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Social work provides many opportunities for professionals with various skills and experience levels. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 13% job growth for social workers between 2019 and 2029. During the same period, the BLS also projects 17% job growth for social and community service managers.

While aspiring social workers can pursue several different pathways, an online doctorate in social work can lead to some of the most advanced and in-demand jobs available.

Read on for more in-depth program and career information. Readers can also check out our doctorate in social work program guide.

Accredited Online Doctorate in Social Work Programs

School Location Cost Graduation Rate Description Toggle

Baylor University

Waco, TX Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 70%

Baylor University is a private, Christian research university located in Waco, Texas. Approximately 18,000 students enroll each year, 4,000 of whom pursue graduate and professional studies. The Diana R. Garland School of Social Work offers three degrees, including an online Ph.D. program.

Designed to develop visionary leaders and educators, BU's Ph.D. in social work integrates religion and faith with the ethics, values, and practices of the social work field. Cohorts of 5-7 students attend classes using synchronous videoconferencing technology. A successful teaching practicum and dissertation are required to graduate.

Admission requires a personal statement, scholarly writing sample, resume, letters of recommendation, and GRE scores. Students complete a mandatory five-day campus visit at the start of their first summer semester.

University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 95%

Approximately 27,000 individuals attend the University of Pennsylvania each year, including 11,400 full-time graduate and professional students. Penn's school of social work promotes social justice and change through research and practice and offers a doctorate in social work.

Through a combination of campus immersion experiences and synchronous online courses, students can progress through the program in three years without career disruption. Interdisciplinary courses in clinical theory, research methods, and teaching prepare graduates for careers in education and leadership. Successful defense of a dissertation is required.

Applicants must hold a master's in social work and have two years of post-master's experience. Admission requires three letters of reference, a written work sample, and application essay.

University of Southern California

Los Angeles, CA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 92%

The University of Southern California attracts more than 40,000 students to its Los Angeles campus each year. The top-ranked, private research institution also offers more than 100 online graduate and professional programs in over a dozen disciplines, including certificates, master's, and doctoral degrees.

Students pursuing USC's online doctorate in social work gain skills attributed to both practitioners and scholars. Required courses focus on social innovation, public discourse, and executive leadership. The 42-credit curriculum offers completion times as brief as 24 months, with two required six-day residencies in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., respectively.

USC prefers applicants to have at least five years of post-master's work experience. Prospective students must submit a resume, two statements of purpose, official transcripts, and three letters of recommendation.

University of St. Thomas

Saint Paul, MN Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 77%

The University of St. Thomas is the largest private university in Minnesota, offering more than 200 programs and enrolling more than 10,000 students each year. Founded in the Catholic intellectual tradition, St. Thomas strives to develop leaders who make a positive impact on the world.

The online doctorate in social work at St. Thomas specifically prepares graduates for university-level teaching and leadership. Progressing through the three-year program as a cohort, students take synchronous and asynchronous courses in scholarship, education, and writing for publication. A three-part dissertation and on-campus residencies are required.

Prospective students must have at least two years of post-master's social work experience and a minimum 3.0 GPA on previous graduate study. Previous higher education teaching experience is strongly preferred.

University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Knoxville, TN Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 73%

The University of Tennessee-Knoxville is the state's flagship university and a major public research institution. Nearly 30,000 students attend UT Knoxville, including 6,200 engaged in graduate and professional studies. The school of social work offers a bachelor's, master's, Ph.D., and online doctorate degree in social work.

Using synchronous and asynchronous delivery, this accelerated program allows full-time working professionals to graduate in three years. UT Knoxville's doctoral curriculum uniquely prepares students for advanced clinical practice and leadership. A final capstone requires preparation and oral defense of a paper reporting clinical research study results.

Admission requires a minimum 3.0 graduate GPA, submission of GRE scores, and two years of post-master's clinical practice experience. A three-day, on-campus orientation is required, and students must attend a one-week session on campus each summer.

What Can I Expect From an Online Doctorate in Social Work Program?

Learners can choose from three major types of doctoral degrees in social work: a doctor of social work (DSW), a Ph.D., or a Psy.D.

A career in social work requires strong emotional, communication, and problem-solving skills. Completing an phd in social work online requires a great deal of commitment and determination. Typically, doctoral graduates in social work seek advanced clinical or academic careers, and degree and program choices can have a major impact on these outcomes.

Learners can choose from three major types of doctoral degrees in social work: a doctor of social work (DSW), a Ph.D., or a Psy.D. These degrees differ in format and career outcomes. Typically, the professional-oriented DSW degree features a heavier clinical focus in social work, the Psy.D. emphasizes clinical work in psychology, and the Ph.D. focuses on research.

The various degree types can influence study times and formats, as well. Ph.D. programs, for example, often take 5-7 years, while Psy.D. programs last 4-6 years and DSW programs take 3-4 years. The reliance on practical training in DSW and Psy.D. programs also means that lab work and practica are often required.

Concentrations are another consideration for doctoral students. These specializations can help learners expand their career options. Concentration options may include behavioral health, leadership, teaching, and counseling. While Ph.D. programs may offer concentrations, these personalized, self-driven degrees usually follow whatever topic each student chooses to research.

Admission Requirements for Online Doctorate in Social Work Programs

Admission requirements for an online social work phd also vary by degree type. Most programs require a master's degree, a 3.0 GPA, a statement of purpose, and standardized test scores. DSW and Psy.D. programs often require significant clinical experience or licensure, while Ph.D. programs may require research experience. Some doctoral programs accept students with only a bachelor's in social work, as long as they agree to complete additional courses and prerequisites.

For more information, check out our graduate admissions guide.

Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Programs.

What Courses Will I Take in an Online Doctorate in Social Work Program?

While the courses offered in an online doctorate in social work depend on the program and school, students may encounter some similar classes in programs across the country. Below are five sample doctoral courses in social work.

Social Welfare Policy

In this course, learners study the evolution of social welfare policies and evaluate contemporary programs. Students look at how these policies support individuals and families, as well as how they are designed and put into practice. Students also learn about underserved areas.

Social Work Ethics

This course teaches students how to identify and resolve ethical issues in social work. They look at the most common problems and discuss perspectives and potential solutions. Students build a framework of ethics and understand how, when, and why to apply this professional code in the field.

Family Counseling

In this course, degree-seekers evaluate the leading theories in the field, study various therapy models, and learn how to apply counseling and intervention methods. Students explore the functions and dysfunctions of families and how treatment can help clients overcome and manage issues in the home.

Applied Social Statistics

This course explores the major applications of statistics in social sciences. Students learn about data collection methods, uses, and interpretation techniques. They examine the relationship between variables and data sets and determine how and when data should be used. Students also discuss how to evaluate the credibility of information.

Teaching Social Work

In this course, doctoral students learn how to help younger and less experienced social work students hone their skills and become effective social workers. Covered topics include student assessment, research methods, and curriculum design.

What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate in Social Work Degree?

After completing an online doctorate in social work, graduates can explore various careers and industries. The BLS projects 17% job growth for social and community service managers between 2019 and 2029, largely the result of an aging population that needs enhanced care and an increase in mental health services.

Find out where a phd in social work online can take you. Learn more about social work careers here.

Social Service Managers

Social service managers oversee community organizations and programs. They develop social programs, coordinate funding, and identify areas of need and opportunity. According to the BLS, 29% of these managers work in individual and family services, 12% work in religious organizations, and 11% work in residential care facilities.

Clinical Social Workers

Clinical social workers are licensed to help clients manage and overcome various disorders and issues. They provide therapy services, help clients find appropriate assistance and resources, and create treatment plans with other healthcare professionals. According to the BLS, 18% of social workers work in individual and family services, 14% work in local government, and 14% work in ambulatory care services.

Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers in this field educate the next generation of social workers and community service professionals. They develop curricula and lesson plans for their courses and conduct their own research.

Rehabilitation Counselors

Rehabilitation counselors assist people with various disorders, helping them develop self-care and independent living plans. They also establish programs and coordinate resources to help these individuals better manage their condition. According to the BLS, 30% of these counselors work in rehabilitation services, 17% work in individual and family services, and 14% work in the state government.

Marriage and Family Counselors

Marriage and family counselors provide assistance, treatment, and counseling services to married couples and families. They help individuals and groups analyze themselves and their situations, teaching them coping and management skills and connecting them with additional resources and service providers if needed. According to the BLS, 31% of these counselors work in individual and family services, 21% work in health practitioner offices, and 12% work in outpatient care centers.

Social Work Not for You? Check Out These Related Careers.

Frequently Asked Questions About Doctorate in Social Work Programs

Is a doctorate in social work worth it?

If you want to pursue high-level positions in social work, yes. A doctorate in social work provides pathways into many of the most desirable careers in the field, including teaching, advanced practice, and leadership. The BLS projects 12% job growth for community and social services careers between 2019 and 2029.

What can I do with a doctorate in social work?

With a doctorate in social work, graduates can pursue a variety of counseling careers, postsecondary teaching positions, and clinical jobs. Many DSW and Psy.D. graduates pursue careers as social service managers, while many Ph.D. graduates become postsecondary teachers.

What's the difference between a DSW and a Ph.D. in social work?

Typically, Ph.D. programs focus more on research, while DSW programs focus more on practice. DSW programs usually take 3-4 years to complete, while students usually need 5-7 years to earn a Ph.D. in social work.

How much money can I make with a doctorate in social work?

According to the BLS, the top 10% of social workers earn over $82,540. The top 10% of community service managers make over $112,480.

What are the highest paying jobs with a doctorate in social work?

According to the BLS, postsecondary teachers earn a median annual salary of $79,540. The top 10% of these professionals earn more than $174,960.