2024 Best Online PhD in Social Science Programs

By Molly Doyle
Edited by Briana Sukert
Updated on April 24, 2024
Edited by Briana Sukert
Ready to start your journey?

If you are an analytical individual with a drive to help others, you might consider earning a PhD in Social Science.

Online PhD in Social Science Programs

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This degree is also a beneficial option for anyone who is interested in building their research abilities, understanding global communities, and developing a set of transferable skills.

Universities Offering Online PhD in Social Science Degree Programs

Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.

Case Western Reserve University

Case Western Reserve University offers a PhD in Social Welfare. This is an on-campus program that can be enrolled in full-time or part-time. Coursework can typically be completed in 2 years by full-time students and 3 years by part-time students. Students are also required to complete a dissertation.

Case Western Reserve University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Old Dominion University

Old Dominion University offers a Doctorate in Public Administration and Policy. It requires the completion of 49 credit hours. The program covers how to conduct policy analyses, design and conduct research studies in public administration, and report research findings and their implications. Online courses are live and follow a regular schedule.

ODU is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Pennsylvania State University

Pennsylvania State University offers a PhD in Social Studies Education program that is designed to prepare students for working in teacher education at the postsecondary level. Classes can be taken on campus or online. Courses include Research on Social Studies Education, Teaching and Learning Historical Literacy with Media, and Historical Nonfiction for Teaching History.

The Pennsylvania State University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

University at Buffalo

The University at Buffalo offers a Doctor of Social Work that can be earned fully online as a part-time student. The program requires the completion of 39 credits and is aimed at experienced social workers. It incorporates a trauma-informed and human rights perspective. Students may start in the fall semester only.

The University at Buffalo is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

University of Arizona

The University of Arizona offers both a Doctor of Philosophy in Human Services and a Doctor of Psychology. Online students may take just one course at a time, and courses are 6 or 9 weeks long. Up to 30 approved credits may be transferred into the program. University of Arizona’s doctoral programs emphasize research and social justice matters.

The University of Arizona is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

University of Tennessee – Knoxville

The University of Tennessee—Knoxville offers a Doctor of Social Work in Clinical Practice and Leadership. The online program includes three years of rigorous coursework, with two classes each semester. Online students must also spend one week each summer on campus in Knoxville.

The University of Tennessee – Knoxville is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of Pennsylvania

The University of Pennsylvania offers a Doctorate in Clinical Social Work. Online students may complete their coursework and dissertations simultaneously and can usually finish within 3 years. Online classes meet two evenings each week for two hours. The program also includes on-campus immersion experiences.

The University of Pennsylvania is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

University of Southern California

The University of Southern California offers an online Doctorate of Social Work. The program aims to help students learn how to develop practical, applied solutions to large-scale social challenges. The standard track is nine semesters, and the accelerated track is seven semesters. The program is fully online with no required fieldwork, clinicals, or internships.

The University of Southern California is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the Senior College and University Commission.

Walden University

Walden University offers a PhD in Social Work. Students may choose a specialization in Advanced Clinical Practice and Supervision, Impact Leadership in Social Work Administration, or Social Work Education. This is a research-based program designed for working professionals. Students begin focusing on their dissertations from the first course.

Walden is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Wilmington University

Wilmington University offers a Doctor of Social Science in Prevention Science. This is an interdisciplinary program that includes the study of public health, human development, developmental psychopathology, education, behavioral sciences, and more. It requires the completion of thirteen courses for a total of 39-48 credits.

Wilmington University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

PhD in Social Science Programs

Similar to a master’s in social science program, in a PhD program, there are many disciplines that fall under the umbrella of social science. The following are some typical areas that you may choose to focus on as you earn your doctorate degree. Select the program that most interests you to jump to that section of the guide:

Regardless of the specialty you select, you will still receive a strong foundation in social science and related courses.


degree in anthropology

At its core, a degree in anthropology centers around the study of humankind. Not only will you have the opportunity to research historical communities and cultures, but you will also examine modern-day societies as well.

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Learning to conduct effective research and using information about the past to impact the future are important parts of this degree. After earning a PhD in Anthropology, there are a number of career options available. Many graduates go on to work in the fields of museum curation, government, education, and social work.


PhD in History

Students earning a PhD in History can develop expertise in analyzing and conducting historical research. Many programs also focus on building conscientious leaders and teachers. You can use the lessons you learn about the past to educate and inform the decisions you make about the present and future. A degree in this field can lead to a wide variety of career paths.

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Many graduates pursue careers as educators, research fellows, historians, and policy analysts. Because doctoral history programs require a high attention to detail and strong writing skills, some graduates also find jobs as authors or archivists.

Human Services

doctoral degree in human services

A doctoral degree in human services can provide you with a deeper look into the work and impact that human service organizations provide. You will likely leave with a working knowledge of the ethical guidelines in the field and with leadership skill sets.

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Careers in this field typically serve the community and improve the lives of the individuals who inhabit them. Depending on your previous educational background, you may choose to do several different things with a PhD in Human Services. An eligibility worker supervisor, specialist director, and licensed clinical social worker are just a few examples of the career paths available in this field.


PhD in Sociology

Students who are working toward their PhD in Sociology will study societies and social interactions. Programs in this field usually prepare you for work in teaching or research.

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Graduates tend to go on to become teachers or researchers, but there are other options available as well. For example, you may choose to pursue work in a medical health center or a government agency. Most PhD professionals in this field end up in a nonprofit or research-based organization.


doctoral degree in psychology

A doctoral degree in psychology will look different depending on the specialty that you choose. Doctoral psychology programs typically offer an opportunity to conduct extensive scientific research and to strengthen your skills in this area. You will often pair this research with real-world practicum experience.

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Because you can tailor a degree in psychology to fit your interests, there are a wide variety of potential career paths. Some professionals choose to become teachers, counselors, and social workers. Others pursue positions as clinical psychologists.

Social Science Careers & Salaries

Social Science Careers & Salaries

With a social science doctoral degree, there are a wide range of potential career paths that you may take. The positions that you are qualified for will vary depending on your specific area of study within your social science PhD program.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, here are the annual median salaries for common careers within the social sciences.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Chief Executives $179,520
Human Resources Managers
Political Scientists $122,510
Public Relations and Fundraising Managers $119,860
Economists $105,630
Sociologists $92,910
Psychologists $81,040
Postsecondary Teachers $79,640
Anthropologists and Archaeologists $61,910

Because you can tailor this degree to fit your interests, it can often lead to work that is personally fulfilling. With options in a variety of sectors, such as nonprofit or private, you can help your community in the way that feels best to you.

Social Sciences Doctorate Curriculum & Courses

Social Sciences Doctorate Curriculum

While each university has its own unique curriculum, there are typical classes within each discipline that you may take as you complete your doctorate in social sciences.

Here are some common courses that may be offered:

  • History Research: In this course, you’ll learn methods of effective research specific to social studies as well as how to identify and analyze credible sources.
  • Historical Methods: This course focuses on using primary sources to conduct research and write about findings.
  • Ethnographic and Qualitative Methods: Focusing on fieldwork methods, this course explores topics such as project design, observation, and data-collection and analysis.
  • Development of Anthropological Thought: In this course, you’ll learn about the evolution of anthropological thought, including the ways in which scientific and intellectual thought-patterns have changed.
  • Foundations and Methods of Psychology: This course is a foundational exploration of the history of psychology, and it takes a deeper look into the research tools and methods used to conduct psychological studies.
  • Development of Human Behavior: This course examines the ways in which external events impact human reactions.
  • Grant Writing: This course dissects the process of grant writing and details each step, including the statement of need and executive summary.
  • Human Services Theory: This course examines modern approaches to research in the human services field, and you’ll also learn to design ethically informed research projects.
  • Sociological Theories of Development: This course provides a study of the history of sociological theories as well as an overview of key figures and important dates.
  • Dissertation: Most PhD programs close with a dissertation. This course will be a chance for you to learn about the dissertation writing process and begin plans for your own work.

Your own curriculum and coursework will be specific to the university that you attend.

Doctor of Social Science Admissions Requirements

Doctor of Social Science Admissions

Although every university is unique in their admissions criteria, here are some of the typical requirements for doctoral programs:

  • GRE or GMAT scores, if required
  • Master’s degree
  • Minimum GPA from previous programs
  • Letters of recommendation

In addition to these criteria, many schools ask you to pay a small application fee. You may also be asked to provide additional documents, such as an admissions essay or employment records. It’s strategic to check the specific admissions requirements for your schools of interest prior to applying.


PhD in Social Science Programs accreditation

Although accreditation is a voluntary process, it can say a lot about the quality of education that a school offers. Regionally accredited programs consist of a staff and educational materials that are considered to be up to standard.

Regional accreditation can be an important factor to look for during your school search. In addition to the instructional benefits you can receive, employers often favor candidates who have completed an accredited degree program.

You can check if a school is regionally accredited by visiting the website of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).   

Financial Aid and Scholarships

PhD in Social Science Programs financial aid

As you apply to various doctoral programs in social sciences, it can be helpful to consider available financial aid and scholarship opportunities.

Federal aid is granted to individuals based on a set of eligibility requirements. You can fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at no cost to you to determine how much aid you qualify for. Federal financial assistance can come in several forms, including direct unsubsidized loans, grants, and work-study programs.

In addition to federal aid, you may also be eligible for state aid, scholarships, or employee education benefit programs. You can check the financial aid guidelines for your specific state, university, or employer for specific details.

What Can You Do with a Social Science PhD Degree?

Social Science PhD Degree

Because there are so many topics within the social sciences major, a PhD degree in this field can lead to a wide range of career opportunities.

Many professionals who earn their doctorate degree in a social science field go on to provide essential services to their communities. For instance, some work as chief executives, social workers, or psychologists. Others choose to enter into the worlds of education and history as professors, historians, or museum curators.

Every individual’s path post-graduation will look different. There are a number of factors that can impact your career path and salary, such as your work experience, specialty area, employer, and location.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Social Science Doctoral Degree?

Social Science Doctoral Degree

It typically takes 3 to 5 years to complete a PhD program, but the length of time can vary based on the required number of credits and how long it takes you to complete your dissertation.

Doctoral programs that do not require a dissertation may be completed in as little as 3 years with full-time enrollment. Alternatively, if you attend part-time, it may take you longer to complete your degree.

What’s the Difference Between a PhD in Social Science vs. Humanities Degree?

It can be helpful to think of social sciences as a scientific approach to studying human nature and communities, while the humanities take an analytical approach.

Social Science Humanities
  • Studies individuals and communities through a scientific and research-based lens
  • Has a more objective approach
  • Includes economics, psychology, history, and sociology
  • Explores the human condition through an opinion-based lens
  • Has a more subjective approach
  • Includes philosophy, language, literature, and the arts

The program that is right for you will depend on several factors, including your career goals and your individual interests.

Is a Social Science PhD Worth It?

Social Science PhD

Yes, a social science PhD is worth it for many students. There are so many potential areas of study within the field of social sciences, and you can tailor your degree to fit your personal interests and career goals. Each area of focus provides a unique way to help develop and assist your community.

In addition to a variety of career options, employment in life, physical, and social science occupations is expected to grow 8% over the next ten years (Bureau of Labor Statistics). A PhD can also help you qualify for positions in research and academia.

Getting Your PhD in Social Science Online

PhD in Social Science Online

Earning your PhD in Social Sciences can open up doors to new opportunities. Many professionals who earn their social science degrees leave with a deeper understanding of the interactions between individuals and their communities. They often go on to impact the lives of the people around them through the services they provide.

If you are passionate about using science and research to help others, a Ph.D. in Social Science may be the right degree path for you. A growing number of accredited universities now also offer credible PhD programs online, allowing for more convenience and flexibility.

You can get started today by researching doctoral programs in your chosen field.

Ready to start your journey?