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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.

Our Methodology

Here at TheBestSchools.org, we take the trust and welfare of our readers very seriously. When making our school and program rankings, our top priority is ensuring that our readers get accurate, unbiased information that can help them make informed decisions about online education. That's why we've developed a rigorous ranking methodology that keeps the needs of our readers front and center.

Our proprietary, multi-criteria ranking algorithm analyzes key data indicators — as collected by the federal government — for each school or program. What data we use depends on the focus of each specific ranking, but in all cases, our ranking methodology is impartial: Schools cannot buy better rankings at TBS.

While specific criteria under consideration can vary by ranking, there are a few data points that we value most highly. They are affordability, academic quality, and online enrollment. Below, we break down our algorithm to help you understand what you're getting when you use one of our rankings.

  • Academics
  • Affordability
  • Online Enrollment

Data Sources

The data used in TBS rankings comes primarily from the federal government, and much of it is provided by the schools themselves. We aggregate and analyze this data to build our rankings.

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is our primary source. Its data comes from annual surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Every college, university, or technical school with access to federal financial aid must participate in these surveys, which include questions about enrollment, graduation rates, finances, and faculty qualifications. This is publicly available data, which you can access yourself through the College Navigator.

Additionally, because we value a personal touch and the professional experience of our staff and Academic Advisory Board, we vet all results and adjust rankings as necessary based on our collected knowledge of schools and degree programs. Depending on the ranking, we may obtain additional input from AcademicInfluence.com, subject matter experts, prior TBS ranking lists, or other sources we deem relevant to a particular ranking.

Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology

About Our Ranking Factors

Here at TBS, we value what you value: quality education, affordability, and the accessibility of online education. These factors guide all of our program rankings.

Each of these factors are further broken down into weighted subfactors. For example, retention rates are weighted more heavily than availability of program options because they are a better indicator of student success.

We chose the following factors for our rankings because of their influence on learning experiences and graduate outcomes. However, students should always balance our rankings against their personal priorities. For instance, a learner who needs a fully online program may prioritize online flexibility more than our rankings do. Our rankings are designed to help you make a decision — not to make a decision for you.

Academics - 75%

Affordability - 15%

Online Enrollment - 10%

In all our school rankings and recommendations, we work for objectivity and balance. We carefully research and compile each ranking list, and as stated in our advertising disclosure, we do NOT permit financial incentives to influence rankings. Our articles never promote or disregard a school for financial gain.

If you have questions about our ranking methodology, please feel free to connect with our staff through contact page.

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Featured Online Human & Family Development Doctoral 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

The Best Online Doctorate in Human and Family Development Degree Programs

#1 Best Online Doctorate in Human and Family Development Programs

Liberty University

  • Lynchburg, VA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The online Ed.D. in community care and counseling program at Liberty University ranks among the best in the field. Thanks to a flexible format, the private institution makes it easier to complete a doctorate. Doctoral students benefit from support services like career advising.

Learners complete doctoral coursework in the online human and family development program. After passing comprehensive examinations, doctoral candidates choose a dissertation topic and conduct research in their specialty area. A doctorate in community care prepares graduates for careers in academia, research, and leadership.

Online doctoral students at the accredited institution pay for their degree with scholarships, fellowships, and loans. Prospective applicants can contact the program to learn more about financial aid opportunities and the admissions process.

Liberty University at a Glance:

Online Student Enrollment: 78,511

Online Master's Programs: 67

Online Doctoral Programs: 9

Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 17-to-1

Graduate Tuition Rate: $7,980

Average Tuition
In-state
$15,417
Out-of-state
$15,417
Retention Rate
81%
Admission Rate
51%
Students Enrolled
85,586
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
92% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#2 Best Online Doctorate in Human and Family Development Programs

Amridge University

  • Montgomery, AL
  • 4 years
  • Online

The Ph.D. in marriage and family therapy program at Amridge University uses an online learning format. With flexible enrollment options, the private school helps degree-seekers earn a doctorate. Doctoral students receive research support, library access, and career advising.

Learners take doctoral classes in the program. After passing comprehensive examinations, doctoral candidates complete an original dissertation that contributes to the field. With a doctorate in family therapy, professionals work in academia, research, and leadership roles.

Online doctoral students at the accredited institution qualify for several forms of financial aid. Reach out to the program to learn more about transfer credit policies, research support, and admission requirements.

Amridge University at a Glance:

Online Master's Programs: 8

Online Doctoral Programs: 4

Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 13-to-1

Graduate Tuition Rate: $11,700

Average Tuition
In-state
$9,000
Out-of-state
$9,000
Retention Rate
Not provided
Admission Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
833
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
Not provided
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#3 Best Online Doctorate in Human and Family Development Programs

Baylor University

  • Waco, TX
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The Ph.D. in social work program at Baylor University offers a flexible route to a doctorate. Degree-seekers benefit from the flexible enrollment options at the private university. Doctoral students benefit from support services like career advising.

During the online social work program, learners take doctoral courses to earn their degree. After passing comprehensive examinations, doctoral candidates conduct research for their dissertation. As the highest degree in social work, the doctorate meets requirements for research, academic, and leadership roles.

Online doctoral students at the accredited institution qualify for several forms of financial aid. Reach out to the program to learn more about admission requirements.

Baylor University at a Glance:

Online Student Enrollment: 1,842

Online Master's Programs: 6

Online Doctoral Programs: 4

Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 13-to-1

Graduate Tuition Rate: $32,130

Average Tuition
In-state
$42,842
Out-of-state
$42,842
Retention Rate
88%
Admission Rate
45%
Students Enrolled
18,033
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
10% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#4 Best Online Doctorate in Human and Family Development Programs

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

  • Knoxville, TN
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville offers a top-ranked online doctor of social work program. With flexible enrollment options, the public school helps degree-seekers earn a doctorate. Doctoral students benefit from support services like career advising.

In the online social work program, learners complete doctoral coursework and strengthen advanced skills. After passing comprehensive examinations, doctoral candidates conduct research for their dissertation. As the terminal degree in social work, the doctoral program trains graduates for roles in academia, research, and industry.

Doctoral students qualify for federal financial aid and fellowships at the accredited institution. Contact the program for more information about research support and financial aid.

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville at a Glance:

Online Student Enrollment: 10,526

Online Master's Programs: 10

Online Doctoral Programs: 4

Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 17-to-1

Graduate Tuition Rate: $11,468

Average Tuition
In-state
$11,332
Out-of-state
$28,522
Retention Rate
87%
Admission Rate
79%
Students Enrolled
29,460
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
36% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#5 Best Online Doctorate in Human and Family Development Programs

University at Buffalo

  • Buffalo, NY
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The online DSW program at the University at Buffalo ranks as one of the best degrees in the social work field. At the public institution, degree-seekers complete a doctorate in a flexible environment. Doctoral students benefit from support services like career advising.

In the online social work program, learners complete doctoral-level coursework. After passing comprehensive examinations, doctoral candidates spend 1-2 years researching and writing their dissertation. Graduates with a doctorate pursue roles in research, academia, and leadership.

Doctoral students who attend the accredited institution in an online format qualify for several types of financial aid. Contact the program for more information about doctoral admissions.

University at Buffalo at a Glance:

Online Student Enrollment: 7,874

Online Master's Programs: 4

Online Doctoral Programs: 1

Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 14-to-1

Graduate Tuition Rate: $11,310

Average Tuition
In-state
$7,070
Out-of-state
$24,740
Retention Rate
86%
Admission Rate
61%
Students Enrolled
31,923
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
25% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

#6 Best Online Doctorate in Human and Family Development Programs

University of Pennsylvania

  • Philadelphia, PA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The clinical social work program at the University of Pennsylvania uses an online learning format. With its flexible format, the private university makes a doctorate more accessible. Doctoral students receive access to research support, library resources, and career advising.

In the online social work program, graduate learners take advanced courses in the field. After completing coursework, doctoral candidates conduct research for their dissertation or doctoral project. Graduates with a doctorate pursue roles in research, academia, and leadership.

At the accredited institution, doctoral students qualify for several forms of financial aid. Contact the program for more information about research support and financial aid.

University of Pennsylvania at a Glance:

Online Student Enrollment: 1,533

Online Master's Programs: 3

Online Doctoral Programs: 1

Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 6-to-1

Graduate Tuition Rate: $36,254

Average Tuition
In-state
$51,156
Out-of-state
$51,156
Retention Rate
98%
Admission Rate
8%
Students Enrolled
26,675
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
6% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

#7 Best Online Doctorate in Human and Family Development Programs

University of Southern California

  • Los Angeles, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The doctorate of social work program at the University of Southern California offers an online option for doctoral students. The private university offers flexible enrollment options for degree-seekers. Doctoral students receive research support and participate in scholarly events.

The doctoral program includes a rigorous curriculum in social work. After passing comprehensive examinations, doctoral candidates complete an original dissertation that contributes to the social work field. A doctorate in social work trains graduates for roles in research, academia, and leadership.

The accredited institution meets federal requirements for financial aid support. Reach out to the program to learn more about transfer credit policies, research support, and admission requirements.

University of Southern California at a Glance:

Online Student Enrollment: 8,203

Online Master's Programs: 55

Online Doctoral Programs: 4

Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 9-to-1

Graduate Tuition Rate: $46,272

Average Tuition
In-state
$57,256
Out-of-state
$57,256
Retention Rate
96%
Admission Rate
11%
Students Enrolled
48,321
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
17% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

#8 Best Online Doctorate in Human and Family Development Programs

University of St. Thomas

  • Saint Paul, MN
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The University of St. Thomas offers a doctor of social work program with an online learning format. Degree-seekers benefit from the private university's flexible format. Doctoral students strengthen their research skills and present in academic conferences.

The online social work program requires doctoral coursework. The program also requires passing scores on a comprehensive examination and the successful defense of an original dissertation project. With a doctorate in social work, professionals work in academia, research, and leadership roles.

At the accredited institution, doctoral students can use fellowships, scholarships, and other forms of financial aid to pay for their degree. Contact the program to learn more about the enrollment process and start dates.

University of St Thomas at a Glance:

Online Student Enrollment: 884

Online Master's Programs: 4

Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 14-to-1

Graduate Tuition Rate: $24,766

Average Tuition
In-state
$44,780
Out-of-state
$44,780
Retention Rate
87%
Admission Rate
81%
Students Enrolled
9,824
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
9% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

#9 Best Online Doctorate in Human and Family Development Programs

Fielding Graduate University

  • Santa Barbara, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Fielding Graduate University offers a Ph.D. in infant and early childhood development program with an online learning format. At the private university, degree-seekers engage in online classes to earn a doctorate. Doctoral students receive research support throughout the early childhood development program.

In the online early childhood development program, learners complete doctoral coursework and strengthen advanced skills. After passing comprehensive examinations, doctoral candidates begin working on an original dissertation project. An early childhood development doctorate leads to job opportunities in research, academia, and leadership.

The accredited institution meets federal requirements for financial aid support. Contact the early childhood development program for more information about financial aid and the admissions process.

Fielding Graduate University at a Glance:

Online Student Enrollment: 944

Online Master's Programs: 2

Graduate Tuition Rate: $17,292

Average Tuition
In-state
Not provided
Out-of-state
Not provided
Retention Rate
Not provided
Admission Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
981
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
96% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

#10 Best Online Doctorate in Human and Family Development Programs

Capella University

  • Minneapolis, MN
  • 4 years
  • Online

The online doctor of human services program, offered by Capella University, ranks as a top program in the field. At the private university, degree-seekers engage in online classes to earn a doctorate. Doctoral students work closely with faculty mentors and career advisors.

The online human services program requires doctoral coursework. After passing comprehensive examinations, doctoral candidates complete a dissertation that contributes original research to the field. A doctorate in human services prepares graduates for careers in academia, research, and leadership.

Doctoral students who attend the accredited institution in an online format qualify for several types of financial aid. Prospective applicants can contact the program to learn more about the enrollment process and start dates.

Capella University at a Glance:

Online Master's Programs: 76

Online Doctoral Programs: 60

Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 27-to-1

Graduate Tuition Rate: $14,767

Average Tuition
In-state
$14,148
Out-of-state
$14,148
Retention Rate
40%
Admission Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
37,859
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
Not provided
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

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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.

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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.
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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

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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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