We live in a complex world that’s created challenges in our society ranging from health issues, aging, drug and substance abuse, sexual identity, diversity, and many more. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of social work will grow at a much faster than average rate of 12% between 2020-2030. Universities have developed online and hybrid doctoral programs for working social workers to meet the demand. These social work online programs are offered in synchronous and asynchronous formats and may require on-campus residencies, typically conducted in the summer or on weekends.
How We Ranked the Best Online PhD in Social Work Programs
The College Consensus Best Online DSW/PhD Programs ranking specifically looks at schools that are accredited regionally and reputable. DSW programs are ranked by five factors that we evenly weighted:
- US News Ranking
- Niche Score
- Grad Reports Score
With these elements in mind, our team looks at college programs according to their record of providing a return on investment. Our ranking of the Best Online DSW/PhD Programs shows the best combination of market reputation, educational quality, and rewarding income. We hope there is a program on this list that inspires you to take the next step in your school search.
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Since 1880, USC has prepared students for social service. The Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work continues that heritage with its online Doctorate of Clinical Social Work (DSW) which will train you as a social work leader, practitioner, and scholar. This is one of the best online doctoral degree options available.
You’ll enter the school’s Standard or Accelerated tracks designed to address the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare’s “Grand Challenges for Social Work.” Coursework will cover strategic innovations, leadership, management, communication, financial management, etc. You’ll conduct research and complete a Capstone Project providing unique and actionable solutions to one of the Grand Challenges.
You can complete this 42-credit hour DSW in 28-36 months, depending on your academic path.
Now known as UPenn’s School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2), you can earn a hybrid doctorate in social work from one of the country’s famed Ivy League schools by its world-class faculty. The hybrid format allows you to continue your practice as you earn an advanced degree.
You’ll begin this degree with a five-day immersion on the Philadelphia campus at the beginning of your first semester. Courses combine online synchronous, interactive video instruction with occasional on-campus immersion. Classes are two hours in length and meet two evenings each week. This curriculum is designed to explore theory and research and prepare you to teach and can be completed in two years, but typically, it takes three. A dissertation is a key element of this program during your final year, but you’ll begin to develop your dissertation topic by working with a dissertation mentor.
If your goal is to become an educator or advance your social work career, you’ll want to explore this doctoral degree program.
The state university of New Jersey, Rutgers University, is well known for its quality educational programs, and the DSW in Social Work is no exception.
This program is focused on three areas in foundational theory, clinical practice, and engaged scholarship. Designed for working practitioners, this three-year program requires nine-weekend residencies on the New Brunswick, NJ campus. Residences comprise writing workshops, lectures, meetings with faculty, seminars, case presentations, and research groups.
This program’s curriculum subject matters examine ethics, case studies, advanced clinical practices, teaching, theory, and administrative topics. These classes are designed to help you become a better teacher, practitioner, and scholar. You’ll identify case studies in your first and second years, which will enhance your writing and critical thinking skills in qualitative research. In your final year, you’ll develop a multimedia project to present your doctoral work in lieu of a thesis. This project creates a professional portfolio.
When it opened in 1957, Yeshiva University stood as the only graduate social work program under Jewish auspices. Today, through the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University’s DSW and Ph.D. programs are available online, live virtual, or on the NYC campus.
You can complete this program in three years, taking live online and hybrid classes without visiting the university’s NY campus. Admission for the Ph.D. program requires an MSW or a related area and two years of post-graduate experience. This is a good option if you’re interested in teaching, conducting research, program analysis, etc. You’ll complete an independent research project, leading to a dissertation.
The DSW requires the same admission requirements but with licensure. This choice will help you with advanced clinical practice qualifications, teaching social work practice, and clinical practice evaluation. A requirement of this doctoral degree includes the publication of two articles, an oral defense, and a presentation at a professional conference.
Arizona State University has long been recognized for its quality online degree programs and academic innovation, and its online Doctorate in Behavioral Health (DBH) degree is no exception.
While not a social work doctoral degree per se, this program will prepare you for various healthcare positions ranging from administration, healthcare manager, healthcare executive, project manager, etc. You’ll set your own schedule with the asynchronous and synchronous program format. These formats allow you to communicate with other students and faculty, and you’ll have access to live webinars. An internship is required in a healthcare setting, and the program culminates with a Capstone Project.
A clinical concentration is offered that examines both healthcare management and interventions. The degree prepares you for careers in the primary care environment and is built around three pillars: integrated behavioral interventions, medical literacy, and entrepreneurship.
Ready to start your journey?
Do you want to be a leader in social work or teach at the university level? This DSW from Saint Thomas University may be perfect for you. Qualified social work professors are needed as undergraduate, and graduate schools face increased demand for qualified university teachers.
The School of Social Work in the Morrison Family College of Health offers this degree online, including a 2-week on-campus residency each year at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN, in the summer. Courses are taken one at a time in eight-week sessions in the Fall and Spring Semesters. The degree can be completed in three years. The curriculum includes studies in social work theory, the history of social work, social work education, curriculum development, and preparation and completion of a banded dissertation.
This DSW doctoral degree uses a cohort model which start each July. The next application opportunity is in 2023.
Tulane University is one of our Best Online DSW Programs for 2022 for its national reputation and the quality of its degrees. Tulane’s School of Social Work has been a leader in the field of social work for over 100 years.
This online DSW doctoral degree can be completed in seven semesters and offers flexible scheduling for working professionals, a low student-teacher ratio, and a professionally active, expert faculty. The curriculum uses evidence-based practice, portfolio planning, practice models and theory, quantitative and qualitative research methods, curriculum development, etc.
You’ll travel to the Tulane campus in New Orleans for an immersion weekend to meet faculty members, peers, and fellow students. These contacts will expand your social work network, which will be beneficial long after completing your doctorate. The city of New Orleans is a fascinating city, and the immersion weekend will allow you to experience all it offers.
Boston’s Simmons University opened in 1899 and was the first School of Clinical Social Work in the nation. Now, Simmons University offers an online DSW or a Ph.D. degree with a foundation in social justice, with concentrations in leadership, teaching, and advanced clinical practice.
You can attend full or part-time. DSW students, depending on concentration, will study theory, emerging practice models, crisis and conflict resolution, creating inclusive educational cultures, organizational cultures, etc. A Capstone Project finishes the program, which can be delivered as a formal dissertation, website, or another format. You’ll work closely with a faculty mentor who will support your research interests while working on your final project.
The Ph.D. degree is part-time and designed for practitioners to develop research skills. The two-year doctoral degree program covers quantitative and qualitative research methods, theory, social welfare policy, theory, etc. The online Ph.D. is a pilot program for 2021-22.
The University at Buffalo doctorate is in Social Welfare, and a 100% online degree takes up to 3 years to complete attending part-time, and you’ll need to hold a Master of social work for admission. The 39 credit hour curriculum is delivered through both synchronous and asynchronous formats. This program begins in the fall semester only and requires one on-campus orientation.
The DSW doctoral degree builds on the School of Social Work’s signature foundation in “trauma-informed and human rights (TI-HR).” Other aspects of this degree include “implementation science,” transferring social work research into best practices for the best treatment. This program is aimed at the working practitioners with access to clients and will help you develop a solid, professional network.
The bedrock of Monmouth University’s DSW is in Human Rights Leadership which is offered online in synchronous coursework.
This curriculum is interdisciplinary and designed to give you a collaborative experience. With core values of human rights and social justice, this program will help you address the economic and environmental justice for individuals and groups at risk. Among the topics, you’ll study theory, research methods, various social work systems, data analysis, etc. Practice-based, this DSW requires annual residencies, one on the New Jersey campus and one online. The doctoral degree program uses the cohort model, and cohorts are limited to 15 students. As you advance through the program, you’ll create a multimedia portfolio and a Capstone Project with a human rights leadership focus.
The SSW’s International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) at Monmouth has strong connections with the United Nations. It provides a unique opportunity for you to develop a strong global and national network community.
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Since 1942, UTK has been training social work professionals and has a tradition of excellence recognized by national ranking organizations. This online DSW in Clinical Practice and Leadership from The University of Tennessee at Knoxville is a professional practice degree with clinical leadership, clinical science, evidence-based practice, and an applied research curriculum. A full-time program, this degree is structured for clinical professionals who need to continue working while earning an advanced degree.
The 8-semester curriculum is taken in two courses each term in areas like Neuroscience, Psychopathology and Psychopharmacology, Epistemology & Clinical EBP Methods, Interpersonal Psychotherapy, Clinical Leadership, Emergent Intervention Methods for Complex Populations, and more. Two Capstone papers are required, with an academic committee comprised of three doctoral professors. Capstone Project defense can be conducted online, face-t0-face, or via videoconferencing.
The application deadline for this doctoral degree program is January 1, and each 25-student cohort begins each fall semester.
You’ll attend a one-week residency on the Knoxville campus each summer.
The Kent School of Social Work Doctor of Social Work at the University of Louisville is offered online for professional social workers wanting to move into academia and leadership. The DSW will prepare you to become administrators, program directors, or social work degree program faculty member.
This is the top-ranked social work program in Kentucky and typically ranks in the top 50 in national reports. Comprised of 14 courses, offered 100% online, and a thesis (capstone paper), the DSW explores research methods, ethics, intervention strategies, teaching skills, policy, analysis, evaluating programs, leadership, and more. You’ll also complete a teaching practicum as well as a leadership experience.
You can earn your DSW doctoral degree in as few as three years. An MSW and two years of experience in the field are required for admission, and the school has a preferred application date of February 1 for a fall semester start date.
Through the University of Alabama’s College of Continuing Studies, you can earn a DSW offered primarily online. The program is intended to prepare you to improve the lives of families, individuals, and communities and address the complicated issues of today’s society.
You can finish this 45-credit hour curriculum in three years and opt for an organization leadership or advanced clinical practice concentration. The core curriculum covers topics in research, developed theories, teaching, and capstone proposal and project. Doctoral degree core courses are completed in the first year. You’ll be required to attend residencies on the Tuscaloosa campus for 4-days during the first year and 5-days during the second year (you’ll also need to present your capstone paper defense on campus).
Even attending online, you’ll be eligible to apply for the school’s Study Abroad program and its “DC Fly-In Program. The Fly-In Program is a two-day training experience in policy advocacy in Washington DC.
If you’re a social work practitioner and want to take your career to the next level as a leader in the field, you’ll want to look at the University of Kentucky Online, and the DSW offered by the College of Social Work. The DSW has a choice of concentrations in Social Work Education, Military Behavioral Health, Clinical Social Work, or Administrative Leadership.
A Core Plus sequence is included in this 42-credit hour program which focuses on research, theory, and practice. The two-year program (three years attending part-time) begins in the summer with a virtual residency that acquaints you with program expectations, social work concepts, statistics, evaluation methods, and foundational theory. Your second year also begins with a virtual summer residency and explores scholarly research, concentration courses, and colloquia. This curriculum is provided in an asynchronous model.
Scholarships are available for DSW doctoral degree students and you’re automatically considered when you apply.
California’s Loma Linda University features an online Social Work Clinical Leadership Doctorate, perfect if you have leadership, teaching, and administration aspirations. This university commits to not only academic excellence but transformative learning as well.
With full-time attendance, this is an 83-quarter hour program you can complete in three years. There are two brief summer clinical externships in areas approved by the program. Courses are presented in synchronous and asynchronous formats. Combining seminars with formal classes, this program examines research methods, social work theory, diversity, and global ideas and requires applied projects. You’ll also study advanced policy, course development, clinical leadership, etc.
Loma Linda University is a private, Seventh-day Adventist university. Its Department of Social Work and Social Ecology is considered to offer the #1al Social Work doctoral degree Program, provides a low 10:1 student-teacher ratio, and provides a holistic approach in a Christian environment.
Founded in New Haven in 1893, Southern Connecticut State University has a Department of Social Work that is innovative in its approach to teaching best practices for its graduate students. The online DSW is designed to prepare you for leadership or academic positions.
The program requires 48-credit hours and is offered part-time for working professionals. Courses are taken two at a time over three years. In the summer (June and July), studies are hybrid and require a five-day residency each year. Areas of concentration for this DSW include Advanced Clinical Practice, Teaching in Higher Education, and Leadership and Management. Capstones are required, as are Externships. These field experiences are identified in cooperation with an academic mentor and Field Education Director to find suitable for your concentration.
Doctoral degree courses (except for the summer residency) are synchronously delivered using several formats such as Zoom, Blackboard, and Teams. You’ll be able to communicate with faculty as well as your peers.
Millersville University of Pennsylvania has been in existence since 1855 and reliably ranks in the top ratings of public universities in national ranking publications.
This is a 48-credit hour DSW offered online and requires eight on-campus residencies in Millersville, PA, with a Leadership and Education focus. Designed as an outcome-based curriculum, coursework covers topics in qualitative analysis, research, and methodology, social work teaching scholarship, and electives that have a direct correlation with the dissertation topic. A Leadership Teaching Praxis is an integral part of the curriculum. This praxis is a field experience evaluated based not on hours but the development and implementation of a community project. A dissertation is required for degree completion.
The doctoral degree program uses a cohort model, and online classes are presented via Zoom.
Baylor University offers a Ph.D. in Social Work and is highly selective in its admission policy, with only seven students for the Ph.D. degree accepted each summer, every two years. Using the cohort model, this Ph.D. has a 5-day on-campus residency at the beginning of the program and is developed to be completed in 10 semesters. All doctoral degree courses are offered asynchronously online with a dissertation requirement prior to graduation. A snapchat of classes shows quantitative and qualitative research studies, statistics, policy, teaching practicum, etc.
The next application date for summer 2023 will open in September. You need an exemplary academic history and a keen interest in contributing to social work’s academic and clinical practice.
Regent University was founded by Pat Roberston in 1977 and has drawn students from all 50 states, 38 denominations, and 88 countries. Regent’s has kept pace with educational trends and today offers several online Ph.D. degrees, including Counseling and Psychological Studies with a Human Services concentration.
The 51-credit hour Human Services curriculum is created to expand clinical competencies in mental health counseling, research interests, education, and psychology. You’ll study topics in leadership, research methodology, supervision, a capstone, and a dissertation. A field experience is also required. Other specialties are offered in several fields, such as Life Coaching, Marriage and Family Ministry, Human Services for Student Affairs, etc…
With this Ph.D. doctoral degree , you’ll be able to advance your social work career into careers being a university faculty member, nonprofit administrator, researcher, community services director, social services, etc…
The Ph.D. in Social Work from Connecticut’s Sacred Heart University is a primarily online/blended, part-time program specifically for working social work professionals. This degree focuses on preparation for scholarship, social work research, and teaching.
This is a part-time online PhD program with classes offered online in an asynchronous format but with on-campus participation in a one-week Summer Residency, Orientation, and a Writer’s Retreat, to provide you opportunities to meet your faculty and peers. Topics covered with this Ph.D. include racial justice, social work education, research, policy, leadership, seminars, and electives. The Writer’s Retreat is a one-week immersive experience to support your dissertation. You’ll complete 54-credit hours, including a dissertation, to earn this doctoral degree. The social work degree begins in the fall semester only.
Sacred Heart University is consistently listed in several publications’ best universities’ national rankings.
Barry University’s Ph.D. in social work is a part-time online program designed to create new leaders in the social work profession Trauma-Informed Leadership and Practice.
This is one of the best online Ph.D. social work programs available and requires 48-credit hours with a residency on the Miami Shores campus in your third and sixth semester. The online PhD curriculum is based on trauma-informed and trained leadership and practice. Coursework explores the social work practice theory and outcomes. Courses include applied research, trauma intervention, clinical supervision, advocacy for marginalized populations, and a doctoral capstone.
The Ellen Whiteside McDonnell School of Social Work is guided by Catholic education and traditions and is committed to its students, social justice, and human rights. Scholarships are available for doctoral students.
You can earn your Doctor of Social Work from California Baptist University in two years, primarily through distance education, but with some Riverside, CA campus visits.
Placed in a 12-18 student cohort, this 48-credit hour degree is (1) Christ-centered justice, (2) community engagement and social innovation, as well as (3) global leadership. The DSW is designed for social work professionals wanting to transition into leadership/management, social work research, community wellness, mental health, as well as higher education. Among courses covered are topics in research, social work entrepreneurship, leadership, project development/implementation, and a comprehensive project examining a global or local social work issue. You’ll participate in residencies two, four-day residency intensives each year.
California Baptist University provides a biblical perspective in the field by recognizing the church’s role in the rise of the social work field.
Kutztown University in Pennsylvania’s doctorate in social work offered in partnership with Millersville University can be summed up by the phrase “Leaders Who Can Teach” on the school’s DSW website.
All instruction and coursework are provided online using a cohort model. You will need to travel to the Kutztown, PA campus for mandatory on-campus residency requirements at the beginning of each semester. You’ll take two courses each term over eight sessions. Graduate students learn research methodology, social work scholarship, intervention research, mental health, prevention and intervention strategies, a praxis, as well as a dissertation. It takes three calendar years to complete.
The online PhD program is developed for the working social work professional and concentrates on leadership and education. When you earn this degree, you’ll be able to work in research, social services, healthcare leadership, university faculty member, program administrator, and other fields.
Our lady of the Lake University’s Worden School of Social Work has one of three national online Ph.D. doctorate in social work. This particular program has a unique focus on preparing doctoral students to conduct research, teach, and/or serve minority institutions.
There’s a one-week summer residency required on OLLU’s campus to meet faculty and your cohort peers and participate in campus orientation. Additionally, you’ll attend a summer course each summer on issues in Social Work Education and Research up until you conduct your dissertation defense. You’ll complete a research article and publishable articles with this program This is a rigorous 54-credit-hour curriculum is offered in asynchronous and synchronous formats and can be completed in four years of attending full-time.
Admission is comprehensive and requires you hold an MSW and have a minimum of two years of direct social work practice experience.
This best online program at Grand Canyon University is a Doctor of Education (EdD) in Organizational Leadership with an Emphasis in Behavioral Health program developed to meet GCU’s broad mission to graduate leaders, critical thinkers, effective communicators, and good global citizens.
With this degree, you’ll be able to pursue behavioral health career opportunities in academic research, ethics, leadership theories and practice, and more. This is a 60-credit hour program offered online but with two or three, five-day residencies on GCU’s Phoenix, AZ campus. Graduate students learn entrepreneurship, strategic planning, behavioral health management, mental health, etc. These classes prepare you for leading roles in faith-based organizations, hospitals, public health agencies, social services, clinics, and more. A dissertation completes the program.
GCU was founded in 1949 and is a private, for-profit university.
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Getting a Doctorate in Social Work Online
Achieving an online Ph.D. in social work is a personal choice. Certainly, you can advance your career without it, but the doors that will open to you will be immeasurable with this credential. Not to mention, the experience you will gain from undergoing such a program will impress employers. A social work Ph.D. online is a great fit if you are wanting to be in a leadership role in the field beyond clinical social worker. This can include starting your own non-profit organization or agency, becoming a college professor that teaches social work and being in an executive director role in a number of human services organizations and/ or agencies. This is an excellent path if you are interested in setting the tone for the field and becoming one of the voices of authority on leadership and practice.
As more students enter the social work field, more qualified researchers, teachers, instructors, and educators are needed. This is where doctorates in social work come in. You can earn either a Doctor of Social Work (DSW) or a Ph.D. in Social Work. What’s the difference? The difference is slight, but it’s there.
Both degrees qualify you to be called “doctor,” and you need an MSW to apply for either program. It’s theory (Ph.D.) vs. practice (DSW). As you probably know, a Ph.D. in the field has a primary interest in social work research and research skills development. You’ll want to explore this option if your goal is to enter academia and research.
A DSW is considered more of a practice degree in leadership development, nonprofit organization, human services, nonprofit organizations, substance abuse, health sciences, grant writing, teaching positions, and more. As a licensed DSW, you’ll be able to enter several areas of interest as a manager, administrator, or advanced clinical social worker.
Both degrees will take anywhere from 2-to 5 years to complete and require capstone projects or dissertations. Depending on your program, you’ll complete fieldwork (based on a set number of hours or a praxis (project development, implementation, and evaluation) experience.
How Do I Choose an Online Ph.D. Program for Social Work?
Choosing the best online Ph.D. programs for social work is no easy task. It might boil down to a program that is near where you live or intrinsically connected to the work you are already doing. There are, however, programs all over the country that can fit the bill, because they are online social work Ph.D. programs. Some of them require in-person residencies, while others are entirely online. It is good for you to consider what you need regarding flexibility so you can rule out some programs with in-person requirements. There are many where the majority of the coursework is delivered in an asynchronous format, making it easy to engage in your class requirements on your own schedule.
Ph.D. in social work online programs are often designed with specific specializations that are emphasized, which can inform if it’s a good fit for your personal academic and career goals. Looking into online Ph.D. programs in social work will give you a lot of insight into the options that are out there. Your school search may even inspire you to take on a new career specialization, like health sciences. Social work Ph.D. online programs sometimes have a particular bent, whether they are social justice motivated or faith-based you want to be sure you understand what you are pursuing the program accordingly.
You may also want to find out what financial aid you qualify for. Financial aid is often the deciding factor. Higher education accreditation is also important; a non-accredited degree will be harder on the job market.
How Much Can I Make with a Ph.D. in Social Work?
According to payscale, the average Ph.D. in social work salary is $76,000, more than the usual clinical social worker. That is no small potato! Not to mention, this is an average, so the scale goes way up and way down. It appears that medical social workers and executive directors make something around ninety thousand per year, and on the lower end, project coordinators make around fifty-five thousand per year. A social work Ph.D. salary is variable and can move up and down quite a bit from nonprofits to private practice. It’s good to keep that in mind when choosing the path that is the best for your lifestyle. We know that most people who are pursuing a career in social work are not in it for the money, but we all have to make a living and pay back financial aid.