Leadership is a vital aspect of any organization, and individuals with strong leadership skills are in high demand. A doctorate in leadership can be the key to unlocking opportunities in senior management and executive positions. However, traditional doctoral programs can be time-consuming and often require individuals to attend classes on campus, which can be challenging for those already working full-time. In recent years, pursuing an online PhD in Leadership has become increasingly popular, providing individuals with the flexibility to earn their degree while maintaining their professional and personal commitments. This article will explore the benefits and challenges of pursuing an online PhD in Leadership and offer practical advice for individuals considering this path.

Best Online Colleges for a PhD in Leadership

If you’re considering a PhD in Leadership, you’re probably a busy professional juggling several critical responsibilities. An online program allows you to balance your professional, educational, and personal commitments more effectively. You can also explore a broader range of options because you’re not limited to the schools in your immediate area. 

Many colleges and universities now offer an online PhD in Leadership, so narrowing your options can take time and effort. All students have different educational goals and needs, so you must consider your circumstances when searching for online colleges. The best program for you is the one that aligns with your academic and professional philosophies and makes you feel supported.

You could look at rankings from trusted organizations to begin your search for PhD programs. Speaking directly with other students about their experiences at various schools can also be helpful. Ultimately, you are the only person who can determine which online college is best for you. 

Specializations for an Online PhD in Leadership

Many online colleges offer specializations or concentrations for their leadership PhDs. If you’re drawn to a certain field of study or want to pursue a career in a specific sector, specializing during your Ph.D. can be a great opportunity. 

Organizational Leadership

A degree in organizational leadership equips you to become a leader at a business or other organization. Organizational leadership involves setting goals, anticipating problems, addressing crises, and motivating your team so that the organization functions smoothly and successfully.

Nonprofit Leadership

A concentration in nonprofit leadership prepares you to oversee and manage nonprofit organizations. The goals and structure of nonprofit organizations are often very different from for-profit institutions, so specializing in nonprofit leadership allows you to focus on the unique aspects of the nonprofit sector.

Executive Leadership

An executive leadership concentration focuses on management theory and application. You learn to manage teams effectively, motivate employees, and create a positive and functional workplace culture.

Educational Leadership

Educational leadership is a great concentration if you’re interested in working in secondary or postsecondary education administration. An educational leadership PhD prepares you to take on various leadership roles within the education system.

Strategic Leadership

Strategic leadership involves setting broad, long-term goals for your organization. With a concentration in strategic leadership, you learn to view the wider picture and express strategic visions to help your organization succeed.

Career and Salary Information for an Online PhD in Leadership

The careers you can pursue with a PhD in Leadership vary widely. Many professionals begin their PhD when well-established in their field, but completing it dramatically increases their earning potential.

Human Resource Managers$126,230
Elementary, Middle, or High School Principal$98,420
Management Analysts$97,580
Postsecondary Education Administrators$96,910
Project Management Specialists$94,500
Data from bls.gov

One common career path for professionals with a PhD in Leadership is school administration. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, postsecondary education administrators have a median pay of $96,910 per year. However, salaries vary widely depending on your specific role and years of experience. A leadership PhD can also equip you to serve as an elementary, middle, or high school principal with a median salary of $98,420 per year. 

Professionals with leadership PhDs often work in management and consulting. For instance, management analysts evaluate workplace systems and identify strategies to improve efficiency. Management analysts average $97,580 annually. Consultants have excellent earning potential, too, with an average annual wage of $107,850. Another common career option is project management, which involves coordinating and overseeing all details of a project. Project management specialists have a median salary of $94,500

Many people work in human resource management after earning their leadership PhD. Human resource managers handle a wide range of administrative tasks in any organization. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that have a median salary of .

Curriculum and Courses for an Online PhD in Leadership

Every university’s course catalog for a leadership PhD will be different. Some focus more heavily on research, and others focus on theory. However, all schools cover the same foundational topics. The following are the core components of an online PhD in Leadership:


Most leadership PhDs include several research courses. Students often begin with a foundational research course that covers the principles of research design. You may also take classes in quantitative research, qualitative research, and research critique.

Academic Writing

Writing skills are critical for professionals working in any leadership role. Most PhD programs require at least one writing course, but virtually every course in the curriculum will include some writing.

Leadership Theory

Theory courses cover different models and methods of leadership. You’ll explore various leadership concepts and analyze how they compare to your own values and philosophy. These courses usually involve a combination of lectures, reading, and discussion.

Global Systems

Understanding leadership from a global perspective is incredibly important for all professionals. Most PhD programs include at least one course focusing on international or multicultural perspectives.


Professional ethics courses are a cornerstone in most leadership PhD programs. Ethics courses help students understand the foundations of ethical decision-making and how leaders can address moral dilemmas effectively. You’ll explore a variety of ethical systems while also gaining a better understanding of your ethical framework.


Individual, group, and organizational behavior courses teach you how humans respond in various environments and situations. Understanding human behavior allows you to predict outcomes better, and it helps you offer the best possible support to your team.


Your dissertation is the culmination of your work in your PhD program. You will conduct extensive research on an approved topic and then write and defend a qualifying paper exploring your findings. Most programs require you to complete all other courses before beginning your dissertation. The dissertation typically takes one year to complete, but the timeline may vary from program to program.

Admissions Requirements for an Online PhD in Leadership

Some schools have more extensive admission requirements for their PhD programs than others. Overall, colleges want to review their candidates’ professional and academic backgrounds to determine whether they fit the program. 


Most online colleges have online applications that can be submitted through the school’s website. The application itself is often short and straightforward. However, fulfilling the other admission requirements can take a lot of work. Candidates usually start actively preparing at least one year before the start of the program. The deadline for application is typically in December. Some online colleges provide multiple deadlines. Each school usually clearly states the application deadlines on the program page.

Prior Education

While some leadership PhD programs may admit candidates with a bachelor’s degree, most require applicants to have earned a master’s degree from an accredited institution. If you earned an advanced degree in another country, you might need to prove that the program meets equivalent standards. It would be best if you prepared to submit your transcripts as part of the application process.


Almost all leadership PhD program applications include a writing component, too. The school may request that you write a statement of interest, or they may supply a specific prompt for you to explore in an academic essay.

Other Requirements

Most schools will also ask for your professional resume and two or three letters of recommendation. Some programs may ask for one letter from a professor and one letter from a professional contact. You may be required to submit your GRE, GMAT, MAT, or similar tests as well.

After the school reviews your application materials, they may invite you to an interview. During the interview, you will meet some of the school’s administrators and educators and discuss your interest in the program. This is your opportunity to express why this specific PhD program will help you achieve your professional goals. After your interview, you’ll hear the school’s final decision. The announcement usually happens in the spring.

Accreditation for an Online PhD in Leadership

Because there are so many online programs, students must do their due diligence in researching the credentials of the schools they’re interested in. Accreditation is recognition from a qualified organization that a college maintains appropriate educational standards. To ensure that you’re getting a quality education, you should ensure that a trustworthy agency accredits the schools you apply to.

Not all accrediting agencies are considered reputable. In addition to researching the school’s accreditation, you should research the agency that awarded the accreditation. You can use the Department of Education’s Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs to verify the accreditation of the schools you’re applying to. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) also offers a list of recognized accrediting bodies. The following are the regional accrediting agencies approved by the CHEA:

  • Higher Learning Commission
  • Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • New England Commission of Higher Education
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • WASC Senior College and University Commission

The CHEA also recognizes accrediting bodies specific to certain programs and industries. For instance, some leadership PhD programs are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs, which is a CHEA-approved agency. 

Financial Aid & Scholarships for an Online PhD in Leadership

The cost of tuition is one of the most significant barriers for students interested in pursuing a PhD in Leadership. Online programs often cost less than in-person programs, but tuition and fees can still add up. 

Fortunately, many online colleges offer scholarships and financial aid for PhD students. Financial aid is often available to students with exceptional financial need, and scholarships are awarded to students who have made remarkable academic or professional achievements. Some schools automatically consider students for scholarships and financial aid when applying, and others require separate applications for financial support. You can reach out to your school’s financial aid office directly to learn about the opportunities that may be available to you.

A graduate assistantship can be an excellent option for funding your leadership PhD. You’ll receive a tuition waiver and a monthly stipend with a graduate assistantship. There are several types of assistantships with different roles and responsibilities. For example, a teaching assistantship focuses primarily on teaching, lecturing, and grading papers. A research assistantship involves conducting research with faculty members. Not all online colleges offer graduate assistantships, but you should always inquire about the opportunity when applying. 

PhD students also often look to outside sources for grants and scholarships. You may find organizations related to your concentration or industry that offer higher education scholarships. Employers are often willing to partially or fully fund their employees’ education costs. 

What Can You Do With an Online PhD in Leadership?

There are virtually limitless paths you can follow with a PhD in Leadership. Students who begin the PhD program are often already well-established in their industry, so the PhD supports them as they progress through their field ranks. However, a leadership PhD can also open up brand-new career opportunities. Students sometimes complete a leadership PhD program as a step toward a career change.

These are just some of the careers you can pursue with a leadership PhD:

  • C-level Executive (Chief Executive Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Information Officer)
  • Education Administrator (Dean, Registrar, Principal, Superintendent)
  • Nonprofit Administrator
  • Human Resources Specialist
  • Project Manager
  • Development Manager
  • Management or Leadership Consultant
  • Management Analyst
  • Public Policy Analyst
  • Researcher

How Much Does an Online PhD in Leadership Cost?

The total cost of an online PhD varies significantly between programs. Public universities tend to have lower tuition rates than private universities. The size and location of the school can impact tuition costs, too.

PhD courses usually cost between $500 and $1,000 per credit. A leadership PhD requires around 60 credits, costing anywhere from $30,000 to $60,000. This does not include fees, books, and transportation to attend in-person residencies. The more expensive programs could cost up to $100,000 in total.

Financial aid and scholarships are essential for most PhD students. While a PhD opens up new career opportunities and increases your earning potential, many students cannot justify paying the full price for the degree. Fortunately, few candidates pay their full tuition out-of-pocket. Many students receive tuition assistance, such as employer tuition reimbursement, a teaching assistantship, or need-based financial aid. 

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online PhD in Leadership?

The time it takes to complete an online PhD in Leadership depends on whether you attend part-time or full-time. Most online leadership PhD programs are designed for professionals working full-time while completing the curriculum. Students are typically highly committed to their career path and do not wish to stop working to attend a full-time PhD program. Additionally, working while completing the PhD provides plenty of real-world opportunities to apply the knowledge and skills you gain from the program.

Leadership PhDs usually take four to six years to complete. Some students may need to go slower. Others may complete the program in as little as three years. It would be best to remember that some colleges offer more flexibility than others. If you need extra time to finish your PhD, apply to schools that allow students to work at their own pace.

Are There Affordable Online Colleges for a PhD in Leadership?

A PhD is always a significant financial investment, but affordable options exist. Attending an online program is usually less expensive than an in-person program. Tuition assistance and financial aid can also significantly cut down on your costs. When evaluating PhD programs, consider their tuition rates in addition to their scholarship and aid opportunities. One program may charge more in tuition than another, but you’ll ultimately spend less if they offer more financial aid.

Is Getting a PhD in Leadership From an Online College Worth It?

Enrolling in a PhD program is a major commitment and is not a decision to take lightly. You might wonder whether earning your PhD in Leadership is worth the time, money, and energy. Some professionals can advance in their fields and achieve their career goals without an advanced degree. However, a PhD in Leadership opens up many opportunities that may not otherwise be available.

The value of a PhD in leadership from an online college depends on several factors, including the institution’s reputation, the program’s quality, and the individual’s career goals. Online PhD programs can offer flexibility and convenience for individuals unable to attend a traditional on-campus program. Additionally, online programs may provide access to a wider range of faculty and resources and opportunities for networking with professionals from around the world.

Remember, not all online colleges and universities are created equal, and some may have a less prestigious reputation than traditional institutions. Therefore, it is crucial to thoroughly research and evaluate the quality and accreditation of the online college or university before enrolling in a PhD program.

Furthermore, the value of a PhD in leadership ultimately depends on an individual’s career aspirations and goals. While a PhD can enhance one’s knowledge and expertise in a particular field, it may not necessarily lead to a higher salary or promotion. Therefore, individuals should consider their personal and professional goals before committing to an online PhD program in leadership.

In conclusion, pursuing a PhD in leadership from an online college can be a worthwhile investment for individuals seeking flexibility and convenience. Ultimately, the value of a PhD depends on an individual’s career aspirations and goals, and individuals should carefully consider these factors before enrolling in a program.

10 of the Best Schools Offering Online PhD in Leadership Degrees

The best online college for you depends on your own interests, strengths, and schedule. All colleges take a slightly different approach to their programs, so you must carefully explore your options before choosing a school. Here are ten of the top online colleges offering PhDs in Leadership. The schools are regionally accredited and have an excellent reputation. You will find them listed in alphabetical order.

1. Andrews University (Berrien Springs, MI)

The Leadership PhD program at Andrews University is designed for professionals who are working full-time and can typically be completed in four to six years. While most coursework occurs online, students attend a two-week orientation in their first year and a yearly on-campus conference. Students can choose to specialize in an area of concentration, such as healthcare leadership. The Higher Learning Commission accredits Andrews University.

2. Antioch University (Yellow Springs, OH)

The PhD in Leadership and Change at Antioch University is a low-residency hybrid program requiring two on-site residencies per year. Most students complete the program in three or four years while working full-time. The program focuses heavily on professional seminars and scholarly research. Antioch has accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.

3. Eastern University (St. Davids, PA)

Eastern University’s PhD in Organizational Leadership is an online program with three yearly on-campus residencies. The typical program length is four years, and concentrations include nonprofit and public administration, business management, and educational administration. Students attend the program alongside a cohort of about 15 peers, and this model provides a close-knit community of other professionals. The Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs accredits this degree.

4. Indiana Institute of Technology (Fort Wayne, IN)

Indiana Tech offers an online PhD in Global Leadership, which equips professionals with a strong understanding of Leadership across all cultures. Students can select concentrations in organizational Leadership, education administration, business administration, or global health leadership. The program also offers an optional international travel component, allowing students to practice their leadership skills in various cultures. The Higher Learning Commission accredits Indiana Tech. 

5. Indiana Wesleyan University (Marion, IN)

Indiana Wesleyan’s PhD in Organizational Leadership can be completed in four years. Coursework is all online, except for an in-person residency in the summer. The program focuses on international and multicultural perspectives and offers required and optional courses. The Higher Learning Commission accredits Indiana Wesleyan University.

6. Johnson University (Knoxville, TN)

Johnson University’s online PhD in Leadership Studies is often highly ranked. Students can choose from several concentrations: Organizational Leadership, Educational Leadership, and Ministry Leadership. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges accredited the school. 

7. North Carolina A&T State University (Greensboro, NC)

North Carolina A&T State University offers a PhD in Leadership Studies with three specialization options: Organizational Leadership, Educational Leadership, and Health Services Leadership. The program incorporates various disciplines to equip students for leadership roles across all areas. North Carolina A&T has accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

8. Pepperdine University (Los Angeles, CA)

Pepperdine University’s PhD in Global Leadership and Change uses a hybrid format without about 60% of courses being held in-person and the other 40% occurring online. This provides flexibility for working professionals while also allowing for meaningful face-to-face connections. The program includes two policy trips and one international trip. Students typically complete the PhD in four to five years. The Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges accredits Pepperdine.

9. Regent University (Virginia Beach, VA)

The online PhD in Organizational Leadership at Regent University offers concentrations in Ecclesial Leadership, Entrepreneurial Leadership, Human Resource Development, Individualized Studies, and Organizational Leadership. The degree focuses heavily on research but also incorporates theory and analysis. Regent has accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

10. Southeastern University (Lakeland, Florida)

Southeastern’s PhD in Organizational Leadership is offered online with occasional in-person residencies. The program also includes occasional week-long intensives. Students explore various topics, including cultural intelligence, leadership models, and research methods. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges accredits Southeastern University.

Getting Your Online PhD in Leadership

Earning your online PhD in Leadership is a challenging but meaningful way to advance your career. If you’re considering applying for PhD programs, consult with the trusted mentors in your life about your options. Research schools thoroughly, and ask them any questions you have about their programs. 

While enrolled, do your best to maintain a healthy balance between school, work, and your personal life. Working toward a PhD is an enormous time commitment, but you must still care for yourself. Connect with your fellow students to have a close support system. Your classmates are all going through the process alongside you and can offer valuable support during times of stress.

Completing a PhD program is one of the greatest academic and professional accomplishments you can achieve. To ensure your success, you should carefully research online programs to find the one that suits your needs. When you finish your leadership PhD, you’ll have the knowledge and qualifications to pursue practically any opportunity in your field.

Notable Resources

2023 Guide to the Best Online Colleges for a Bachelor’s Degree in Education

2023 Guide to the Best Online Colleges for Aviation