25 Best Online PhD in Computer Science [2021 Guide]

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An online PhD computer science degree is one of the most impressive degrees you can earn in the field of computers and technology.

PhD in Computer Science

Getting a doctoral degree in computer science may prepare you to run a research lab focused on computing topics or teach in a university setting. It may also qualify you to head up computer teams in organizations that depend on technology systems.

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Through the convenience of online courses, you could earn a computer science degree that may lead to high-paying and prestigious positions.

Online PhD in Computer Science Programs

Computer and Information Systems Managers working

A PhD in Computer Science is a research degree. You may explore some of the latest developments in this field and begin building your own body of research.

PhD computer science online programs often boast that they offer both breadth and depth. They are broad because they provide courses on a wide range of computer science topics. These include theory, software, artificial intelligence, and system architecture. You will need to demonstrate understanding in each of the breadth areas.

The depth portion of the program comes from intense study in one particular area of the field. After taking the necessary courses, you may have to pass written or oral exams on the topic.

Your work in this area will serve to prepare you for the dissertation process. There are often multiple steps to this major research project, and you may be working on it for several years.

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Each university has its own dissertation requirements. You may need to take a preliminary exam, form an advisory committee, and defend your finished dissertation. If you are successful with this process, you’ll officially become a Doctor of Computer Science.

With a PhD, you may join the ranks of academics. You may qualify to run a research facility in this field or head up university courses. Having a PhD may also help you achieve tenure at a college.

Another option would be to work for a technology company. Organizations that build systems, develop software, or work toward greater tech integration need experts who are the best of the best. A number of organizations could be eager to have computer science PhDs join their teams.

Other companies need computer science experts as well. You may head up technology departments in organizations that use proprietary software, collect big data, depend on artificial intelligence systems, or run extensive networks.

Computer Science Careers & Salaries

Computer Science Careers & Salaries

Many people who enroll in computer science PhD programs have their sights set on academic careers in this area of study. You may also put your knowledge into practice with a job in the field that’s focused on computers and technology.

As a computer science researcher working in a computer science lab, you may develop new theories or technologies that will influence how computing is done for years to come.

Another job that might appeal to you is teaching computer science at the college level. Many universities prefer to hire faculty members with terminal degrees, especially for full-time, tenured positions. As a professor, you might have opportunities to both teach and conduct research.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary in the computer and information technology sector is $91,250.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Computer and Information Systems Managers $151,150
Computer and Information Research Scientists $126,830
Computer Network Architects $116,780
Software Developers $110,140
Information Security Analysts $103,590
Database Administrators $98,860
Computer Systems Analysts $93,730
Computer Programmers $89,190
Postsecondary Computer Science Teachers $85,540
Network and Computer Systems Administrators $84,810

With a PhD in Computer Science, you may qualify to head up computing departments in various organizations.

Software and technology companies rely on having experts who can develop new products or enhance current offerings. Other organizations need computer professionals as well. You might ensure network security, develop proprietary databases, or build networks.

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Companies also need managers who can oversee entire teams of technology professionals. Managers are often called in for problems that no one else can solve, so your doctoral-level knowledge might give you an advantage in such leadership roles.

Plus, your research and analytical skills may equip you to make critical decisions about the future of your department or organization. Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in computers and technology are expected to grow at an 11% rate through the next decade.

Computer Science Doctoral Curriculum

Computer Systems Analyst working in her office

In online computer science PhD programs, you can explore topics of interest to you at great length. You may be able to build a curriculum that contributes to your professional and research goals. The following are examples of the types of classes you may take:

  • Advanced Software Engineering: You may explore how the principles of software engineering have shaped other experts’ work and then begin to develop your own engineering projects.
  • Analytical Tools: This course will introduce you to advanced applications that can help you make the most of data that you organize and evaluate.
  • Artificial Intelligence Systems: A career in artificial intelligence can benefit from a class that introduces you to the latest research in this field and helps you understand the theories that govern AI practice.
  • Big Data Analytics: This course can help you become an expert at handling enormous data sets and drawing valuable meaning from them.
  • Computer Network Systems: An advanced course in networking will prepare you to troubleshoot complex problems and develop new methods for improved network efficiency.
  • Database Theory and Practice: In a doctoral database class, you’ll explore topics like semantics, transactions, and systems of organizations.
  • Digital Security: This class will help prepare you to guard data and networks against even the most sinister threats.
  • Ethics in Data Management: You may wrestle with challenging issues as you discuss laws and matters of integrity that are related to data management, networking, and computer research.
  • Programming Theory: This course will dive deep into advanced topics in programming languages, such as semantics, concurrency, and type theory.
  • Research Methods: You may take multiple courses about designing a research project, carrying out a study, and preparing your findings for presentation.

Before completing an online PhD computer science program, you will probably prepare and present a dissertation. You might work on this intensive research project over several years.

Admissions Requirements

PhD in Computer Science student studying online

Doctoral programs can be competitive. Your admissions materials are meant to showcase the strengths that you’ll bring to the program.

  • Personal statement: You’ll often write an explanation of what you’d like to accomplish through the program.
  • Resume: An outline of your work history will show what sort of professional experience you’ll bring to your studies.
  • Transcripts: Most schools will want to see a record of your masters studies, but some programs accept promising students who hold only a bachelors degree.

Some schools request GRE scores for their graduate programs. This isn’t a universal requirement, though, and some programs allow applicants to request a waiver.


A PhD is a highly respected degree when it comes from an accredited college. Regional accreditation serves as a mark of distinction. It confirms that students graduate with sufficient knowledge of their subject areas and are prepared to enter the workforce.

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By attending an accredited program, your credits will more likely transfer to other schools if you need to switch programs. Hiring committees are also more inclined to respect and extend job offers to accredited degrees. Information on accredited schools is available from the US Department of Education.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

PhD in Computer Science Financial Aid

Paying for a doctorate out of pocket might be a challenge, but financial aid might help make this an attainable goal. Some colleges offer partial or complete rides to their doctoral students. In exchange for this assistance, you may need to teach classes or contribute to others’ research projects.

Additional assistance may be available through government programs at the federal or state level. To find out whether you qualify for grants or loans, submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Private organizations might contribute to your education through scholarships or fellowships. These programs usually have only a handful of recipients, so you may consider highlighting your unique strengths on your applications.

You might be able to get help from work as well. Some employers offer tuition assistance to team members who want to enhance their professional knowledge.

What Can You Do with a PhD in Computer Science?

Software developer working on her computer

Earning a PhD in Computer Science may be a way for you to secure a spot in computer science academia. Once you have this degree, you may be able to get a full-time position as part of a university’s faculty, or you may be qualified to run a research facility that works on new computing developments.

With a PhD, you may also make significant contributions to the practical use of computers and technology in a variety of organizations. Potential job titles include computer systems manager, software developer, information security analyst, and computer network architect.

How Long Does It Take to Get a PhD in Computer Science Online?

Database Administrators working together

The total length of your PhD program will depend on a variety of factors. Whether you enroll full-time or part-time and whether you move through classes on a set schedule or at your own pace can affect how long it will take you to earn your degree.

Even still, it’s common for doctoral programs to take 3 to 5 years to complete. Some of that time will be spent on coursework, but much of it may also be dedicated to your dissertation efforts.

Some schools set a maximum amount of time that you should be enrolled. Some set the limit to around 8 years, but this may vary from school to school.

Is a PhD in Computer Science Worth It?

Computer and Information Research Scientists working together

Yes, a PhD in Computer Science is worth it for many professionals. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer and information technology jobs are set to grow at 11% over the next 10 years, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Common careers in this field include computer and information research scientist, computer network architect, postsecondary computer science teacher, software developer, and computer and information systems manager.

Whether you’re interested in academic or hands-on roles, a PhD may qualify you for higher-paying positions and take you to the top of the computer science field. You’ll explore cutting-edge research and contribute your own body of work to this dynamic sector.

Universities Offering Online PhD in Computer Science Degree Programs

Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.

Auburn University

Auburn University

Students in the PhD in Computer Science and Software Engineering program at Auburn University will work closely with their graduate program officers to create plans of study that work for them. The degree requires 66 post-bachelors degree credits, but some of those can be transferred from previously completed graduate courses.

Auburn University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Capella University

Capella University

Capella University’s PhD in Information Technology program is another option for students interested in obtaining doctoral degrees in computer science.

The program requires 11 core courses, 5 electives, 3 dissertation research seminars, and both a comprehensive exam and dissertation to graduate. Both core and elective courses are largely computer science-related.

Capella University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Capitol Technology University

Capitol Technology University

Capitol Technology University doesn’t offer a PhD in Computer Science, but it does offer a 60 credit PhD in Unmanned Systems Applications program.

It prepares students to design, program, and repair advanced computer systems that don’t require human oversight, such as artificial intelligence, self-flying planes, computer-driven automobiles, and other similar technologies.

Capitol Technology University is accredited by the Commission on Higher Education of the Middles States Association of Colleges and Schools.

Clarkson University

Clarkson University

Clarkson University’s computer science PhD program requires 90 total credits for completion. Students can transfer up to 30 of these from another graduate-level computer science program.

There are 36 credits of required computer science core courses, including ones in theory, programming languages, and systems operations. Research-oriented courses are also required.

Clarkson University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Colorado Technical University

Colorado Technical University

The Doctor of Computer Science program at Colorado Technical University teaches students to develop software process improvement plans, predict digital and technological trends, evaluate the security of organizations’ network systems and design, and test and implement research-driven experiments.

There are optional concentrations in cyber security and information assurance as well as big data analytics.

Colorado Technical University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Columbia University

Columbia University

Students in Columbia University’s computer science PhD program will take ten courses in classes related to artificial intelligence, applications, systems, and theory.

Elective courses vary based on students’ needs and interests. Part-time students aren’t accepted into this program, and all students must deliver dissertations based on original research to graduate.

Columbia is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Dakota State University

Dakota State University

Dakota State University’s PhD in Computer Science program is the first of its kind in South Dakota. It can be taken online or on-campus, and both options allow students to customize their curricula to meet their career objectives. Courses include analytics, software exploitation, machine learning, offensive security, and information assurance.

Dakota State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Embry Riddle Aeronautical University

Students interested in computer science can enroll in Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s PhD in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science program.

It features a comprehensive curriculum that focuses on both the software and hardware sides of computer science. It’s a research-oriented program that prepares students for careers teaching at the postsecondary level.

Embry-Riddle is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Indiana University Bloomington

Indiana University Bloomington

Indiana University Bloomington offers a PhD program from one of the nation’s top computer science departments (U.S. News & World Report).

Students will conduct both practical and theoretical research in various computer science disciplines as well as in statistics, biology, and cognitive science. Other course topics include artificial intelligence and systems, cyber security, and analytics.

Indiana University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.

Johns Hopkins University

Johns Hopkins University

Johns Hopkins University offers a very comprehensive PhD in Computer Science program that includes plenty of perks for students. Each student receives a yearly stipend and opportunities for teaching or research fellowships. Graduates of the program should be prepared for a variety of careers in government, research, academia, or industry.

Johns Hopkins University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Mississippi State University

Mississippi State University

Mississippi State University’s doctoral program in computational engineering is a good choice for students interested in becoming computational engineers within government, educational, or corporate settings.

The program teaches students to design and operate complex software that helps simulate real-world environments in order to predict trends and periods of economic change.

Mississippi State University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Missouri University of Science and Technology

Missouri University of Science and Technology

Missouri University of Science and Technology offers a masters degree, a graduate certificate, and a PhD in Computer Science. The PhD program is a 72 credit program that includes 15 lecture course credits, 24 research credits, 24 core course credits, and other required courses as outlined by the PhD committee.

Missouri University of Science and Technology is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Northcentral University

Northcentral University

The computer science doctoral program at Northcentral University seeks to provide students with an in-depth understanding of any type of information system’s foundational technology.

The degree helps prepare students for a myriad of jobs within the field of technology leadership. Required courses include components of the dissertation and dissertation intensives.

Northcentral University is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

Nova Southeastern University

Nova Southeastern University

The PhD in Computer Science program at Nova Southeastern University encompasses 64 credits, including 8 core courses and a number of dissertation-related research courses.

The program is delivered through a mixture of online and traditional instruction and provides students with the tools needed to develop creative technological solutions to problems.

NSU is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Syracuse University

Syracuse University

Syracuse University’s PhD in Computer and Information Science and Engineering program is geared towards students who are interested in taking more research-oriented approaches to the fields of computer science, information technology, and engineering.

Strong emphasis is placed on electrical engineering and areas of computer science specifically related to hardware.

Syracuse University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

University of Arkansas – Little Rock

University of Arkansas Little Rock

The PhD in Computer and Information Sciences program at University of Arkansas – Little Rock has two tracks from which students can choose: an information science track and an information quality track; both are offered online. Both tracks also require 51 core credits and 12 credits each of elective and track-specific courses.

UA Little Rock is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

University of Idaho

University of Idaho

University of Idaho’s PhD in Computer Science program was recently ranked first in the west by US News and World Report among other publications.

It teaches students about advanced computer science concepts in the fields of data science, collaborative virtual environments, cyber security, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and survivable systems.

The University of Idaho is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

University of North Texas

University of North Texas

Students enrolled in University of North Texas’s PhD in Computer Science and Engineering program will learn the skills they need to work in high level positions in government, education, and industry. It also prepares them to teach. The curriculum includes courses in software engineering, natural language processing, and cyber security.

The University of North Texas is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of Pennsylvania

University of Pennsylvania

University of Pennsylvania’s computer and information science doctoral program is a good choice for students interested in computing, information processing, and computer science.

The curriculum features a good mixture of coursework, lecture courses, research, and hands-on experience. Students work closely with faculty mentors to help with developing their scholarly publications.

The University of Pennsylvania is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

University of Rhode Island

University of Rhode Island

Although the University of Rhode Island’s PhD in Computer Science program cannot be completed entirely online, there are several courses in the curriculum that can be taken online. For full-time students, the program usually takes about 4 years to complete, and one major collaborative research project is required to graduate.

The University of Rhode Island is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.

University of South Carolina

University of South Carolina

University of South Carolina doesn’t offer a PhD in Computer Science, but it does offer a Doctor of Education in Learning Design and Technologies, which is a very computer science-heavy program.

The program teaches students about the analysis, implementation, design, and development of technology-based learning, distance learning, and online education.

The University of South Carolina is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of Southern California

University of Southern California

University of Southern California’s computer science PhD program is open to students who have completed bachelors degrees in computer science or a closely related field.

Completion of a masters degree is not required. The program requires 60 credits for completion, along with a dissertation, a teaching requirement, and a qualifying examination.

USC is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

University of Utah

University of Utah

There are two computer science-related PhD programs at the University of Utah: the PhD in Computer Science and the PhD in Computing. Between these two programs and three masters programs, the school only accepts about 100 students each year, so it’s an extremely competitive program. PhD students are supported financially.

The University of Utah is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

Walden University

Walden University

Walden University’s Doctor of Information Technology program features a personalized, practice-oriented curriculum that suits the needs of students in various IT positions.

The degree prepares students for management and leadership roles within various sectors and for careers as professors at colleges and universities. Students also have access to individual mentoring.

Walden is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.

Wright State University

Wright State University

Students enrolled in the PhD in Computer Science and Engineering program at Wright State University have the benefit of learning from a top-of-the-line, professional faculty and experiencing a comprehensive curriculum covering hardware, software, and theory.

There are plenty of hands-on, collaborative projects that help students gain real-world experience as well.

Wright State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Getting Computer Science Doctorate Online

Getting Computer Science Doctorate Online

For those who have found computer science to be a good major, the next logical step could be to pursue advanced studies in the field.

Through online doctoral study, you may explore computing topics, invest your efforts in an area of interest, and develop original computer science research. At the end of your program, you’ll hold a PhD in Computer Science, which is a degree at the very top of this field.

Having a doctorate may qualify you for advanced research, teaching, or management roles. You may contribute to important technological developments that improve how data, artificial intelligence, or programming languages are used.

For your chance to earn a PhD in Computer Science, you may consider which accredited online program would be the best fit for your learning style and research interests.

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Jordan Meeks
Jordan Meeks
Jordan is pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Policy and earned her Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management and her Bachelor's in Business Administration. Jordan's research focuses on adults returning to college and online degree programs.