Online Doctorate in Human Services

Degree Options & Potential Careers

A student pursuing an online doctorate in human services typically possesses the drive to improve their community and the world, so pursuing a doctoral degree requires strong dedication and conviction. By seeking management and director positions in nonprofits and charity organizations, human services professionals put themselves in the best position to make important decisions and meaningful change. Fortunately, the career outlook appears strong for these highly trained and motivated graduates.

Between 2005 and 2015, the number of registered nonprofit organizations increased by more than 10%, according to the Urban Institute. Both private, charitable donations and volunteering numbers increased, as well. Furthermore, treatment programs for an aging population have led to an increase in social programs and the need for more management professionals. The following information outlines why a student might pursue a doctorate in human services online, along with some common characteristics of programs in the field.

Should I Earn a Doctorate in Human Services Online?

Earning a doctorate in human services offers some tangible benefits to those who pursue the degree:

  • Salary Increase: With a doctorate in human services online, graduates can expect to earn higher salaries than undergraduate degree holders in whatever field they pursue. According to PayScale, nonprofit managers with doctorates earn over 40% more than those with just undergraduate degrees.
  • Job Growth: While many community and social service managers possess master's degrees or bachelor's degrees, candidates with the experience and training acquired in a doctoral program often qualify for director positions or management in larger organizations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that social service manager positions should increase by 18% between 2016 and 2026.
  • Make an Impact: While working in the upper level of nonprofits and community service organizations, graduates can make a difference by creating new policies or changing rules, working with the government or lawmakers to improve conditions for underrepresented or misrepresented people.
  • Push the Research: For graduates who choose to remain in academia after graduation, human services offers the opportunity to drive cutting-edge and meaningful research. This work can influence how we care for those with addiction issues, the elderly, and diverse communities. This research can also inspire wholesale change in treatment policies, laws, and global efforts.

What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate in Human Services?

Earning a doctorate in human services online places graduates in a select group of professionals that can acquire careers in the upper levels of most organizations. With such valuable and advanced training in human services, graduates often pursue careers in healthcare, the government, nonprofit industries, charities, and academia. In the academic world, doctorate holders qualify for teaching and research positions, though these positions also involve publishing scholarly works.

In healthcare, a graduate may explore management positions in clinics that work within their area of expertise, like substance abuse or the elderly. They may pursue a senior-level position with a charitable organization or start one themselves. Their career path might lead to the public sector, where they help develop policies, consult, or create new social programs.

Similarly, they can perform this type of work with nonprofits, where directors might work with government agencies and lawmakers to improve living conditions or opportunities for diverse populations. The possibilities are nearly endless, but the following list highlights some of the most common career paths.

Career Profiles


Nonprofit Director

A director of a nonprofit organization oversees operations and works with the board of directors to fulfill company goals. They may take charge of policy, finances, and program development. While many organizations seek out candidates with advanced degrees, a doctorate can also qualify directors for substantial pay increases, according to PayScale.


Social Services Director

In addition to managing personnel, social services directors oversee the operations and programs offered by organizations. Directors may work with policymakers to ensure smooth operations. According to the BLS, though many managers may possess master's degrees or lower, more advanced degrees commonly offer easier access to director positions and higher salaries.


Nonprofit Chief Executive Officer

Nonprofit CEOs manage the finances, policies, and operations for their organizations. CEOs also plan and develop future business for the nonprofits. The education requirements for these positions can vary depending on the organization and its size, but some require candidates with doctorates.


Postsecondary Teacher

Postsecondary teachers instruct and help guide student research. Teachers primarily work in their areas of expertise, but they may also teach in intersecting areas, as well. While not teaching, these professionals conduct research and publish scholarly work in the field.


Director of Clinical Services

In addition to providing leadership and managing daily operations, these directors often consult and provide analysis for others in the field. They look for inefficiencies or areas of improvement and train staff when necessary. The qualifications required for this position may vary by employer, with some mandating advanced degrees, but doctorate holders can expect to earn higher salaries in this field than any other degree, according to PayScale.

Human Services Doctoral Degree Overview

While every school and program offers its own unique curriculum, students can get an idea of the entire process by observing a typical program. The following information explores what applicants might experience during the application process, the makeup of a typical curriculum, and the courses programs may offer.

Application Requirements and Admission Criteria

When it comes time to apply for an online doctoral program in human services, a student typically submits proof of a master's degree, along with a demonstration of academic proficiency. This usually comes by submitting transcripts with a GPA higher than 3.0, plus GRE or GMAT scores. Depending on the program, applicants may also need to possess prerequisites, like counseling or psychology.

Additionally, many programs ask for recommendation letters from former employers or instructors. These letters should address the students' fit in the program and why they might succeed. A candidate may also need to write a personal statement or letter of intent, which addresses why they chose this field and how they can contribute to it, along with their potential and intended research plans.

Curriculum

The typical human services doctoral curriculum features three major components: core, research, and specialization courses. While some programs require general education courses, most students already possess enough of these credits by the doctoral level. How each program spreads the credit requirements among these components will vary, but students should expect a fairly even breakdown among the three areas.

The core program delves into advanced topics in the major. In this area, students take a deep dive into some of the issues facing the world that need attention. They can also examine current social policies, global movements, and understand the challenges facing professionals in the field. The specialization section includes electives and any other courses that students choose. Some programs provide set choices, whereas others allow students to carve out their own paths by choosing complementary courses.

For the research component, programs may emphasize different things depending on the degree and the student's career goals. For those writing dissertations or heading into academia afterward, research and scholarly work play a central role. Meanwhile, some programs feature more of a clinical focus, offering a research capstone project with some practical training or experience mixed in. While the options and variations may vary considerably, the following list identifies some of the most common courses found in a doctorate in human services online.

Community Development

In this course, students can learn the latest in community development models and strategies. They examine how to work with different groups, lawmakers, and policies.

Program Review

This course offers training in analyzing and reviewing community or nonprofit programs. The teachings may provide insight into elements like staff and volunteer training, budget analysis, and outcome evaluation.

Organizational Operations

Students explore overseeing the operations of various organizations in this course. They learn how to manage resources, finances, and policies. They can also study staffing and human resources practices.

Advanced Research

In this course, students delve into the latest research practices to prepare them for their degrees and careers afterward. The course explores various research methods and scholarly practices, along with ethics and responsibilities.

Global Social Services

This course provides training in dealing with social issues internationally. Learners can explore new perspectives in dealing with diverse populations and different economic and political situations.

Social Policy Planning

Students can gain the ability to understand, plan, and implement social policy in this course. They can examine how to initiate social policies and the various guidelines and structures needed for this process.

Program Outcomes

Acquiring a doctorate in human services online prepares students to take on some of the most challenging and potentially rewarding work in the industry. These highly trained professionals can graduate with extensive leadership training, which enables them to oversee organizational operations, develop effective human services programs, and work within rigid policies and regulations.

Furthermore, graduates should possess the interpersonal skills and sensitivity to work with a wide range of diverse groups. Graduates at this level often possess training in dealing with ethical issues and understand how to run advocacy and support programs for a variety of people and causes. Graduates can acquire knowledge of the inner workings of human services organizations, what drives them, and how to ensure they succeed. Equipped with all of these skills, these professionals can pursue analyst or consulting roles, along with some of the highest positions attainable.

Accreditation for Doctorate in Human Services Online Programs

When choosing a school and a program, few considerations rank higher than accreditation. This necessary recognition informs students that their school meets the regional and industry standards. It also validates the student's education for employers, financial aid agencies, and certification and licensure organizations.

Students should ensure that their school has received proper recognition from one of the approved regional accrediting agencies. These agencies each oversee a region of schools and verify they meet the requirements of that area. For programs, the human services field does not require any mandatory accreditation, but the Council for Standards in Human Service Education does offer national recognition for eligible programs.

Some programs may hold accreditation from one of the many other national accrediting agencies. If unsure, students can check the accreditation status of their school or program on the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.