Online Doctoral Degree in Social Work: Distance Learning PhD Info

Find out about online social work courses and in which doctoral programs they're most commonly offered. Get course descriptions, program info and online requirements to make an informed decision.

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Essential Information

There are several types of doctoral degrees in social work that are offered mostly through online studies. These programs require at least a few weeks of mandatory seminars and other on-campus instruction. Students take courses, attend seminars, conduct research and write a dissertation. For students who are interested in a fully online program, a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) may be a suitable alternative, as it also prepares students for careers in counseling or community outreach. Some of these programs are offered entirely online, only requiring students to complete a practicum at an approved local facility.

Doctoral degrees in social work can be completed in 3 to 5 years of full-time study. Students complete fully online core courses in topics including research methods, statistics, social welfare policy and education methods for social work students. They spend the remainder of the program researching and writing a dissertation on a topic of their own choosing.

In order to apply for one of these programs, prospective students must have a master's degree in social work. Many states also require licensing and clinical experience. In addition, in order to participate in an online program, students need to be sure that their computers have webcam and video streaming capabilities, as well as Microsoft Office and other course-specific software.

Ph.D. in Social Work

Doctoral programs with significant online content can result in a Doctor of Social Work, Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work or a Doctor of Philosophy in Human Services with a specialization in clinical social work. Some schools offer dual Ph.D. and Master of Public Administration degrees. In a graduate social work program, students utilize a concrete foundation in social sciences and research to analyze and design social changes needed in public policy and social justice. Students also have the skills necessary to train future social service workers.

Program Information and Requirements

Ph.D. distance learning programs require some face-to-face instruction. Annual mandatory seminars can last up to six weeks. Students must have access to a computer, meeting hardware and software requirements, and an Internet connection. They may also need a webcam and the ability to stream videos. Some schools require Microsoft Office to complete assignments. Students can contact faculty by e-mail and telephone.

Most programs ask that students have a master's degree in social work, but that requirement may be waived in special circumstances. All states require that clinical social workers be licensed. Licensing requirements generally include a master's degree and completion of a set number of clinical experience hours.

Common Online Social Work Courses

Students design research and practice methods of qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis. Many classes concern research and clinical psychology. Recommended subjects include psychotherapy, motivation, ethical issues, family issues and education.

Data Analysis

Students learn to analyze quantitative data with statistical procedures and understand reasoning behind these systems. This course trains online learners to evaluate and select the most appropriate methods for conducting analysis based on a set of variables.

Welfare Policy

This course details the history of welfare policy in the United States through critical discussion. Students examine the social, cultural, economic and political factors used to develop and distribute social services. Special topics include child welfare, the elderly and disabilities.


The basic techniques of counseling are examined, including their history, cultural adaptations, foundational theories and empirical support. Students gain skills for interviewing clients, making observations and creating reports.

Career Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the projected earnings for social workers depend on the field of work and employer ( In May 2015, the BLS reported median annual wages for child, family and school social workers of $42,350, while median annual wages for healthcare social workers were $52,380. For social workers in the field of mental health and substance abuse, median annual wages were $42,170 in that same year, according to the BLS.

There are multiple doctoral-level programs that can provide the necessary educational foundation for students who want to become social workers; a Psy.D. can be completed entirely online while an online Ph.D. has extensive in-person requirements. They typically include studies in psychology and social policy, and they help students develop the skills they need to effectively counsel the individuals and groups they work with.

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