Learn More About Online DBA Programs in 2019

Earning a Ph.D. in business administration online helps professionals stand out on the job market and qualify for many of the highest-level roles in business, such as CEOs and CFOs. Additionally, business schools accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business report that enrollment numbers in doctoral programs have increased over the past five years.

Completing a DBA online can lead to new career opportunities, such as a business school professor. The article covers traditional and nontraditional job opportunities for candidates with a Ph.D. in business administration, what it takes to earn a DBA, and how to fund a doctoral degree, including scholarship opportunities.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Ph.D. in Business Administration?

Graduate students earning an online degree in business administration come from a variety of backgrounds. Undergraduate students with a business major may decide to earn a doctorate rather than an MBA if they want to specialize in research or pursue academic careers. They may also wish to pursue a specialization only available in one of the top online doctoral programs in business administration. Business professionals may also choose to earn a doctorate to expand their career opportunities or increase their salary.

Why Get a Ph.D. in Business Administration?

Pursuing Specialization

Graduate students enrolled in online DBA programs typically choose a specialization such as finance, accounting, human resource management, or marketing. These specializations allow professionals to build valuable knowledge in a business administration subfield, preparing graduates for executive positions. Doctoral students may also add a specialization that gives them versatility on the job market, such as a leadership or management specialization.

Career Advancement Opportunities

As the terminal degree in business administration, a doctorate qualifies graduates for a variety of career advancement opportunities. After earning a doctorate, professionals can work at the highest level of business organizations in every sector, pursuing director, CEO, or executive titles. Most academic positions, including professor, dean, and provost, require a doctorate. These career opportunities offer a higher level of responsibility and typically come with a higher salary.

Online Learning Technology

Students enrolled in the best online degree programs in business administration use the latest communication technology to coordinate with their fellow students, faculty members, and their doctoral adviser. By building proficiency with online learning technologies, graduate students foster their professional development, as many business careers now rely on communication technology. Gaining technical experience can also help professionals stand out on the job market.

Prerequisites for Online DBA Programs

Incoming online DBA students must meet the program's prerequisites before they begin taking coursework. Prospective students need to review each program's prerequisites before applying.

  • Work Experience: Online DBA programs may either require or suggest work experience before enrolling in the program. Some universities set a minimum number of years of professional experience, while others strongly encourage candidates to complete work experience before applying. By gaining work experience, doctoral students arrive at the program with a strong background in business.
  • Exams and Test Scores: Many business schools require GMAT scores as part of the admission process. Some also accept GRE scores in lieu of GMAT scores. DBA programs often post their minimum scores or a test score range for admitted students. GMAT and GRE scores remain valid for five years.
  • Coursework: Online doctorate in business administration programs may list coursework prerequisites for admission, often including statistics, economics, or business courses. Programs may also offer separate tracks for incoming students with a bachelor's or master's degree in business administration -- or for those without a business degree. Many schools set a minimum GPA for prior degrees.
  • Recommendations: Applicants typically submit two or three letters of recommendation that speak to their qualifications for doctoral-level business study. Prospective students should request letters from former faculty members and supervisors. Applicants should give their letter writers at least three weeks' notice.
  • Essays: Online DBA programs may require essays that demonstrate a candidate's analytical and reasoning abilities and speak to their qualifications. Some programs request an essay explaining the applicant's reasons for undertaking doctoral studies.
  • Interviews: Some programs incorporate an interview to evaluate the applicant's qualifications and fit with the program. These interviews may occur after a first round of admission cuts. Online programs may also assign an admissions adviser to walk the applicant through the process, which may involve informal interviews.
  • International Students: International students may need to provide additional materials, including proof of English language proficiency. Many programs require TOEFL scores from international students, and they may set a minimum score for admission. International students may also need to provide an English language translation of their transcripts.

How Much Can I Make with a Ph.D. in Business Administration?

Earning an online doctorate in business administration can lead to lucrative career opportunities. Graduates pursue traditional business careers, including financial manager, chief executive, and business manager; they also pursue nontraditional careers. Many of these career paths offer above-average salaries. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that for all management occupations, professionals earn a salary ranging from $48,220 at the 10th percentile to over $208,000 a year in the 90th percentile.

Traditional Careers for DBA's

Career Stats Description

Controller or Financial Manager

Median Pay: $125,080

Job Growth: 18.7%

Financial managers, sometimes known as controllers, ensure a company's overall financial health. They often operate as head of an accounting or compliance department. This role typically consists of a full-time, office-based position and proves necessary to nearly every industry.

Ideal for: Strong with numbers and good with managing people; strategy-driven individuals with strong organizational skills.

Chief Executive

Median Pay: $196,050

Job Growth: -3.9%

Chief executives work at the top of an organization, determining the company's policies and goals. They coordinate operational activities and oversee executives. Chief executives work in the public and private sectors, with titles like CEO, COO, CFO, and Executive Vice President.

Ideal for: Management and leadership skills; strategic thinking and analytical abilities.

General Manager

Median Pay: $123,460

Job Growth: 9.1%

General and operations managers oversee operations at their organization. They may formulate policies, manage daily operations, or create strategic plans for the company. General managers also manage staff members, assign work, and monitor the division's goals.

Ideal for: Strong communication, management, and leadership skills.

Business Professor

Median Pay: $100,270

Job Growth: 18%

Business professors work at two-year and four-year institutions of higher learning, instructing undergraduate and graduate students in business administration and management. They teach finance, accounting, marketing, and human resources management. Business professors may also perform research and publish scholarship.

Ideal for: Strong people skills; organized and interested in education.

Non-Traditional Careers for DBA's

Career Stats Description

Business Consultant

Median Pay: $82,450

Job Growth: 14.3%

Business consultants, also known as management analysts, advise managers on how to improve their organization. They propose strategies to increase efficiency and profitability, reduce costs, and increase revenues. Many work as freelancers and set their own hours.

Ideal for: Self-directed individuals with strong people skills; analytical thinkers.

Healthcare Executive

Median Pay: $98,350

Job Growth: 20.5%

Also known as medical and health services managers, healthcare executives plan, direct, and coordinate medical and health services. They might manage a medical practice, a department within a hospital, or an entire facility. Many healthcare executives ensure compliance with laws and regulations.

Ideal for: Detail-oriented thinkers with strong leadership and interpersonal skills.

Human Resource Manager

Median Pay: $110,120

Job Growth: 9%

Human resource managers oversee the administrative functions of organizations in every sector. They play a role in recruiting, interviewing, and hiring staff. HR managers also serve as a link between management and an organization's employees, helping direct strategic resource programs.

Ideal for: Strong leadership, interpersonal, and decision-making abilities.

Organizational Psychologist

Median Pay: $87,100

Job Growth: 5.9%

Organizational psychologists study workplace behaviors, consulting with managers on how to improve a workplace. They play a role in human resources, policy planning, employee recruitment and retention, and training. DBA professionals with a background in psychology can combine their business knowledge with psychological principles.

Ideal for: Analytical thinkers with strong scientific and research skills.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Projections Central, 2017-2018

Paying for an Online Ph.D. in Business Administration

When considering an online doctorate in business administration, prospective students must research how to pay for their degree. Tuition rates vary by institution based on the per-credit tuition charge, the number of required credits, and the time to degree. Accelerated programs may help students save on tuition costs. Doctoral students also qualify for financial aid, grants, and scholarships, including dissertation grants. The following section includes business administration scholarships for doctoral students.

Subject-Specific Financial Aid, Grants & Scholarships

Students earning an online doctorate of business administration qualify for multiple scholarships. Many MBA scholarships also accept doctoral students and offer a variety of financial aid opportunities.

What to Expect from an Online DBA Program

Most doctoral programs in business administration take four years to complete for full-time students. During an online DBA program, doctoral students must meet the program's credit requirements by taking a mix of required classes, electives, and dissertation classes. These courses may incorporate a virtual classroom experience. Graduate students also complete several important milestones, including their comprehensive examinations and the dissertation defense.

Major Milestones

  1. Admission and Orientation

    Prospective doctoral students submit resumes, essays, letters of recommendation, transcripts, and test scores to demonstrate their ability to succeed in an online DBA program. After admission, many programs offer a virtual or in-person orientation for new students.

  2. Coursework

    Doctoral students complete two or more years of coursework as part of their training, with core classes in the specialization. The coursework prepares students for their comprehensive exams and dissertation.

  3. Comprehensive Examination

    Most programs incorporate comprehensive examinations, also known as qualifying exams, to ensure that doctoral students possess the knowledge needed to write a dissertation.

  4. Dissertation

    After defending a dissertation proposal, doctoral candidates research and write an original dissertation in their subfield. Students work with a faculty adviser and dissertation committee during the process, which can take one to two years.

  5. Dissertation Defense

    Doctoral students defend their dissertation in front of their faculty adviser and a dissertation committee, a process which may involve a presentation, question and answer session, and an audience. After a successful defense, the candidate can graduate.

  6. Graduation

    After completing the required coursework, passing all examinations, and writing and defending the dissertation, doctoral students apply for graduation and earn their degree.


Doctoral students complete specialized coursework based on their specialization and research area. Most programs incorporate statistics, research methods, and data analytics courses in their curriculum.

Executive Decision-making

This course emphasizes making strategic business decisions in contexts involving ambiguity and uncertainty. Students learn about methods to structure the decision-making process, quantitative techniques, and qualitative techniques related to decision making.

Applied Research

In applied research courses, DBA students learn how to design research projects, review scholarship on research methods, and analyze research output to reach conclusions. The class prepares students to create their dissertation proposal.

Organizational Effectiveness

Doctoral students study effectiveness within organizations from a leadership perspective. The course may cover creating high-performing organizations and implementing changes. Students both research and review case studies.

Data Analytics

Graduate students learn advanced analytics techniques, including predictive analytics, data manipulations, and decision analytics tools. The course also covers data-driven business decision making.


DBA students enroll in dissertation courses after completing their comprehensive examinations and a dissertation proposal. During the class, students work with a faculty adviser to conduct research and write their dissertation.

Requirements to Practice

After earning a doctorate in business administration online, professionals enter the job market with a terminal degree. Some positions may also prefer candidates with work experience, which doctoral students may gain before, during, or after their program. While business administration professionals typically do not need a state or professional license to practice, many choose to pursue certifications to increase their competitiveness on the job market.

  • Certified Public Accountants: DBA students who specialize in accounting can earn their CPA license. A doctorate meets the educational requirement, after which candidates complete the four-part Uniform CPA Exam. The exams each take four hours, and candidates must pass all four sections within an 18 month period.
  • Chartered Financial Analyst: Specialists in finance can become CFAs. The credential offers three different levels, and candidates reach each level by passing an examination offered once or twice a year. A doctorate meets the educational requirement.
  • Project Management Professional: Project management specialists can earn the PMP credential offered by the Project Management Institute. Candidates must possess 35 hours of post-bachelor's level project management education, which a DBA fulfills, plus 4,500 hours of work experience. Candidates must pass a four-hour exam.
  • Risk Management Professional: DBA graduates who complete at least 30 hours of risk management education at the graduate level qualify for the RMP credential. The process includes a 170-question exam, and after receiving the credential, professionals must meet continuing education requirements.

Professional Organizations & Resources

While enrolled in an online DBA program, graduate students benefit from the resources and networking opportunities offered by professional organizations. Many of these organizations offer resources to professionals and scholars in business through scholarly publications. Professional organizations in specialized fields connect business administration doctoral students with practitioners and researchers in their area. These organizations often host annual conferences, provide a career services page with a job board, and offer training and continuing education programs for professionals to stay current in their field.

  • Project Management Institute: Project management professionals or scholars benefit from the resources available through PMI, which includes credentials in project management, financial management, and risk management.
  • American Marketing Association: Specializing in marketing, AMA provides publications, resources, and a career page with job postings. The association's events and conference provide networking opportunities.
  • American Finance Association: Finance professionals and scholars benefit from AFA's journal, annual meeting, and events. The association also provides a career board with information for job seekers.
  • American Management Association: AMA offers professional development resources for managers, such as seminars, white papers, and webcasts. The association also hosts conferences and events, which provide networking opportunities, and a resource library with valuable information.
  • Entrepreneurs' Organization: An international organization, EO offers professional development resources, including information on starting a new venture and tips for successful entrepreneurship. The organization also provides networking opportunities.
  • Inside Higher Ed Business and Management Jobs: Inside Higher Ed provides a job posting board for academic positions in business and management fields. The positions also include administrative roles.
  • Harvard Business Review: A resource for both scholars and professionals, Harvard Business review covers business practices, research, and news. HBR also offers webinars and videos.
  • Small Business Administration: As a federal agency, SBA offers loans and other financial support for small business owners and entrepreneurs. The agency also offers career counseling for small business owners.
  • NYT Entrepreneurship: The New York Times offers a section on small businesses and entrepreneurship, with articles on business, current events, and profiles of business leaders.
  • National Retail Federation: Scholars or professionals working in retail or a related sector may benefit from the resources at NRF, which include consumer research and data, articles on trends, and a career center.