How to Get a PhD or DBA in Insurance & Risk Management

Risk is at the core of business profitability. The ability to evaluate risk and create strategies to mitigate its effects has broad applications–in insurance, business, manufacturing, and public policy. Factors such as the mortgage and credit crisis, environmental regulation, mass torts, health care reform, and natural disaster are creating an urgent need for advanced scholarship and visionary leadership. The International Risk Management Institute (IRMI) estimates that about half of the insurance and risk management (IRM) workforce will retire within fifteen years, fueling demand for actuarial science and risk management experts at all levels.

A doctorate in insurance and risk management qualifies you to reinvent the field for the twenty-first century, either by advancing scholarship and training the next generation of IRM workers, or by working as a senior-level financial professional. A PhD in business in Insurance and Risk Management can open doors to a career as a university professor, researcher, business school instructor, or as a senior risk analyst, actuary, financial analyst, or expert consultant.

Earning an online or campus-based PhD in Insurance and Risk Management requires discipline and planning. The degree is the highest qualification in the field and involves four to six years of graduate-level work. This guide to a PhD in Insurance and Risk Management takes you through the process of researching and applying to doctorate programs.

A Guide to the PhD in Insurance and Risk Management

The field of insurance and risk management (sometimes referred to as IRM or RMI) originated in the latter half of the twentieth century as a subset of business and finance disciplines. The field assumed a higher profile in the 1980s, reflecting a rise in the importance of business risk management. Academic insurance and risk management researchers point to executive liability, medical malpractice, product liability, and natural catastrophes to explain the rise of IRM in the past twenty years.

Today’s IRM programs incorporate elements of economics, finance, psychology, human resources, law, and even engineering and chaos theory to shed light on effective risk management. Most recently, the field has embraced high-level mathematical modeling (econometrics) to assess and manage risk

PhD or DBA?

As the discipline evolves, advanced education options are steadily expanding. In 1995, there were an estimated 80 doctoral students specializing in insurance and risk management at 11 universities nationwide. Five years later, an additional 22 schools added graduate-level IRM courses and degrees. At the doctorate level, you find two options: the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA). These terminal doctoral degrees are considered equal in rigor, but divergent in purpose.

  • The PhD in Insurance and Risk Management follows in the tradition of social science doctorates, which prepare students for advanced scholarship and college-level teaching careers. The degree culminates in a dissertation, which presents an original contribution to IRM scholarship. The research-oriented academic doctorate emphasizes quantitative methods and financial theory in risk management.
  • The DBA in insurance and risk management is a professional practice doctorate, designed to prepare graduates for leadership positions in industry. The doctoral project applies existing scholarship to a particular real-world problem.

In practice, the distinction between the two doctorates has become blurred–in particular, many PhD graduates go on to high-level professional careers in the private sector. Find more information about the distinctions among doctorates at’s Online PhD Degrees and Doctoral Programs page.

Career Track

The two doctorates suggest the division in doctoral-level career paths–graduates can choose to pursue either an academic or a professional track.

Academic careers focus on original scholarship and teaching roles. Academics serve as university professors and researchers. Some lend their expertise as consultants to public and private sector clients or as expert legal witnesses.

Professional careers include senior-level positions as a:

  • Risk management advisor
  • Quantitative specialist or econometrician
  • Public policy analyst
  • Insurance executive
  • Bank manager
  • Actuary


Both the PhD and DBA in Insurance and Risk Management offer a vast range of specialization options. In many cases, IRM is already a concentration within the business department. In any case, the opportunity to create your own independent project enables you to focus on a particular application or area of interest.

Some examples of academic and theoretical risk management specializations are:

  • Econometrics
  • Financial Intermediaries
  • Risk and Crisis Management

Insurance-specific academic and applied specializations include:

  • Empirical Modeling for Risk and Insurance
  • Insurance Distribution and Compensation
  • Insurance Capital Structure
  • Insurance Market Structure
  • Asset/Liability Management for Insurers

Applied insurance and risk management specializations include:

  • Health/Retirement Analysis and Policy
  • Public Finance
  • Social Insurance Programs
  • Corporate or Enterprise Risk Management
  • Liability Insurance
  • Corporate Hedging and Securitization
  • Torts

Each program emphasizes a particular set of specializations. Determining which area suits your interests helps you determine which PhD or DBA program in insurance and risk management is right for you.

How to Apply for the Doctoral Degree in Insurance and Risk Management

Once you’ve gained insight into your own academic interests and career ambitions, you’re in a good position to identify the PhD or DBA program that matches your needs.

Find the Right PhD or DBA Program

Given the highly specialized nature of doctoral education, it’s crucial to find the perfect fit. Each program offers a unique mix of resources and opportunities. The following four steps take you through the process of researching doctoral programs. You can find links to useful online resources for each step.

Step One: Develop a List of Accredited Programs

Goal: Create a comprehensive list of accredited programs that offer a PhD or DBA program in insurance and risk management.

Begin your research by compiling a list of accredited PhD or DBA programs. Accreditation is the baseline criterion of any higher education institution. Regular evaluation by an independent nationally recognized accrediting agency ensures the quality of your education and the value of your degree–not to mention your eligibility for some federal financial aid programs. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) is the major national accrediting agency of business graduate schools. The U.S. Department of Education maintains a comprehensive database of approved national and regional accreditation agencies.


Online PhD directories and accrediting agency member lists can point you to accredited doctoral programs in insurance and risk management. Check out the following sites:

  • AACSB maintains an online database of 600 or so member institutions worldwide. Search this list by factors such as online delivery format, campus location, program of study, and degree level.
  • IRMI (The International Risk Management Institute) publishes the IRMI Directory of Risk Management and Insurance Programs at U.S. Colleges and Universities. Last updated in February 2009, the guide profiles and links to thirty dedicated university risk management and insurance (RMI) programs. The list doesn’t include business degrees with RMI specializations and emphasizes undergraduate programs, but it offers a useful starting point.
  • The American Risk and Insurance Association (ARIA) maintains a more extensive list of university insurance and risk management programs.
  • features a searchable database of accredited online PhD programs in insurance and risk management. Search Degrees by Subject to find an online or campus doctorate in IRM. The site maintains a high quality standard for all its education partners, taking into account accreditation and other factors. Learn more about the accreditation process or browse a list of university partners.

Step Two: Online or Campus PhD in Insurance and Risk Management?

Goal: Focus your list by deciding which program delivery format best suits your lifestyle and learning style.

Advances in distance learning technology have made online education a viable option for higher education, particularly professional practice doctorates such as the DBA. The PhD is also available online, but aspiring academics typically choose a campus or hybrid online/campus PhD in order to access on-site resources.

  • Online PhD degrees in insurance and risk management offer scheduling flexibility, making them a popular choice for working professionals balancing education alongside work and family. Aside from convenience, online degrees offer the potential for a productive synergy between work and academic research. The online format is especially suitable for professional practice doctorates such as the online DBA in Insurance and Risk Management, which rely on the application of theory in a real-world business setting.
  • Campus programs remain the preferred choice for the academic PhD in Insurance and Risk Management, which rely on access to campus resources. Aspiring professors and scholars depend on relationships with faculty mentors and peers, teaching and research assistantships, and access to library collections and computer labs.


Explore program format options at The Online Degree Programs and Campus Education sections help you find PhD programs with the delivery format that best meets your circumstances and career goals.

Step Three: Explore Academic Programs

Goal: Research academic programs, prospecting for potential faculty mentors who share your academic interests.

In this stage, you match your academic interests and career ambitions with a suitable academic program. Because faculty mentorship is such an important feature of a doctoral program in insurance and risk management, it’s critical to find a professor whose research and theoretical approach match your own. Take into account the following factors:

  • Faculty research
  • Areas of concentration
  • Curriculum and course requirements
  • Special programs

Resources facilitates your program research by automating the matching process. Fill out an online form indicating your academic program criteria and the system identifies schools that meet your specifications. An academic counselor will contact you to discuss the program and answer your questions.

School Web sites offer useful information about professor research interests, special programs and school publications, student research projects, and more.

Academic Journals can help you focus your research interests and identify leaders in your field. Major journals in insurance and risk management include: The Journal of Risk and Insurance, Risk Management and Insurance Review, and Risk Management magazine.

Step Four: Evaluate Program Quality

Goal: Create a final list of schools to which you want to apply, balancing factors such as program quality, selectivity, and cost.

In the final analysis, the right school for you depends on a range of practical considerations, including:

  • Reputation
  • Selectivity
  • Graduation Rate
  • Job Placement Statistics
  • Career Support Resources
  • Student Body Profile
  • Cost and Financial Aid

Aim to create a list of about six doctoral programs, taking into account both program quality and your own competitiveness as an applicant. It’s a good idea to apply to both a ‘dream’ school and a ‘safety’ school.


Rankings can give you a sense of a doctoral program’s reputation and selectivity. Some to consider:

  • U.S. News and World Report offers a general ranking of the best business schools. This ranking focuses on the MBA, but also offers a sense of a school’s general reputation.
  • The National Research Council releases its Assessment of Research Doctorate Programs less frequently, but offers a more comprehensive evaluation of doctoral program quality. The Assessment covers economics PhDs, with specialized assessments of econometrics and economic theory.
  • The Center for Measuring University Performance also offers a ranking of top American research universities.

School Data offers a picture of the typical doctoral candidate, including selectivity information, demographic data, and job placement statistics.

Campus Visits allow you to meet one-on-one with faculty and graduate students to develop a more holistic sense of the doctoral program experience.

Preparing for a PhD in Insurance and Risk Management

Once you’ve developed your final list of campus or online PhD programs in insurance and risk management, the application process becomes a matter of connecting the dots. Steps to take include:

  1. Satisfying prerequisites
  2. Collecting and submitting application materials
  3. Lining up financial aid


The following resources can help you navigate the logistics of applying to a campus or online PhD in Insurance and Risk Management.

  •’s Education Resources Guide can help you with the application logistics, with information on standardized test preparation, prerequisite courses, financial aid, and more
  • The Insider’s College Guide for Working Adults offers an overview of resources and strategies for returning students
  • Financial aid information is available on’s graduate education funding resource page

Joining the Academic Community

Your application to a doctoral program in insurance and risk management signifies your entrance into an elite academic community. Start building relationships now by attending conferences, subscribing to IRM publications, and joining professional organizations. Academic and industry associations include the University Risk Management and Insurance Association (URMIA) and the American Risk and Insurance Association (ARIA).

An online PhD or DBA in Insurance and Risk Management offers a stepping stone into the upper echelons of academic scholarship and professional risk assessment. Reaching this lofty goal requires planning and discipline. Develop a vision of your academic path now, and you can set yourself up to take full advantage of the opportunities that come your way through the IRM doctoral program.


  • American Risk and Insurance Association (ARIA)
  • The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), AACSB Accredited Business Schools Database
  • The Center for Measuring University Performance
  • Columbia SIPA, Career Opportunities in Insurance and Risk Management
  • International Risk Management Institute,IRMI Directory of Risk Management and Insurance Programs
  • IRMI Insights, The Insurance Industry Talent Crisis: Investing in Risk Management and Insurance Graduates, by Brenda Wells
  • Journal of Risk and Insurance, Collegiate Risk Management and Insurance Education, by Lisa A. Gardner and Joan T. Schmit
  • National Research Council, Assessment of Research Doctorate Programs
  • Risk Management and Insurance Review, Vol. 8, No. 1, Risk Management and Insurance-Related Journals: A Survey of Risk and Insurance Academics, by Tamela D. Ferguson et al.
  • University of Georgia, Terry College of Business, Risk Management and Insurance Program
  • University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School, PhD in Applied Economics
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business, Actuarial Science, Risk Management and Insurance
  • U.S. Department of Education, Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs
  • U.S. News and World Report, Best Business Schools