Generally those that pursue the terminal degree of a Doctorate of Social Work pursue one of two types: The Doctorate of Social Work, or DSW; or the Ph.D. in Social Work. There is much to know about a Doctorate degree in Social Work – which can certainly help individuals that are interested in potentially seeking this degree. Across the nation, there are numerous universities offering a Doctorate in Social Work program via a DSW or Ph.D. What this means for those that are interested in pursuing this degree is that the availability of programs is prominent – making it a great choice for a terminal degree program.

DSW: Doctor of Social Work

The DSW offers students the opportunity to become the most well-equipped social work leaders. Students may develop specialized clinical skills, practice the most current clinical interventions with specified populations, develop macro-level interventions to address large social issues, and obtain leadership skills.

While there are limited DSW programs in the United States, there are universities that offer the DSW program online to make this degree accessible to students across the country.

How Do You Get a Doctorate of Social Work?

A Doctorate in Social Work is typically obtained after an undergraduate degree. The doctorate program lasts around four years on average, but can vary depending on whether or not students choose to take courses full-time or part-time.

There are two general paths for students to choose from:

  • Doctorate in Social Work: For those that wish to apply their knowledge in a clinical setting, the DSW path is likely more fitting.
  • PhD in Social Work: PhD learners are more focused on the research aspect of social work, which makes these individuals more fitting for educational and research positions in various agencies.

Regardless of which path is taken, students will find that curriculum for each is filled with monumental case studies, society-focused intervention plans and research that will extend a student’s knowledge beyond what is provided in undergraduate programs.

Online DSW Programs

The online Doctorate in Social Work is a degree program that has been implemented to provide graduate level education through an online platform. This is one of the most preferred methods of obtaining a graduate degree in social work, since it is highly regarded in the professional environment as well as with many social work organizations.

Q&A: What is the Online DSW?

The online DSW is the Doctorate of Social Work degree that can be earned primarily online. Colleges and universities utilize online education platforms to deliver both synchronous and asynchronous learning opportunities to allow students from all over the country to enroll.

CSWE accredited programs

Unfortunately, the CSWE does not accredit Doctor of Social Work Programs. Many social workers are familiar with the CSWE, as it is the prominent accrediting organization for BSW and MSW programs. Online social work degree programs that are reviewed for relevance and reliability are found through the CSWE website as well as the available traditional education programs. Through online studies, students will find that the opportunity for self-teaching is high all while still remaining within a convenient distance from unending resources and instructor support.

Because there is no programmatic accrediting body for DSW programs (or PhD in social work programs), you should be sure to be very thorough in your research (which this page hopes to help you with). Read on to learn more about what to look for in your DSW program or consider a featured program that is online.

What to Look for in an Online DSW Program

GRE Requirements
While GRE requirements may vary by program, most social work education programs in general do not require GRE scores, including DSW programs. However, programs will usually accept GRE scores as an optional application component.
GPA Requirements
When it comes to GPA requirements, students must have displayed exemplary academic achievement during their graduate education experience. For most DSW programs, applicants must have earned at least a cumulative GPA of 3.0 during their MSW programs. Some programs require a MSW minimum GPA of 3.5. The specific GPA requirements for each individual program can be found on each program’s website or by contacting the program’s admissions office.
Does the program require campus visits?
For online DSW programs, campus visits are typically not required, as students may enroll from all over the country. However, alternatives to campus visits, such as phone or teleconferencing interviews may be offered to students as a way to engage with admissions staff directly and become oriented to the program. Some programs also require students to attend program orientation on campus.
Does the program have field placement and licensure support?
The field work requirements for DSW programs vary by institution. Since students may be completing coursework that involves clinical interventions and assessment skills, the practice of implementing these skills into field work is important. Some programs allow students to use their current job to fulfill this practice (if appropriate) while others may require that placements are volunteer-based. Information regarding the specific field education requirements can be located on each program’s website or by contacting the admissions office.
Upon obtaining a DSW, there is no additional doctorate level social work licensure. However, programs may provide career and job searching support.

Why a Doctorate of Social Work Degree?

Most people consider doctors to be the most knowledgeable in their chosen profession. As learners, some may consider pursuing a degree of this level of prestige when working hard towards a career in social work.

1. To gain knowledge in the field

Having the highest available degree will not only communicate a high tier of understanding of the social environment, but will also convey a serious dedication to the field in which the degree is attained.

There are vast amounts of social workers across the country in a huge number of different settings. One thing is certain about this fact – someone out there must be leading them. Since most social workers hold a bachelor’s (BSW) or master’s degree (MSW), students that graduate at the doctoral level are already a step ahead in knowledge and qualifications.

2. For leadership positions in your career

Many leadership positions are available to individuals with doctoral level degrees in social work. There are also positions available as social and community service managers, human service administrators, non-profit managers and more.

Graduates with a Doctorate in Social Work will find that they are also more qualified for advance social work positions with state and government agencies, the judicial system and the welfare system. When dealing with children and the elderly, some organizations only entrust those with the highest level of education to help intervene with welfare and safety situations and provide knowledgeable assistance with placement of individuals that are unable to do so themselves.

The PhD in Social Work Degree

On the other end of the spectrum, individuals that choose to pursue a PhD in Social Work degree will find that their services are called upon by universities and research agencies all across the United States.

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PhD programs provide learners with in depth learning of historical research studies and current statistical analysis of society as well. The knowledge gained through these programs allow graduates to pursue careers working for agencies that plan societal betterment programs as well as state funded health and wellness programs. Social Work professors are also doctorate degree holders, which contributes endlessly to the social work community through the education of future professionals.

Some FAQs about Doctor of Social Work Programs

The Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) was initially created in the 1940s, DSW programs remained scarcely available for decades due to the rise of the PhD in social work. However, social workers have recognized the value of the DSW within the last decade and have made strides to create more DSW programs across the country.

What is Foundational coursework for the DSW program?

Since DSW programs vary in terms of specialization and content focus, the foundational coursework for DSW programs may also vary. Generally, foundational coursework may include advanced theory and research courses. The introductory course for the dissertation/capstone project may also be included in foundational coursework.

What is Elective concentration coursework for the DSW program?

The elective coursework for DSW programs may also vary, depending on the study tracks offered to students. Examples of electives offered at different DSW programs include different advanced clinical intervention courses, such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or various leadership courses, such as leadership in large settings.

What is the difference between PhD Social Work programs and DSW programs?

Since the PhD in Social Work is more commonly known than the DSW, there is some confusion regarding any differences between the two degrees.

The most significant difference between the two degrees is the research component. The PhD in Social Work places a heavy emphasis on research, whereas the DSW incorporates research into curriculum, but is significantly less research-based.

The PhD may be an appropriate degree for students who are passionate about research. Students may become employed in higher education institutions or may devote their careers for further research post-graduation. The DSW degree may be suited for students who strive to develop advanced clinical skills or assume leadership roles in social service agencies.

Are DSW programs available as a part time program?

The online DSW can be completed either part-time or full-time at most institutions. Some students may complete the degree in less than two years, whereas others may complete the degree in five years, depending on their chosen timeline.

What is the exact Online DSW meaning?

The online DSW is the Doctorate of Social Work degree that allows students from anywhere in the country to enroll online. The Doctorate of Social Work is the highest level of social work education and provides students with advanced clinical and theoretical education.

What are the most common concentration tracks for Online DSW Programs?

  • Clinical: this concentration focuses on advancing clinical skills and equipping students with the most current and evidenced-based interventions.
  • Teaching: this concentration is ideal for students who are seeking to become educators in the social work field. Students learn specific skills regarding teaching social work.
  • Organizational Leadership: this concentration is focused on macro-level social work. Students engage in curriculum that is centered around understanding and developing interventions to solve large-scale social issues.

Salary for a Doctorate in Social Work Degree Holder

The salary data for professionals at this degree level is an interesting research topic for those interested in this degree program. Since the platform for graduates at this level is so diverse, there are various sectors of the professional environment that social work professionals can be involved in.

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that graduates at this level can work as Social or Community Service Managers and earn around $73,640 per year on average.

Social workers that are employed in elementary and secondary schools have the potential to earn around $60,000 per year (BLS, 2018).

For those interested in taking the educational path, social work professors earn around $110,020 per year according to the BLS (2018).