The Best Online Doctorate in Social Work Programs

TBS Staff Writers
by
Updated October 20, 2023
Find the best online PhD in social work programs with our list of top-rated schools that offer accredited online degrees.

Are you ready to discover your college program?

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 7% by the year 2032—faster than the economy as a whole.

Featured Online PhD’s Social Work Programs

Loading...
Loading...Learn More
Visit Site
Loading...
Loading...Learn More
Visit Site
Loading...
Loading...Learn More
Visit Site

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.

#1 The Best Online Doctorate in Social Work Programs

Capella University

  • Location-markerMinneapolis, MN
  • 4 year
  • Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$14,148
  • Out-of-state$14,148
  • Retention Rate45%
  • Acceptance Rate0%
  • Students Enrolled38,930
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment0%
  • AccreditationYes
#2 The Best Online Doctorate in Social Work Programs

Simmons University

  • Location-markerBoston, MA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$40,850
  • Out-of-state$40,850
  • Retention Rate84%
  • Acceptance Rate83%
  • Students Enrolled6,263
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment100%
  • AccreditationYes
#3 The Best Online Doctorate in Social Work Programs

Spalding University

  • Location-markerLouisville, KY
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$25,800
  • Out-of-state$25,800
  • Retention Rate66%
  • Acceptance Rate93%
  • Students Enrolled1,596
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment78%
  • AccreditationYes
#4 The Best Online Doctorate in Social Work Programs

University of Pennsylvania

  • Location-markerPhiladelphia, PA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$53,166
  • Out-of-state$53,166
  • Retention Rate95%
  • Acceptance Rate9%
  • Students Enrolled26,552
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment85%
  • AccreditationYes
#5 The Best Online Doctorate in Social Work Programs

Walden University

  • Location-markerMinneapolis, MN
  • 4 year
  • Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$10,139
  • Out-of-state$10,139
  • Retention Rate33%
  • Acceptance Rate0%
  • Students Enrolled49,695
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment0%
  • AccreditationYes
Rankings Methodology

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:

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.

Median Annual Salaries
Job TitleOverall Median SalaryEntry-Level EmployeesMid-Career EmployeesLate-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
Source:BLS

Featured Doctorate in Social Work Programs Online

Loading...
Loading...Learn More
Visit Site
Loading...
Loading...Learn More
Visit Site
Loading...
Loading...Learn More
Visit Site