Best Social Work PhD Programs Online for 2023

Learn about this advanced degree where you’ll work on new research that creates positive social outcomes in local communities, across the nation, and beyond. From listings of top accredited online programs to answers to your critical questions, you’ll be ready to take the ultimate leap in your social work education and career.

Last Updated: 05/04/2023

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What Are the Best Online PhD Social Work Programs in 2023?

As PhD students often balance numerous obligations, such as work or family, the demand for high-quality online social work PhD programs has grown significantly. However, with such a vast number of programs available, it can be challenging to narrow down the options. Our comprehensive listing of online programs eliminates the guesswork by presenting a complete list of accredited programs in one convenient location. By using our list, you can identify the features that are most important to you and sort through the options to determine which programs are the best match for your needs.

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What Can I Expect from an Online Social Work PhD Program?

Online social work PhD students can expect to fulfill the majority – if not all – of their program requirements through online coursework. This is because PhD programs concentrate on theoretical applications of social work concepts and are intended for individuals who have already completed their master’s degree and extensive fieldwork requirements. Designed to accommodate the schedules of working professionals, online PhDs in social work offer flexibility to accommodate for the busy lives of individuals with multiple responsibilities outside of school.

Are part-time online programs available for PhD social work degrees?

Yes, online part-time programs are an option for students who simply can’t fit the full-time program into their busy lives. The part-time option allows for taking fewer courses each semester or term, and also provides the opportunity for more time to complete the dissertation or capstone project. However, keep in mind that not all schools offer part-time curriculums. If this is something that interests you, be sure to check with the school to ensure part-time is a possibility.

Are there any on-campus requirements or can I earn my PhD completely online?

In many cases, there are limited on-campus requirements for PhD students. In many cases, students are expected to travel to the main campus to meet with their cohort for a few weekends or a week during each semester. During this time, they will receive hands-on training, classroom discussion and peer networking opportunities. These are often known as “intensives” or “residencies.”

What are some common courses I should expect to take for my social work PhD?

Though each program offers its own curriculum, the core concepts you’ll learn in the social work PhD program are the same. Here are some of the core courses you’ll encounter:

  • Clinical Theories of Social Work Practice

    Students look at ethical and legal considerations, theories based on client diversity, best practices, and appropriate client treatments that take into account the best-known theories and evidence-based practice in the field. Study of merging research and intervention strategies is a keystone of this course.
  • Leadership in Social Work

    This course focuses on leadership, management and human resource skills in the context of the social work field. Students will learn about the personnel, ethical and practice hurdles they might face and learn to process and plan accordingly to keep the office or other institution running as smoothly as possible while delivering top-notch client care.
  • Research Design and Analysis

    Students will study the fundamental concepts of research in the context of social work, including applying techniques appropriately, design, sampling, analysis, removing bias, leveraging technology, connecting with appropriate subjects and more.
  • Disaster and Crisis Management

    Social workers are called upon to help populations during times of crisis and disasters, both natural and manmade. This course helps prepare students to respond appropriately, with cultural sensitivity and understanding, to a wide variety of potential crisis scenarios.
  • Advanced Social Work with Diverse Populations

    Theories and concepts related to diversity take front and center in this course, including globalization, race theory, social control, domination, oppression, and the impact of immigration. Advocacy strategies, moves for social change, use of technology in social work, and the like are also examined as a means to level the playing field for all populations.

Do you still have to do a dissertation in online social work PhD programs?

While some schools may permit a capstone project, most require a dissertation as a culminating requirement for social work PhD programs. Additionally, some institutions may require a comprehensive final exam in conjunction with the dissertation or capstone. A motivated student can complete the dissertation within a year; however, it is typical for students with work and family obligations to take several years to finish this final step in their education.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online PhD in Social Work?

PhD in Social Work

Full-time social work PhD students can anticipate spending a minimum of three years in the program. During the first year, students will concentrate on fundamental and theoretical concepts, while the second year delves into research methods and application of previously learned concepts. The third year is dedicated to the dissertation or capstone project. However, part-time students or individuals requiring additional time to complete their dissertation may experience a different timeline, which could take five years or more to complete.

Here’s an idea of what to expect for full-time students in the online PhD in social work program.

Term Course Examples
Year 1, Fall Semester Social Work Seminar, Theory for Social Work Practice
Year 1, Spring Semester Quantitative Research, Qualitative Research
Year 1, Summer Semester Statistical Analysis, Religious and Cultural Diversity
Year 2, Fall Semester Research Practicum, Measurement in Social Work
Year 2, Spring Semester Advanced Qualitative Research, Religion and Ethics in Social Work
Year 2, Summer Semester Leadership in Social Work, Electives
Year 3, All Semesters Dissertation Seminar, Research Seminar

What Are the Admissions Requirements for Online Social Work PhD Programs?

Each school has their own standards for admission, but some elements will always be universal, such as already holding a bachelor’s or master’s degree (which one depends upon the program) and completing certain prerequisite courses. Here are some other points that might be required for admission to the competitive online social work PhD programs.


Official transcripts from all schools attended are always required for entry into a PhD social work program, and the social work program is no exception.


Many programs are highly competitive, and they want to see that applicants have a certain amount of work experience. A detailed resume will help the admissions committee get a feel for how much experience you have and how serious you are about applying your PhD to the social work field.

Letters of recommendation

Many schools will require at least a few letters of recommendation from former professors, colleagues, supervisors, or others who are well-versed in your experience and education in the field of social work.

Active social work license

Most programs will require students to hold licensure as a social worker as well as prove that license is in good standing in their state.

GRE scores

Some schools require standardized test scores. These can be sent directly to the school after taking the test. In most cases, the results must be within five years of admission, or the test might need to be taken again.

Personal statement

This statement, also known as an essay or a writing sample, will often focus on what your intentions are when you earn the PhD, how you can put it to good use to help others, and what your inspirations are for entering the field.

How Much Does an Online PhD in Social Work Cost?

Pursuing a PhD program can represent a substantial investment of both time and money, and the social work PhD is no exception. Costs associated with these programs can vary significantly from one institution to another, and the amount of financial aid available may also differ. Before applying to any program, it is crucial to carefully examine all associated costs, including fees, to determine whether the overall expense is feasible for you. Here is an approximate range of what you can expect in terms of tuition for an online social work PhD program.

School Name No. of Credits Cost/Credit Total Tuition Cost
Baylor University 60 $1,785 $107,100
Institute of Clinical Social Work See school website $21,000 flat rate per year $63,000 (based on flat-rate tuition for three years completion)
Walden University 63 quarter credits plus 20-130 quarter credits for dissertation $610 $50,630 – $112,850

*Note: This data represents tuition costs only. Additional fees will likely apply. Check individual college websites for complete cost figures.

Are There Accredited Online Social Work PhD Programs?

There are many accredited online social work PhD programs to choose from. But it’s important to remember that while the Council on Social Work Education accredits bachelor’s and master’s level programs in social work, it does not accredit PhD programs. That’s why it’s so important to look to regional or national accreditation at the institutional level. Any school that holds this accreditation will offer a program that will be suitable for obtaining a respected, reputable PhD in social work.

What Can You Do with a PhD in Social Work?

A PhD in social work can open doors to a wide variety of positions, including those in research, teaching, administration and leadership. Social workers can go into healthcare, child and family services, substance abuse and mental health issues, postsecondary education and so much more. If you’re curious about the wide variety of things you can do with a degree in social work, including the PhD, check out our page on what you can do with a degree in social work.