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Explore PhD in Human Services Online: Top Programs of 2024

An online PhD in human services allows you to delve deeper into the specialization of your choosing so that you can better serve your community. Learn more below.

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When someone is at the lowest point in their lives, it can be hard to know where to go for help or resources. That is where social workers and other human services workers often step in. They can serve as a guiding hand, a compassionate ear, and a means of connecting clients to the services they need. These services are needed now more than ever – the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that social work positions will grow faster than the national average for other occupations from 2022 to 2032, with almost 70,000 job openings each year.

If you are thinking about pursuing a PhD in human services online, you are likely the type of person to step in and help when people need it most — and you want to expand your skills to be able to do so. As a graduate, you can seek a career — or advance in your existing career — as a clinical social worker, school, social worker, case manager, nonprofit leadership, or postsecondary education.

We’ve created this guide to help anyone exploring a PhD in human services online. It includes program profiles, admission and program requirements, and information about specializations and professional organizations. It’s a great place to start in your quest to find the best program for you, so read on to find everything you need to know!

Profiling Popular PhD in Human Services Online Programs

Choosing a PhD program is a personal decision. You’ll want to consider your finances, goals, personal and professional commitments, learning style, and more. But it’s also important to weigh certain program attributes like structure, flexibility, and financial aid. To help you narrow down your options, we’ve profiled three high-quality online PhD in human services programs that excel in each of these areas.

Capella University

The Doctor of Human Services at Capella University provides students with an in-depth understanding of current trends in human services and teaches them to apply research to issues in the field. Graduates are prepared to make lasting change through the organizations in which they work. Students can choose to focus on leadership and organizational management as a specialization and gain advanced knowledge of human services fundamentals.

The program is fully online and accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Students can choose from two enrollment options: the FlexPath and the GuidedPath. The former allows students to complete work at their own pace, receive one-on-one feedback from faculty, and pay $3,000 in tuition per 12-week billing session. The latter allows students to complete weekly assignments with preset deadlines, participate in weekly discussions with classmates, and pay $730 per credit for the courses they take. Capella University also has a tuition cap, so you won’t pay more than $45,000 in total tuition for your degree.

The University of Arizona Global Campus

In the Doctor of Philosophy program at the University of Arizona Global Campus, students learn about all facets of the human services field and develop the skills they need to take on leadership roles in human services organizations and provide clients with exceptional care. The program offers 11 accelerated, six-to-nine-week online courses, an elective course, five specialization courses, and a capstone seminar. Coursework covers research, history, systems, policies, strategies, and more, all culminating in a doctoral dissertation.

Designed for adults looking to fit their education into their busy personal and professional lives, the online program is extremely flexible — coursework can be completed from anywhere, on the student’s schedule. Students must complete three non-credit, In-Residence Workshops and all Dissertation requirements, in addition to the requisite 62 credit hours with a 3.0 GPA in order to graduate.

Tuition is $812 per credit. Students at UAGC have access to all the services and support they need to successfully complete their degree including mentoring, networking, tech support, career services, and more.

Walden University

The Online PhD in Human Services at Walden University prepares students to drive global social change by acquiring a solid foundation and scholarly expertise in human services delivery and practice. The program equips students the research skills and knowledge to address systemic social issues and make a meaningful difference through policy, research, and practice. Coursework is also designed to prepare students to complete a doctoral dissertation. Graduates can pursue roles in leadership, teaching, or research.

Students can choose from two tracks: Track 1 is for students with a master’s degree in human services, counseling, social work, or psychology. Track 2 is for students with a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree in an unrelated field of study — in this track, students earn their Master’s in Human Services as they progress toward their PhD. Students choose from specialization courses in a variety of focused topics.

The program takes 8-10 quarters to complete, including the requisite dissertation credits and four PhD residencies. Tuition for a two-and-a-half-year track is approximately $62,000 and tuition for an eight-year track is $138,000.

From Getting in to Graduating: Admissions & Program Requirements

Every online PhD program in human services will have its own specific admissions and graduation requirements, but those we’ve outlined below are common across the board. Keep reading for a closer look at what to do to get into and graduate from the degree program of your dreams.

Admission Requirements

GRE Scores

While more and more graduate schools are moving away from requiring Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores for admission, many have not and others have made them optional. The GRE is designed to measure abstract thinking in analytical writing, mathematics, and vocabulary. Top schools will look for a GRE score between 147-170.

Master’s Degree

Whether or not a master’s degree is required as part of a human services PhD program varies by school. Some require it while others allow students to go into the PhD program with a bachelor’s degree, and include the master’s coursework as part of the PhD program.

Minimum GPA

Your grade point average (GPA) from undergraduate and graduate programs will be a deciding factor in the admissions process. Applications for human services doctorate will require that you provide your GPA along with your transcripts. Typically, doctoral programs look for a minimum GPA of 3.0.

Program Requirements

Core and Elective Courses

Core classes are required of everyone and typically cover subjects in research, statistics, human services theory, social change, and advocacy. Elective courses allow students the opportunity to take classes in subjects that interest them and are often specific to a certain concentration, such as gerontology, military families, or crisis and trauma.

Doctoral Dissertation

To complete your doctorate, you will need to complete a dissertation on a subject you’re interested in. After posing a thesis, or theory, on the topic, you’ll apply the skills and knowledge you’ve acquired through your coursework to conduct original research that you will later present to a panel of professors who will evaluate your work.

Research Courses

Research and statistical and data analysis courses are a huge part of earning an online PhD in human services. Research informs decision-making at the national, local, and organizational level, so it’s an incredibly important aspect to any career in human services. You will take multiple research courses over the course of your PhD program that cover research foundation, analysis, design and methods, ethics, and more.

Understanding Human Services PhD Specializations

Students pursuing their doctorate in human services can choose from a number of specializations designed to inform their research and future career prospects. Programs allow students to take classes in specializations unique to their interests and the communities they wish to serve after graduation.

Advanced Research

If you are interested in making a career out of researching issues in human services, you may want to consider an advanced research specialization. Coursework will cover topics such as advanced qualitative, quantitative, and mixed-method research methodologies and prepare you with the skills you need to collect and analyze complex data. You can use this expertise to advance the field of human services and pursue a career in research, consulting, or policy within government organizations and beyond.

Conflict Resolution

A conflict resolution concentration offers you the opportunity to learn the skills and strategies you need to work as a peacemaker and agent of change in local and international settings. Coursework will cover negotiation and conflict management, understanding conflict and its underlying causes, and various solution options.


Students who choose a gerontology specialization learn to care for aging clients, encourage successful aging strategies, and help them cope with biological, personality, social, and cognitive changes. They study factors that affect the quality of life of aging citizens, including societal and cultural expectations. Graduates will be prepared to work in retirement, elder care, or memory care facilities, as community care coordinators.

Human Services Nonprofit Administration

A specialization in nonprofit administration prepares graduates to excel as leaders in human services organizations. Coursework covers the organization and operation of nonprofits, legal and ethical issues, board management, marketing, budgeting, and resource development. Graduates will be prepared to seek careers overseeing staff at nonprofits or other service organizations or agencies.

Leadership and Organizational Management

Pursuing a specialization in organizational leadership will help you acquire the skills you need to develop your leadership style and pursue a career making a social, economic, and cultural impact at nonprofit, for-profit, and government organizations. Coursework covers leadership skills and strategies for collaboration among agencies, communities, and individuals. You will also learn how to best provide solutions and positive outcomes.

Military Families and Culture

PhD students interested in pursuing careers in or with the military can choose a specialization in military families and culture. Over the course of their program, they are trained to assist service members and their loved ones with every aspect of military life, including the challenges it poses during and after service. Coursework will also cover PTSD and trauma treatment, family separation and relocation, dealing with deployments, and more. Graduates will be equipped to work as social workers or counselors with the VA or other local veteran organizations.

Professional Associations & Resources for Human Services PhD Students

There are many professional organizations and resources PhD students can access to supplement their doctoral program. These organizations are designed not only to provide resources, research, and networking opportunities, but to provide direct assistance to families and individuals in need.

For a more detailed look at available scholarships and resources in human services visit our dedicated page.

The APSAC is a national organization committed to meeting the needs of professionals engaged in serving children and their families, particularly as it pertains to child abuse and neglect. They offer expert training and educational activities, policy leadership and collaboration, and consultation.

The APHSA is a non-partisan organization that supports leaders from state, county, and city human services agencies caring for individuals, families, and communities across the country. They work with members to generate pragmatic solutions built on equity and belonging, administering, overseeing, and aligning programs that provide access to food, health care, housing, employment, childcare, and more.

CRISP was founded to complement the mission and work of the Congressional Social Work Caucus. Its mission is to use the power of social work on the Hill. The organization focuses on social issues such as child welfare, healthcare, housing, and voting rights at the federal, state, and local levels.

CSHSE is dedicated to improving the quality, consistency, and relevance of human service education programs. The organization offers an accreditation process for programs, so they can continually improve as they prepare human service practitioners.

NCFR is a professional association dedicated to helping members understand family relations through interdisciplinary research, theory, and practice. They offer a credentialing program, resources on policy, and professional journals.

NOHS supports human service practitioners, educators, students, and future professionals in their efforts to assist their clients in all aspects of their lives. They offer members collaboration opportunities and engage in advocacy and policy evaluation.