What Are the Easiest Ph.D. Degrees to Get?

Holland Webb
Updated July 2, 2024
Edited by
Getting a Ph.D. can be hard work, but some programs are more flexible and accessible than others. Find out more about the easiest Ph.D. programs.
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A doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) is the highest academic degree awarded in most fields of study. U.S. colleges and universities award more than 50,000 doctorates each year. Many people who pursue a Ph.D. have a passion for research, aspire to teach at the postsecondary level, or want to hold leadership roles in their field.

Earning any doctorate is a challenging journey that usually requires 3-6 years of study and includes a significant research component. However, some doctorates may be easier to obtain than others. The easiest Ph.D. depends on your strengths and interests. What feels formidable to some learners may come quickly to you.

Use the guide below to learn more about the easiest Ph.D. to get based on your background and expertise.

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Easiest Ph.D.s Based on Educational Background


STEM is an acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. While many students might consider these subjects academically demanding, having finely honed skills in your field and an appropriate master’s degree can set you up for success. Thousands of people earn doctorates in these areas each year.

Easiest Ph.D.s for Students With a STEM Background

  • STEM Education: A Ph.D. in STEM education focuses on teaching strategies and learning assessments for math and science educators. Your curriculum may focus on a practice like problem-based learning or a specific STEM subject.
  • Public Health: A multidisciplinary field, public health is concerned with promoting wellness in communities. Areas of focus may include epidemiology, biostatistics, or health management.

2. Humanities and Arts

In academia, the term “humanities” covers fields of study related to the human experience, including subjects like history, literature, and religion. The arts are fields related to creation and expression and can include music, writing, studio art, and dance. People who love to create, analyze, or research can thrive as doctoral students in these areas.

Easiest Ph.D.s for Students With a Humanities and Arts Background

  • History: A Ph.D. in history provides an opportunity for you to investigate the past while sharpening your research, writing, and analytical skills. Common specializations include U.S. history, world history, and public history.
  • English Literature: In these 3- to 5-year programs, you can research and analyze the words, narratives, and written pieces that help shape the way society works.

3. Business and Economics

Business focuses on maximizing profit, while economics is a social science concerned with the distribution of resources. If you have experience or education in business, you may find it easy to complete Ph.D. programs in these fields.

Easiest Ph.D.s for Students With a Business and Economics Background

  • Business Administration: A Ph.D. in business administration emphasizes research in business management, systems thinking, and management theory. This degree can provide a pathway for seasoned business professionals to move into higher education.
  • Public Administration: Unlike political science, which focuses on theories and systems of government, public administration emphasizes the practice of government. Programs in this field usually require skills in budgeting, finance, and analysis.
  • Economics: Students with a background in microeconomics, macroeconomics, statistics, and mathematics can flourish in an economics Ph.D. program. A background in data science or programming languages can also prove useful.

4. Social Sciences

Social sciences are the academic disciplines concerned with human behavior, problems, systems, and institutions. They include sociology, anthropology, psychology, and political science. Most advanced social science degrees require strong research and analytical skills. You may find these disciplines easy if you understand how to use data to solve problems.

Easiest Ph.D.s for Students With a Social Sciences Background

  • Social Work: A Ph.D. in social work usually requires a master’s in social work, a social worker’s license, and experience as a clinical social worker. With the appropriate background, you can complete this degree in 3-4 years.
  • Psychology: A Ph.D. in psychology can emphasize clinical practice or pure research. A Ph.D. in clinical psychology may demand more time because of the clinical hours required to complete the degree.
  • Public Policy: Public policy degrees focus on how governments respond to issues. A Ph.D. in public policy usually includes coursework in leadership, policy analysis, and public management.

5. Health Sciences

Health sciences are concerned with a scientific focus on human well-being. Unlike a doctor of medicine program, which emphasizes wellness through medicine, health sciences Ph.D. programs explore public health, education, and administration. Depending on your academic and professional background, you can pursue a clinical or nonclinical health sciences doctorate.

Easiest Ph.D.s for Students With a Health Sciences Background

  • Nursing: A Ph.D. in nursing prepares nurse-scholars to conduct scientific research relevant to the field of nursing. Research topics may include nursing theory, aging research, or social determinants of health.
  • Health Administration: Healthcare administration deals with the business of managing a hospital or other healthcare institution. Ph.D. students may focus on how developments in healthcare affect economics, policies, or institutions.

6. Education and Teaching

As an academic discipline, education is concerned with how people teach and learn. The field draws from theories in sociology, psychology, history, and philosophy. A master’s degree in education coupled with at least three years of teaching experience can prepare you well for the challenges of a Ph.D. in this field.

Easiest Ph.D.s for Students With an Education and Teaching Background

  • Curriculum and Instruction: Focused on enhancing the learning experience, a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction explores effective strategies for teaching and learning in formal settings. You can complete this program in 3-4 years after earning a master’s degree.
  • Educational Leadership: A Ph.D. in educational leadership typically emphasizes either K-12 school leadership or higher education administration. This degree often requires experience and a master’s degree for admission.

7. Environmental Studies

Environmental studies experts use social and natural science tools to understand how natural ecosystems function and how they shape — and are shaped by — humans. Subfields include hydrology, ecology, and environmental engineering. A blend of the natural and social sciences can provide a strong background for a Ph.D. in environmental studies.

Easiest Ph.D.s for Students With an Environmental Studies Background

  • Agriculture and Environmental Studies: Building on a master’s degree in agriculture, food science, or biology, a Ph.D. in agriculture and environmental studies focuses on meeting the challenges facing the global food system.
  • Sustainability: Sustainability refers to the practices and tools needed to meet current standards of living with minimal compromise of future resources. A sustainability Ph.D. may include research in industrial ecology or sustainability science.
  • Conservation Biology: Conservation biologists work to maintain global biodiversity. Students in this field can research specific species and habitats or study practices like fishing, hunting, and logging.

8. Communications and Media

A broadly interdisciplinary field, communications and media includes an array of disciplines concerned with how people communicate one-on-one, in groups, between institutions, and through the media.

Easiest Ph.D.s for Students With a Communications and Media Background

  • Media Studies: A Ph.D. in media studies includes coursework and research in areas such as digital media, global media, identity, and criticism. Generally, students should already hold a master’s degree in the discipline.
  • Journalism: Many Ph.D. programs in journalism explore the effects of journalism on society, including politics, healthcare, and economics. The field’s diversity can make this degree more accessible to people with a broad array of backgrounds.
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What Makes a Ph.D. Easy?

No doctorate is easy to earn, but the Ph.D. programs outlined above may be easier to obtain because many of them are more open to students with diverse backgrounds and experience. They also tend to focus on solving large-scale problems in broad fields such as education or communications.

Most reputable Ph.D.s will require 3-6 years of study, an original research project called a dissertation, and 60-90 credits beyond the bachelor’s degree. Online doctorates and hybrid programs that combine in-person and distance learning can help you create a flexible schedule, but the work will still be rigorous and demanding.

Did You Know…

In the 2020-21 school year, the field with the highest number of Ph.D. graduates from U.S. universities was engineering.

Why Accreditation Matters for All Ph.D. Programs

In the U.S., only degrees from accredited schools hold value in the marketplace. Accreditation demonstrates that your program has quality and credibility. Though unaccredited schools may offer low-cost degrees, they may also be running a scam. Check your school’s accreditation status by looking for information about accreditation on their website or by checking databases from the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education.

College accreditation is voluntary and can be institutional or industry-specific. Institutional accreditors such as the Higher Learning Commission and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges approve an entire college or university. Industry-specific bodies like ABET or AACSB International accredit individual programs or departments.

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FAQ About Easy Ph.D. Programs

What is the difference between a Ph.D and a professional doctorate?

A Ph.D. and a professional doctorate are both terminal degrees, but key differences separate the two. A Ph.D. features substantial research requirements, whereas a professional doctorate incorporates advanced practical training.

When it comes to easy doctoral degrees, Ph.D. programs typically run longer and require more intensive study than professional programs. The theoretical focus of a Ph.D. may also prove more challenging than a practical doctorate.

​​Can you get a Ph.D. without a dissertation?

Yes. While no-dissertation doctorates are more common for professional programs, some research-based Ph.D.s may also offer degrees that don’t require a dissertation. Some of these programs have a practical project, while others have a research component that doesn’t have the depth of a dissertation.

Are there any 1-year Ph.D. programs?

No. Though some professional doctorates may take 1-2 years, you generally cannot complete a Ph.D. program in that time. Many Ph.D.s take 3-6 years to complete.

What are the best Ph.D. programs for working professionals?

An asynchronous online program may be the easiest Ph.D. to get for working professionals. This delivery method allows you to complete your studies during the hours that suit you best. An asynchronous schedule can also accommodate nontraditional work schedules because of their added flexibility.

What is the most difficult Ph.D. program?

The most difficult Ph.D. program depends on how you learn best, but certain disciplines tend to be more difficult. Highly technical programs, such as mathematics and science disciplines, challenge many students. Very involved and intensive programs like engineering may also prove difficult.

Note: The insights on this page — excluding school descriptions — were reviewed by an independent third party compensated for their time by Accredited Schools Online. Page last reviewed June 14, 2024.

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