Best PhD Programs in Social Work

Browse top doctoral programs in social work online and advance your career with the best education in the field. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Before social work was even a profession that you could go to school for, smaller local institutions such as the church helped to deal with social inequalities.

Today the field extends far beyond just the issue of inequality and poverty – it also follows the issues of sexual orientation, religion, race, and other protected classes. Modern-day social work is highly social justice-oriented and those who are actively working within this sector must be passionate about helping to improve the lives of others. Advanced social workers work directly with people, conduct research, and inform social policy.

College Choice has ranked the 60 best PhD programs in social work. These programs are compiled based on factors such as school reputation, financial support, and graduation rate. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, social workers are expected to experience job growth of 16 percent from 2016 to 2026, a much higher rate than the national average. Based on this statistic, it can be predicted that the need for advanced social workers will be on the rise. Keep reading to find out more information about the degree.

What type of PhD in social work should you get?

While a master of social work is the highest degree needed for most positions within the field, those who are hoping to go into academia or research can either get a doctor of philosophy or a doctor of social work. Sometimes the degree title will be called social welfare instead but there is virtually no difference in curriculum or content. While a PhD is primarily research-focused, a DSW is targeted more for those interested in higher clinical practice positions.

Although the majority of these programs are offered on-campus, some of them do have online courses. Most on-campus programs are created with adult professionals in mind. Some schools even allow students to choose part- or full-time status. Classes are generally offered only a few days of the week in the evenings allowing students to still continue their professional day job.

Check out the 50 best masters in social work degrees here.

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How much money do people with a PhD in social work make?

Despite the fact that the median salary of social workers regardless of education level is $49,470, those who hold a PhD in social work tend to have a much higher average salary. According to PayScale, those with a Ph.D. make an average of $68,000. This is higher than what the average of a Master’s holder in the field makes, which is an average of $52,000.

Factors that influence salary could include:

What can you do with a PhD in social work?

The field of social work is divided into two main categories: those in research and academia, and those in actual clinical practice. Because the PhD program is research-intensive and focuses more on theory, this program is ideal for future educators and policymakers. Several PhD holders go on to become fully tenured professionals at prestigious universities. In addition, they may also work in institutions and governmental organizations that directly influence policy and practice.

Many PhD holders do practice social work in a clinical setting, but it is often said that this degree is not necessary for that. If one does choose to practice, they may work in hospitals, local non-profit organizations, or in schools. Practice work is more community-based with direct contact with individuals. Both jobs, whether in research or practice, are strongly social justice-centered.


What are the requirements for a PhD in social work?

Strong applicants should already possess a master of social work degree in order to apply. In some schools, there is a rigorous MSW/Ph.D. dual program for excellent students who only hold a bachelor’s degree. The PhD program will last a total of four to five years, with the first couple years consisting of coursework. After the basic coursework has been completed, students will begin their research to go on to present and complete a final dissertation.

During the program, students may be required to complete a teaching or research practicum. These practicums involve working closely with faculty usually in exchange for some form of compensation such as a stipend and a tuition waiver. Throughout the PhD program, students are expected to maintain a high degree of scholarship, with most schools requiring a minimum GPA of 3.0 or higher.

Best PhDs in Social Work

  • Adelphi University

    Garden City, NY




    Founded as a private preparatory school in 1863, Adelphi University has evolved into a nationally-ranked doctoral research institution. Its program focuses on liberal arts, STEM, and professional training. For the past 120 years, its engaging curriculum has made it the oldest private co-ed university on Long Island. Adelphi’s unique location in Brooklyn gives students the opportunity to experience the beautiful local culture of New York’s iconic city. Adelphi has repeatedly been included as a top college in several major educational ranking sites.

    Program Features

    Adelphi’s Ph.D. in Social Work program prepares graduates for advanced leadership positions within the field. Students will complete 48 credit hours of coursework and maintain a minimum of a 3.3 GPA on a 4.0 scale. This challenging program is ideal for those with high scholarly ambitions.

    • Afternoon and evening courses
    • Full and part-time options
    • Ability to take qualifying examination after the first year of study if 24 credit hours have been completed


    The full-time option comprises of four courses per semester being held two times a week. Part-time students only take two courses per semester.

  • Arizona State University-Downtown Phoenix

    Phoenix, AZ




    Why is Arizona State University ranked No. 1 most innovative school in the United States? ASU has more than 40 nationally-ranked programs, dozens of award-winning faculty, and an economic impact of about $4.3 billion. Based on those statistics alone, ASU has a lot to be proud of! The School of Social Work began offering doctoral programs in 1982. The school has always been about creating leaders who can solve the next generation of social issues.

    Program Features

    Learn both valuable teaching and research skills through ASU’s Social Work Ph.D. program. This degree is offered downtown by the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. A total of 84 credit hours will be taken.

    • Transfer up to 30 credit hours from Master’s program
    • Degree plan advising with graduate committee
    • Develop personal teaching portfolio


    The Downtown Phoenix campus is a newly built six-story building that contains modern architecture. More than 11,500 students attend classes here.

  • Aurora University

    Aurora, IL




    Learn from highly-esteemed professors at Aurora University, located in the second-largest city in Illinois. Its main campus in the city of Aurora is less than one hour from Chicago. The University also operates other locations throughout the state and online. AU is a private school with about 5,800 students enrolled. The Doctor of Social Work degree is one out of the two doctoral level programs AU offers.

    Program Features

    AU offers a Doctor of Social Work for clinical practitioners. Although research skills will be enhanced, the primary emphasis on this program is hands-on practice in the field. It can be completed in four to five years.

    • Saturday courses
    • 12 credit internship
    • Only four credit hours of dissertation


    This program model emphasis peer and faculty relationships, and therefore has a very small average class size of only 11 students.

  • Barry University

    Miami, FL




    Many people envy students of Barry University, whose campus is located in the beautiful suburb of Miami Shores. Barry is a private Catholic university that was established in part by the Most Reverend Patrick Barry. It offers a liberal arts education in order to create the well-rounded individual. Other than coursework, Barry offers a variety of internship and study abroad programs. Currently, there are about 9,000 students are enrolled. Barry’s student population comes from a variety of backgrounds, including different religions.

    Program Features

    Research and practice are both equally valued in Barry’s Ph.D. in Social Work program. Upon graduation, students will be able to apply theory in both academia and the workforce. This is a flexible program that has a part-time option for working professionals.

    • Part-time: year-round; minimum six credit hours per semester
    • three credit hour elective outside Social Work school
    • Completion time: four years


    There is a three-credit teaching practicum that allows students to work with a faculty member to teach graduate and undergraduate courses.

  • Baylor University

    Waco, TX




    Join the Baylor family today and get an education that emphasizes Christian values. Baylor University is a private university that is located in Waco, TX. It was founded by the Texas Baptist Education Society. Today, students still engage with their faith through classes and weekly gatherings. In 2017, the U.S. News & World Report ranked Baylor among the top National Universities. In 2018, Kiplinger named it a best value private college.

    Program Features

    Looking for a program that intersects faith and social work practices? Baylor’s Ph.D. in Social Work may be the right one for you. This program is dedicated to developing the next generation of Christian social workers who are passionate about improving the lives of others.

    • Taught primarily online in a synchronous format
    • Ten-semester curriculum
    • Dissertation containing three publishable articles


    Classes are on Monday and/or Thursday in the evening from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM Central Standard Time. Because the classes are held live, students can interact with peers and faculty in real time.

  • Boston College

    Newton, MA




    Located in one of the nation’s oldest cities, Boston College is a private Jesuit university that was established in 1863. BC began as a “small streetcar college” that served the Catholic immigrant community. Today it is a comprehensive liberal arts university that is proud of its Jesuit traditions. Although students are encouraged to learn more about their faith, students of all backgrounds are welcome.

    Program Features

    Those who are passionate about improving social welfare should consider applying to Boston’s Ph.D. in Social Work. This program is ideal for future professors or those who wish to enter into academia. As such, there are several professional opportunities to prepare for one’s career, such as:

    • Seminars
    • Mock interviews
    • Job Club


    Doctoral students are able to apply for financial aid by December 1st. Students must be enrolled full-time and complete a three-year residency.

  • Boston University

    Boston, MA




    Boston is known for its important American history and great sports teams, but it is also home to some excellent universities. Boston University is a private research institution that has been operating since 1869. Ranked No. 42 in the nation by the U.S. News & World Report, BU is constantly making headlines for its new projects and research. Most recently BU launched a $20 million initiative aiming to support new entrepreneurs.

    Program Features

    Join a program that is committed to social justice by enrolling in Boston’s Ph.D. in Social Work. Students will take a variety of courses in different disciplines, develop research skills, and cultivate a culture of urgency to solve problems. Key features of this degree are:

    • 63 credit hours (Coursework completion time: two years)
    • Minimum of two semesters teaching
    • Funding package up to five years


    Students will choose an interdisciplinary specialization that focuses on a specific group of people, or choose a social issue that they are interested in. A minimum of 12 credit hours will be completed in the specialization.

  • Brandeis University

    Waltham, MA




    Brandeis University is a medium-sized private research institution with strong Jewish roots. It was established in 1948 by the American Jewish community during the period when many Jewish people still faced a lot of discrimination. Therefore, the university aimed to be a safe place for those to further their education. Due to its history, Brandeis strongly emphasizes diversity, inclusivity, and critical thinking. The Heller School for Social Policy and Management offers the Ph.D. degree. This school was the first of its kind and is consistently ranked among the top ten in the nation.

    Program Features

    Ranked a top program in 2020 by the U.S. News & World Report, Brandeis’ Ph.D. in Social Policy allows students to concentrate in an area of their passion. Students will spend four to six years in the program undergoing research, seminars, and courses. The concentrations offered are:

    • Children, Youth, and Families
    • Behavioral Health
    • Health
    • Global Development and Sustainability
    • Assets and Inequalities


    In 2017, 100% of this program’s alumni were employed within three months of graduation.

  • Bryn Mawr College

    Bryn Mawr, PA




    Bryn Mawr College encourages women from diverse backgrounds to follow their passions. For almost a century and a half, Bryn Mawr has been a leading women’s college in the nation. Students come first here, with teaching put as a first priority. The college was actually the first women’s college to offer Ph.D. programs, an important milestone considering that women have historically been shut out of higher education. The U.S. News & World Report ranks Bryn Mawr the No. 27 best liberal arts college in the country.

    Program Features

    Did you know that the first ever Ph.D. in Social Work degree was awarded at Bryn Mawr? Currently, the program continues to serve deserving and excellent students who can be found in many impressive positions. Both part and full-time students are accepted.

    • Typical class size of six students
    • Full funding including tuition waiver and stipend
    • Completion time: maximum of eight years


    Bryn Mawr discourages competition among peers, and instead encourages group collaboration. Students work together in small-knit communities, with only about three or four students per cohort.

  • Case Western Reserve University

    Cleveland, OH




    Case Western Reserve University is a private research institution located in Cleveland, Ohio. Its unique name came from when Western Reserve University combined with the Case Institute of Technology. Since its inception, CWRU has focused on applied science and programs that would directly help people get jobs. As of fall 2018, more than 6,600 graduate students are enrolled. CWRU ranked No. 42 overall in the U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of Best Value schools.

    Program Features

    Looking for a more flexible Ph.D. program? CWRU offers a full- and part-time Ph.D. degree in Social Welfare. It can be completed in two or three years and only requires 37 credit hours of coursework, plus 18 credit hours of dissertation. Some course topics are:

    • Statistics
    • Social work education
    • Qualitative research models and methods
    • Theories of human behavior


    Full-time students are eligible to receive a research fellowship for four years, allowing them to work alongside faculty in projects.

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