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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.

2021 Accredited Online Doctorate in Social Work Programs

School Location Graduation Rate Description Toggle

Baylor University

Waco, TX Graduation Rate: 79%

Based in Waco, Texas, Baylor offers a primarily online doctor of philosophy in social work. The program focuses on the intersection of faith and the field of social work. Students must attend a 4-5-day session on the Baylor campus at the start of their program.

The 10-semester program takes on new cohorts in odd-numbered years. Students take courses like theory and model development for social work, statistical analysis for social work, and higher education teaching and learning in social work. The program requires a comprehensive exam and a dissertation. Most online coursework uses a synchronous delivery format.

Potential students need a master of social work or a master's in a related field, and they must take a required statistics exam to qualify for admission. Baylor is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University at Buffalo

Buffalo, NY Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 76%

Located in Buffalo, New York, UB offers an online doctor of social work in social welfare. Students can complete the 39-credit program on a part-time basis fully online. The program takes seven semesters and new learners can enroll in the fall.

Students complete courses such as methods in implementation science, organizational characteristics and implementing evidence-based practice, and evaluating and utilizing evidence-based practices in social work. Students also take seminars in research methods to strengthen those skills.

The program allows students to transfer in up to six credits toward their degree. Applicants need a master's degree in social work to qualify for admission. However, students do not need to submit standardized test scores.

UB is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA Graduation Rate: 95%

An Ivy League school located in Philadelphia, Penn offers an online doctor of social work in clinical social work. Students complete online coursework and a dissertation, finishing the program in three years.

Course topics include applied social statistics, trauma-informed theory and interventions, and research methods in qualitative inquiry. Elective options investigate topics like ethics in mental healthcare and mindfulness and psychology. During the third year of the program, students focus on finalizing and defending their dissertation research.

Applicants need a master of social work and at least three years of post-master's work experience to qualify for admission. Students do not need to submit GMAT or GRE scores. Penn is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

University of Southern California

Los Angeles, CA Graduation Rate: 92%

Based in Los Angeles, USC offers an online doctorate in social work. Students complete 42 credits and can choose from an accelerated or standard track.

Course topics include strategic innovations for the grand challenges, leading and managing large complex systems, communication and influence for social good, and financial management for social change. During a capstone course, students address a particular challenge related to social work and complete a prototype project for actionable change.

Applicants need a master's in social work from an accredited program and at least five years of post-master's work experience to qualify for admission. Students do not need to submit GRE or GMAT scores.

USC is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.

University of St Thomas

Saint Paul, MN Graduation Rate: 77%

Based in St. Paul, Minnesota, UST offers a mostly online doctorate in social work. Students complete 45 credits, taking both asynchronous and synchronous classes. Participants are also required to attend an on-campus residency each summer; these residency experiences last two weeks.

Courses cover topics like social work theoretical perspectives, pedagogies in social work education, and writing for publications. The program requires a dissertation that addresses a challenge within the field and provides students with the chance to conduct research. Participants take one course at a time during each eight-week term.

Applicants need a master of social work with a minimum GPA of 3.0 and two years of post-master's work experience to qualify for admission. UST is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

The University of Tennessee - Knoxville

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

UT Knoxville offers an online doctorate in social work through an accelerated format. Students can complete their degree in three years with no career interruptions.

The program includes a one-week residency every summer. Students take courses such as neuroscience for clinical practice, psychopathology and psychopharmacology, clinical research and applied statistics, and cognitive behavioral therapy. A capstone experience provides students with an opportunity to conduct research and ends with a publishable paper.

Applicants need a master's in social work with a minimum GPA of 3.0 and at least three years of post-master's work experience. UT-Knoxville is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

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

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.

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 Online Doctorate 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.