Online Ph.D. Social Work

By Erika Lasrado

Updated February 10, 2023

Erika Lasrado

Erika has broad experience in counseling, psychology, and human resources. Although she has done a master’s in psychology, she is currently pursuing a master’s in educational psychology to change careers. Erika is a foodie and reader and loves to research and write about various topics when time permits.


Master of Psychology, Master of Educational Psychology

Areas of Expertise & Credentials

None to disclose in particular; the basics are covered in the short bio.

On this page
Back to top

Evidence-based knowledge and expertise are becoming increasingly important in research and evaluation. To dive deeper into the extensive work of social work, a master’s degree might not be adequate; a doctorate in social work will instead provide the knowledge and skill required to take on research, academic, and professional roles. The Ph.D. is the most popular type of doctoral degree and is an academic doctorate. It is commonly indicated by the letters “Ph.D.” after someone’s name, an abbreviation of “Doctor of Philosophy”. An Online PhD Social Work will provide students with a hands-on teaching-practicum experience, the creation of a specialist area, and guided research training that will help students expand their expertise. The curriculum of a social work Ph.D. will often include a mixed-methods foundation that is grounded in social work ideals. Students will be trained in teaching and research excellence through a wide range of foundational, core, specialty, and research methodology courses. The interdisciplinary experiences of a Ph.D. social work online student will give a strong educational foundation for social work leadership in academia, policy, research, and practice. This page provides ample information for aspiring online Ph.D. social work students, complete with the best colleges to pursue their degree, career options, information on how to fund their studies, certification & licensure, and more.

Best Online Ph.D. Social
Work Programs

The Ph.D. is the most essential education a student will receive, as it will determine a student’s professional path and subsequent success. As a result, Ph.D. students must pick the best Ph.D. social work programs and select an excellent college with a strong reputation, robust infrastructure, excellent research facilities, experienced and competent teachers, and more. Several FBD teams have compiled a list of the best online Ph.D. social work programs that stand out for diverse reasons based on these and other important factors.

Here are the best online social work Ph.D. programs: *

Universities and programs are ranked by various factors, such as affordability, curriculum and coursework, reputation and availability, program length, statistics, the potential of employment, and return on investment for the students. For a more in-depth analysis, please read about our rankings methodology page

Find Online Ph.D. Social
Work Near Me

Although a Ph.D. program may not necessitate extensive on-campus attendance, the college’s location is critical, particularly when it comes to tuition costs. Colleges usually charge resident students a different tuition fee than out-of-state students. However, regardless of the student’s domicile state, the cost of an online Ph.D. in social work program is usually the same. Several FBD experts have teamed up in their search for the best and most affordable social work Ph.D. programs in various locations across the US. The list they have compiled will save prospective students much time searching for a good program. The following is a list of ‘social work Ph.D. programs near me’:

What to expect from the Online Ph.D.
Social Work Program?

Areas of Specialization for Online
Ph.D. Social Work

Ph.D. specializations are few and far between because doctoral studies largely rest on one facet of a subject, through research and a thesis. But there are broad-based specializations prospective Ph.D. students can explore, which can cater to some students’ professional interests and goals.

Some examples of specializations in online Ph.D. social work programs are:

Disaster, Crisis, and InterventionThis specialization allows students to hone their critical thinking skills while also learning how to deal with societal difficulties, disasters, and emergencies. Students create action-oriented study projects to solve real-world issues in their communities.A Ph.D. in Disaster, Crisis, and Intervention prepares professional social workers to work as agency or organizational leaders, program directors, emergency management directors, and supervisors in social work organizations.
Social Work AdministrationThis specialization prepares students for managerial, leadership and administrative roles in social work. Students learn how to work at the administrative level, assisting organizations in serving clients in need, and advocating for social change.A Ph.D. in Social Work Administration prepares professional social workers to take on influential and senior leadership roles in business, non-profits, or governmental organizations.
PopulationThis specialization prepares students to identify, evaluate, and develop interventional strategies for children, immigrants and refugees, and older adult across various populations and sections of society.A Ph.D. in Population prepares professional social workers to work in human rights, advocacy, rehabilitation, and refugee settings.
Social Causes & IssuesThis specialization focuses on the many disparities in society, in relation to poverty, housing, trauma, and health. Students learn and research the many issues that bring about such disparities and how one can address them.A Ph.D. in Social Causes & Issues prepares professional social workers to work in senior roles in the rehabilitation, public health, public welfare, and non-profit sectors.
Advanced Clinical Practice and SupervisionThis specialization prepares students to supervise social workers and other practitioners and advance their current clinical practice. Students develop their leadership skills while building their knowledge and confidence in clinical instruction, advanced clinical supervision, and practice management.A Ph.D. in Advanced Clinical Practice and Supervision prepares professional social workers to advance their own practice or become a social work clinical supervisor/practitioner.
Impact Leadership in Social Work AdministrationThis specialization focuses on strategic program planning and implementation, tactical evaluation, collaborative approaches, and design thinking that enable students to develop important leadership skills while preparing to assist social work agencies in meeting the needs of vulnerable populations dealing with a variety of difficulties.A Ph.D. in Impact Leadership in Social Work Administration prepares professional social workers for high-level leadership and policy positions in social work and other related professions.
Social Work EducationThis specialization dives into the principles of instructional design and adult learning, which incorporates Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) competencies in the production of assessment, instruction, and evaluation. Students look at learning styles, sociocultural dynamics, and other aspects that influence and contribute to diversity in teaching and learning.A Ph.D. in Social Work Education prepares professional social workers to become effective social work educators in a variety of educational contexts and settings.

Why get an Online Ph.D.
Social Work?

Individuals who aspire to be in academia and research are best-suited candidates for a Ph.D. In social work, a Ph.D. can open several avenues in the field that can positively shape and impact society. The knowledge and skill gained from an online Ph.D. in social work are immense and can help tackle several of today’s real-world challenges and issues.

So, what is a Ph.D. in social work? It is one of the most advanced and popular doctoral degrees one can get that can help students earn the skills and qualifications they need to make the most of their knowledge, abilities, and talents to make a difference in everything related to social work.

Although a Ph.D. qualifies a person for academic teaching and research positions, Ph.D. holders nowadays also work in the business, nonprofit, and government sectors. This degree is best suited for jobs that demand extensive research, knowledge synthesis, and a broad perspective and understanding of a challenge. Moreover, as champions for social and economic justice and lifelong learners, graduates are prepared to think critically, employ scientific research-based solutions, make sound ethical judgments, and appreciate human diversity while striving to empower people in their communities.

The rising need for social workers in the senior and leadership levels that require a Ph.D. education is evident with each passing day. New challenges and issues crop up, requiring the best minds in the industry to address and tackle them in good time. Although jobs for online Ph.D. social work holders do not fall under a specific category, as an indicator of what to expect, the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the top 10% of social workers made more than $85,820 per year in May 2020. A Ph.D. education, without a doubt, will only increase one’s earning potential and career prospects in a wide range of settings.

Some of the skills and abilities an online Ph.D. in social work graduate would have acquired at the end of their program include the ability to:

examine how research and assessment can help improve social interventions and advance theory development in social work;

conduct original research in the field of social work, comprising the formulation of research questions, synthesis of relevant literature, and the use of appropriate methods to study answers to research questions;

demonstrate a better understanding of the historical and contemporary contexts of social work research, with a focus on the types of research questions raised and the methods employed to answer them;

promote social change through working with leaders, agencies, and universities to advocate for policies and initiatives that benefit culturally diverse clients’ economic and social well-being;

teach aspiring social workers across different age groups and learning levels;

evaluate the quality and benefits of social work research in a range of domains;

examine the significance of diversity in defining and shaping the human experience;

analyze, synthesize, and interpret research data to formulate strategies for intervention; and

use current research, best practices, and theory for ethical decision-making in social work.

Free Courses for Online Ph.D.
Social Work programs

Free online Ph.D. social work courses are an excellent way to broaden one’s knowledge and skills in social work. They could potentially help in one’s research and thesis writing, too, and offer new perspectives and ideas that may not be found in conventional textbooks.  Here are a few resources for social work Ph.D. students looking for free online courses:

Course Description Offered by
Social Work Courses and ProgramsEdX offers about 42 programs and 325 courses related to social work, in 3 basic, intermediate, and advanced levels. Topics include ‘Restorative Justice and Practice: Emergence of a Social Movement’, ‘Intimate Partner Violence (IPV): Inter-professional Strategies for Prevention and Response’, ‘Global Social Change’, ‘International Women’s Health and Human Rights’, and more.EdX
Topics on Social WorkOpenLearn, from The Open University, has many courses related to social work. Courses come in 3 different learning levels and include topics such as ‘Caring for Adults’, ‘Race and Youth Policy: Working with Young People’, ‘Introducing Social Work: A Starter Kit’, ‘Lead & Manage Change in Health and Social Care’, and more.OpenLearn
Topics on Social WorkCoursera, a popular choice among graduate students, offers over 1,200 free guided projects, courses, specializations, and professional certificates in social work and related topics. Most of the content is created by reputable universities and include topics such as ‘The Social Context of Mental Health and Illness’, ‘Social Work Practice: Advocating Social Justice and Change’, ‘Social Services for Families, Seniors and Those with Disabilities’, and more.Coursera

How to get into the Online Ph.D.
Social Work program?

How long does it take to complete the Online Ph.D.
Social Work?

Accreditation for Online Ph.D.
Social Work

No GRE Programs Online Ph.D.
Social Work

Doctorate in Social
Work Vs Ph.D.

How to Pay for an Online Ph.D.
Social Work?

Fully Funded Programs for Online
Ph.D. Social Work

FAQs related to Online Ph.D.
Social Work

How to get a Doctorate in Social Work?

What are the best universities providing Doctorate in Social Work?

What can you do with a Doctorate in Social Work?

What is the average fee charged by the colleges?

Do I have to do Ph.D. after MSW?

Can you get a Ph.D. in social work online?

How long is a Ph.D. in social work?

Career Opportunities and Salaries After
Online Ph.D. Social Work

“Should I get a Ph.D. in social work?” Yes – if senior and leadership roles in academia and the social services sector are of importance. Students who finish their Ph.D. in social work will have a variety of professional options open to them. Postsecondary education is one of the most prevalent uses of a Ph.D. in social work, wherein candidates get to teach future social workers and shape and mold how the field will look and how common concerns will be addressed.  Alternatively, one might also work for a research organization, directing studies on issues such as eliminating mental illness stigma, advocating best practices in group therapy, PTSD preventive methods, etc. In addition, Ph.D. holders could also be asked to deliver findings, talk on critical challenges, and advise on forming public policy on various fronts.

“What can I do with a doctorate in social work”? Ph.D. holders can take up senior roles and responsibilities, including but not limited to:

  • Researcher
  • Director of Social Services
  • Nonprofit Executive
  • Clinical Director
  • Senior Social Worker
  • Clinical Social Worker
  • Executive Director
  • Clinical Services Director
  • Human Services Director

Because there are so many kinds of employment in the field of social work, determining the average wage of people who pursue a Ph.D. can be difficult. However, as an indicator of what to expect, the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the top 10% of social workers made more than $85,820 per year in May 2020. Naturally, a high qualification such as a Ph.D. will substantially improve and increase one’s earning potential than what is reported.

The list below highlights some of the careers that Ph.D. social work graduates can pursue, along with their annual median salaries and growth potential as reported by O*Net Online and the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

OccupationJob DescriptionMedian Annual SalaryJob Growth (up to 2030)
Social Work Teachers, PostsecondarySocial Work Teachers, in postsecondary settings, prepare course materials, such as syllabi, Compile, administer, and grade examinations, and prepare and deliver lectures to undergraduate or graduate students on topics such as family behavior, child and adolescent mental health, or social intervention evaluation.$71,5705% to 10% (about average)
Medical and Health Services ManagerMedical and Health Services Managers plan, direct, or coordinate medical and health services in hospitals, clinics, managed care organizations, public health agencies, or similar organizations.$104,28015% or higher (much faster than average)
Government Agencies (Management Occupations)Management occupations within Government Agencies include mangers, administrators, directors, leaders, executive officers, etc.$107,470Varies by Specific Occupation or Role
Social Advocacy Organizations (Management Occupations)Management occupations within Social Advocacy Organizations include mangers, administrators, directors, leaders, executive officers, etc.$111,310Varies by Specific Occupation or Role
Social Workers (Others)Social Workers (who do not fall in any other specific categories) work with individuals, groups, families, communities, and organizations on a variety of issues related to mental health, social advocacy, community services, child abuse, alcohol and substance abuse, etc., at various levels.$64,2105% to 10% (about average)

Certification and Licensing for Online
Ph.D. Social Work

Additional Resources for Online
Ph.D. Social Work

Author Bio:

Erika Lasrado

Erika has broad experience in counseling, psychology, and human resources. Although she has done a master’s in psychology, she is currently pursuing a master’s in educational psychology to change careers. Erika is a foodie and reader and loves to research and write about various topics when time permits.


Master of Psychology, Master of Educational Psychology

Areas of Expertise & Credentials

None to disclose in particular; the basics are covered in the short bio.


The average tuition (based on degree type for in-state students), average graduation rates, and rankings are based on data from various sources, including the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), and are variable over time. All rankings and statistics are subject to change. The rankings are solely the opinion of Find Best Degrees (FBD) and are based on our proprietary methodology. They do not represent the views of the institutions or organizations mentioned, nor do they represent any official government census or survey. Furthermore, any views or opinions expressed on this page are of FBD’s researchers and teams. Unless otherwise specified, they do not represent the thoughts and opinions of the individuals, institutions, or organizations mentioned. This page’s content is provided solely for informational purposes, with data drawn from various sources, including IPEDS. FBD and its employees make no guarantees regarding the accuracy or completeness of any information found on this page or by following any link. FBD will not be held liable for any errors or omissions in this material nor any losses, injuries, or damages resulting from the exposure or use of this information. Although the information on this page is/was correct at the time of publication, readers should exercise caution because some or all of the provided information may have changed over time, potentially resulting in inaccuracies. For more information, please read our Terms of Service. Trademarks and logos are the property of their registered owners. | Page last updated: Dec 2023.