Can I earn a doctoral degree part-time?

December 19, 2017

The doctoral degree process has traditionally been an immersive program, requiring full-time commitment from beginning to end.

However, times have changed, and many of today’s doctoral students look for a different approach: the part-time doctoral degree program. Is it really possible to earn a professional doctorate or PhD online on a part-time basis? Capella University faculty and staff weigh in.

How common is it for students to work full-time while getting their doctoral degree?

“The majority of our doctoral students are part-time,” says Constance St Germain, Provost & SVP Academic Affairs at Capella. “They’re at a point in life when they couldn’t pursue a PhD or professional doctorate full-time. They have jobs they don’t want to leave for three years, families to raise.”

Curtis Brant, PhD, associate VP for doctoral affairs at Capella, notes some additional factors that prompt people to look at part-time programs: “The economy certainly plays a role. People don’t want to give up a steady income while they’re pursuing their degree. Also, some people find their passion later in life and want to combine their studies with that passion.”

What are the benefits to part-time study?

There are many: flexibility, time, and being able to stay involved with a current career and family life among them. It’s proven critically helpful to distance learners, such as members of the military.

It can also provide a boost to a student’s work life. For a student pursuing a doctoral degree in their chosen career field, the studies have an immediate practical value. “You’re working and can apply what you’re learning to your work,” says Jerry Halverson, senior core faculty member at Capella. “It’s a symbiotic relationship, combining learning with the hands-on experience.”

It can be attractive to a student’s current employer as well, for the same reason. “Lifelong learning and life skills become more important in the workplace,” says Dick Senese, Capella President. It also allows students to stay current in their work field. “When someone leaves work to study full-time, they don’t follow changes in their arena,” he says. “By the time they return, they may be several years out-of-date. Working while pursuing a doctoral degree part-time helps them stay on top of what’s new.”

What are potential challenges to part-time study?

A part-time program is not without challenges. “Sustaining focus can be difficult,” says Senese. “Maintaining commitment over a longer haul takes self-discipline.” Adding even part-time coursework to a full workload and family life can be a daunting challenge.

“Over-commitment is one of the biggest challenges,” says Halverson. “The student may not allow themselves enough study time, and they’ll hurry through things. That will take a toll. You’ll get out of it what you put into it, and if you’re skimming, you won’t get much.”

How much longer will it take studying part-time vs. full-time?

The overall time commitment for part-time is greater. While a full-time PhD or professional doctorate can often be completed within 3-4 years, part-time students often take longer, many completing in 5-6 years. Capella policy allows 7 years as the maximum time to completion.

Final words of advice?

“Some people, even some professionals, say that we can’t learn anything substantive online,” says Halverson. “They might have been able to say that 20 years ago when online learning was in its infancy.  But now we understand the enormous potential of online doctoral programs.“

Capella University offers PhD and professional doctorate programs ranging from business to education and nursing to psychology. Learn more about Capella’s online doctoral programs.

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