Last Updated on August 19, 2023 by Paschal Alvina
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Best PhD Programs for Military Officers
Officers from all branches of the U.S. military have the opportunity to pursue a Ph.D. degree. Each school listed below has Ph.D. programs available in specific fields relevant to a particular military career, and many offer special support services or benefits to active duty or retired service members. This article provides detailed overviews of several Ph.D. programs for military officers.
|School Name||Institution Type||Location||2017-2018 Tuition (in-state)*||Tuition Assistance/Military Benefits|
|Purdue University||4-year, Public||West Lafayette, IN||$9,208||No-cost graduate education for 10 officers per year|
|United States Military Academy||4-year, Public||West Point, NY||$0||Full scholarship in exchange for service|
|The University of Kansas||4-year, Public||Lawrence, KA||$9,716||Scholarships available|
|Benedictine University||4-year, Private||Lisle, IL||$16,888||Tuition and other benefits for eligible veterans|
|Johns Hopkins University||4-year, Private||Baltimore, MD||$52,170||Fellowship opportunities|
|Naval Postgraduate School||4-year, Public||Monterey, CA||$0||Full scholarship in exchange for service|
Source: *National Center for Education Statistics
Overview of Ph.D. Programs for Military Officers
Some universities around the country are primarily civilian schools with one or two specific programs that could be appropriate for active duty or veteran military members. Others are military academic institutions that offer academic career paths for officers or a wide variety of programs tailored to an advanced military career. Read the descriptions below for details on each school’s Ph.D. program offerings.
Purdue University is a military-friendly school, with over 500 veterans enrolled as students as well as an active ROTC program. Purdue’s Military Research Initiative recruits 30 active-duty officers per year across the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines into graduate studies, giving priority to Ph.D. candidates. Ten officers per year are offered full scholarships. The program works with the services to pair Ph.D. candidates with appropriate academic mentors, as well as to release officers from duty for the anticipated three-year duration of their chosen program. Purdue is known internationally for its engineering programs, but offers many other areas of study as well, across 12 colleges and schools.
United States Military Academy
USMA West Point is the premier training university for prospective Army officers. It has a long and distinguished history as an Army university, focusing equally on academic, athletic and military development. Nearly all of its students are undergraduate cadets, but the Department of Mathematical Sciences offers a unique opportunity to Ph.D. candidates. Any officer is eligible to apply to be sent to a different university to obtain a doctoral degree in mathematics, to return to USMA to join the math department as a member of the senior rotating faculty. This is a career development opportunity for officers who wish to pursue an academic career that combines teaching and research in mathematics. The criteria used to evaluate applicants include their military and teaching experience, their ability to obtain a doctoral degree, their potential to be an academic leader in the department and their ability to conduct research.
The University of Kansas
The University of Kansas is a large, public university with several Ph.D. program options available to military officers. One is a political science degree program designed for the Special Forces community. It is a traditional program in terms of credit-hour requirements and the qualification and thesis defense processes, but it is on a 27-month accelerated timeframe to accommodate active duty Special Forces members. The Department of History also offers a Military History doctoral degree program. Candidates in this program will work closely with faculty and students at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at nearby Fort Leavenworth, and have access to its military research resources. Finally, the University of Kansas allows both civilian and military students to pursue a broad, interdisciplinary Ph.D. degree in a research field of their choice through its Interdisciplinary Doctoral Research Initiative.
Benedictine University offers a doctoral program for senior executives in values-driven leadership that is also a natural fit for active duty and retired military veterans. The program’s focuses include global leadership, sustainability and strategic change, with the goal of extending students’ abilities to lead in military or civilian settings. This is an on-campus program, but its course schedule is designed for working professionals, with monthly weekend classes and one annual intensive course. Benedictine University participates in the Yellow Ribbon program, which gives military students access to a wide variety of financial benefits and entitlement.
Johns Hopkins University
The School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University is home to a Ph.D. program in strategic studies for students interested in becoming both scholars and practitioners in international relations. It may be particularly appropriate for military officers who will go on to foreign field assignments or defense work. The program requires economics training and mastery of a foreign language, and includes components in analytical skills, diplomacy, international relations, and research. Military officers who can commit to the minimum three years necessary to complete this degree program are welcome to apply. The student body in the School of Advanced International Studies is especially diverse, with more than one third of the students coming from foreign countries, creating a rich and vibrant learning environment.
Naval Postgraduate School
The Naval Postgraduate School is a military academy that focuses specifically on graduate education useful for military careers. Ph.D. programs are spread out amongst numerous departments in several schools. Topics of study for doctoral degree programs range from systems engineering and computer science to security studies and operations analysis. The school accepts military officers from any branch to most of its doctoral degree programs, as well as international students and civilian employees of certain government organizations.
Online PhD Programs in Military Studies
Online doctoral programs in military history do not exist, but most programs don’t require on-campus studies for the duration of the program. However, many programs require only one year of in-person studies. Students spend most of their time doing research and writing their dissertation. The length of the programs, like the curriculum itself, is flexible, but many schools do require that doctoral programs be completed within eight years of beginning studies.
Entrance into doctoral programs often requires a passing score on entrance exam. Most doctoral programs teach students about historical military policies and theories and how sociological and economic issues factored into warfare over the years. Some programs ask that student choose a secondary field of study, usually in history. Topics such as American studies, film or sociology may be allowed as a secondary field. In-person requirements include a two-semester residency as well as the dissertation defense.
Students take several examinations to progress in these programs, and a dissertation is usually required.
Ph.D. in Military History
Doctoral degree programs in military history provide candidates with enhanced educational opportunities for careers that include historians or professors. Students investigate advanced analytical theories to develop a greater knowledge and understanding of the role the military plays in American and world history. Sociological, economic and political issues used in the creation of military policy are central to the program.
Applicants typically must hold a master’s degree in history or a related discipline from an accredited college or university. Entrance requirements vary according to the institution; however, students must complete an entrance exam. Many schools require Ph.D. candidates to complete a residency requirement of at least two consecutive semesters; however, students need not be on campus for the entire duration of the program. In addition to coursework and a residency requirement, candidates are required to complete and defend a dissertation.
Doctoral students examine nations’ use of military action to achieve their domestic and international goals. Students gain advanced knowledge of the philosophies and theories that have guided military policies and actions throughout history.
Students can take courses in specific wars, such as the Korean War or World War I, or study topics such as the Samurai in Japan. Courses and seminars in ancient warfare are also part of the program.
European Military History
This course covers the history of military conflict in Europe from ancient times to the present day. Students examine a variety of texts and readings to gain greater perspective on the major European military and diplomatic events that have shaped the continent.
War and American Society
Students explore the political, economic and social effects of military conflict in American society from the Revolutionary War period through the current day. The curriculum discusses the roles governments and civilians play in military conflicts.
American International Policy
In this course, students are provided with an overview of policies adopted by the United States and other nations to achieve their domestic goals in an international environment. The program focuses on researching the public policy, laws and military resources used by the United States to achieve international and national goals.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected a faster-than-average growth of 5% for anthropologists and archaeologists from 2019-2029, but a much-faster-than-average growth (9%) for postsecondary teachers (www.bls.gov).
As of May 2020, the BLS reported median annual wages of $76,890 for postsecondary history teachers (www.bls.gov).
While there are no online doctoral programs in military history, most programs only require a short term of residence. These programs require students to complete a certain number of courses before beginning to research and write a dissertation.