Computer Science Ph.D.

Updated October 18, 2023 · 4 Min Read

Explore program requirements for online doctoral degrees in computer science to determine if it's the right education and career move. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Are you ready to discover your college program?

Credit: TommL / E+ / Getty Images

With the rising need for technical expertise, employers are increasingly including doctoral degrees in their minimum hiring requirements. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 15.3% jump in the number of jobs in CS requiring a doctorate degree by 2022.

An online Ph.D. in computer science proves a lucrative degree and allows for more independent, creative input into projects, along with more freedom to design products, implement change, and inspire students and employees. Employees with their doctorates tend to enjoy higher salaries and lower unemployment rates than those with lower-level degrees.

Earning a Ph.D. in computer science opens doors to high-level academic positions, and allows for more independent, design-based work.

Doctorate in Computer Science Overview

What is a Doctorate in Computer Science?

A doctorate in computer science builds on prior knowledge, education, and experience in the field. The degree typically takes 4-5 years to complete, and involves independent study and research in a focused area of interest. Doctorate programs include coursework and research that culminate in a final dissertation.

How do I get a PhD in Computer Science?

To enter a Ph.D. program, you must hold at least a bachelor's degree in the field, though a master's degree is usually preferable. Doctorate applicants must also submit GRE scores and letters of recommendation.

Students who enter these programs generally want to enter highly specialized computer science fields or teach at the college level. They must demonstrate academic success in prior college programs, and a desire to learn more about a specific area of the industry through additional study and research.

  • 4-5 years
  • 72-90 credits

Computer science plays a role in virtually every field of industry. For this reason, Ph.D. programs are diverse, and many students pursue interdisciplinary degrees.

Students wishing to pursue a Ph.D. in computer science generally take 4-5 years to complete the degree, which usually requires 72-90 credits. Learners can devote their studies to general computer science or choose a specialty area, such as one of the following:

Computer science
Algorithms, combinatorics, and optimization
Human-computer interaction
Software engineering
Computational biology
Language and information technologies
Machine learning

Top Online Programs

Explore programs of your interests with the high-quality standards and flexibility you need to take your career to the next level.

Source: NCES

Average Annual Tuition

Public In-State, Two-Year $3,570
Public Out-of-State, Four-Year $25,620
Public In-State, Four-Year $9,970
Private Nonprofit $34,740

Source: CollegeBoard, 2017-18

Online Ph.D. in Computer Science

Online options for computer science doctorates continue to grow. Considering the nature of the material, it's no surprise computer science courses were among the first offered in an online format from prestigious institutions such as MIT and Stanford. Doctorate studies require independent work, which integrates well with the online learning format.

Advantage: Individualized Pacing

Online programs offer the advantage of working at your own pace. Because the research and dissertation process varies greatly by student, this format proves especially conducive for doctorate-level work.

Advantage: Growing Prestige of Online Programs

The Taulbee Survey estimates more than 1,834 graduates earned Ph.D.s in computer science in the 2016-17 academic year — more than ever before. This represents a 1.2% increase over the previous year. That said, the total number of doctoral degrees awarded in the 2016-17 academic year increased by 5.2% over the previous year.

Computer science courses represented some of the first offered online with the arrival of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) and other open-access learning platforms, which became popular around 2012. Some of the nation's most prestigious universities, including Stanford, MIT, and Harvard, pioneered the MOOC industry. These universities now offer singular courses in computer science, many of which are free, through Coursera and other open-source platforms.


Doctorate students should choose specialties they feel passionately about. Specialization options vary between doctoral programs, so prospective students should make sure their online program offers concentrations in their area of interest.

Courses in an Online Ph.D. in Computer Science Program

Required major courses vary by school, depending on each institution's resources and faculty. This makes each program unique. College and university faculty acquire specialty areas of study, and typically teach courses related to those topics. Required courses may also root in the school's longstanding traditions, based on department history and resources. Common courses for doctoral programs in computer science may include:

Revolutionary Molecules
This history-based course helps students understand the trajectory of organic chemistry over time. Instructors typically focus on key topics such as moments of discovery in the chemistry, and their development and significance. Students also engage with hands-on experiments in basic lab settings. Most courses require a final paper, based on original historical and lab research, which demonstrates your mastery of the course material.
Physical Biochemistry
This survey course examines the physical methods chemists use to investigate biological systems. Learners understand foundational theories that account for chemical behavior and properties of amino acids, peptides, proteins, pyrimidines, and nucleic acids. Students also employ kinetic, spectroscopic, and thermodynamic analytical perspectives.
Fundamentals of Chemistry
In this introductory course, students acquire the basic problem-solving skills and foundational chemical knowledge to pursue more advanced training. Degree-seekers typically attend lab- and classroom-based sessions that explore atomic bonding, lab safety, lab research documentation skills, states of matter, acids and bases, and nuclear chemistry.
Environmental Chemistry
This laboratory-focused course explores basic and advanced chemical concepts, including polarity, volatility, and solubility. Students spend most of the course considering new and historical case studies, which demonstrate how chemical behavior relates to the environment, pollutants, and toxicology. Degree-seekers develop the ability to predict environmental behaviors and chemical structures.
Nuclear Magnet Resonance
This combined lecture and laboratory course on the principles of fourier transform and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Learners examine magnetic fields, magnetization and rotating frames, pulse sequences, two-dimensional perspectives, and nuclear Overhauser enhancement. Chemistry students learn to apply lecture material to their lab work and original research papers.

Recommended Reading

Take the next step toward your future.

Discover programs you’re interested in and take charge of your education.