Ph.D. in Social Work Online

Last updated: January 2022

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Why do students and professionals opt to pursue a Ph.D. in social work? A doctorate in philosophy, or Ph.D., prepares individuals for positions in research, clinical settings and higher education. Those who successfully complete coursework for Ph.D. in social work programs develop a unique, in-depth understanding of real-world issues that affect vulnerable or at-risk populations and are able to position themselves at the forefront of influencing treatment, policy and best practices through their evidence-based research. 

Direct practice social workers rely on research to guide them in maneuvering and solving challenging situations in their everyday work. Research will remain key to this practice for many more years as new bills are passed, financial markets evolve, and communities respond to major events such as natural disasters and viral outbreaks.

Learn more about this academic path, areas of concentration and licensing options for Ph.D. in social work graduates. 

All Online Ph.D. in Social Work Programs

From the comfort of your home, you can pursue a Ph.D. in social work online. An online social work degree may be a good option for working professionals or those with family obligations. While coursework is self-paced in an online program, it takes discipline to stay on track. No two online Ph.D. in social work programs are identical, but admissions requirements for these programs may share similarities. Spend time researching your desired program to know what to include in your application, and more importantly, whether that program will help you achieve your professional goals.

Consider the following Ph.D. in social work programs offered online. This information was last retrieved January 2022. For the most up-to-date information, be sure to refer to the school’s website.

Baylor University

Diana R. Garland School of Social Work

PhD of Social Work (Ph.D.)

Waco, Texas

Name of Degree: PhD of Social Work (Ph.D.)

Enrollment Type: Full-Time

Length of Program: 2.5+ years

Credits: 60

Concentrations:

Leadership and Management

Admission Requirements:

  • Online Application
  • (GSSW) Statistics Entrance exam (B or higher)
  • Three Letters of Recommendation 
  • Application Fee
  • Personal Statement 
  • Sample of Scholarly Writing
  • Resume
  • TOEFL For international applicants 
Learn more about the PhD of Social Work (Ph.D.) from Baylor University

Our Lady of the Lake University

Warden School of Social Service

PhD of Social Work (Ph.D.)

San Antonio, Texas

Name of Degree: PhD of Social Work (Ph.D.)

Enrollment Type: Part-Time

Length of Program: 4 years

Credits: 54

Concentrations: N/A

Admission Requirements:

  • A MSW from a CSWE-accredited program
  • Preferred licensure at the advanced clinical practice level
  • 3.0 GPA
  • Curriculum Vitae (CV) showing at least two (three preferred) years of post-MSW direct practice experience
  • A 3-5 page writing sample, APA formatted on a current social work topic of your choice. Include a reference list (not included in the three pages).
  • Three letters of recommendation (academic or professional)
  • Interview required
Learn more about the PhD of Social Work (Ph.D.) from Our Lady of the Lake University

University of Tennessee at Knoxville

College of Social Work

PhD of Social Work (Ph.D.)

Knoxville, Tennessee

Name of Degree: PhD of Social Work (Ph.D.)

Enrollment Type: Part-Time

Length of Program: N/A

Credits: 43

Concentrations:

Advanced Research Methods

Admission Requirements:

  • A MSW from a CSWE-accredited program
  • Preferred licensure at the advanced clinical practice level
  • 3.0 GPA
  • Curriculum Vitae (CV) showing at least two (three preferred) years of post-MSW direct practice experience
  • Writing sample
  • Three letters of recommendation (academic or professional)
  • TOEFL for international students, completed International Form, and a completed Financial Statement
Learn more about the PhD of Social Work (Ph.D.) from University of Tennessee at Knoxville

University of Utah

College of Social Work

PhD of Social Work (Ph.D.)

Salt Lake City, Utah

Name of Degree: PhD of Social Work (Ph.D.)

Enrollment Type: Part-Time

Length of Program: 4 years

Credits: 36

Concentrations: N/A

Admission Requirements:

  • A MSW from a CSWE-accredited program
  • Preferred licensure at the advanced clinical practice level
  • 3.0 GPA
  • Curriculum Vitae (CV) showing at least two (three preferred) years of post-MSW direct practice experience
  • 3-5 page writing sample, APA formatted on a current social work topic of your choice. Include a reference list (not included in the three pages).
  • Three letters of recommendation (academic or professional)
  • Interview required
  • TOEFL of 100 IBT or 600 PBT, or an IELTS score of 7.0 to 7.5
Learn more about the PhD of Social Work (Ph.D.) from University of Utah

Ph.D. in Social Work vs. DSW

There is a distinct difference between a Ph.D. in social work and a Doctor of Social Work (DSW). While there may be some overlapping coursework within the curricula, it is important for graduate students to know what work environment they prefer and aspire to be in when deciding upon a doctoral program in social work. 

Ph.D. in social work programs have coursework geared toward advanced research methods that help to develop social work-related policy and programs. While Ph.D. students can go on to rewarding social work careers outside of academia through research, many Ph.D. graduates pursue careers in universities and other institutions that involve teaching and high-level clinical investigation.

A DSW is also a graduate-level degree, but while a Ph.D. in social work focuses on research in an academic setting, a DSW program trains students to work in a variety of other settings, including K-12 schools, social services and hospitals. DSW programs focus on leadership and management. Students pursuing a DSW should hold a master’s degree, but requirements can vary from school to school. If you’re interested in pursuing advanced or supervisory work, a DSW might be a good fit for you.

Earn a Doctor of Social Work Online in 28 Months

Professionals from a variety of fields learn to develop solutions to poverty, homelessness and other social issues with USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work’s online Doctor of Social Work. Complete the program in 28 months part time with a master’s degree.

  •  Earn a doctorate from USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. 
  • Study part time without attending classes on campus. 
  • Complete the online DSW program in 28 months. 

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More Information on Ph.D. in Social Work

Once you have decided to pursue a Ph.D. in social work online, you may be considering a number of factors before selecting a program, such as coursework loads, dissertation parameters, the accreditation of the program, whether a master’s in social work is a prerequisite, and other application requirements.

Accreditation of Social Work Degrees

While the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) gives institutional accreditation for Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) and Master of Social Work (MSW) programs, there is no accrediting body for Ph.D. in social work or DSW programs. The CSWE is reviewing the possibility of accrediting doctoral programs in the future.

The council is a partnership of educational and professional social work institutions, social welfare agencies and private citizens that is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation as the sole accrediting agency in the United States for all social work education. CSWE accreditation signals that an undergraduate or graduate social work program meets the council’s standards for student competencies, institutional policies, curricula and more.

Do I Need an MSW to Get a Ph.D. in Social Work?

Generally speaking, an MSW is needed for admission into many Ph.D. in social work online programs, although there are some that will also accept a master’s degree in similar areas of study like the ones below:

  • Public Administration (MPA)
  • Public Health (MPH)
  • Nursing (MSN)
  • Public Policy (MPP)
  • Business Administration (MBA)
  • Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT)

A professional doctorate will often also be an acceptable prerequisite for a Ph.D. in social work program, and there are dual MSW/Ph.D. in social work programs available for students interested in pursuing that track.

Factors to Consider Before Applying

Different institutions may specialize more in one aspect of social work than another, or some may provide financial assistance programs that interest you. These are some factors to keep in mind as you are making a choice. The size of the faculty and dissertation requirements can also play a role in your decision process.

Tuition

Earning a Ph.D. is a significant financial investment and prospective students might feel some concern about funding their education. If you’re considering a Ph.D., you likely hope to advance your career in social work. Don’t let the price tag put you off. Identify a program with a price that falls within or close enough to your budget. The cost of online social work doctoral degrees varies, depending upon variables such as books, state residency and technology fees. 

For those who are employed within the social work profession, some employers offer tuition reimbursement programs to incentivize employees to further their education. Check your employee handbook or speak with your human resources department to see if such an option is available. Student federal loans are another option, and one that many people take, such as the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program and the Federal Perkins Loan Program

Scholarships, grants and fellowships are also available to qualified candidates who apply. Here are a few:

Concentrations

Concentrations and specializations in Ph.D. in social work programs vary from school to school, and some overlap with those available in MSW programs. Some concentrations in online Ph.D. in social work programs include:

  • Addictions and Social Work
  • Clinical Practice Expertise
  • Social or Criminal Justice
  • Disaster, Crisis, and Intervention
  • Family Studies and Interventions
  • Medical Social Work
  • Administration of Human Services
  • Social Work Administration

Coursework and Dissertation

What should someone studying for their Ph.D. in social work expect when it comes to coursework? The Group of Advancement Doctorate Education in Social Work (GADE) notes that graduate students have many types of Ph.D. programs in social work to choose from, most offering research-focused coursework within social work as well as other disciplines and practicums in teaching. Dual or interdisciplinary degrees are also an option that enhance a program’s course offerings, often with a choice of full- or part-time online programs.

Topic areas covered in an online program may include:

  • Quantitative Research for Social Work
  • Measurement in Social Work
  • Academic Leadership and Administration in Social Work Education

Students pursuing their doctorate in social work will most likely have to write a dissertation (also called a doctoral thesis) that is the culmination of years of graduate-study research.

What a Strong Ph.D. Candidate Looks Like

Candidates for Ph.D. in social work online programs often have a strong academic background, an MSW or related master’s degree and a few years of research or policy experience within the field. While every program’s admissions requirements are different, doctoral program candidates should generally have a clear affinity for pursuing a research-focused or scholarly-based career path.

Beyond the expected admissions requirements, a Ph.D. in social work candidate is likely dedicated to solving complex social issues. Having strong organizational skills may help with your work in this field. 

Should You Get a Ph.D. in Social Work?

A Ph.D. in social work is the doctoral track for those whose career interests and goals lie in research and college-level education. According to GADE, a Ph.D. in social work prepares students to take on roles such as becoming faculty members at a university, joining research organizations working on social and health problems, or taking on leadership positions requiring advanced research skills.

this degree is focused on preparing students to become faculty members at a university, or to join research organizations working on social and health problems, or to take on leadership positions requiring advanced research skills.  

What Can You Do With a Ph.D. in Social Work?

Professionals with a Ph.D. in social work have many career choices, including tenure-track research and teaching positions. There are also professional research opportunities within government agencies, independent research centers, nonprofits and the military. Individuals in these positions help conduct research that informs practice, provides analysis of policies, and guides social programs with data-driven analyses.

Some positions that are available to individuals with Ph.D.s in social work include:

  • College or University Professor
  • Academic Researcher
  • Clinical Director
  • Human Services Director

Ph.D. in Social Work Salary

Many factors come into play when trying to quantify salaries in the social work field, such as where you live, if you work in the private or public sector, and your experience within a particular discipline.

Below are the 2020 national median estimates of annual salaries for different positions in the field from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

Pursuing Licensing With a Ph.D.

State licensing boards are responsible for setting the standards for licensure for social workers serving the public, and every state has different types of licenses for these professionals. Some states even require multiple licenses to become a specific type of social worker, such as a clinical social worker. To find out what the licensing requirements are in your state, you can review our complete list of state-specific social work licenses. 

Ph.D. in Social Work FAQs

Here are some frequently asked questions prospective graduate students have about pursuing a Ph.D. in social work.

How long does it take to get a Ph.D. in social work?

As a full-time student in a traditional setting, it can typically take three to five years to obtain a Ph.D. in social work degree. Part-time curriculums offer alternative options, and online programs offer additional flexibility for those who continue to work or have family commitments, such as young children at home. Online Ph.D. in social work programs also offer accelerated tracks, which can take just two years to complete.

How much does a professional with a Ph.D. in social work make?

Apart from location and job title, many factors come into play when employers look at compensation. An advanced degree such as a Ph.D. may be another one of those factors. The top 10 percent of social work teachers, postsecondary earned an annual salary of $134,740 or more in 2020, according to the BLS.

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

Ph.D. in social work programs are strongly research-based, while DSW programs focus on leadership and management for careers in a variety of settings, schools and hospitals. A DSW program tends to be a more hands-on experience in a specialized area of social work.

Last updated January 2022.