Doctorate of Social Work

Last updated August 15, 2022 by:
Doctorate of Social Work By Alyssa Middleton
Alyssa Middleton
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Social Work (University of Louisville, Kent School of Social Work) MSW (Washington University in St. Louis)
School Program Admissions

Click to view accredited online MSW programs that are taking applications for 2022.

If you are a current MSW student, some of your professors may have earned their Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) degree, and you might be curious about what this means. You may be an existing social work practitioner, wanting to further your education to be eligible for promotions and higher levels of responsibility in your career, but are unsure if a DSW is right for you.

Perhaps you want to teach BSW or MSW classes, but aren't interested in getting a Ph.D. in Social Work. This guide provides detailed information about the DSW degree, including the benefits, ways in which you can earn the degree, admission requirements, examples of courses within the program along with potential career opportunities. If you are considering gaining additional education and training for increased leadership or teaching opportunities, then read on to learn more about this unique degree that can be completed in the evenings or weekends, around your work schedule.

Are there online DSW programs?

Yes, there are many online DSW degrees available. Many DSW programs are actually hybrids, meaning that the majority of the instruction is done online, but there are a few in-person, on campus meetings throughout the program, which is called residency. These occasional residencies can range from a weekend to a two-week stay on campus, and are typically manageable for students to travel to meet and network with others in their cohort, attend live seminars, and meet with program faculty for planning and advising purposes.

Studying a DSW Online vs. On Campus

The primary benefit to earning a DSW online vs. on campus is convenience. You can take classes from a renowned school of social work that is across the nation, while you stay at home and continue to work in your current position. There is no need to uproot your life and move in order to earn a degree.

Different courses

Online DSW and on campus DSW programs are quite similar, with the primary distinction being the method by which the courses are taught. They have the same number of required courses and credit hours and graduation requirements. Online students may have a brief introduction course to the school's online learning management system, but that would be the only difference in courses offered.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous coursework

Online DSW courses can be offered in two ways: synchronously or asynchronously. In a synchronous course, all students login to the class simultaneously at a predetermined day and time and learn via live instruction. Asynchronous courses occur when the instructor pre-records the lecture and presentation and uploads them to the online learning management system. Students login at their convenience and review the lesson on their own schedule. Asynchronous courses are typically most convenient for students who continue to work full time while earning their DSW degree, so they can learn and complete assignments around their work schedule.

Why Would You Want a DSW?

The DSW is considered a practice degree, meaning it prepares clinical professionals for the highest level of social work practice along with preparation for higher levels of leadership and administrative roles in addition to teaching practice courses in schools of social work.The DSW is a 'step up' from an MSW, and is the highest degree available for social workers (it is considered to be on par with a Ph.D). The DSW degree allows graduates to take on more responsibilities, earn more money and be prepared for executive-level positions in the field.

What you study in a Doctorate of Social Work degree

DSW programs have different areas of focus, so students will develop different skills depending on which school they attend. DSW students can gain in-depth knowledge and experience in newer treatment modalities that may not have been covered in their MSW program. DSW students also focus on leadership, both developing leadership skills in themselves and others. DSW graduates are prepared to enact change through guiding and influencing the development of organizational and practice policies. DSWs often have years of clinical social work experience prior to entering a DSW program, so they have unique insight as to how various organizations run and ideas for improvement at various levels within an organization. DSWs also teach practice skills to the next generation of social work students.

Who is this degree for?

Regardless of their area of focus, DSW graduates are poised to be action takers and change makers for programs and policies that serve and affect the most vulnerable of populations. If you are interested in leading a social service organization, having extensive knowledge and skills for your own clinical practice, or shaping the future of social work practice education, the DSW degree might be a good fit for you.

School Level Program Admissions

Click to view all online MSW programs that are currently accepting applications.

DSW vs Ph.D. in Social Work: What is the Difference?

As previously stated, the DSW is a practice degree, which focuses on supervision, leadership and teaching in social work practice. A DSW graduate is likely to be employed within the community, for example, at a nonprofit organization, working in executive-level management or administration positions, or at a university, teaching BSW or MSW students social work practice skills. In contrast, the Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work (Ph.D.) is a research-focused degree. A Ph.D. graduate would likely be employed at a university or research center, focusing on teaching and conducting research.

The DSW degree takes less time than a PhD in Social Work

The DSW program takes less time to complete than the Ph.D., on average, 2-3 years. The DSW degree typically requires a capstone project to graduate, which is discussed in more detail later in this guide. This is in contrast to a Ph.D., which can take five or more years to complete and requires a dissertation to graduate, which is a much longer and more detailed project than a capstone.

You can teach with a DSW but available courses may differ

Both DSW and Ph.D. graduates are able to teach at the undergraduate or graduate level, but the types of courses each teach tend to differ. While this is not an absolute, DSWs tend to teach human development, practice skills and policy coursework. Ph.Ds would more likely be found teaching theory and research courses. Either type of graduate could be found teaching social work ethics.

CSWE Accredited Programs

Accredited Programs

CSWE (Council on Social Work Education) is the top accrediting board for Master of Social Work programs. Below, you will find a list of all of the CSWE accredited social work programs.