You care about enhancing the well-being of others, and enjoy making a difference, not just in people’s lives, but also in society. You pride yourself on making a mark and leaving things better than you found them. With your experience in organizations and perhaps even non-profits, you know that social welfare and justice is your calling. And you know that a PhD in human services might help you level up in your career. Perhaps make an even bigger impact. Get started learning everything you need to know about a PhD in human services and turn your passion into purpose. Use this guide to get answers to all your questions about what a PhD in human services is and what it takes to earn the degree.

What Is a PhD in Human Services?

A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Human Services is a research doctorate that prepares students for careers as academic scholars and practitioners in the field of human services. The program emphasizes the development of research skills and knowledge in human services theories, methods, and practice. Students learn to design and conduct high-quality research that advances the evidence base of the human services practice. 

What Classes Will I Take for a PhD in Human Services?

While the classes you take for a PhD in human services will vary by university, you can generally expect to take classes that help you build a foundation in human services and prepare you to enter the field ready to make a change. Some of these classes will include theory and principles, quantitative and qualitative research (which will come in handy for your dissertation), and policy development. Specifically, in the PhD in human services program at the University of Arizona Global Campus (UAGC), you can expect to see classes such as:

History & Systems of Human Services
This entry point course provides the historical context and development of the human services field. This course examines the historical context and the evolution of health and human services professions. Students will study the origins of the profession and evaluate ways in which philosophical and ideological perspectives have defined the fields of practice throughout its history. Students will analyze the ways service delivery and social policy has changed in response to political influence and societal needs. Students will explore the differing political, social, and economic perspectives and their influence on health and human services professions.

Theories & Strategy of Community Development & Advocacy
This course examines the theories and research underlying the political, economic, and social structures related to community groups and organizations within contemporary society. Students analyze methods of creating communities and social organizations that empower and support individuals to work together to initiate change, with or without the assistance of outside advocacy. Students develop skills to create and assess community action plans, incorporate persuasive language into client advocacy, and organize political action groups to seek opportunities for themselves and others. There is a focus on social and economic justice within the context of human services’ ethics that supports and sustains the well-being of individuals and communities, especially among diverse populations.

Professional & Business Ethics in Organizational Leadership
In this advanced seminar in ethical decision-making in the workplace, students will examine a variety of moral problems that arise in organizations through case studies. Students will apply three ethical theories to guide them in identifying solutions that are consistent with their own values but also logically sound and impartial to emotional appeal. This work will prepare students to identify and confront practical moral problems — especially regarding corporate social responsibility and moral leadership —  and to articulate their moral positions in argumentative essay form.

Evidence-Based Practice
This course demonstrates the value of evidence-based practice as an integral part of formulating human services research and policy. Coursework examines the current definition of evidence-based policy and approaches to move the field forward. The course provides an evaluation of evidence-based literature, including case study examples of the application of evidence-based practices in human services. The course also examines actions to further evidence-based policy, including preparing and communicating data more effectively, using existing analytic tools, conducting policy surveillance, and tracking outcomes with different types of evidence.

Scholarly Argument II
This course will build on the work students began in Scholarly Argument I and the research skills honed throughout the curriculum. Organizing content and formulating a well-researched scholarly argument are key learning outcomes. Students will produce a first draft of a literature review in their content areas and review potential research methodologies for completing either an applied doctoral project or dissertation.

Additionally, at UAGC, students writing a dissertation must complete a total of five credits by registering for five consecutive terms of dissertation credit, one credit per term.

Is an Online PhD in Human Services Respected?

An online PhD in human services is respected by many employers, as it shows a high level of dedication to the field, as well as a commitment to continuing one’s education. In a survey conducted by,  83% of executives reported “an online degree is as credible as one earned through a traditional campus-based program.” Many employers view an online PhD as equivalent to a traditional PhD earned from a brick-and-mortar institution.

Learning and earning a degree remotely also shows enhanced accountability, which employers value, along with proactive soft skills that include communication, time management, critical thinking, problem-solving and feedback. These skills, while also possible to learn in-person at a traditional institution, are especially relevant in an online PhD program. Work-life integration is also emerging as a critical component of a healthy work environment across all industries. For a PhD in human services, this value is as critical as ever. 

The human services PhD program at UAGC maintains annual membership with the Council for Standards in Human Service Education (CSHSE) and the National Organization for Human Services (NOHS). 

UAGC also has a Human Services Club for students and faculty that meets once a month and communicates in discussion boards, and an honor society specifically for human services (TUA).  

What Are the Admission Requirements for a PhD in Human Services?

Admission requirements for a PhD in human services vary by school, though generally include a master’s degree in human services or a related field within the behavioral sciences, as well as a minimum GPA. Some programs may also require GRE scores, though not all, such as the doctor of philosophy program offered by UAGC.  Additionally, most PhD programs like to see that applicants have some experience working in the human services field. 

What Can I Do with a PhD in Human Services?

With a PhD in human services, you will have the in-depth knowledge needed to help operate human resources organizations in the for-profit and non-profit world.  Students will develop a deeper understanding of administrative roles, procedures, and strategic planning.  For example, when you earn a Doctor of Philosophy in Human Services from UAGC, you can pursue a number of careers such as:

  • Child Welfare Services Director
  • Community Services Director
  • Clinical Services Director
  • Vocational Rehabilitation Administrator

How Long Does It Take to Earn a PhD in Human Services?

The length of time it takes to earn a PhD in human services varies by program. However, most PhD in human services programs may take between four and six years to complete. This includes time spent completing coursework, conducting research, and writing and defending a dissertation. Some programs may offer an accelerated track that can be completed in as little as three years. Additionally, you may consider pursuing an online PhD in human services at an institution like UAGC, which offers courses that are six weeks in length* that can be taken one at a time to balance your course load with a full-time job, family, and other commitments in your life. Transferring applicable credits to the program may also help reduce the length of time spent pursuing the degree.

Reasons to Earn a PhD in Human Services

There are many reasons to pursue a PhD in human services, such as the desire to make a difference in the lives of others, the opportunity to conduct research that advances the field, or the chance to mentor future practitioners. With a PhD in human services, you can make a lasting impact on the field and the people it serves.

Here are 10 reasons to earn a PhD in Human Services. You can:

  1. Achieve a personal goal and a sense of accomplishment.
  2. Build a skillset that prepares you for a variety of settings, from academia to policy making. 
  3. Enhance your career by adding three extra letters behind your name. A PhD can open up opportunities in the field of human services, such as leadership roles in non-profits and advanced education, according to U.S. News & World Report.
  4. Deeply understand and apply principles of social justice. When you fully grasp what’s going on at a theoretical and practical level, you’ll be able to participate in conversations fully equipped with the history of the field.
  5. Speak up for people who often do not have a voice; who are overlooked or underserved in society. Advocate for them by bringing light to issues affecting them, such as socioeconomic barriers, hunger, housing, racial, gender, and other pressing issues in need of change.
  6. Develop the very frameworks within society that help underserved populations. Make change happen at the structural level, and you’ll leave a mark not only on society but on many lives as well.
  7. Contribute to the advancement of the practice through research and policies.
  8. Join a growing field; the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that the U.S. will see 12% growth in community and social service jobs from 2020–2030.
  9. Learn how to build effective teams with the unique combination of skills you’ll earn from the PhD.
  10. Design programs that lead to healthier, happier, and more equitable living. Making a difference in others’ lives is what led you this far, and at the end of your degree, this reason will still ring true.

Consider a PhD in Human Services

If you’re looking to make a real difference in the world, for a more diverse, inclusive, and just future, a PhD in human services may be the perfect path for you. Enhance your skills in problem-solving, policies, development, research, and more. With these fine-tuned skills, you’ll be ready to level up in your career or enter the field for the first time. With growth in human services jobs expected to increase through 2030, you’ll be well-suited for a variety of roles within the field. Contact an advisor today to learn more about a PhD in human services.


Certain degree programs may not be available in all states. 

*Doctoral capstone, planning and project classes are 9 weeks. 

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