Question: What Are Hybrid Doctoral Programs?

Answer: Hybrid doctoral programs integrate online and campus-based instruction, providing students with the convenience and flexibility of distance learning as well as with the spontaneous interactions associated with a classroom setting. Students in a hybrid doctoral program take some courses online and other courses on campus. Some programs may allow students to choose between the two instructional formats for certain classes. Hybrid doctoral programs may also be referred to as “blended” or “low-residency.”

What Is a Doctoral Degree Program?

A doctoral program is a terminal degree program in any field or discipline in which doctorates are offered. It represents the highest-level degree available in a particular discipline, and indicates that the holder of the degree may be formally designated and referred to as a “Doctor” in that field.

There are doctoral degree programs across a broad spectrum of academic and professional fields, in the arts, humanities, and sciences. A PhD, or Philosophiae Doctor/Doctor of Philosophy, is the most common type of academic research doctorate. But there are various other types of specialized and practice-oriented doctoral degrees conferred in specific fields, including:

  • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)
  • Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS)
  • Doctor of Design (DDes)
  • Doctor of Education (EdD)
  • Doctor of Engineering (DEng)
  • Doctor of Fine Arts (DFA)
  • Doctor of Juridical Science (JSD)
  • Doctor of Medicine (MD)
  • Doctor of Modern Languages (DML)
  • Doctor of Music Education (DME)
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
  • Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)
  • Doctor of Public Administration (DPA)
  • Doctor of Public Health (DPH)
  • Doctor of Science (DSc)
  • Doctor of Social Work (DSW)
  • Doctor of Theology (ThD)
  • Juris Doctor (JD)

(Note: Some of the doctoral programs above cannot be completed via hybrid delivery methods.)

In addition to instructional coursework, PhD programs generally require students to complete a doctoral thesis, which entails conducting original research in the field of study, presentation of that research formally, and completing a research paper. Practice-based doctoral programs (e.g., DNP, DSW, and PsyD degree programs) are more likely to incorporate a clinical component consisting of a certain number of internship and/or practicum hours spent training in the field. Thesis presentations, internships, and practicums often require students to be present on campus or at another location, even in programs that offer all or most of their coursework online.

Hybrid Doctoral Programs

While traditional doctoral programs require students to attend classes and other instructional activities on a college or university campus, and online programs offer all or most of their coursework through distance learning technologies, hybrids programs provide both types of instruction. Some hybrid programs offer particular courses online and other courses on campus. There are also hybrid doctoral programs in which students have the option of online or on-campus instruction for particular courses. Finally, some hybrid programs have classes that combine on-campus and online instruction, where students complete most the coursework online but are required to come to campus for a limited number of classes (e.g. once per month, once per semester). The ratio of online to campus-based coursework in a hybrid doctoral program varies by program, so students interested in hybrid programs, which may also be called “blended” or “low-residency” programs, should carefully review instructional format options.

Hybrid doctoral programs have several potential advantages, particularly for students who have work and/or other significant commitments outside of school. By delivering some courses online, hybrid programs reduce the amount of time students spend commuting to a college or university campus. If the online courses are offered asynchronously, then students are afforded additional flexibility in that they are able view lectures and other instructional activities at their convenience, 24-7. At the same time, hybrid programs provide students with some structured time on campus, where group work, informal exchanges with instructors, and other spontaneous interactions may be more likely to occur.

In some fields, such a psychology, fully online doctoral programs are rare or may not exist at all for a variety of reasons, including the necessity for in-person clinical training and instruction. In such fields, and in others that require a significant amount of clinical and/or laboratory training, hybrid programs may offer the most flexible and convenient alternative to campus-based programs for students who want the option of taking some of their courses online.

The time to completion for hybrid doctoral programs is generally no different from that of campus-based programs and depends in large part on how many credits a student earns per semester and how quickly a student is able to complete his or her thesis and/or clinical requirements. Students entering a doctoral program with a master’s degree generally have to compete fewer credits compared to students who begin with a bachelor’s degree. And different fields have different doctoral training protocols, which may also affect the time to completion. There are doctoral degree programs that can be completed by full-time students in two years, and others that typically take between five and seven years to complete.

Hybrid Doctoral Program Admissions Requirements

Eligibility for hybrid doctoral programs varies by school, by field, and by program. At a minimum, applicants must hold an undergraduate degree from a regionally accredited, four-year college or university. While some programs accept students directly from bachelor’s programs, others require applicants to hold a master’s degree in a particular field or discipline that aligns with the focus of the doctoral degree. Applicants may also be asked to furnish letters of recommendation, a personal goals statement, and/or standardized test scores as part of the admissions process. There are also hybrid doctoral that require applicants to have a year or more of in-the-field work experience.


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