged. A process of growing and shedding occurred and I was careful to not allow myself to be too wedded to old ideas which had now grown into something stronger. The confidence and research knowledge I had gained helped me to know which the better and stronger themes were, so I focussed on those. Knowing what to drop and what to carry was important to enable a quick, clean finish.

My advice: Start writing early in your PhD but don’t expect everything you write to end up in your final thesis.

Positive influences

Finally, my industrial supervisor was also a positive influence. He taught me how to focus on the bottom line (for me, good research ideas) and to not get bogged down in unnecessary detail. He taught me good management practice and this fed into my ability to create a good, strong PhD thesis which was a pleasure to defend during my viva. His attitude was that a PhD is like any project and should have set goals and objectives, with care taken not to get distracted by interesting avenues that may not produce the required end result.

I was lucky to have wise people around me, who boosted my confidence, protected my self-esteem and steered me away from trying to do too much. Being a little older and weathered myself, as well as all of the above, helped me to sift out the good ideas at a rapid rate and end up finishing my PhD early. For the writing process, I quote the advice of an old hand “better to get it writ than not to write at all…” in other words “just do it!”.

See the Leeds University Business School website for information on our PhDs and Research Degrees.

If you would like to get in touch regarding any of these blog entries, or are interested in contributing to the blog, please contact:

Email: [email protected] Phone: +44 (0)113 343 8754

Click here to view our privacy statement. You can repost this blog article, following the terms listed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International licence .

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect the views of Leeds University Business School or the University of Leeds.


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