Online Doctorate Social Work Programs
If you want help make a positive impact on the lives of others, then consider pursuing a doctoral degree in social work online.
A social work degree can lead to specialized and high-level careers in social work, nonprofit management, community leadership, research, and academia.
Professionals with a Ph.D. or doctor of social work (DSW), state licensure, and many years of experience have a wide variety of career options available to them. They qualify for management positions within a company or organization, top research opportunities, and teaching jobs at postsecondary schools. Additionally, a strong demand for health and social services employees is driving employment in this sector; the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that job growth for social workers will grow 16% by the year 2026—much faster than the economy as a whole.
Featured Online PhD's Social Work Programs
The Best Online Doctorate in Social Work Programs
The school and/or program descriptions below were drafted using natural language generation technology and have been edited for clarity and accuracy. The data is primarily sourced from government databases such as IPEDS – see sources section for more details.
These rankings include
#1 The Best Online Doctorate in Social Work Programs
- 4 years
The doctor of social work program at Capella University appeals to doctoral students seeking an online route to their degree. At the private institution, degree-seekers take doctoral classes in a flexible format. Enrollees participate in career advising and gain research skills.
After passing comprehensive examinations, degree-seekers spend 1-2 years researching and writing their dissertation. With a doctorate in social work, professionals can work in academia, research, and leadership roles.
Online doctoral students can pay for their degree with scholarships, fellowships, and other forms of financial aid. Contact the social work program for more information about doctoral admissions.
Capella University at a Glance:
Online Master's Programs: 78
Online Doctoral Programs: 60
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 32-to-1
Graduate Tuition Rate: $14,767
#2 The Best Online Doctorate in Social Work Programs
- 4 years
- Online + Campus
Simmons University offers an online doctorate in social work. With flexible enrollment options, the private school helps degree-seekers earn a doctorate according to their schedule. Doctoral students also benefit from research support, career advising, and library access.
In the social work program, learners take 48 credits of doctoral-level coursework. After passing comprehensive examinations, learners propose a dissertation topic and conduct research in their specialty area. With a doctorate in social work, graduates can pursue academic, research, and industry roles.
Online doctoral students at the accredited institution qualify for several forms of financial aid. Contact the program to learn more about the application process and start dates.
Simmons University at a Glance:
Online Student Enrollment: 6,263
Online Master's Programs: 11
Online Doctoral Programs: 2
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 9-to-1
Graduate Tuition Rate: $21,528
Accepts Transfer Credits: Not Accepted
#3 The Best Online Doctorate in Social Work Programs
- 4 years
- Online + Campus
The doctor of social work program at Spalding University appeals to doctoral students seeking an online route to their degree. With its flexible format, the private university helps degree-seekers complete a doctorate at their pace. Doctoral students meet with career advisors and faculty mentors throughout their program.
The doctoral program incorporates advanced social work coursework. After passing comprehensive examinations, doctoral candidates complete an original dissertation that contributes to the field. As the terminal degree in social work, the doctoral program trains graduates for roles in academia, research, and industry.
Online doctoral students at the accredited institution can pay for their degree with scholarships, fellowships, and loans. Contact the program to learn more about financial aid opportunities, admission requirements, and start dates.
Spalding University at a Glance:
Online Student Enrollment: 1,247
Online Master's Programs: 4
Online Doctoral Programs: 3
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 11-to-1
Graduate Tuition Rate: $12,186
#4 The Best Online Doctorate in Social Work Programs
University of Pennsylvania
- 4 years
- Online + Campus
The doctorate in clinical social work program at the University of Pennsylvania appeals to doctoral students seeking an online route to their degree. At the private institution, degree-seekers complete a doctorate in a flexible environment. Doctoral students work closely with faculty mentors and career advisors.
In the social work program, learners complete doctoral coursework and strengthen advanced skills. After passing comprehensive examinations, doctoral candidates propose a dissertation topic and conduct research in their specialty area. Graduates with a doctorate in social work can pursue roles in academia, research, and industry.
Doctoral students attending the accredited institution online often qualify for several forms of financial aid. Prospective applicants can contact the program to learn more about financial aid opportunities and the admissions process.
University of Pennsylvania at a Glance:
Online Student Enrollment: 22,488
Online Master's Programs: 4
Online Doctoral Programs: 1
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 6-to-1
Graduate Tuition Rate: $37,678
#5 The Best Online Doctorate in Social Work Programs
- 4 years
The online doctor of social work program at Walden University provides a flexible learning format. Doctoral students at the private institution can participate in career counseling and benefit from research support.
After passing comprehensive examinations, doctoral candidates complete an original dissertation that contributes to the field. As the terminal degree in social work, the program prepares graduates for academic, research, and industry positions.
Online doctoral students at the accredited institution can pay for their degree with scholarships, fellowships, and loans. Contact the social work program for more information about financial aid and the admissions process.
Walden University at a Glance:
Online Master's Programs: 38
Online Doctoral Programs: 19
Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 19-to-1
Graduate Tuition Rate: $10,272
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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.
What Can I Expect from an Online Doctorate in Social Work Program?
When researching online social work degrees, you may find that they are as unique as the schools that offer them. However, most curricula feature courses and topics common across all DSW and online Ph.D. in social work programs. Generally, Ph.D. students explore advanced theoretical concepts, while those earning a DSW online pursue more practical objectives through applied learning coursework.
Curriculum for an Online Doctorate in Social Work
- Advanced Research Methods and Statistics: Usually a requirement for earning a Ph.D. in social work online, this course emphasizes research over hands-on practice in the field. Coursework promotes advanced skills in data collection and analysis, research design, and problem formulation. Coursework stresses analytical thinking abilities, preparing students for their dissertation to conclude the degree.
- Social Science Theories: This course explores both traditional and contemporary theories of social science, primarily through professional publications on the practice of social work, field journals, and public policy literature. Students expand existing theories to influence policy reform and social justice in the public service field.
- Grant Writing: Successful grant writing is essential for productive social workers. Students in this course locate, draft, budget, track, and manage grant funding opportunities. This is especially valuable to aspiring nonprofit directors, community organizers, and top executives in any field.
- Teaching in Higher Education: This course combines universal skills in pedagogy, curriculum development, and instructional design with teaching methods specific to social work. Students learn to lead a college-level course in social work, and topics emphasize an industry-relevant curriculum aligned with evidence-based social work principles.
- Social Welfare Policy Analysis: A research-intensive course, social welfare policy analysis examines the current state of social welfare policy in the United States. Students conclude this course with an empirical policy study in which they pose questions and formulate hypotheses in a focus area of their choice.
How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Doctorate in Social Work?
Most students complete a doctorate in social work in two to three years. However, several factors can affect completion times, including whether a student attends full-time or part-time, how often classes are available, and how a program is structured.
Programs also differ by format. Students seeking maximum flexibility may prefer a self-paced program they can complete in their own time. Others may benefit from a cohort arrangement, which assembles students into groups to facilitate a collaborative learning environment.
Students enrolled in social work Ph.D. programs online typically complete 48-72 credit hours, culminating in a graduate thesis or dissertation. Like other doctoral programs, students may be eligible for independent study opportunities or can work with an advisor to customize their social work curriculum.
Paying for Your Online Doctorate in Social Work
Students should begin the financial aid process by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is used by most schools and private lenders to determine eligibility for scholarships, grants, and loans. While many doctoral programs, including the online Ph.D. in social work, offer financial aid to graduate students, the FAFSA is still required to assess all funding options.
Among the nation's fastest-growing employment sectors, social workers need an advanced education to gain a competitive edge and qualify for top jobs in the marketplace. The demand for social workers increasingly requires scholarships, loans, grants, and work-study awards to fund a student's degree. The field often directs funding opportunities to students in various specialty areas of social work — such as school or healthcare — or targets underserved demographics.
Accreditation for Online Social Work
Prospective students wanting to enroll in a social work Ph.D. program online should first ensure their selected schools are accredited. As with any college degree, the school should hold accreditation from a regional agency, such as the Higher Learning Commission, Middle States Commission on Higher Education, or the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. Though accreditation is awarded through a regional or national agency, regionally accredited institutions usually undergo a more rigorous process to obtain accreditation and, therefore, are more common among colleges.
Transfer students should pay attention to the credit-transfer policy of their college of choice. It is not uncommon for nationally accredited institutions to accept credit from regionally or nationally accredited institutions, and for regionally accredited schools to only accept credits from other institutions that have regional accreditation.
The accreditation process in the United States is overseen by regional or national agencies that are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), both of which oversee all postsecondary accreditation in the country. Some bachelor's and master's degrees in social work may also receive special program-specific accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education. Be sure to look for your school on the ED or CHEA website.
Employment Outlook for Social Work Graduates
Graduates of social work Ph.D. programs online are eligible for the field's most advanced employment opportunities. While many entry-level jobs in social work require only a bachelor's degree, Ph.D. or DSW graduates with licensure and experience qualify for executive positions that span social work, education, and management fields. Depending on whether a candidate holds a Ph.D. or DSW, they may also pursue a career in research or practice social work in various professional settings. Below are some of the most common careers for social workers:
|Median Salary (2019): $46,890||Projected Job Growth (2019-2029): 16%|
Social workers advocate for and treat clients who need help with a range of employment-related, financial, and/or behavioral issues affecting the client's quality of life. These professionals may focus on child and family, school, healthcare, or mental health and substance abuse social work. Graduates of a social work doctoral program qualify for licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) status and are eligible for their choice of specialties in the field.
Community Service Manager
|Median Salary (2019): $64,680||Projected Job Growth (2019-2029): 18%|
Social and community service managers oversee programs and workers that deliver social services to local communities. These professionals coordinate outreach and promotional efforts, recruit and hire staff, develop and implement new programs, and propose funding for community projects. Jobs in this area of management typically require an advanced degree in social work or a related field, and many years of work experience.
|Median Salary (2019): $103,950||Projected Job Growth (2019-2029): 8%|
Top executives manage all aspects of day-to-day operations for an organization or business. They may supervise -- or delegate to department heads -- various administrative, financial, legal, and HR tasks for the organization. Graduates of an online Ph.D. in social work may be especially well-suited to CEO or COO positions for nonprofit organizations or human advocacy groups.
|Median Salary (2019): $75,430||Projected Job Growth (2019-2029): 15%|
Postsecondary teachers are not only qualified professors at universities, community colleges, and technical schools: they also conduct scholarly research and/or publish their findings in professional journals. Generally, postsecondary teachers need a Ph.D. in social work to teach in a four-year university.
School Social Worker
|Median Salary (2019): $43,250||Projected Job Growth (2019-2029): 14%|
School social workers develop methods of improving a student's academic performance and help them maintain healthy social relationships within a school environment. School social workers usually have a graduate degree and at least two years of experience to qualify for LCSW certification in this specialty.
Doctorate in Social Work Salary
Graduates from Ph.D. in social work online programs can earn a range of salaries depending on their area of focus. While both Ph.D. and DSW holders are highly qualified in the basic principles of social work and its services, there are a wealth of job options across a variety of fields that offer ways for graduates to apply their skills. Licensed clinical social workers with a doctoral degree possess an edge on their competitors for social work jobs, while graduates with a doctor of social work may be uniquely prepared to apply their social work skills to a teaching or managerial position. As shown in the table below, most jobs in social work offer attractive compensation to students with advanced qualifications, especially nonprofit managers and college professors.
|Job Title||Overall Median Salary||Entry-Level Employees||Mid-Career Employees||Late-Career Employees|
|Licensed Clinical Social Worker||$55,473||$50,000||$56,000||$64,000|
|Social or Community Service Manager||$48,595||$41,000||$51,000||$60,000|
|CEO, Non-Profit Organization||$104,495||$77,000||$97,000||$130,000|
|Professor of Social Work||$87,546||$60,000||$71,000||$99,000|
|School Social Worker||$48,349||$45,000||$49,000||$63,000|
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