Ph.D. in Human Services

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Who Gets a Ph.D. in Human Services & What to Expect

Choosing an online Ph.D. in human services opens several career possibilities that other degrees, like a bachelor’s or a master’s, might not. Many aspiring doctoral students seek the professional freedom and flexibility given by these degrees, as graduates can pursue careers in counseling, social work, healthcare, and more. Their in-depth understanding of human services organizations, compassion, and advanced leadership training make them ideal candidates for executive and director roles across a variety of these organizations.

Human services professionals can make an impact on a larger scale as well, with their education qualifying them to make changes to social policy and develop social services. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the growing focus on human services and mental health has contributed to enormous growth in the field. Counseling professions, for example, look to grow more than three times that of the average career.

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Reasons to Pursue an Online Ph.D. in Human Services

While everyone may have different reasons for pursuing a Ph.D. in human services online, the field offers some mutual benefits that many graduates can share. The following list includes some of the primary reasons that people seek this degree.

  • LEADERSHIP POSITIONS A combination of their leadership training and in-depth knowledge of the human services field make those with doctorates ideal candidates for leadership and management positions. These careers allow graduates to make an impact and a difference in their field.
  • TEACH Earning a Ph.D. qualifies graduates for a career in academia. They use their research skills and specialized knowledge to add to the scholarship in the field and teach the next generation of human services professionals.
  • SALARY EXPECTATIONS While the median annual wage for mental health counselors is higher than the national average, the top 10% of professionals in this field earn wages that nearly double the average occupation. With a doctorate, graduates can qualify for these upper-level positions.
  • CAREER GROWTH Due to the growing need for mental health counselors to provide treatment for clients, the BLS projects the mental health counseling profession to grow by 23% through 2026. Other forms of counseling are projected to grow by 16%, which still more than doubles the average occupation.
  • CAREER FLEXIBILITY Earning a doctorate allows students to focus their training on certain areas in the field, but human services touches on several professions. This enables graduates to move between fields more freely.

What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate in Human Services

A Ph.D. in human services online offers a diverse career path for professionals. In general, these professionals all work to improve human services around the globe and improve access to care providers, but whether they work on the clinical or research and development sides may depend on the specific degree.

For example, an online Ph.D. in human services typically leads graduates to careers in academia. The heavy research focus complements work as teachers and scholars. Clinical-based doctorates, meanwhile, tend to lead to careers in human services organizations, either in management or on the front line.

Common Career Paths and Salaries

With such varied career paths, graduates can explore several professions and industries. While the job titles differ between states and individual employers, the following list highlights some common careers available to human services professionals.


  • Mental Health Counselors

    Mental health counselors help people manage and treat many mental health disorders and issues. These professionals can pursue credentials like certifications and master’s degrees, though doctorates may allow for easier access to management and executive positions.

    Median Annual Salary: $44,600

  • Rehabilitation Counselors

    Rehabilitation counselors help people with disabilities overcome their personal challenges to live happily and independently. Many employers seek out candidates with master’s degrees, but doctorate holders may earn positions as executives or managers.

    Median Annual Salary: $36,600

  • School and Career Counselors

    These counselors work within school systems to help students and families reach their educational and career goals. Though most school counselors need master’s degrees, a doctorate may provide easier access to management careers or additional licensure.

    Median Annual Salary: $56,300

  • Social Workers

    These professionals work with clients to manage and treat mental and emotional issues. While many clinical positions require a master’s degree for employment, a doctorate can lead to management and director roles in social work organizations.

    Median Annual Salary: $49,500

  • Postsecondary Teachers

    Postsecondary teachers work in colleges, universities, and research centers educating students and performing research. Employers typically require each candidate to possess a doctorate.

    Median Annual Salary: $78,500

Source: BLS

Human Services Ph.D. Program Requirements and Outcomes

The specifics of a doctorate in human services vary depending on the program and a student’s choices. Program length, structure, and requirements differ among degree types. While an online Ph.D. in human services typically features 50-60 credits, students can complete the degree in 5-7 years. Meanwhile, a clinically based doctorate often features 60-75 credits but takes 4-6 years to complete. The major difference between these programs is that the Ph.D. usually includes a dissertation and a clinical-based doctorate includes a research project.

Both degrees may include an internship, but they appear much more commonly in clinical doctorates. These degrees also tend to feature different admission and in-person requirements. In addition to the master’s degree and a 3.0 GPA required by clinical-based doctorates, a Ph.D. candidate must often provide research proposals for admission. For an online student, a Ph.D. may require an in-person dissertation defense, whereas the clinical requirements of a doctorate may take place at a specific location near campus or an approved local site.

Common Courses

Every program features its own unique curriculum and course options, but certain courses tend to appear throughout most programs. The following list highlights some of the core courses students can expect to see in their online Ph.D. in human services.


Global social services courses examine programs that serve multicultural and diverse populations around the world. They explore different countries and cultures, and how policies and care strategies differ. Graduates can work in immigration and international human services organizations.


Conflict management courses teach students how to approach disputes and negotiations effectively. They can learn the interpersonal and leadership skills necessary for management. Professionals with these skills can leverage the latest research and best practices to work with human services organizations, counseling agencies, and governments.


This course provides training in reading and understanding social policies and laws. Learners can study legislation that impacts healthcare, social organizations, and nonprofits. Graduates with these skills can work with the government, policymakers, and legislators to help shape and change public policies.


This course deals specifically with the leadership of nonprofits. Students learn about the operations, legalities, financing, and marketing surrounding these organizations. With this training, they can explore management positions with nonprofits and international human services organizations.


Advanced research courses allow students to delve into an in-depth research assignment. Learners can engage with scholarly research strategies and ethics, examining how clinical work can apply this research. Professionally, while these courses help in many human services careers, they particularly assist with academic and research careers.

Other Requirements

Coursework makes up only a portion of the degree requirements for an online Ph.D. in human services. Students need to complete other components to graduate, depending on the program and degree chosen. The following requirements represent three of the most common elements students might encounter.


A student pursuing a Ph.D. typically completes a dissertation as one of the degree’s central components. These assignments require candidates to conduct thorough research, prepare a paper on the topic, and defend its arguments against other scholarship in the field. In many cases, the dissertation takes up approximately two years of the degree.


Though a research project may be required for most degrees, a clinically based doctorate often features these projects in place of a dissertation. This allows students to acquire advanced research skills while providing them with more time to spend in clinical settings.


Degrees of all types require internships, but they appear in clinically based doctoral programs more often. Internships require students to take part in clinical assignments, applying their training to practical settings and situations. To get the most out of an internship, students usually complete them in the latter half of their program.

Skills and Competencies

Students may acquire many different skills and competencies from an online Ph.D. in human services, but the following list outlines some of the best and most useful.


Strong communication skills go a long way in many careers, but human services professionals use their interpersonal abilities to communicate with clients, organizations, the government, and lawmakers.

Social Awareness

Professionals need social perceptiveness to thrive in many human services environments. This allows them to connect with others and understand their unique positions and perspectives.

Critical Thinking

Critical-thinking skills allow graduates to use their reasoning and knowledge to best approach and solve problems. Critical thinking can come from advanced training, research skills, and an understanding of human services operations.


While students aiming for careers in counseling organizations may find the most use for counseling skills, these competencies can help in several human services careers. Counseling skills tend to come with interpersonal, negotiation, and conflict management skills, as well.


Many doctoral programs provide leadership training as part of their curriculum. In an online Ph.D. in human services, leadership courses help graduates take on management, director, and executive roles.


Ph.D. students often start with compassion, but it becomes more important in counseling and human services professions after graduation. These skills allow professionals to empathize with clients dealing with various disorders and issues.

Human Services Professional Organizations

In the field of human services, professional organizations provide several resources and benefits to new graduates, experienced veterans, and everyone in between. These associations represent nearly all human services careers as they advocate for, promote, and support its professionals and the profession as a whole. They help shape the field by encouraging individual development, best practices, and improved industry standards.

Students and new graduates can acquire scholarships, mentorships, and career opportunities from these associations. Similarly, experienced professionals can gain access to industry events, publications, and continuing education credits with a membership. Members can also volunteer or join the association board to get even more from their memberships. To help find the right organization, we have highlighted some of the largest industry associations for human services.

American Counseling Association

ACA strives to grow and improve the counseling profession by educating, training, and supporting its members. Through the association, members can gain access to conferences and industry events, publications, and industry news.

National Organization of Human Services

Dedicated to improving human services in various communities, NOHS offers members access to professional development opportunities, certification, and industry information. The organization also strives to strengthen social policy and industry communications.

National Association of Social Workers

NASW seeks to improve the social work industry by supporting the individual growth and professional development of its members, developing professional standards, and promoting a strong set of social policies.

National Council of Nonprofits

As an advocate for nonprofit organizations, the national council works to push and promote public policy, as well as to support the endeavors of various nonprofits. Member nonprofits can gain access to network resources, along with best practices and solutions.

American Association of Healthcare Administration Management

AAHAM advocates for healthcare administration managers and improved healthcare services. The association provides its members with access to training and education, certification, and industry information.

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