The Best Online Doctorate in Human and Family Development Programs

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Earning a doctorate in human development and family studies online prepares graduates for the highest positions in the field. Many graduates become professors or researchers, while others work as clinicians or directors for private organizations. Doctoral students also contribute to the field by conducting original research. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that many of these fields will grow by 2026; positions for professors are projected to increase by 15%. By pursuing a doctoral degree, prospective students build advanced skills in family studies and human development, which expands their career prospects.

Doctorate in Human and Family Development Degree Program Ranking Guidelines

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We selected the following online doctorate in human and family development degree programs based on the quality of the program and the types of courses offered. We examined the faculty, rankings, awards, and reputation of each school as well as its reputation for providing quality online degree programs.

The Best Online Doctorate in Human and Family Development Programs

Because numerous types of degrees fall under the umbrella of “Doctorate in Human and Family Development,” the following sections display top-ranked programs from several related ranking articles on our website. To learn more about these different degrees, follow the link at the end of each section to their corresponding ranking article.

Human and Family Development Program Categories

Family Counseling

Social Work

Child Development

Human Services

The Best Online Doctorate in Human and Family Development Degree Programs

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The Best Online Doctorate in Social Work Degree Programs

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The University of Tennessee - Knoxville 

Knoxville, TN

About this school

Founded in 1794, the University of Tennessee offers students an online DSW in Social Work to prepare them for high-level work in clinical practice. Designed for working clinical social work professionals, the program comprises 48 credit hours that can be completed in three years at an accelerated pace with minimal careers disruption. UT’s DSW in social work online program includes both synchronous and asynchronous components as well as a required week-long on-campus session each summer at Knoxville.

Out-of-state students in UT’s social work DSW program online must pay out-of-state tuition. However, residents of some southeastern states may be eligible for in-state tuition through the Southern Regional Education Board’s Academic Common Market. Applicants must demonstrate a GPA of 3.0 or better on previous graduate work and have a competitive GRE score.

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The Best Online Doctorate in Child Development Degree Programs

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Choosing an Online Doctorate in Human and Family Development Program

Earning a doctorate in human development and family studies online requires students to complete courses, pass exams, and write a dissertation. Most human and family development programs offer a mix of core and elective classes that cover topics like human development, quantitative research methods, and emotional development. Many programs also offer classes in marriage and family therapy or provide opportunities for interdisciplinary research in neuroscience, social work, or education. While a doctorate prepares graduates to work in academic positions as professors or researchers, each program emphasizes different areas of human development and family studies. This means that prospective students must evaluate which programs best aligns with their goals.

Within the human development and family studies field, doctoral students can focus on:

  • Cognition
  • Diversity and Cultural Influences on Development
  • Emotional Development
  • Poverty

Each program offers several concentrations, core classes, and faculty advisors. These options allow doctoral students to customize their degree around their research interests and professional goals. For example, students interested in statistical analysis and careers in research science may prefer a program that offers that concentration. By carefully researching programs, prospective students can find the best fit for their interests.

What Else Can I Expect From an Online Doctorate in Human and Family Development Program?

Doctorate in human development and family studies online programs design their own curricula and concentrations, so prospective students should carefully research what each program offers. If you pay attention to program specializations, elective courses, and graduate career paths, then you can choose a program that fits your interests and career goals.

Online Doctoral Degree in Human and Family Development Concentrations

  1. Social and Emotional Development:
    The social and emotional development concentration trains doctoral students in human social and emotional development theories, methodologies, and research skills. Doctoral students may take interdisciplinary courses in family dynamics, intervention, and neuroscience.
    • Concentration Careers: Professor, research scientist
  2. Couples and Family Therapy:
    Doctoral students can gain clinical experience through a couples and family therapy concentration. Students build clinical and research skills, apply research designs, and accumulate supervision experience. The concentration also fosters scientific and grant proposal writing abilities.
    • Concentration Careers: Research scientist, clinician, professor
  3. Statistical Analysis:
    In a statistical analysis concentration, doctoral students study human development and family studies statistical methodologies. Doctoral students also evaluate and create measurement methods, which includes statistical modeling. This specialization prepares graduates for research and analysis positions in family and human development.
    • Concentration Careers: Research scientist, professor, academic dean

Curriculum for an Online Doctoral Degree in Human and Family Development

  • Adult Development:
    This course covers adult development theories and focuses on the most influential theorists. Doctoral students also survey the most recent research and learn how to apply these theories in clinical settings.
  • Advanced Human Development:
    Doctoral students study advanced theories and research on development throughout the life span, from prenatal development to gerontology. The course may allow students to focus on their dissertation topic.
  • Theories in Human Development:
    Students survey psychoanalysis, behaviorism, and cognitive theories of human development research. The course examines the differences between theories, the role of developmental stages, and influential theorists.
  • Quantitative Research Methods:
    This course develops advanced skills in quantitative research, including mixed methods, structured data collection, experimental design, and data analysis. Students learn to develop a research method by following ethical procedures and Institutional Review Board guidelines.
  • Dissertation:
    Doctoral students complete a dissertation under the supervision of a faculty advisor. The dissertation must be based on original research and contribute to the field. In order to graduate, doctoral students defend the dissertation.

Careers with a Doctorate in Human and Family Development

As the terminal degree in human and family development, a doctorate leads to careers in academia, research, and management. While many doctoral students pursue careers as professors, they can also work as research scientists for private organizations, government agencies, or universities. A Ph.D. or DSW can also lead to careers in higher education administration.

  1. Human and Family Development Professor:
    Professors of human development and family studies teach undergraduate and graduate courses in their field. They design syllabi, write lectures, create tests, and educate students in a college or university setting. In addition, many professors also conduct research and publish their findings in scholarly journals. Tenure-track positions in this field require a doctorate.
    • Median Annual Salary: $76,000
    • Projected Growth Rate: 15%
  2. Research Scientist:
    Research scientists with a degree in human development and family studies design and conduct studies with the goal of understanding human development, physiology, and neurological development. They may also develop programs to improve health and wellbeing and many write research grant proposals to receive government or private funding. Many research scientists work in an academic setting.
    • Median Annual Salary: $82,090
    • Projected Growth Rate: 13%
  3. Academic Dean:
    Academic deans run a program or division at a college or university. They may also hold the title director or provost. Deans oversee faculty research and help develop academic policies and manage budgets. Many also play a role in hiring and tenure decisions. A doctorate in human and family development prepares graduates to work as the dean of health sciences or in administrative positions in a medical school.
    • Median Annual Salary: $92,360
    • Projected Growth Rate: 10%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

What is the Difference Between a Social Work Ph.D. and a DSW?

The difference between a social work Ph.D. and a doctor of social work (DSW) is that social work Ph.D. programs tend to be oriented towards research, while DSW programs tend to be oriented towards clinical practice. However, both degrees share significant overlap when it comes to their curriculum and educational requirements. Regardless of which degree is earned, the holder of the degree has a doctorate in the field of social work. If you are interested in the research-side of social work, then you might want to look at social work Ph.D. programs. If you are interested in leading social workers in a clinical setting, then consider a DSW.

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