Earning a Ph.D. in Human Services Online

Become Team
Become Team
November 20, 2020

As a field of study, human services combines knowledge and practice from areas including social work, criminal justice, and psychology, providing a foundation for careers that offer assistance to people in need. Human services professionals might pursue a doctor of human studies online from a top program to qualify for more advanced positions in their field or to teach at the collegiate level. Human services Ph.D. programs prepare graduates for a variety of career paths, providing marketable skills in ethical decision-making, leadership, and research methodologies.

Social workers and counselors with doctoral degrees in human services may advance their careers by starting a private practice, teaching at a university, or working in leadership at a nonprofit.

Those who want to pursue a deeper, more comprehensive understanding of the human services field through research- and theory-based education would benefit from earning a doctor of human services online from an accredited university.

What Can You Do With an Online Ph.D. in Human Services?

Human services studies pull from a variety of fields, including social work and psychology. A Ph.D. in human services prepares students to pursue advanced positions in social work, counseling, nonprofit leadership, and college-level instruction. These professionals demonstrate a passion for assisting community members and working to improve living conditions and quality of life for people in need. See below to learn more about popular careers for graduates of online doctoral programs in human services.

Social or Community Service Manager

Median Annual Salary: $65,320
Expected Growth Rate (2016-26): 18%

Community service managers work in a variety of settings, including private organizations and government agencies, to identify a community's needs and create programs to meet them. They oversee existing and ongoing projects and draft proposals for funding for new programs.

Postsecondary Teachers

Median Annual Salary: $78,470
Expected Growth Rate (2016-26): 15%

Postsecondary teachers instruct classes at community colleges and four-year universities. In addition to providing instruction, grading student work, and planning course curriculum, these teachers often serve in administrative or advisory roles in their academic departments. Many postsecondary instructors working at four-year institutions hold doctorates in their field.

Social Workers

Median Annual Salary: $49,470
Expected Growth Rate (2016-26): 16%

Practicing social workers may earn doctoral degrees in human services to pursue more advanced roles within the field. They might also start a private practice or take on leadership roles within their existing social work career.

The Top-Paying Industries for Social and Community Services Managers

  • Employment: 250

  • Perdcent of Industry Employment: 0.02

  • Annual Mean Wage: $103,570

Traits of a Successful Human Services Graduate

Human services program graduates generally go on to careers in niche areas of community service, such as social work or community services management. These professionals boast a strong sense of personal service, providing assistance to people through programs and outreach and within their work environment. They utilize different types of technology, including database and query software and medical coding software, to keep records and monitor client care.

Graduates possess a strong command of written and verbal communication and a working knowledge of psychology and sociology. Social and community service managers often excel in the skills listed below.

Human service graduates demonstrate a passion for serving those in need. In their careers, they consistently look for ways to offer assistance, whether through counseling or connection to available community programs.
Social perceptiveness, or the ability to read others' reactions and understand the reasoning behind them, serves human service graduates in all professional fields.
Many human service graduates go on to work in areas like social work and counseling. These professionals must employ active learning and listening with clients, paying close attention and responding thoughtfully.

Salary by Experience Level

Graduates of accredited online doctoral programs in human services benefit from a positive outlook for careers and salaries in social and community services. Professionals in this field tend to earn more based on their experience and education level. Entry-level positions in social and community service management generally require just bachelor’s degrees, while more advanced positions may require graduate degrees and potentially offer higher salaries.

Source: PayScale

Certifications and Licenses a Ph.D. in Human Services Prepares For

Researching distance learning and accredited doctor of human services online programs represents just the first step to earning a Ph.D. in human services. The process outlined below represents the most common steps for earning this degree. Keep in mind, however, that the process may vary between schools and programs.

Steps to Earning a Ph.D. in Human Services Online

Researching distance learning and accredited doctor of human services online programs represents just the first step to earning a Ph.D. in human services. The process outlined below represents the most common steps for earning this degree. Keep in mind, however, that the process may vary between schools and programs.

Find the Right Program for You

As you research degrees and distance learning programs, consider the most important deciding factors. These might include program length and credit requirements. Also consider whether you can complete coursework entirely online or if you must fulfill any on-campus or in-person requirements, including proctored exams. Note each prospective program’s learning management system and explore whether courses follow synchronous or asynchronous delivery. Consider any internship or supervised study requirements.


Ph.D. program applications generally require more steps than undergraduate applications. They mandate extra components, such as recommendation letters, a statement of purpose or intent, a detailed resume or curriculum vitae, and documented evidence of work experience in human services. These applications can take time to compile and complete, so prospective students should begin at least six or eight weeks before the deadline, gathering materials and ordering any required test score reports.

Capstone, Dissertation, or Thesis

Human services Ph.D. students generally complete some kind of formal culminating project, such as a capstone, dissertation, or thesis. Capstone projects, often available as seminar courses involving a collaborative project, and thesis projects are less common for these doctoral students. Dissertations are more popular and entail a formal scholarly research project, which students complete individually. Some online doctoral programs in human services offer capstone seminar options, which may include conducting case studies.

Fellowship or Internship

Fellowships, or funded research positions for postgrads, differ from internships, which generally involve a temporary job position in the student’s major field. In human services Ph.D. programs, students might complete supervised practice hours in fields like social work if they already hold a degree or license in that area and plan to continue with their practice. Ph.D. programs' research-oriented nature may provide students with opportunities to pursue fellowships and conduct research alongside faculty members.

Curriculum for an Online Ph.D. in Human Services

These sample classes represent common courses offered in online doctoral programs in human services. Keep in mind that course offerings and requirements vary between schools and programs.

  1. Research Design and Methods: Doctoral students in most fields take some form of research methodology course during their program. In human services, these courses may explore common research methods employed in human services research and feature discussions regarding the implications and design of existing studies. Students may take more than one research methods course during their program.

  2. Organizational Leadership: This course provides a foundation in organizational leadership, covering topics in business and professional ethics, organizational operations, and issues in leadership. Students explore theoretical perspectives on leadership and organizations and consider their practical implications. The course also delves into organizational culture and methods for effective leadership in diverse environments.

  3. Program Review and Evaluation: Human services professionals often evaluate and determine the effectiveness of existing programs offered to clients. This course looks into the processes of program review and evaluation, including conducting formal evaluations, developing an evaluation plan, and providing critical feedback and critiques. Students may design their own programs and evaluate programs created by their classmates.

  4. Grant Writing: Many human services careers necessitate strong grant writing skills. This course covers grant writing topics such as finding funding sources, drafting needs statements and program objectives, and creating assessment plans. The course features a strong writing component, which includes opportunities for students to practice drafting portions of their own grant applications. Students also read, critique, and discuss actual complete grant proposals.

  5. Social Work Theory and Practice: This course provides an overview of social work theory, rooted in fields like social justice and counseling. Students explore clinical social work theories, both contemporary and traditional, and consider the implications on practices in human services. The course may take a critical look at existing social work policy and the social worker's role in their community's cultural and behavioral contexts.

Become Team
Become Team
Contributing Writer

Latest Posts