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According to PremiumSchools’ chief editor, Malcolm Peralty, “These speedy doctoral programs are your fast track to becoming a leader in what you love. Dive into a world of valuable knowledge, grab those must-have skills, and step out as the go-to expert in your field. Your shortcut to a successful career is right here, ready and waiting!”
With the rapid innovation of education, many academic institutions offer accelerated or shortest doctoral programs in various academic disciplines. Reputable colleges and universities are known for their state-of-the-art resources and tools, facilities, research works, and funding to support professional students.
The following article has been reviewed by Malcolm Peralty
Quick Summarization of the Shortest Doctoral Programs Available
Completing the shortest doctoral program is an important aspect of professional students wanting to advance in the current roles of their profession. Since they come with convenience and flexibility, doctoral programs with shorter lengths allow students to work and study without compromising their obligations. These programs also provide non-traditional doctoral students and career shifters with excellent alternatives, especially those who can’t afford traditional doctoral programs or don’t have the luxury of time to complete their graduate studies.
While doctorate studies are considered the culminating term that marks students’ finale of their academic venture, they often require a lot of discipline, effort, time, and resources to obtain. Doctorate credentials are highly desired for professional students wanting to pursue advanced roles or participate in high research activities.
The 20 Shortest Doctorate Careers and School Selections
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Doctorate in Psychology/General Psychology
Unlike the traditional equivalent, the online Doctorate in Psychology or Doctorate in General Psychology is one of the shortest doctoral programs available. Instead of completing the 6- to 8-year program, accelerated doctorate in psychology programs can be completed in less than three years.
This online program is a terminal degree that helps professional students understand how people behave and think, covering various specializations, including clinical psychology, health & wellness psychology, sport & performance psychology, and business psychology.
The online Doctorate in Psychology program is a heavy research-based academic program, emphasizing research and development of analytical and critical thinking proficiencies. Although each school has different study plans, some of the most common sets of coursework include:
- ethics and multicultural issues,
- quantitative research methods,
- qualitative analysis,
- counseling theories,
- and tests and measurements.
Doctoral students should also expect dissertations and practicums to be a part of the doctorate program’s culminating requirements.
Doctoral programs in Psychology help prepare students for numerous career opportunities in consultancy, academia, research, organization, healthcare, and private practices.
Best Schools Offering an Online Doctorate in Psychology:
Doctorate in Behavioral Health
With an average completion period of three years, the Doctorate in Behavioral Health is one of the shortest doctoral programs in psychology. It is designed for licensed, working clinical professionals interested in furthering their education and knowledge, offering holistic medical services to help individuals improve their well-being through behavioral changes.
Professional students pursuing an online Doctorate in Behavioral Health will receive advanced training and learning opportunities in entrepreneurship, medical literacy, and behavioral interventions. They will learn in-depth how mental health affects their clients’ overall well-being and discover the different approaches to resolving issues through counseling, therapies, behavioral interventions, and other clinical approaches.
Graduates with DBH credentials don’t have licensing requirements. However, they are required to have certifications in the practice of their profession. They also participate in and conduct extensive research studies that highlight the behavioral and mental health aspects. Unlike licensed psychologists and psychiatrists, DBH graduates aren’t allowed to diagnose clients with mental health issues.
Best Schools Offering an Online Doctorate in Behavioral Health:
Doctorate in Business Administration
Many schools offer a variety of online Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA), making it one of the most popular and shortest doctoral programs available. It is a doctorate program that prepares students for management and leadership roles in different organizations within the local and global markets.
The DBA program is ideal for professional students desiring advanced studies for career advancements in business, including government sectors, non-profit organizations, and for-profit companies. Graduates can also work in the academe as professors, deans, and other school administrative roles.
Unlike MBA programs, the Doctorate of Business Administration program has a more exclusive curriculum. Although most schools offer online coursework, some will require in-person residencies during summer terms. Professional students are expected to complete a set of required courses, dissertation work, comprehensive examination, and final defense as part of the program requirements of their DBA programs.
Many schools also allow students to specialize in their preferred academic discipline, including marketing, management & organizations, leadership, information technology management, accounting, or finance. Students who are more inclined to work in the field of education can also pursue an online Ph.D. in Business Administration, focusing more on research work rather than applied learning.
Best Schools Offering an Online Doctorate in Business Administration:
Doctor of Nursing Practice
One of the most popular doctoral programs offering fast-tracked learning is the Doctor of Nursing Practice. It is an ideal program for working nurse practitioners, helping them learn more about evidence-based practices.
Through the online Doctor of Nursing Practice program, students will have advanced knowledge of complex decision-making, management, and healthcare practices. Depending on the students’ learning commitments and pace, the online Doctor of Nursing Practice program can be completed within two years on average.
Considered a professional, practice-focused doctorate program, the online Doctor of Nursing Practice program will prepare nursing professionals to be industry leaders who deliver advanced-level nursing care and state-of-the-art healthcare outcomes.
Apart from advanced clinical roles, pursuing the Doctor of Nursing Practice program will help students conduct teaching and research initiatives in higher education. Doctor of Nursing Practice graduates complete a set of coursework that emphasizes healthcare ethics, statistical analysis, organizational social and behavioral policies, and evidence-based research and practice.
Best Schools Offering an Online Doctor of Nursing Practice:
Doctorate in Management
Completing a Doctorate in Management program is possible in less than three or four years, making it a popular option for professional students who prefer the shortest doctoral programs available. Many schools offer transfer-friendly Doctorate in Management programs that combine highly desirable skills in technology and communication with core technical components of quality research. It is a terminal degree that prepares students for various rewarding professions in the public and private sectors.
Professional students will develop crucial writing and research skills to publish a dissertation throughout the online Doctorate in Management program. Each dissertation of students will highlight their proficiencies to identify a particular area of interest within the modern workplace, test their hypothesis in real-world applications, and develop effective solutions to specific business-related challenges.
Some schools offer a variety of concentrations to choose from implemented into the online Doctorate of Management program, including information technology, human resource management, conflict management, and strategic management.
Best Schools Offering an Online Doctorate in Management:
Doctor of Occupational Therapy
Given that the online Doctor of Occupational Therapy program can be completed within 18 to 24 months, it is one of the shortest doctoral programs sought-after by students in the field. It is a post-professional occupational therapy program designed for licensed occupational therapists pursuing advanced skills and expertise applicable in the workplace.
While most schools offer online doctoral programs in Occupational Therapy, their programs are integrated with on-campus opportunities. They provide students with a space to present their work to various professional audiences, participate in engaging services, and collaborate with professional leaders within the industry.
All courses are evidence-based, advocating a wide spectrum of knowledge of certain topics, including quality improvement, social policy & disability, educational theory & practice, theories of change, and health promotion & wellness.
Best Schools Offering an Online Doctor of Occupational Therapy:
Doctor of Public Administration
Professional students with a Doctor of Public Administration program have earned their doctorate credentials within three to four years. Considered one of the shortest doctorate programs, the DPA program only requires a minimum of 49 credit hours of coursework and dissertation work.
The doctorate program is designed to develop the skills and expertise of innovative leaders who prefer maximizing impact in non-profit, private, and public organizations.
While each university has a unique set of coursework requirements, most online Doctor of Public Administration programs include courses in employment discrimination law, ethics, and social justice, government regulations and administrative law, leadership in public sectors, and introduction to public service management.
Each course is developed to meet the needs of professional students seeking advanced knowledge in addressing unique and complex issues of organizations at the local, state, and federal levels. Developed with a holistic curriculum, the DPA program will highlight the essential components of social service, health management, policy, governance, criminal justice, and business.
Best Schools Offering an Online Doctor of Public Administration:
Doctorate in Educational Leadership
The Doctorate of Educational Leadership is primarily designed for working professionals, allowing students to complete their doctorate studies in two years in a full-time learning format. Like the Doctorate in Business Administration, the online Ed.D. in Educational Leadership is one of the most popular options for students seeking shorter doctorate programs.
The Ed.D. in Educational Leadership program helps prepare innovative leaders who have the knowledge and skill set to oversee complex organizations through uncertain times. While many students assume that the program is only applicable to education, many schools have offered an interdisciplinary doctorate program in Educational Leadership.
Some of the online Doctorate in Educational Leadership offer specializations in Sport Leadership, Special Education Leadership, Nursing Education, Human Resource Development, Disaster Preparedness & Emergency Management, Global Education, and Health Communication & Leadership.
Best Schools Offering an Online Doctorate in Educational Leadership:
Doctorate in Public Policy
The Doctorate in Public Policy program is an excellent option for professional students seeking advanced roles in Education and non-profit, public, and government sectors. It is a practitioner-based terminal doctorate program that highlights a set of coursework, developing students’ problem-solving, communication, management, and leadership skills.
With an average completion time of 36 months, the online Doctorate in Public Policy program is considered one of the shortest doctorate programs available. It is an academic doctorate program that builds upon students’ expertise and skills in the development of applied research skills essential for professional students working in public administration.
Although program requirements vary per school, some of the most common include foundational, core and elective courses, writing assessments, residency programs, and dissertation requirements. Some schools also offer a variety of specializations for a Doctorate in Public Policy, including social policy, national security policy, foreign policy, education policy, and economic policy.
Best Schools Offering an Online Doctorate in Public Policy:
Professional students enrolled in the online Doctorate in Social Work program can receive their degrees in less than three years. It is designed for experienced clinical social workers with diverse professional experience, learning styles, and academic goals.
Through the doctorate program, students will develop characteristics of both scholars and practitioners. They also adopt the disciplinary habits of scholars through different methodological tools and rigorous study.
Regardless of professional background, the Doctorate in Social Work program will prepare students to pursue a variety of social work career pathways. It is a terminal degree with a clinically-driven curriculum, providing students with advanced practice methods and clinical overview essential to succeed.
Given that it is one of the shortest doctorate programs, professional students pursuing the DSW degree will only require a set of coursework and capstone projects. Depending on the nature of their program, some students will complete a leadership practicum and a teaching practicum.
Best Schools Offering an Online Doctorate in Social Work:
Doctor of Theology or Ministry
Design for professional students in religious studies, the Doctor of Theology or Ministry program will provide students with a practice-focused academic degree that focuses on solving real-world ministry or theological problems with advanced research and practice. Many online schools offer a Doctor of Theology or Ministry program that helps equip students with essential skills in the practice of Christianity.
Many students can already complete their Doctor of Theology or Ministry degree within 24 months, making it one of the shortest doctorate programs in Religious Education.
Students will immerse themselves in an in-depth journey through the New and Old Testaments through the program. It is an academic degree that will help develop students’ skills in bibliographies, theological methodologies, and doctorate-level writing and research.
Students may also choose a concentration in Theology, including Pastoral Theology, Theological Apologetics, Systematic Theology, Biblical Theology, and Church History.
Best Schools Offering an Online Doctor of Theology or Ministry:
Doctorate in Organizational Leadership and Change
Professional students interested in enrolling in one of the shortest doctorate programs available shouldn’t miss the Doctorate in Organizational Leadership and Change program. It is an academic program that will prepare students to explore a diverse range of solution-building initiatives for complex social challenges.
As a terminal doctorate, the Doctorate in Organizational Leadership and Change program features an extensive research-based study plan. It is a holistic, interdisciplinary program covering organizational behavior, business analytics, research design, statistics, and business methodologies and theories.
Due to the nature of the program, many schools require at least three years of professional experience for students to enroll. After completing the doctorate program, graduates will become effective leaders in various professional settings, including healthcare organizations, academia, non-profits, businesses, and ministries.
Best Schools Offering an Online Doctorate in Organizational Leadership and Change:
Doctorate in Healthcare Management or Administration
The Doctorate in Healthcare Management/Administration is one of the shortest doctorate programs designed for mid-to senior-level professionals to help them perform applied research in the healthcare setting. Students will become knowledgeable in performing and capitalizing on practice-based research, leading a diverse range of institutions, and shaping public health policies through the doctorate program.
The doctorate program can be completed in three years, depending on students’ pace and commitment. While schools have different curricula for their doctorate programs, the majority of Doctorate in Healthcare Management degrees will require the completion of the core, elective, and foundational courses, dissertations, and comprehensive examinations.
After graduation, professional students will focus more on achieving leadership in healthcare management, ethics of healthcare, healthcare information systems, and healthcare practices and theories. Working as healthcare consultants, healthcare data analysts, pharmaceutical product managers, or hospital CEOs are some of the career pathways for graduates with Doctorate in Healthcare Management credentials.
Best Schools Offering an Online Doctorate in Healthcare Management or Administration:
- California Intercontinental University
- Loyola University Chicago
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Doctorate in Physical Therapy
A list of the shortest doctorate programs wouldn’t be complete without the Doctorate in Physical Therapy program. With one to three years of completion time, the doctorate program is designed for licensed physical therapists and physiotherapists, providing industry-standard experience, skills, and knowledge.
It is an ideal program for professional students seeking to maintain their relevance while pursuing the practice of their profession in the field of physiotherapy or physical therapy.
Through the program, professional students will take control of various therapeutic procedures, including diagnosis and implementation of physical therapy treatments tailored to every patient’s unique requirements. Its curriculum features a set of coursework in diagnostic imaging, foundations of autonomous practice, pathophysiology, pharmacology, and global healthcare issues.
Apart from coursework completion, students must accomplish practicum requirements in their chosen field of specialty areas.
Best Schools Offering an Online Doctorate in Physical Therapy:
Doctorate in Education
Another option for educators and aspiring school administrators pursuing the shortest doctorate programs available is the Doctorate in Education program. The online, accelerated doctorate program can be completed within 36 months, depending on the student’s pace and preferences.
The doctorate program will develop an in-depth understanding of the educational process and build a skill set applicable to educational leadership settings. It is a doctorate program designed for experienced and skilled educators and other aspiring professionals in learning and development career positions.
Integrated with practitioner-oriented learning, professional students will become transformative leaders with a diverse range of expertise in organizational change, learning & teaching, and curriculum development.
Completing the Doctorate in Education program will equip graduates with the essential skills and knowledge to manage and lead positive transformations in community programs, non-government and government sectors, corporations, and academic systems.
Best Schools Offering an Online Doctorate in Education:
Doctorate in Counselor Education and Supervision
The Doctorate in Counselor Education and Supervision is another popular option for students seeking the shortest doctorate programs in counseling or psychology. Although the doctorate program has an average completion time of three to four years, many universities offer accelerated, web-based programs that can be completed within 24 months.
Professional students with CACREP-accredited master’s degrees can also transfer academic credits, making it the shortest way possible to complete their doctorate studies.
The majority of the curriculum is designed and aligned with the standards administered by the Council of Accreditation for Counseling & Related Educational Programs. It is a doctorate program that prepares graduates and other professionals to become practitioners, researchers, supervisors, and counselor educators in various clinical and educational settings.
The academic program will also provide graduates with the necessary credentials and knowledge to assume leadership roles in the counseling profession.
Best Schools Offering an Online Doctorate in Counselor Education and Supervision:
- Adam State University Colorado
- Antioch University (Flexible, Low Residency)
- University of the Cumberlands
Doctorate in Criminal Justice
The Doctorate in Criminal Justice is one of the rarest doctorate programs available in the country, with only a few schools offering this type of program. It is a unique doctorate program that will explore and address the demand for highly skilled criminal justice practitioners in the US.
The doctorate program is also designed for professional students seeking teaching opportunities and other high-level positions within various educational and criminal justice systems. Many distance learners can complete their Doctorate in Criminal Justice credentials within two years of full-time learning.
Through the doctorate program, Criminal Justice majors will strengthen their skills in policy implementation, in-depth analysis, and evaluation for criminal justice practitioners. They will have an in-depth understanding of real-world problems concerning the criminal justice field, including reducing recidivism of cases, wrongful convictions, police use-of-force, and federal consent decrees.
Apart from online coursework completion, professional students will accomplish residency programs, dissertations, and comprehensive examinations.
Best Schools Offering an Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice:
Doctorate in Information Technology
Given that Information Technology is a rapidly evolving field, the Doctorate in Information Technology is a multidisciplinary academic program designed for innovative professionals and leaders seeking to advance their abilities, skills, and knowledge in computing systems and technology.
Apart from technical proficiencies, students will also develop relevant information technology abilities essential to influencing and leading a diverse range of organizations. The academic program will offer a comprehensive understanding of foundational theories and practices and how they can be applied to IT.
While every school has its unique program requirements, students can expect to complete foundational, elective, and core courses, specialization, comprehensive examination, dissertation, and residency programs. After completing the doctorate program, graduates can pursue senior-level roles in academic, government, and industrial sectors.
Best Schools Offering an Online Doctorate in Information Technology:
Doctorate in Grief Counseling
Another rare doctorate program with a shorter program length is the Doctorate in Grief Counseling. Unlike traditional doctorates in counseling, the Grief Counseling post-masters program emphasizes clinical practice instead of counselor supervision and education.
It is a doctorate program that helps professional students explore and gain a holistic understanding of community trauma and disaster, crisis management, critical incidents, forgiveness, inner healing, and grief management. The academic program will also prepare psychotherapists and professional counselors for leadership and advanced clinical practice.
Through a series of coursework, students will become knowledgeable in reviewing models, theories, and research on bereavement, grief counseling techniques, and factors that impact grief. Some of the most common topics include community & crisis counseling, grief & bereavement, counseling ministry for the bereaved, psychotherapy integration, and ethics in grief counseling.
Best Schools Offering an Online Doctorate in Grief Counseling:
Doctorate in Public Health
Professional students completing the Doctorate in Public Health can graduate within 36 months, depending on their professional commitments and pace. It is a doctorate program designed for mid to senior-level practitioners with more than five years of professional experience in the related field.
The doctorate curriculum highlights advanced public health studies and training for preparing graduates for leadership positions in practice-based settings, including community-based organizations, international agencies, non-profit organizations, and health departments.
Completing the Doctorate in Public Health program will help graduates foster advanced expertise in evaluating, implementing, and developing evidence-based, applied public health practices.
Best Schools Offering an Online Doctorate in Public Health:
- Indiana University
- University of South Florida (Low Residency)
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Frequently Asked Questions
Are the shortest doctoral programs also the easiest to pursue?
Regardless of the type of doctorate programs you enroll in, completing doctorate credentials requires significant commitment. While fast-tracked or the shortest doctoral programs online help students earn their doctorate in less time, online doctoral degree programs have a rigorous and comprehensive curriculum that can be completed faster, requiring hard work, grit, and dedication.
How is an online Ph.D. different from an online doctorate program?
Professional students can choose any of the two major types of doctorate degrees, namely the following:
A doctorate program that emphasizes theories, data analysis, and research to have an in-depth expansion of a particular area of discipline.
- Professional/Applied Doctorate
It is a doctorate program that emphasizes developing effective professional practices, finding solutions, and applying research methodologies to a diverse range of practical problems within the field of discipline.
Although Ph.D. programs have 8.2 years to complete on average, some online schools offer fast-tracked programs as alternatives. Instead of application, Ph.D. programs focus more on theories. Due to the nature of applied doctorate programs, they’ve become an in-demand type of post-master’s degree since many working professionals prefer applied learning.
Is it possible to complete online doctoral programs in a short time?
While students prefer shorter program lengths and affordability, others have more specific preferences. Each preference and school classification is considered by students when comparing and choosing academic institutions.
Since many professional students have unique criteria and goals for pursuing doctorate studies, it can be challenging to standardize the shortest doctorate programs. Students who prefer individualized and comprehensive mentoring from academic or thesis advisors can enroll in a private institution with a smaller student-to-faculty ratio. However, extra perks often involve more expensive programs.
The completion time for completing doctorate studies, such as the DBA or Doctor of Nursing Practice programs, will depend on students’ commitment and their chosen discipline area. Some universities have an average completion time of more than six years, while others have 5.5 years as the median completion time. With reputable online doctorate programs, students have the option to complete their doctoral studies in as few as three years.
Are professional students qualified to receive financial aid when pursuing doctorate programs?
Both traditional and online doctorate programs have become widely accepted in financial aid coverage. Given that doctorate students will complete their FAFSA requirements, they will receive financial assistance to help them complete their doctorate education.
Here are some of the types of financial aid options available for doctorate students:
- Private Loans
- Student Loans
- Work-Study Programs
What is the average completion time for the shortest doctorate programs available?
Most students can obtain their doctorate degrees within two years when pursuing online, fast-tracked learning programs. However, some students extend their completion time to more than five years due to their personal and professional obligations.
Although online programs are mostly self-paced, schools have time limits to prevent their students from extending their completion time to almost a decade. The extension will depend on the academic institution and specific areas of study.
However, most universities offer a 7- to 8-year deadline from students’ admission date to their final thesis. At some point, the thesis requirements of students are slowed down due to their circumstances and work schedules.
Given the scenarios, it is hard to standardize exactly how long it will take to complete doctorate studies. Students’ pace and timetable significantly impact obtaining their doctorate degrees on time.
What are the popular options for students pursuing the shortest online doctoral programs?
As distance learning has become a trend, many professional students have enrolled in fast-tracked online programs at the doctorate level without leaving their current professions.
For example, the field of education requires candidates to have a doctoral degree when taking on leadership roles in the academe, including associate deans, academic supervisors, and deans. Having doctorate credentials will help candidates negotiate higher salaries, career advancements, or licensing requirements in the business industry.
Here are the most popular academic fields for students pursuing the shortest doctorate online programs:
- Political Science
Since many colleges and universities offer a variety of online programs, it’s easier and more possible for students to pursue the shortest doctorate programs available. Gone are the days when online, fast-tracked doctorate degrees are not as good as traditional, on-campus degrees.
Many professionals and adult graduate students nowadays prefer the shortest online doctoral degree programs available due to their flexibility, convenience, and program duration, making them ideal for career advancements and career shifters.
On the contrary, pursuing the shortest doctorate program, such as the Doctor of Nursing Practice, can involve additional pressure. Since it is a fast-tracked program, students accomplish more deliverables in less time than traditional doctorate programs.
While pressure is subjective and depends on all graduate students, it is safe to say that more and more professionals have realized the benefits of pursuing the shortest possible option of completing doctorate studies. All it takes is to find the shortest doctorate program tailored to students’ personal and professional lives, learning preferences, and career objectives.
Related Article: Choosing a Short Doctorate Program: Factors to Consider