Milton Hershey, the founder of Hershey’s chocolate, once said, “business is a matter of human service.” The field of human services is, at its core, built on compassion for others. If helping others excites you and you want to become a dynamic leader in implementing programs that improve lives, strengthen your community, and impact the world, then a Ph.D. in human services may be the career path for you.
With the recent Coronavirus pandemic, human service professionals are needed more than ever. People all over the world are impacted by this pandemic and may need physical, mental, or emotional help. A human service degree equips students to serve clients in a variety of settings. For example, human service professionals may work with social workers, detectives, physicians, and other specialists to help overcome challenges and improve lives.
What Is a Ph.D. in Human Services?
A Ph.D. in human services, to put it simply, gives you the knowledge and skills necessary to effectively help others. These advanced degrees vary in specializations, which means that there are many avenues you can take.
Most Ph.Ds. in human services focus on leadership, specifically leading human service organizations. How this is applied varies depending on the concentration you choose. Some common human services concentrations are:
- Community development
- Marriage and family
- Nonprofit administration
- Criminal justice
- Mental health
- Disaster relief
- Crisis management
- Social policy
A Ph.D. in human services entails coursework in human services, research, program evaluation, and specific concentrations. You will research, write, and defend your dissertation after you complete the required coursework. Human service Ph.D. programs typically require 55 to 63 credits, which means that full-time students can typically complete their programs in three to four years.
The good thing about working through a Ph.D. program online is the flexibility and continued support. The universities we recommend rank high in the online learning format categories, making it as easy as possible for students to succeed.
Careers for Human Services Ph.D. Majors
Career options for Human Services Ph.D. majors are plentiful. The career you choose will depend on the specialization you choose in your program. Our number #3 ranking, Capella, offers a list of careers in the human service field:
- Director of human services
- Behavioral specialist/consultant
- Executive director
- Community programs director
- Director of community service
- Director of women’s program
- Adjunct or part-time human services faculty
- Full-time human services faculty
- Social service administrator
- Senior center director
- Director of office of child support service
As far as career settings, they are just as varied as actual careers are. Here are some common ones:
- City, county, state and federal agency
- Adoption agency
- Family preservation agency
- Family service agency
- Victim service program
- Domestic violence shelter
- Land-based or online college or university
- Community college
- Nonprofit organization
- Community mental health center
- Homeless shelter
Capella’s Social Work and Human Services Department also published this article, “Find the Right Human Services Career for You,” which is helpful.
Ph.D. in Human Services Salary Potential
Salaries for human services Ph.D. graduates differ, but we can give you an idea of the pay potential. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, social and community service managers make a median of $65,320 per year. Those employed by the local government make an average of $83,660, while those who work for religious, civic, professional, or similar organizations make $70,080 per year. Individual and family service professionals make the least amount, at around $59,400 annually. The top earners in all categories make more than $111,150 per year.
Those with Ph.Ds. in human services often choose to teach at the university level. Postsecondary teachers earn an average of $78,470 per year, with the top earners making more than $175,110 per year.
SimplyHired reports that the average career for someone with a Ph.D. in human services is $67,000 per year, which is comparable to the BLS. As you can see, there is potential to make a decent salary with a Ph.D. in human services, depending on the specific career chosen.
What Are the Best Online Ph.Ds. in Human Services?
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University of Connecticut
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Founded in 1881, the University of Connecticut, fondly known as UConn, is located in Storrs, Connecticut. Currently, UConn offers over 100 academic programs to its 32,000+ students. UConn ranks among the Top 25 Public Universities in the Nation, according to the U.S. News & World Report America’s Best Colleges, 2020. Check out the lengthy list of well-known UConn alumni, ranging from athletes and entertainers to innovators and leaders.
UConn’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences offers a Ph.D. in human development and family sciences where students study theory, develop and evaluate intervention/prevention programs, and conduct research on how individuals adapt within their social and family environments throughout their lifespan. This program opens doors to a myriad of career opportunities in research, academia, consulting, and more. Research interests of the faculty and Ph.D. students overlap into five areas:
- Adulthood, aging, and gerontology
- Child and adolescent development
- Couples, parents, and families
- Diversity and culture
- Health, wellbeing, and prevention
With this Ph.D., you can also earn a number of certificates in various topics, including culture, health, and human development; program evaluation; and quantitative research methods, to name a few. You can expect to take 50-60 credit hours to complete this program, which includes required courses, methodology courses, specialization courses, and practicum experiences. The application for this program is due December 15 to start the following fall semester.
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Born in 1971, Liberty University is an evangelical liberal arts institution with 17 colleges and schools, more than 600 academic programs, and over 100,000 students! Over 400 of these programs are online and available around the world. Liberty’s sophisticated digital resources, including more than 750,000 electronic books, articles, and journals, are all at the hands of students. Liberty is accredited through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
From the School of Behavioral Sciences, Liberty’s Ed.D. in community care and counseling’s goal is to immerse students in emerging trends in the field with innovative insights into Christian ministry, counseling, and treatments. You will be able to choose a specialization in traumatology, pastoral care and counseling, or marriage and family. This program entails 57 credit hours that students complete through online 8-week courses.
As a doctoral student in this program, you will be able to publish academic research and pursue college-level teaching. Careers include counseling, social work, and ministry-related human services. To apply, you need a master’s degree with a 3.0 or above in counseling, human services, or a related field. If your master’s degree is in another area, you may need to complete additional graduate prerequisite courses.
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Headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and open since 1993, Capella University is an online university that has been perfecting its craft through the years and now offers 53 degree programs in two online learning formats. Its 38,000+ students can choose from the GUIDEDPATH or FLEXPATH formats, depending on their learning preferences. While this is an online school, the programs are acclimated so students will feel connected and not isolated.
With 25 years of online doctoral education, Capella University understands “the unique needs of doctoral students, and has designed its programs to meet those needs.” The Ph.D. in human services program will expand your knowledge and skills of human service leadership, professional practice, and research. Graduates are equipped to become leaders in the human service field, as well as fields like public administration, safety, and healthcare.
This online program includes ten core courses, seven elective courses, three dissertation research seminars, a comprehensive exam, and a final dissertation project. You will take courses like Strategic Planning and Organizational Effectiveness for Human Services and Ethics and Decision Making in Human Services. To apply, you need a master’s degree in human services or related with a minimum 3.0 GPA. However, GRE or GMAT scores are not required.
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Walden University’s mission is to “create opportunities and drive social change” as they “prepare students to be scholar-practitioners.” Founded in 1970, Minnesota’s Walden University is an online university located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, that understands the demands of working professionals and offers the flexibility to earn online degrees. With more than 80 degrees and 385 specializations, Walden presents a student-approach to learning through all its programs that involve flexible scheduling, a collegial learning environment, and continuous online support.
With Walden’s Ph.D. in human and social services, you can become an effective leader in meeting the needs of those struggling with addiction, illness, and poverty. The coursework emphasizes a “holistic, interprofessional approach to human and social services” to prepare you to help individuals, families, and communities in a variety of settings, including healthcare, social work, financial aid, food aid, criminal justice, education, and housing.
You can choose from two tracks within this program, depending on if you already hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Within each track, you will also choose either the general program or one of 14 specializations based on your background and interests. If you already have a master’s degree in human services or a related field, you will take 63 credits to complete this Ph.D. Walden also offers exclusive mentor guidance for this program.
San Diego, California
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With its motto, “An education that takes you from dreaming to doing,” Ashford University, an accredited online university in San Diego, California, offers more than 80 degree programs online. Ashford’s online programs are available to a wide variety of nearly 8,000 students who live all over the world. Ashford is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
Ashford University’s Ph.D. in human services provides you with the extensive knowledge needed to operate human service organizations. This program totals 62 credit hours, which consist of 11 core classes, one elective research course, five specialization courses, and a capstone seminar. The doctoral dissertation includes two planning courses and five dissertation courses.
You can also add one of three specializations: mental health administration, nonprofit management, or standard human services. Each class spans from 6 to 9 weeks and is 100% online. Ashford accepts students into this program on conditional, provisional, or full standing levels, which are dependent on the sequence of completed coursework.