Earning the Online PhD in Business Administration

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There are dozens of professions that make good use of a business degree; those who choose to complete online business doctoral programs can expect to see even more opportunities in a wide variety of fields. From high school principals to top executives, from market research analysts to small business owners, the sky is the limit in the world of business. But by the time someone chooses the PhD program in business, they likely have a good idea of where their career will take them, and they can target their concentration and dissertation accordingly.

This guide serves as a one-stop-shop for aspiring students who want to better their educational and professional horizons by obtaining an online doctorate degree in business. It is especially designed for those who have a great deal of responsibility on their plate already, such as work or family obligations that make online learning the best choice. We include a list of the best schools for online PhD programs in business, information on curriculum and graduation requirements, potential career paths that come along with the new degree level and even an interview with someone who has already taken this path to the online business PhD.

Routes to Online PhD Programs in Business

A PhD is just a PhD, right? Well, not necessarily. There are numerous degree paths one can choose to the terminal degree in the world of business. Some of the most common include the DBA, or Doctor of Business Administration; the DM, or Doctor of Management; the PhD in Business; or a specialty degree that focuses strongly on one corner of the business world, such as the DM in information systems, the PhD in organizational management, and the like.

Each degree has its own set of requirements, but the basics tend to be rather similar. Here is more in-depth information about what each degree is meant to provide for the student who earns it:

PhD

PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy in Business

The PhD is usually focused on research in the world of business, and is suitable for those who intend to enter areas of business that require more in-depth analysis, research and interpretation of results. This program typically requires students to hold a master’s degree, and then requires four to five years of study beyond that in order to achieve the terminal degree. Students in this program are almost always required to complete a dissertation that focuses on one particular issue and provides in-depth analysis of it; they are then required to defend that dissertation before a panel of business experts and academic advisors. This degree is an excellent choice for those who want to move into research or teaching, or those who want to boost their resume for work in government or the private sector.

PhD

Doctor of Business Administration, or DBA

The DBA is designed for those who want to apply business theory to practical problems and find working solutions. Though much of the program does focus on research, there are also courses that touch on the things that matter most in the day-to-day workplace, such as organizational psychology and finance. Specialization of the DBA is common, with such concentrations as economics, management science, management technology, finance and more. The DBA is often geared toward working professionals and as such, can be completed in part-time study. Those who pursue the degree full-time can expect three to four years to completion.

PhD

Doctor of Management, or DM

This is a common degree for those who want to focus solely on management of organizations and human resource interests. In some schools, the DM is considered a variant of the DBA, and is designated as a concentration rather than a standalone degree. The DM is designed for those who want to advance to the upper tiers of an organization, preparing them to handle every aspect of management, from staffing to supply chains to information systems. Similar to the DBA, the DM is meant for working professionals, offered in a part-time format. Students can expect to complete the DM within three to four years of intense, targeted study.

PhD

Specialty Online Doctoral Degrees in Business

For those who are willing to learn and work hard, the business world offers vast opportunities, reflected by the variety of doctoral degrees. Many schools offer specialty business degrees that are very targeted toward a particular field of study, and don’t fall under the PhD, DBA or DM designations. The Doctor of Applied Management, PhD in Information Systems, or PhD in Organizational Management are just a few examples of targeted degrees that can help individuals secure very specific jobs upon graduation. Though requirements and timelines vary, these programs generally require four to five years of study, including a dissertation and defense.

In-Depth Research of the Online Doctorate in Business

Not all online programs are created equal, so it’s important for aspiring students to thoroughly research to find the right fit. But with so many schools and numerous business degree options within each school, what’s the best way to narrow down the options? Here are some pertinent questions a student should ask when comparing online programs.

1. How flexible is this online program?

Online programs are designed to offer a flexible learning format, but not all programs are as student-friendly as they appear. Some programs require students to appear on campus for a certain period of time each year or semester, while others take a true hybrid approach and require some courses to be completed in a traditional classroom setting. Additionally, some programs require an in-person defense of the dissertation at the end of the PhD pursuit. Students should determine whether their short list of schools requires in-person learning or visits and decide if they can meet that requirement.

2. Does the program have proper accreditation?

Accreditation is a very important part of higher education. To achieve accreditation, the school or program must be examined by an accrediting body and found to meet rigorous education standards. The college or university should have full accreditation on the national or regional level, and the specific program can be accredited as well. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International (AACSB) is a common accrediting body for doctoral programs in business.

3. What’s the graduation rate?

Many students start in the competitive doctoral program, but how many actually finish? A school with a healthy graduation rate implies top-notch faculty, strong mentoring, competitive courses and a schedule flexible enough for working professionals. You can usually obtain a school’s graduation rate information from the admissions office.

3. Who is on the faculty?

Students who want to become the best in their field should learn from the best. Look for top-notch professors who have earned the doctoral degree in business or a related field, have a long history of teaching, and are influential in the field. Those who have extensive publications in their name or accolades from business organizations should top the list.

Specializations for the Business PhD

When working toward a business degree, it’s important to choose a concentration. Targeted and focused education will prepare students to advance in their desired career paths. From marketing to sales to management, here are some of the more popular business concentrations available for those pursuing their PhD.

BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION

This program is designed for those who want to move into overall management and administration in a business-related field, but want to keep their options open. Those who graduate with this degree are poised to move into high-level administrative positions in a variety of jobs, including those in government and the private sector. Studies include fiscal leadership, global economies, business analysis, corporate sustainability, decision making and business strategy.

Health Administrator

These individuals plan, coordinate and direct medical services for hospitals, clinics, medical practice groups or large healthcare systems. They pay close attention to regulations, healthcare laws and technology issues.

Top Executive

Executives manage and oversee large organizations, preparing them for future growth. They are responsible for crafting strategies and policies to keep companies competitive.

Real Estate Manager

These professionals manage and maintain real estate interests, working with clients to sell, lease or purchase residential, commercial or industrial properties.

Economics

This degree prepares students to enter the financial division of a company with an in-depth understanding of how corporate finances work. Studies include current economic theory and policies, global finance developments, gender economics, demographic research, labor and international economics, and other points that form a well-rounded education in business economics.

Budget Analyst

These individuals are responsible for analyzing budgets, creating reports, monitoring spending and creating plans for companies to track their finances.

Financial Analyst

This professional provides guidance to businesses and individuals to ensure proper investment and placement of funds. They also assess the performance of that money in stocks, bonds and other investments.

Human Resource Management

This specialization prepares students to work with the human resources department to handle staff hiring, scheduling and benefits. Courses may include conflict resolution, human capital development, hiring strategies, benefits analysis, organizational effectiveness, and advanced communication and management skills.

Benefits Specialist

These individuals work closely with human resources to create an attractive employee benefits package, keeping the company’s bottom line in mind. They might work to determine job classifications, salary and compensation packages.

Training and Development Specialist

These specialists work directly with employees or human resources to create benefits programs within various areas of the company. They also plan, direct and evaluate programs to ensure that proper training is completed.

Organizational Leadership

This concentration prepares students to effectively lead organizations. Courses include leadership styles and theories, ethics and legal issues, interpersonal dynamics, communication styles, organizational growth and development, and the impact of technology on all of the above. Graduates should be well-prepared to take on high-level leadership positions.

Fundraising Managers

These managers organize campaigns and events to raise funds for a particular cause, working to promote the goals and financial needs of anyone from non-profit organizations to private firms to political candidates.

Training and Development Specialist

These specialists work directly with employees or human resources to create benefits programs within various areas of the company. They also plan, direct and evaluate programs to ensure that proper training is completed.

Project Management

Students who graduate with this concentration will be prepared to handle significant projects for organizations, including everything from financial issues to supply chain logistics. Courses include time management, budgeting, communication styles, organization, goal and objective planning, project management modeling, and reporting and tracking of results.

Logisticians

These masters of the supply chain analyze and coordinate the process that brings materials to consumers. They work with the product through the entire cycle, from acquisition to delivery.

Cost Estimators

Typically specializing in one particular industry or product, cost estimators determine what it will cost to design, create and manufacture a product or service.

Emergency Management

This concentration is designed for students who want to combine their expertise in healthcare, medicine, and management. It focuses on response and rescue logistics, operational budgeting and finances, and organizational behavior and psychology – all with an emphasis on strong communications and leadership skills. Graduates should be prepared to handle disaster and emergency situations with clear purpose.

Health Administrator

These individuals plan, coordinate and direct medical services for hospitals, clinics, medical practice groups or large healthcare systems. They pay close attention to regulations, healthcare laws and technology issues.

Emergency Management Director

This person handles preparation and planning for responding to natural and man-made disasters, as well as training for possible catastrophes. When disaster does strike, they coordinate rescue, recovery and mitigation efforts.

Health Administrator

These individuals plan, coordinate and direct medical services for hospitals, clinics, medical practice groups or large healthcare systems. They pay close attention to regulations, healthcare laws and technology issues.

Top Executive

Executives manage and oversee large organizations, preparing them for future growth. They are responsible for crafting strategies and policies to keep companies competitive.

Real Estate Manager

These professionals manage and maintain real estate interests, working with clients to sell, lease or purchase residential, commercial or industrial properties.

Budget Analyst

These individuals are responsible for analyzing budgets, creating reports, monitoring spending and creating plans for companies to track their finances.

Emergency Management Director

This person handles preparation and planning for responding to natural and man-made disasters, as well as training for possible catastrophes. When disaster does strike, they coordinate rescue, recovery and mitigation efforts.

Benefits Specialist

These individuals work closely with human resources to create an attractive employee benefits package, keeping the company’s bottom line in mind. They might work to determine job classifications, salary and compensation packages.

Financial Analyst

This professional provides guidance to businesses and individuals to ensure proper investment and placement of funds. They also assess the performance of that money in stocks, bonds and other investments.

Training and Development Specialist

These specialists work directly with employees or human resources to create benefits programs within various areas of the company. They also plan, direct and evaluate programs to ensure that proper training is completed.

Fundraising Managers

These managers organize campaigns and events to raise funds for a particular cause, working to promote the goals and financial needs of anyone from non-profit organizations to private firms to political candidates.

Logisticians

These masters of the supply chain analyze and coordinate the process that brings materials to consumers. They work with the product through the entire cycle, from acquisition to delivery.

Cost Estimators

Typically specializing in one particular industry or product, cost estimators determine what it will cost to design, create and manufacture a product or service.

Timeline of the Online PhD in Business

Those who are ready to enter online PhD business programs likely have a good idea of what to expect. They know the process is long, filled with advanced study and culminating in a dissertation and defense. They might have spoken with colleagues about their experiences, and perhaps looked into the benefits of online learning. However, this quick timeline may help reinforce the level of work expected from PhD students in the business program.

Year 0

Most doctoral programs are highly competitive, with limited spots and a rigorous application process. It often takes two or three attempts before a student is accepted into a program. Planning early and having all materials on hand will help simplify the process. Below are some critical steps students should remember during the application and enrollment process:

Get all transcripts and scores together

Now is the time to gather all pertinent information that the new school will need, including transcripts from previous degree work, any coursework that might apply to the PhD pursuit, and any test scores, such as those from the GRE, that might need to be included with the application.

Obtain letters of recommendation

Former colleagues, professors and other business professionals who can attest to a student’s work and dedication can make a big impact on the admissions committee. Ask for letters of recommendation or references long before the deadline.

Create a calendar of deadlines

Students should allow themselves ample time to complete all application requirements. A calendar that contains deadlines and milestones for completion will help ensure that everything is submitted on time.

Turn everything in on time

Some colleges may have rolling admissions, and that means the sooner all requirements are completed, the better the chances of joining the next enrollment class for the PhD.

Years 1 & 2

During the first two years of the PhD program in business, students can expect to learn a great deal from the required courses, as well as the work expectations and start of the dissertation. Here is a more in-depth look of what students will experience during those first few years.

Required core courses

Students can expect to take numerous courses in the basics of business, including leadership, organizational psychology, finance and economics, global business and more. These core courses provide a refresher of the master’s degree program, and serve as a foundation for the more advanced courses that will come in the third and fourth years of the PhD pursuit.

Work experience requirements

Some programs require that students are working in some business capacity during their PhD program. For some students, this may mean simply continuing to work in their current position in their chosen field. For those who intend to focus on a concentration outside of their current field, it might mean working as a research assistant to gain new insights, or planning an internship in an area they hope to enter upon graduation.

First steps to the dissertation

The dissertation is one of the most important aspects of the doctoral program. In fact, some schools offer an introductory course teaching the requirements. During these two years, it is a good idea to search for a mentor who can help facilitate the process, choosing a specific topic, and starting preliminary research.

Years 3 & 4

The third and fourth years of online business doctoral programs focus on three particular points: final courses, examinations and completion of the dissertation. Read on for more details about these important milestones:

Final courses

The final courses in a particular concentration are the focus of the third year, when students delve into the essential information they will use daily after graduation. Expect these courses to be very comprehensive, focused on research projects and assignments that will mimic real-world work.

Comprehensive examinations

Examinations that focus on particular courses or points of study are now commonplace, and require a great deal of study and preparation. Students who have chosen a concentration can work with their advisor to ensure that their testing falls within the scope of their specialized classes.

Dissertation wrap-up

By the fourth year of the PhD program, the dissertation should be well on its way to completion. Students should be deep in research and writing on the topic they chose at least a year ago. The end of the year is often marked by the dissertation defense in front of a panel.

Year 5 and Beyond

Many students have already completed their PhD program and dissertation by the fifth year, but some students use this time to complete their final requirements without the scheduling pressure. Some might choose this fifth year to complete a required internship or work experience requirement; others might use the extra time to complete a thorough dissertation.

When it comes to graduation, most programs require that students submit a formal application to a committee in order to graduate. This entails a thorough review of all courses taken, accomplishments made during the pursuit of the PhD, and the successful dissertation defense. Upon completion of this review, students are awarded their degree from the PhD program.

SPOTLIGHT: LIBERTY UNIVERSITY ONLINE DOCTOR OF BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION

Liberty University

Liberty University offers an online doctor of business administration degree, or DBA, designed for working professionals who already hold the master’s degree in business. This fully accredited school offers the degree almost entirely online, with three one-week intensives required throughout the course of the DBA pursuit.

In total, 60 credit hours are required for graduation; at tuition of $550 per credit in the 2014-2015 year, that adds up to $33,000 for the entire program. Up to 15 hours can be transferred from another accredited school. Students must choose one of six concentrations: accounting, human resources, international business, leadership, marketing or project management. Rather than a traditional dissertation requirement, students must complete an applied doctoral research project.

In most cases, this program takes three years or more to complete. However, this depends on how many classes a student takes during each semester, as well as the course offerings during a particular term. Some courses have intensives built in, a factor for students to consider when planning their travel to the home campus in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Interview with a Business PhD Graduate

Drew Stevens, PhD,is president of Stevens consulting group in St. Louis, Missouri.

What factors went into your selection of an online doctorate in business?

Approximately 20 years ago, I lived in Princeton, New Jersey and had a full-time position in Manhattan. To get to work each day, I had a 68-mile commute, which took an hour and 50 minutes. After working 10- to 12-hour days, I then needed to go to graduate school in an attempt to complete my doctorate. I couldn’t fathom sitting in a classroom for four hours once a week, knowing that I still had another two-hour commute home.

How did the program challenge you?

The program was extremely challenging. The instructors were phenomenal in terms of requiring critical thinking and application of the learning material. I must say that I continually use those processes in my daily business interactions.

Was the distance learning experience difficult in terms of working with cohorts, colleagues and mentors?

In terms of working with others, there was really nothing difficult about the distance learning experience. I found most individuals to be highly cooperative, engaging and enthusiastic. Perhaps the only challenge was related to self-motivation. It takes a very skilled individual to remain motivated on this grossly audacious task.

How has your degree impacted your life?

I am no longer involved in direct sales. I currently own and operate my own coaching and consulting business. I’ve written eight books and travel frequently to healthcare institutions, helping them resolve business inefficiencies. The fact that I have a PhD provides more credibility and is highly sought after in this particular market.

Additionally, my passion for learning led me to several adjunct positions of business universities, and finally to a full-time role at a major university in St. Louis, Missouri. I was told by the dean that I was hired because of my doctorate – and most importantly, an online doctorate – because of the bright future of blended learning and interactive education.

The Business PhD and Cold, Hard Cash

Let’s look at the bottom line: Is the PhD in a business field worth the cost investment? Since the career path is different for everyone, that’s a tough question to answer. However, analyzing the costs of the PhD program, as well as income expectations upon graduation, can help form a well-rounded picture of the financial implications.

Costs of the PhD

Just as with the undergraduate or master’s degree, many PhD programs are priced in terms of credits, semesters or quarters. Depending on the length of the program, costs can vary widely. For instance, a school that requires 60 credits to complete the PhD and charges $300 per credit has an overall tuition rate of $18,000. But what if the dissertation goes longer than expected? There could be additional fees or credits charged. In addition to these costs, there could be fees, books and travel expenses for in-person meetings.

Fortunately, some students can access excellent financial aid options that may alleviate some tuition and other fees. Some PhD students might even get their tuition waived if they serve as teaching or research assistants. Doctoral students may also receive stipends – again, this depends heavily on the particular program and what that school offers to graduate students.

What Pay Scale Can Business Graduates Expect?

The cost of a PhD education may be dramatically outweighed by the expected income after completion of a degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those who earned a doctoral degree earned a median wage of $1,623 per week, as compared to the $1,329 wage brought home by those who held a master’s degree. That’s a difference of $294 per week, which equals up to $15,288 per year. Although this is just a basic number for all degree holders on the doctoral or master’s levels, it does provide an idea of the potential income boost.

Salaries for jobs in the business world can vary wildly, even among those with the same degree. Here is a quick look at the salaries students might expect from some common business ventures:

Occupation Lower 10% Median Salary Upper 10%
Medical and Health Services Managers $55,470 $90,940 $155,130
Chief Executives $75,030 $171,610 $187,199+
Training and Development Managers $56,840 $98,810 $171,400
Emergency Management Directors $31,410 $62,780 $111,790
Budget Analyst $45,780 $70,110 $104,350
Logisticians $46,120 $73,400 $112,750
Sales Managers $53,770 $108,540 $187,199+

There are many possibilities in the business world, but which ones are growing at the fastest rate? Projections Central ranks all occupations in the United States based on several factors, including growth rates expected from 2012 to 2022. The following jobs are expected to see the highest rates of growth during that time period:

  • Information Security Analysts: 36.5%
  • Meeting, Convention and Event Planners: 33.2%
  • Market Research Analysts and Marketing Specialists: 31.6%
  • Personal Financial Advisors: 27%
  • Operations Research Analysts: 26.7%
  • Statisticians: 26.7%
  • Cost Estimators: 26.2%
  • Actuaries: 26.1%

In most cases, those with the highest levels of education and experience will get the best job opportunities, and that could equate to higher rates of pay. It all begins with the proper school, so now is the time to search for the right online PhD business administration program.