Online Doctorate Degree Programs in Social Sciences & Public Affairs

Do you want to push your education to the upper limits, while exploring the finer points of human behavior, thought, and culture?i Then taking online social science courses or public affairs courses at the doctoral level may be the perfect next step for you! Whether you’re interested in pursuing online doctoral programs in psychology, earning a PhD in public affairs, or exploring another branch of knowledge in the social sciences, the info below may be a good starting point for your plans! You’ll learn a bit more about disciplines you might study, as well as what to potentially expect from PhD in Social Sciences online programs.

So what is social science, exactly? i

The social sciences are branches of science that explore human behaviors, cultures, and social interactions. If you’re considering PhD in Social Sciences online programs, you’re probably already familiar with this definition! However, the social sciences have evolved over time, and not everybody agrees on what disciplines belong in the social sciences category. For example, some may include history in the mix, while others say, “No way!” Some generally-accepted branches of the social sciences may include:

  • Political science (or public affairs)
  • Social geography
  • Social psychology
  • Sociology
  • Anthropology
  • Economics

Goals of studying the social sciences may range from getting a better understanding of social orders and institutions, like government, to discovering how a particular cultural tradition came about. And likely, you have some goals of your own in mind once you earn your degree from PhD in Social Sciences online programs!

"Our lives can be greatly improved through a deeper understanding of individual and collective behavior.”

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~Nicholas A. Christakis, American sociologist, physician, and author

Earning a social sciences PhD: what might it be like?*

It’s only natural to wonder what the life of a social sciences doctoral student or PhD public affairs candidate may be like – busy, for starters! A doctorate degree, such as a PhD, is the most advanced academic qualification that may be earned in the United States. In 2003, the median time to earn a research doctorate in the social sciences was 7.8 years, not including the candidate’s bachelor’s degree (which typically takes about 4 years).ii  The journey to earning a doctorate typically requires both advanced study and original research. So, if you are interested in earning an online PhD in social psychology, political science, or another branch of the social sciences, you may need to pursue social science online courses and also complete supervised research, in addition to other potential requirements. Of course, what you may learn in a doctoral program depends on the area of public affairs or social sciences that you wish to study! Here are some courses you may find in online psychology doctoral programs:

  • History and systems of psychology
  • Psychopathology
  • Cognitive behavioral assessment
  • Psychology of personality
  • Abnormal psychology
  • Quantitative and qualitative research methods
  • And more...

You may also be able to choose a concentration for your doctoral studies. For instance, in anthropology, possible areas of focus may include archeology and cultural/linguistic anthropology, among others. In most cases, candidates must be prepared to pass comprehensive exams in their area of study in order to earn a doctorate, in addition to rigorously researching, writing, and defending a dissertation.*

Attending PhD in Social Sciences Online Programs: the perfect choice for my career goals?

Thinking about earning a social sciences PhD? Earning a doctorate degree is a very specific goal that may appeal to certain candidates – like those who hope to pursue a postsecondary political science teacher,  sociologist,  or clinical psychologist  career path. Do your homework on your career area of choice to learn more about potential educational paths that may be required or recommended. For example, prospective postsecondary teachers may earn a master’s degree, but they may find they are not as competitive for teaching opportunities, compared to candidates who have earned a doctoral degree.  And about 77% of sociologists say a doctoral degree was required for their current position. iv In that case, maybe pursuing an online PhD sociology is the perfect choice!

Programs vary, so be sure to check with your school for details!

Did you know? Scholars aren’t sure when social science first emerged. Some trace the study back to Plato. Others claim social science didn’t exist until the Enlightenment!

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PhD vs PsyD vs other doctoral degrees

So should you pursue a PhD in Social Work or a D.S.W. (Doctor of Social Work)? What about a PhD vs PsyD (Doctor of Psychology)? A PhD stands for Doctor of Philosophy and is awarded in a variety of disciplines, but you could also encounter other degree types in the social sciences that may be equivalent in level to the PhD.*

The degree program that’s perfect for you may depend on a bunch of factors – like your career goals, and standards in your field; for example, prospective clinical psychologists might pursue a Psy.D or a PhD, while school psychologists may pursue an education specialist degree (Ed.S.)v

What’s my next step?

Why not explore a few potential doctoral programs that catch your eye? On this page, you’ll find some sponsored program listings that may be worth checking out. Click to learn more about what each program has to offer. You may find online doctoral programs in psychology, social work, family therapy, and any number of other public affairs and social science online courses. Good luck pursuing new opportunities to make a positive impact in your community and beyond!

*Information sheet available for download at

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