A doctorate or Ph.D. is the highest academic degree attainable and involves coursework, research and a written dissertation in the chosen field of study. Most accredited online Ph.D. programs are four to six years, depending on whether you already have a master's degree, but it's worth the investment in time and money. According to 2009 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, professional and doctoral degrees have the lowest unemployment rates and the highest salaries of all full-time workers older than 25. More than 120 accredited distance-learning programs offer doctoral degrees in law, business, computer technology, education, engineering, psychology, public administration, public health, human services and culinary arts.

Benefit of Online Progams

Many online colleges and universities offer Ph.D. programs that are no different than those with "bricks and mortar" campuses. Today's technology makes it possible to conduct research, attend lectures and take tests without stepping foot in a classroom. Because all coursework is done online, it's possible to manage a career and family and still pursue a Ph.D.

What Is Legitimate?

Legitimate colleges and universities meet the standards established by agencies recognized as reliable educational evaluating authorities and receive accreditation. Attending an accredited school ensures that degrees are recognized by other schools and employers. In the United States, the most widely recognized form of university accreditation comes from regional and national agencies. Consult the websites listed under resources, below, for databases of accrediting agencies maintained by The U.S. Department of Education and The Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

Beware of schools, called "degree mills," that call themselves colleges or universities (there is no law against it) and sell diplomas to anyone willing to pay. Some even advertise that they're accredited, but the accreditation comes from their own agencies and the diplomas aren't worth the paper they're written on.

Some Recommended Programs

All of the educational institutions listed on eCollegeFinder.org are accredited online colleges and universities. The Distance Learning Colleges guide recommends the following accredited online universities for doctoral and Ph.D. programs:

Capella University: Offers continuous enrollment; apply for credit for previous work and education. Offer search assistance, scholarship opportunities, financial aid programs and Veterans' educational benefits. capella.edu

University of Phoenix: The largest online school, with more than 100,000 students, offers a rolling schedule with classes starting weekly. Financial aid is available. Previous education and training can qualify for credit. phoenix.edu

Walden University: Encouraging students to collaborate with peers while applying coursework in their current career. waldenu.edu

A.T.Still University of Health Sciences: Offering a doctor of health education. www.atsu.edu

Argosy University Online: Member of NCA CASI. online.argosy.edu

Fielding Graduate University: Providing graduate-level learning in psychology, organizational development and educational leadership. fielding.edu

Concord Law School: Registered with the California Committee of Bar Examiners; graduates can apply for admission to the California Bar. Financing available. concordlawschool.edu

Liberty University: The world's largest evangelical university, ranked third in the nation out of all online universities by the Online Education Database for 2008. More than half of the 40,000+ student population study online. liberty.edu

Columbia Southern University: One of the top 30 online schools for military education by Military Advanced Education. Tuition assistance available; approved for Veteran's Educational Benefits. columbiasouthern.edu

University of the Rockies -- Online: Teaches how to integrate psychology with business and leadership. rockies.edu