Earning an Online Ph.D. in Information Technology

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The information technology (IT) field represents an extensive and highly skilled industry of storing, organizing, and retrieving data. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) projections, computer and information technology occupations will likely grow 13% between 2016 and 2026. Additionally, these careers boast a median annual wage more than double that of the national average. With an online Ph.D. in information technology, graduates qualify for many of these professions and can pursue desirable careers in management and executive positions.

The following information presents an in-depth look at earning an online Ph.D. in information technology, including the career and salary potential available to graduates. This information highlights what the degree entails, how students can finance their education, and the resources available to help them reach their goals.

Why Get a Doctorate in Information Technology?

Pursuing Specialization

While a general information technology degree may grant access to a vast industry, graduates can specialize in an area of interest, like information research science. Additionally, as organizations everywhere continue to adopt and integrate information technology, trained professionals can branch out into other fields and industries through interdisciplinary specialization or in combination with professional experience.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Though experience represents one of the most common paths for career growth, the training and skills that come with an online Ph.D. in information technology make these professionals ideal candidates for upper-level positions. Doctoral students often possess the drive and the knowledge to manage the demand and the requirements of these positions, along with the qualifications to satisfy most job requirements.

Online Learning Technology

The ability to study online using some of the latest communication technology and applications allows information technology students to study and practice simultaneously. As the technology evolves and more organizations integrate distance opportunities for their staff, experience with remote computing and technology should become a strength. Moreover, mastering online learning will streamline the postgraduate continuing education and professional development requirements.

What's the Difference Between a Ph.D. and a DBA in Information Technology?

Depending on the school and the program, the differences between earning an online Ph.D. in information technology and a DBA will vary. In general, the programs typically differ in the curriculum focus, types of student enrolled, and eventual career paths. In a Ph.D. program, students typically engage in research-focused study. They develop an original dissertation plan and dedicate a substantial amount of time to researching their study topics.

Many graduates continue in academia afterward, taking teaching or research positions. In a DBA program, students perform more practical-based study. These programs value relevant professional experience and may incorporate practical learning into the curriculum. Students often complete research projects in the program in place of dissertations. Equipped with this type of doctorate, graduates tend to enter advanced careers in the field.

Prerequisites for Online Doctorate in Information Technology Programs

The admission requirements for a doctor of information technology online program vary considerably. While most schools typically require a master's degree, institutions and programs may request other components, as well. The following list highlights some of the more common elements that students should prepare to see.

    • Work Experience: While many online doctoral programs admit students directly from a master's program without experience, others prefer candidates to possess relevant experience in the field. Not only does this ensure that the candidate boasts a practical foundation in IT, but it allows students to apply their learning into specific settings. With both experience and a doctorate, graduates can access management-level positions more directly.
    • Exams and Test Scores: The requirement of graduate test scores, like the GRE or the GMAT, often appears in applications. These tests provide institutions and program advisors with a standardized evaluation tool. While the score requirements vary by program, the U.S. News & World Report indicates that quality scores range between 310 -315 on the GRE and 650-690 on the GMAT. Test scores remain valid for up to five years.
    • Coursework: For entry into an IT doctoral program, an applicant often must possess a master's degree with a 3.0 GPA. Some programs require candidates to complete an IT master's program, while others require them to complete specific courses like programming or network architecture.
    • Recommendations: Most doctoral programs require the applicant to submit letters of recommendation as part of the application. These letters give room for an applicant's support group to speak to their potential success in the field. As these letters address the candidates relevant qualifications, they typically come from current or former professors or employers.
    • Essays: This requirement may come in a variety of forms. Some programs request personal essays from applicants, demonstrating why they chose IT. Others ask the applicant to address their specific research interests, detailing how these might fit in with the faculty and the department. Finally, some requirements provide an essay topic related to the field, and applicants must work within those guidelines.
    • Interviews: Some doctoral programs include interviews as part of the application. These meetings allow the program advisors to ask questions of the applicant and allow the applicant to discuss their academic goals and research plans. While the format and content of these interviews may vary, they also familiarize candidates with the process of discussing one's research interests in a scholarly environment.
    • International Students: The application requirements for international students often depend on where the applicant studied previously. Candidates may need to submit test scores from an English proficiency exam, like the TOEFL or IELTS. Furthermore, many international applicants must acquire credit and transcript evaluation before submitting their grades. Since some schools require that the evaluations come from a specific source, applicants should ensure they go through the proper channels.

How Much Can I Make with a Doctorate in Information Technology?

In the world of information technology, job availability, industry growth, and salary potential make for a very promising outlook for trained professionals with doctorates. Overall, these professionals make up one of the largest workforces in the nation, and annual salaries for computer and mathematical occupations range from $45,000 in the 10th percentile and $148,000 in the 90th percentile. Students can further increase their earning potential with relevant experience and by exploring niche or specialized fields.

Traditional Careers

Career Stats Description

Computer and Information Research Scientist

Median Pay: $118,400

Job Growth: 19%

Computer research scientists explore how technology can improve our way of life. These professionals research new and innovative uses for current technologies, along with ways to improve upon available technologies. Ideal candidates for this field require ingenuity and problem-solving skills.

Computer Network Architect

Median Pay: $109,000

Job Growth: 6%

Computer network architects design, build, and implement networks to improve communication channels within organizations. These professionals assess the organizational needs before creating a plan of action and executing it. Employers often seek candidates with leadership, organizational, and business-oriented skills.

Computer Systems Analyst

Median Pay: $88,700

Job Growth: 9%

Computer systems analysts work with organizations to improve the effectiveness of their computer systems. This role often includes evaluating a system for inefficiencies, designing a solution, and implementing the improved system. In addition to creativity, candidates typically require strong communication and analytical skills.

Computer and Information Systems Manager

Median Pay: $147,500

Job Growth: 12%

Information systems managers take charge of an organization's technology-related needs. The duties may include implementing technology solutions or leading a team of technology professionals. Candidates with business, organizational, and communication skills tend to thrive in this profession.

Postsecondary Teacher

Median Pay: $78,500

Job Growth: 15%

Postsecondary teachers run programs designed to educate the next group of scholars in the IT field. These educators also conduct research that helps to advance the field or stimulate further studies. Ideal candidates boast strong communication skills, resourcefulness, and creativity.

Nontraditional Careers

Though a graduate with an online Ph.D. in information technology can enjoy many career opportunities in their field of study, their advanced skills and training qualify them for a variety of careers outside of the IT industry. The following list comprises some of the nontraditional careers for students to consider.

Career Stats Description

Software Developer

Median Pay: $105,600

Job Growth: 24%

Software developers design and build the applications and systems that make technology run smoothly. They often research and test systems for inefficiencies and create improvement solutions, some for development companies or in-house for large organizations. Optimal candidates possess development training or experience.

Skills overlapped: Problem-solving and analytical skills

Mathematician or Statistician

Median Pay: $88,200

Job Growth: 33%

Mathematicians and statisticians develop solutions to practical problems through statistical models and applications. These professionals determine the data needed for the solution, implement means of collecting it, and analyze the results. Information technology graduates with mathematics training may access positions in this field.

Skills overlapped: Analytical, math, and problem-solving skills

Top Executives

Median Pay: $105,000

Job Growth: 8%

Top executives design and implement processes and plans to improve their organizations. They often oversee management, financial, and regulatory concerns for their organization. In many cases, these professionals assess and suggest ways to become more effective and efficient.

Skills overlapped: Leadership, communication, and problem-solving skills

Administrative Services Manager

Median Pay: $96,200

Job Growth: 10%

Administrative services managers evaluate organizations' processes and then develop and implement means of improvement. The technical nature of these tasks makes information technology graduates ideal candidates.

Skills overlapped: Analytical, communication, and leadership skills

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Paying for a Doctorate in Information Technology Online

Online degrees offer students great flexibility, but they can often provide cost-saving opportunities, as well. Schools frequently feature different tuition rates for online programs and traditional on-campus programs. While out-of-state students commonly pay an increased tuition rate on campus, some online programs feature a standard online rate for all students, regardless of location.

Online study also reduces travel and residency costs for students. Furthermore, some online programs offer reduced study times and accelerated program options, which can cut costs even more. To pay for everything else, online students should explore financial aid sources like grants, internships, and scholarships.

Scholarships for Online Information Technology Students

While scholarships can come in many different forms from many different sources, subject-specific scholarships represent one of the most accessible financial aid opportunities for information technology students. Due to the demand for newly educated information technology graduates, many organizations offer financial awards to attract students to the field. The following list highlights some of the best of that group.

What to Expect from an Online Information Technology Program

Earning an online Ph.D. in information technology requires students to navigate a rigorous and demanding curriculum. Typically taking 3-5 years to complete, doctoral students can complete a set of core courses while taking part in independent research. In many Ph.D. programs, each student must research and write a dissertation as the main element of the program.

In DBA programs, significant research projects may replace the dissertation requirement. When studying online, students can complete many of the core classes virtually and from a distance. Students can expect, however, that many programs may feature residency requirements, in which students must attend campus.

Major Milestones

  1. Dissertation Defense

    For much of the program, students work on research and writing for their dissertations. Once they complete the dissertation and submit it, learners engage in a dissertation defense, a process that involves a discussion of their findings and how their research stands up to other scholarship in the field.

  2. Research Projects

    Research projects may take the place of a dissertation or in addition to it. Students typically begin these projects during the latter half of the program, incorporating their training and skills into the assignment.

  3. Teaching Experience

    Some programs require doctoral students to teach while they study, while other programs simply allow it as an option. Enrollees usually fulfill these requirements in the second half of their program. Some use these positions as preparation for careers in academia.

  4. Industry Licensure

    Doctoral students may pursue industry licensure at any time, permitted they satisfy the requirements. Licensure can provide graduates with additional qualifications, in addition to their doctorates. Some industry certifications validate the licensee's training with a specific technology or vendor.

  5. Residencies

    Depending on the program, residencies can come at any time. These on-campus requirements allow students to engage with their instructors and peers, providing a simulated scholarly experience for many. Some residencies require students to complete courses or seminars while attending.

  6. Intent to Graduate

    Before completing a doctorate, each student must inform the school that they intend to graduate. This process typically takes place during the final semester, giving the department enough time to process all the graduation materials and ensure each candidate meets the requirements.

Coursework

Each program features a unique curriculum, and students often gain the freedom to customize their educational paths. Many courses, however, appear frequently within IT doctoral programs. The following list highlights some of those foundational topics.

Strategic Planning

In this course, enrollees examine technology as a means for resource planning and business solutions. Students can learn how to use data and various applications to provide insight and competitive advantages.

Cybersecurity

Students learn how to detect, protect against, and counteract cybercrime and various threats in this course. Learners also receive training in the design and implementation of safeguards and data backups.

Systems Analysis and Design

This course offers students training in the common tools and techniques in systems analysis and design. It helps students identify inefficiencies and teaches them to problem solve within practical scenarios that organizations face.

Enterprise Systems Architecture

In this course, students learn how to integrate information systems into businesses. They learn to assess business needs and develop systems and software to satisfy the business requirements.

Programming

In addition to providing the latest programming skills, this course enables students to identify challenges and develop solutions in the field. Students also learn to use the most current techniques and tools available to professionals.

Degree Timelines

Study timelines come in a variety of lengths. Each school defines what it means to study part time or full time, but it can help to know some of the different available options. The following list highlights some of the most common possibilities.

Part-time

Time to Complete: 6+ years

Part-time programs allow students to study at a slower pace than traditional programs. This works well for busy students and working professionals who need to delicately balance life and study. Typically, part-time students can take a minimum of one course per semester, though some programs may allow for intermittent study breaks.

Full-time

Time to Complete: 3-5 years

Full-time study remains the traditional educational pathway. Full-time students often take more than one course per semester and can earn their online doctorates in 3-5 years. Some financial aid opportunities only give eligibility to full-time students.

Accelerated

Time to Complete: 2-3 years

The definition of an accelerated program varies by school, but many allow students to complete a doctorate in less than three years. These demanding programs allow students to take multiple courses at once or permit students to complete courses as quickly as they can manage.

Licenses and Certifications

Equipped with a doctorate, IT graduates can qualify for many career possibilities right after graduation. Some graduates, however, may wish to pursue additional certifications and licenses to supplement their education. Though optional, these certifications demonstrate to employers that the candidate meets the industry standards in a set discipline. In IT, some employers may request that applicants boast vendor-specific certifications to ensure they possess the specific training to work on a particular application. IT graduates may qualify for the following licenses.

    • CompTIA Security+: This certification validates a professional's security expertise in the IT landscape, ensuring they understand the policies and regulations in the field. To earn the certification, each candidate must pass the exam, which includes a maximum of 90 questions and costs $339.
    • CompTIA Network+: This certification confirms that the holder possesses the skills and latest techniques to manage various network systems required by network managers. Each applicant must possess more than nine months of experience and pass a 90-question examination for certification, which costs $319.
    • Certified Information Systems Auditor: The CISA certification validates that the licensee meets the standards and expectations of professional information systems auditors. Certification requires each candidate to complete an examination, plus continuing professional education credits every few years. The exam costs $575-$760.
    • PMI Professional in Business Analysis: This certification provides project managers with validation for their business analysis skills. Licensure requires the completion of a 200-word exam, extensive experience, and some business analysis education. The exam costs $405-$555.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Professional organizations are one of the more useful membership opportunities available to students and new graduates. While studying, these organizations offer helpful resources, including mentoring opportunities, access to industry research, and scholarships. New graduates may also enjoy benefits like access to conferences, job boards, and professional networks. The following list comprises some of the best professional organizations and resources available to information technology professionals.

  • CompTIA Association of IT Professionals: The association unites technology students and professionals in a supportive network. Members can access industry resources and professional development opportunities, like industry certifications and licensure.
  • Information Systems Audit and Control Association: ISACA brings information systems professionals together to provide a set of industry guidelines and standards. The association also helps define the roles of its professionals and offers resources and certifications.
  • Association for Computing Machinery: The ACM strives to unite computing professionals of all types and develop a set of industry standards. Members gain access to professional development opportunities, resources, and a professional network.
  • Association for Women in Computing: The AWC promotes growth and opportunity in the computing industry for women. Membership with the association provides access to networking events, leadership opportunities, and experienced professional mentors.
  • National Association of Programmers: The NAP acts as the united voice of programmers, offering members access to certification, networking opportunities, and various industry resources and publications.
  • Project Management Institute: Representing project management professionals, PMI supports its members with professional development opportunities, certifications, and networking opportunities.
  • Association of Shareware Professionals: This association, as a united network of professional software developers, provides members with industry insight and resources, along with access to discounts, publications, and networking mentorships.
  • Network Professional Association: The NPA promotes the network profession and strives to provide a set of standards and guidelines. Members gain access to certifications, publications, and networking events.
  • Society for Technical Communication: Dedicated to promoting and growing the technical communication industry, the STC seeks to help its members grow and develop professionally. Membership grants access to certifications, publications, and education opportunities.
  • Women in Technology: WIT promotes technology professions for women and looks to foster their development in the industry. Members gain mentoring and networking opportunities, along with access to publications and additional education.