Best Online PhD Social Work Programs

If you want to obtain a Ph.D. in social work, you are probably looking for a comprehensive program that can help you achieve your goals quickly and effectively. When it comes to social work, many such programs are available online.

When you plan to make a positive impact on the lives of community members, getting a Ph.D. in social work online is an excellent option. It can help you take the next step in building specialized and high-level careers in many areas, including nonprofit management, academia, and community leadership.

People who earn an online social work Ph.D. have a wide choice of career options ahead of them. They can take on management positions, become a top research specialist in a corporation, teach at post-secondary schools, and more.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job growth rate in the social worker industry is high. Before 2031, 70,000 new jobs are likely to appear in the sector. Let’s take a closer look at getting an online social work Ph.D. as well as at the multiple benefits of such a decision.

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

In the majority of programs, you can get a Ph.D. in two to three years. However, the duration of your studies can depend on many factors, including the free time you have for dedication to the program.

If you choose a full-time program, you are likely to complete it earlier. However, these programs make it hard to maintain a work-study-life balance. Many people who are pursuing a Ph.D. already have a job and a family that demands their time. Spending eight hours a day on studies can be hard. That’s why many students choose part-time programs.

Another factor that may affect the duration of the program is its format. Some students prefer to maximize flexibility by taking online classes on their schedule. If you are excellent at safe-pacing, this approach can help you achieve your study goals faster.

Other students prefer to take advantage of a hybrid arrangement. Besides taking classes online, they come to the campus to receive consultations and participate in offline activities. This may take a longer time than in a 100% online environment. However, for some students, this format can speed up the studying process since it offers a higher degree of control.

If you are planning to receive a Ph.D. in social work online, you are likely to need 48 to 72 credit hours. Then you would need to submit a graduate thesis or dissertation. You could also take advantage of the advisor’s assistance to maximize the benefits of the program.

Admission Requirements for Online Ph.D. in Social Work

Online Ph.D. programs don’t have lighter admission requirements than offline universities. You have to be ready to provide sufficient proof that you deserve to be in the program and explain why you are seeking this opportunity. Common requirements include:

  • GPA – at least 3.0 (some schools may be willing to overlook this requirement if you can write a high-quality essay explaining why you can benefit from the program)
  • Master’s degree – the majority of schools prefer you to have an MSW degree. However, you may be able to get into the program if you have a degree in a related field. Again, you may have to demonstrate your experience and willingness to learn in an essay.
  • Bachelor’s degree – some programs may accept students without a master’s degree. You would need to have a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field with a GPA of at least 3.0
  • Updated CV or resume – make sure to mention all of your projects and experience in your Curriculum Vitae even if they aren’t related to social work.
  • Letters of recommendation – many schools require two to three letters of recommendation that demonstrate your suitability for the program. These letters should either be written by faculty members from your previous place of study or by employers (only if the job was relevant to social work).
  • Language tests – if English isn’t your native language, the university is likely to require TOEFL or IELTS test results.
  • GRE or GMAT scores – some universities require specific GRE or GMAT scores. However, many of them overlook this requirement.

Overall, many schools can be flexible with their requirements. If you choose a school with high requirements, you can always ask to review your application in an individual manner. However, to get accepted without meeting the key requirements, you would have to prove why you are eligible.

Benefits of Getting a Ph.D. in Social Work Online

Many students mistakenly believe that an online Ph.D. isn’t as substantial as an offline program. In reality, online programs can be even more effective than offline studies. Meanwhile, employers view online Ph.D. the same way as they view offline degrees.

The main benefits of earning a Ph.D. in social work online include:


If you already have a full schedule, fitting offline studies in it can be complicated. Students who are trying to combine work, family life, and offline studies, usually require more than three years to complete the program. Eventually, they can experience significant burnout.

When it comes to online studies, you can build your schedule according to your needs. If you choose a 100% online program without live classes, you can study at any time you prefer. You could spend the morning at work and study during the evening or vice versa.

The classes can fit around your schedule instead of forcing your schedule to fit around your classes. Schools that offer online programs know the importance of flexibility. They provide an opportunity to schedule your studies exactly in a convenient manner.

Better Communication with Faculty

It may seem that choosing the online format may hinder free access to faculty. In reality, it allows you to reach many more professors and advisors than offline. Even though you don’t attend lectures, you have a chance to arrange person-to-person remote meetings at a convenient time. These meetings allow the faculty to budget their time better and reach more students.

Online universities know the importance of stellar communication between faculty and Ph.D. students. They provide all the tools necessary to arrange regular interactions. The online format usually allows for more personal time with the faculty than traditional offline studies.

Fewer Expenses

When it comes to the size of the tuition, it doesn’t differ from the offline Ph.D. cost. However, you can save money on other aspects of offline education, including:

  • Move – many students have to move to another city or state in order to enroll in the university of their choice.
  • Transportation – if you have to go to the campus every day, you need to spend money on bus fare or gas. With at-home education, you don’t have to worry about getting to another part of town.
  • Food – when you stay at home, you can have regular meals. If you have to commute to campus, you need to worry about lunches on the go.
  • Rent – if you move to another city, you have to handle rent in addition to the mortgage payments for your current home.

Overall, the three years of online education are likely to be much less expensive than the same amount of time spent on campus.

Wider Selection

The best part about getting your Ph.D. in social work online is the wide variety of schools you can choose from. With offline education, you are usually limited to universities in your state or to schools in less expensive neighborhoods.

With online education, you can browse universities all over the country or even try getting your Ph.D. on another continent. Since not all schools offer Ph.D. in social work, the offline choice is often narrow. Meanwhile, online education is much more accessible.

How to Choose the Best Online Ph.D. Program in Social Work

When choosing the best program for getting an online Ph.D. in social work, you need to consider a variety of factors, including:

  • Accreditation – for your degree to be accepted by future employers, you need to make sure the school you choose has proper accreditation. Depending on your plans and career goals, you may need to choose a school with national accreditation instead or a school with local accreditation and vice versa.
  • Admissions requirements – carefully review the admissions requirements before applying to the school. If you don’t meet these requirements, you may still be able to get in. However, you would have to apply an extra effort.
  • Residency and internship – find out if the program you choose is 100% online or requires a presence on campus. Social work majors may need to be present on campus for offline activities at least a few times during the year. This may affect your choice of the university.
  • Credits – find out what the credit requirements for getting a degree are. This will dictate your studying schedule and help you figure out how long the program will take to complete.

The final factor to consider before choosing the best program for an online Ph.D. in social work is the cost. Tuition for these programs can vary tremendously and depend on many factors including, the university’s reputation, accreditation, and program duration. The cost per credit hour can vary from $300 to $1000 and go higher.

Best Online Ph.D. Social Work Programs

These universities have online Ph.D. programs for students who are interested in a doctorate degree in social work. All of them can help you achieve your goals without breaking the bank or reinventing your schedule.

1. University of Pennsylvania

Located in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, this renowned university has an excellent hybrid program that allows you to get a Ph.D. in clinical social work. The program is designed specifically to help students juggle careers and education without feeling burned out.

Admission requirements:

  • Master’s degree in social work or social sciences
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • High TOEFL (100) or IELTS (7.5) scores
  • CV
  • Application essay

As part of the hybrid program, you can spend the majority of the time studying at home and coming to campus for specific activities. The school has a highly diverse alumni community network that can help you gain valuable connections.

The school is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

2. Baylor University

Located in Waco, Texas, this university has a Ph.D. in social work program, which is arranged online. You would have to take video classes according to the program’s schedule.

The selection process for this program is strict. However, once you get accepted, you have an opportunity to work with top professionals in the industry and meet the boldest educational goals.

Admissions requirements:

  • Garland School of Social Work (GSSW) Required Statistics Exam
  • Personal statement (7-10 pages)
  • Sample of scholarly writing
  • Resume or CV
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Bachelor’s or master’s degree (preferred)

The school is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

3. Tulane University of Louisiana

Located in New Orleans, Louisiana, this university has a 100% online program with one week of offline classes on campus. To become a doctor of social work at this university, you have to meet these admissions requirements:

  • Master’s degree in social work from a school accredited by Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)
  • GPA of 3.3 and higher in undergraduate and graduate studies
  • At least three years of experience in a social service agency employment or the equivalent

The program promises to create leaders of social change. You will prepare for C-level executive positions by fostering critical thinking, problem-solving, and goal-setting. You will work with highly qualified faculty and get your knowledge in a flexible learning environment.

The school is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

4. University of Southern California

Located in Los Angeles, California, this school has a 100% online program with scheduled classes. If you chose this program, you’ll learn how to become both a practitioner and a scholar, which means you can seek a career in the private sector, nonprofits, and academia. You will gain leadership skills and find out how to motivate social change and encourage innovation.

Admission requirements include:

  • Master’s degree
  • Five years of professional experience (post-masters)
  • Statement of purpose
  • Writing sample
  • Three letters of recommendation

The school is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

5. University of Kentucky

Located in Lexington, Kentucky, this school has an excellent online doctorate of social work program. By enrolling in this program, you can gain valuable knowledge for career advancement and become a leader in the field. You will also be learning how to work with specialized populations.

Admissions requirements include:

  • Master’s degree
  • Resume or Curriculum Vitae
  • Personal statement
  • Two recommendation letters

The school is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

Choosing the Best Online Ph.D. in Social Work Program

If you are ready to study and become a doctor of social work (DSW), you can start choosing the best online programs for your needs.

By studying for your Ph.D. online, you are gaining flexibility, cutting costs, and enjoying an opportunity to enroll in the school of your choice even if it’s located across the country.

Take advantage of the above list of PH.D. programs to choose the best one for your needs and requirements.

Online PhD Social Work FAQs

What are the different career paths that I can pursue after earning an online Ph.D. in social work?

After earning an online Ph.D. in Social Work, you can pursue a range of careers, including academic teaching and research, leadership roles in social service agencies, policy development, consulting, and private practice.

How are tests and exams conducted in online Ph.D. social work programs?

Tests in online Ph.D. social work programs may be conducted through online proctoring systems, timed online exams, essays, or project-based assessments.

How can an online Ph.D. in Social Work assist in achieving long-term career goals?

Many schools offer financial aid opportunities for online Ph.D. students, including scholarships, grants, and loans. Some also offer work-study programs or tuition reimbursement.

Can I pursue an online Ph.D. in Social Work while working full-time?

Many online Ph.D. programs are designed with the flexibility to accommodate working professionals, but balancing work, study, and personal life requires good time management.