Social Work PhD Programs Online: Your Questions Answered

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: 08/14/2020

What Are the Best Online PhD Social Work Programs in 2020?

Given that so many PhD students are busy with a wide variety of obligations, such as work or family, there is a growing number of quality online social work PhD programs. But with so many out there, how is it possible to narrow down the options? Our listing of online programs helps take the guesswork out of the process by providing a comprehensive list of accredited programs, all in one convenient place. Look over our list, identify the features that matter most to you, and sort to find the programs that will best suit you and your needs.

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School Rank NumberSchool NameCity, State PROGRAM INFORMATIONTotal online programsGet InfoSchool InformationAmeriCorps matchTop Peace Corps SchoolOnline StudentsAcademic CounselingCareer PlacementStudents Institutional AidTotal Cost (In-State)Median Earnings 10 Years Post-Entry
1Baylor UniversityWaco, TXONLINE SOCIAL WORK PHD PROGRAM INFORMATION Total online programs1 Get Info

Established in 1845, Baylor is a private Christian institution located in Waco, Texas. The school offers an online Ph.D. in social work for students who are interested in integrating faith and social work studies. Ph.D. students begin their program during the summer semester and spend five days on campus for introductory instruction and networking opportunities. This 10-semester curriculum features a cohort learning format in which students progress through course material concurrently with their classmates. Students spend three to four years completing coursework, including classes in academic leadership and administration in social work, advanced qualitative research, and social policy and the religious sector. Ph.D. degree seekers also need to complete a teaching practicum, pass a comprehensive examination, and write an original dissertation. Prospective students need to submit an online application including their official transcripts from their MSW program, GRE scores, personal statement, scholarly writing samples, resume, and three letters of recommendation.

School InformationAmeriCorps MatchYes ×Participates in the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award Matching Program. Gives a minimum of $1,000 in matching financial aid or other benefits to at least one AmeriCorps alumnus each year. Top Peace Corps SchoolYes ×Ranked among the highest-producing colleges of Peace Corps volunteers in 2018. Online Students642Academic CounselingYesCareer PlacementYesInstitutional Financial Aid97% ×Percentage of students with scholarships or fellowships awarded and funded by the college. Only applies to full-time, first-time undergraduates.Total Cost
(In-State)$$$$ ×Tuition and fees charged per academic year to full-time students qualifying for in-state residency.
Post-College Earnings$51,600 ×Median earnings of former students 10 years after entering the college. Only represents earnings of students who received federal financial aid.
2University of UtahSalt Lake City, UTONLINE SOCIAL WORK PHD PROGRAM INFORMATION Total online programs4 Get Info

Starting during the fall 2019 semester, the University of Utah offers a distance-delivered doctoral program in social work. This blended program features a synchronous cohort learning model that requires remote Ph.D. students to be on campus during the first week of each semester in the first two years. Unlike many online programs, online students attend classes remotely at the same time as on-campus classroom students. This allows them to receive the same content and opportunities to participate with fellow students and faculty as the in-classroom students. Similarly, remote students have access to the same research opportunities and financial support. Admissions requirements include an MSW from an accredited School of Social Work with a 3.0 or higher GPA. Applicants with a history of coursework in statistics may receive priority during the admissions process. Additionally, the social work department expects applicants to possess at least two years of post-MSW social work experience.

School InformationAmeriCorps MatchNo ×Participates in the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award Matching Program. Gives a minimum of $1,000 in matching financial aid or other benefits to at least one AmeriCorps alumnus each year. Top Peace Corps SchoolNo ×Ranked among the highest-producing colleges of Peace Corps volunteers in 2018. Online Students10,720Academic CounselingYesCareer PlacementYesInstitutional Financial Aid71% ×Percentage of students with scholarships or fellowships awarded and funded by the college. Only applies to full-time, first-time undergraduates.Total Cost
(In-State)$$ ×Tuition and fees charged per academic year to full-time students qualifying for in-state residency.
Post-College Earnings$53,000 ×Median earnings of former students 10 years after entering the college. Only represents earnings of students who received federal financial aid.
3Capella UniversityMinneapolis, MNONLINE SOCIAL WORK PHD PROGRAM INFORMATION Total online programs3 Get Info

Capella is a for-profit institution established in 1993 and is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). The school today offers an online Ph.D. program in human services. Located in the school of counseling and human services, Capella's Ph.D. features specializations in multidisciplinary human services and social and community services. This fully-online curriculum features a multidisciplinary approach in social work studies and offers practical training for students to address real-world social issues upon graduation. Students need at least 92 total quarter credits to finish their degree. To graduate, students need to write a traditional dissertation and pass a comprehensive exam. Incoming students can transfer up to 16 credits. To be eligible for admission, prospective students must have a master's degree from a regionally accredited institution and a 3.0 or higher GPA. Capella does not require applicants to submit their GRE or GMAT scores.

School InformationAmeriCorps MatchNo ×Participates in the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award Matching Program. Gives a minimum of $1,000 in matching financial aid or other benefits to at least one AmeriCorps alumnus each year. Top Peace Corps SchoolNo ×Ranked among the highest-producing colleges of Peace Corps volunteers in 2018. Online Students36,284Academic CounselingYesCareer PlacementYesInstitutional Financial Aid50% ×Percentage of students with scholarships or fellowships awarded and funded by the college. Only applies to full-time, first-time undergraduates.Total Cost
(In-State)$$ ×Tuition and fees charged per academic year to full-time students qualifying for in-state residency.
Post-College Earnings$63,600 ×Median earnings of former students 10 years after entering the college. Only represents earnings of students who received federal financial aid.
4Institute for Clinical Social WorkChicago, ILONLINE SOCIAL WORK PHD PROGRAM INFORMATION Total online programs1 Get Info

Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), ICSW is an independent institution located in Chicago, Illinois. The school specializes in offering practical training for social workers or clinicians already working in the field. The school features an online Ph.D. in clinical social work that focuses on psychodynamic theory. Distance scholars complete the majority of requirements online. ICSW requires doctoral students to travel to the school's Chicago campus twice per semester for weekend intensive sessions. Students complete clinical practicum requirements, pass a qualifying theory exam, and write and defend a dissertation during the degree program. Most students need three years to complete this degree. Online Ph.D. students follow synchronous classes and meet for classes in real-time with peers and faculty members using videoconferencing software. Remote classes are scheduled during alternating weeks throughout the semester. Applicants must have a master's degree from an accredited institution in social work, counseling, psychology, or a closely related field. Competitive applicants possess a 3.0 or higher GPA. The school prefers incoming students to possess personal therapy experience although this is not a requirement for admission.

School InformationAmeriCorps MatchNo ×Participates in the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award Matching Program. Gives a minimum of $1,000 in matching financial aid or other benefits to at least one AmeriCorps alumnus each year. Top Peace Corps SchoolNo ×Ranked among the highest-producing colleges of Peace Corps volunteers in 2018. Online Students0Academic CounselingYesCareer PlacementYesInstitutional Financial Aid0% ×Percentage of students with scholarships or fellowships awarded and funded by the college. Only applies to full-time, first-time undergraduates.Total Cost
(In-State)$$$ ×Tuition and fees charged per academic year to full-time students qualifying for in-state residency.
Post-College Earnings$0 ×Median earnings of former students 10 years after entering the college. Only represents earnings of students who received federal financial aid.
5Walden UniversityMinneapolis, MNONLINE SOCIAL WORK PHD PROGRAM INFORMATION Total online programs3 Get Info

Established in 1970, Walden University offers an online Ph.D. in social work that prepares students to pursue careers as researchers, professors, and administrative leaders. Students choose one of eight specializations, including clinical expertise, medical social work, addictions, criminal justice, policy practice, and family and interventions. Each specialization consists of three dedicated courses. Required classes for all Ph.D. students include program in practice evaluation, history and development of social work, and advanced social work theory and practice. Depending on the duration of a student's dissertation process, most learners complete approximately 80 quarter credits for graduation. Incoming students may transfer up to 20 quarter credits toward the degree to save time and tuition money. Social work graduate students complete most requirements online except for four face-to-face academic residencies in Minneapolis, MN. In some cases, two of the four residences may be completed remotely. Doctoral students at Walden can also take advantage of an optional dissertation intensive retreat in which they meet in-person with faculty members for dissertation writing and research assistance.

School InformationAmeriCorps MatchNo ×Participates in the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award Matching Program. Gives a minimum of $1,000 in matching financial aid or other benefits to at least one AmeriCorps alumnus each year. Top Peace Corps SchoolNo ×Ranked among the highest-producing colleges of Peace Corps volunteers in 2018. Online Students49,680Academic CounselingYesCareer PlacementNoInstitutional Financial Aid0% ×Percentage of students with scholarships or fellowships awarded and funded by the college. Only applies to full-time, first-time undergraduates.Total Cost
(In-State)$$ ×Tuition and fees charged per academic year to full-time students qualifying for in-state residency.
Post-College Earnings$50,100 ×Median earnings of former students 10 years after entering the college. Only represents earnings of students who received federal financial aid.

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

Students enrolled in an online social work PhD degree program can look forward to taking the vast majority – if not all – of their program requirements entirely online. This is due to the fact that PhD programs focus strongly on theoretical applications of social work concepts, and the program itself is available to those who have already earned their master’s degree and thus, already completed in-depth fieldwork requirements. Designed for working professionals, online PhDs in social work are meant to be flexible to accommodate for the busy schedules of adults 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?

Most schools do require a dissertation, though some might allow a capstone project. Others might require a comprehensive final exam in addition to the dissertation or capstone. The dissertation can take up to a year to complete if a student is quite motivated; however, taking several years to complete this final step is the norm, especially for those with work and family obligations to attend to as they work on finishing up 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 typically expect to be in the program for at least three years. The first year focuses on foundational and theoretical concepts, while the second year dives into research methods and ways to put those previously-learned concepts to good use. The third year is devoted to the dissertation or capstone project. However, those who choose to attend part-time or need more time to complete their dissertation will experience a different timeline, one that could take five years or more.

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.

Transcripts

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.

Resume

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?

Any PhD program can be a significant investment of time and money, and the social work PhD is no exception. Costs vary widely from one from to another, as can the financial aid a person might receive from a particular school. Before applying for any program, look carefully at the costs involved, including fees, to determine whether the bottom line is something you can handle. Here’s an idea of what to expect from tuition of an online PhD in social work 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.