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How to Choose the Right University for Your Doctorate

Earning a PhD or doctoral degree begins with choosing the best university for you.

Earning a doctorate is a challenging process. But it can be a lot more feasible—and your degree can be a lot more valuable—if you choose the right university. Here’s what you need to be looking for.

1. Choose an accredited university.
To help ensure you’ll receive a quality education as you earn a PhD or professional doctoral degree, you want to attend an accredited university. Accreditation is a voluntary process where universities submit their educational programs for independent review by an accrediting organization.

There are six regional accrediting organizations recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. All use a rigorous set of criteria to determine whether or not an educational institution is providing uniform, high-quality education. If the university meets the accrediting organization’s standards, the organization grants accreditation. To maintain the accreditation, universities must maintain their standards. When choosing a university for a doctorate, be sure you choose one that’s been accredited by one of the six regional accreditors.

2. Select the right degree program.
You may know what field you want to study, but do you know exactly what kind of doctorate you want to earn? In many fields, you can choose between a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree path or a professional doctoral degree path. Once you decide, you’ll need to check whether the universities on your list offer your preferred degree.

If you’re asking “What is a PhD exactly?” and “What is a professional doctorate exactly?,” you may want to spend some time learning about the differences and deciding whether you want the more academic approach of a PhD or the more practical approach of a professional doctorate.

Once you’ve used degree offerings to narrow your list, it’s time to dig deeper. Which universities have specific courses that fit well with your interests? Which programs have a history of conducting research into the areas of your field that excite you most? Which programs are most likely to support a dissertation or doctoral study focused on your specific passion? Examining doctoral programs closely can help you determine which program will best meet your needs.

3. Research the faculty members.
In a doctoral program, the department faculty will be more than teachers. In many instances, faculty aren’t just academic professionals, they also work in the field and can help you understand how your studies will apply to your work. Faculty members will also be mentors and, ultimately, the determiners of whether or not you earn your degree. When choosing a PhD program or professional doctoral degree program, take time to research the faculty. Do they have good credentials? Are you comfortable with having one of the faculty members serve as your advisor when you’re a PhD or professional doctoral candidate? Do faculty members appear to communicate well with students? Who you learn from is almost as important as what you learn, so make sure you choose a program with a quality faculty.

4. Review the student support services offered.
Universities with good doctoral programs also provide plenty of student resources. Take time to review the resources of your preferred universities and make sure they offer a wide range of support. In particular, look for resources that can help with your writing and research. This is especially important if it has been a while since you have been in an academic environment or if you have never formally conducted research. Find out if the university offers just general support, or if it has specific resources for doctoral students. Another great resource to look for is career planning services. Does the university have networking opportunities available once you graduate? Is the career center always open to alumni? Lastly, with all of the resources a university promotes, make sure they are easily accessible.

5. Make sure the capstone project is in line with your goals.
The selection of a dissertation topic is another important aspect of consideration. Some universities are more flexible than others, allowing students to choose an area of focus that they’re passionate about and a topic that is meaningful to them. Others provide a list of choices from which to select, which can be a roadblock if your own vision is different from that of the university.

6. Determine if fellowship opportunities are available.
Not all universities offer fellowship programs; however, many of the high-quality ones do. Even if you’re not interested in the opportunities that come with a fellowship, learning about what a university has to offer can bring valuable information to your decision-making process. How many different fellowships are available? What types of research topics are the doctoral fellows working on? What are the elements of the doctoral program being offered and is there support in place to help each fellow be successful?

7. Consider the flexibility of the available learning formats.
If you’re like many who are considering earning a doctorate, you may currently hold a full-time job or have other responsibilities you can’t just set aside. You also may be worried that this will inhibit your ability to complete a PhD program or professional doctoral program. But thanks to online education, your responsibilities don’t have to hold you back.

Your Doctoral Journey

Earning a doctorate won’t be easy, but as the No. 1 granter of doctoral research degrees in the U.S.,1 Walden knows what it takes. We’ll guide you every step of the way with a comprehensive suite of support resources designed to help you confidently pursue the finish line. Learn more about the many benefits of beginning your doctoral journey at Walden.

When you enroll in an online doctoral program, you can earn your doctorate without upending your life. Rather than having to move to be near a university—or having to drive across town to get to a campus—you can earn an online PhD or professional doctoral degree right from home. Plus, online learning offers a flexible platform that gives you the power to attend classes and take care of other degree-related work at whatever time of day or week works best for you.

Additionally, many of the top accredited online universities offer a wide range of doctoral programs, making it easier to find a program that fits your needs. Some online universities even offer all-but-dissertation programs designed for those who have completed all the requirements for a PhD degree or professional doctoral degree except for the dissertation or doctoral study.

Finding the right doctoral program can change your life for the better. And thanks to online learning, finding the right program is easier than ever before.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a variety of doctoral programs online. Walden’s doctoral fellowship program for the PhD in Management and PhD in Psychology programs gives new doctoral students the opportunity to develop their teaching and research experience, gain further insight into their field of interest, and position themselves for future career success.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,

1Source: National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Integrated Postsecondary Education Database (IPEDS) database. Based on the most recent year of completions survey data available, using all classifications of instructional programs (CIP) codes. A doctoral research degree is a PhD or other doctoral degree that requires advanced work beyond the master’s level, including the preparation and defense of a dissertation based on original research or the planning and execution of an original project demonstrating substantial artistic or scholarly achievement. Available at (Retrieved January 2021; may consist of or include provisional release data.)